Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Consumers 'will pay nuclear bill'

BBC NEWS Politics Consumers 'will pay nuclear bill'

Electricity bills will have to go up if the government builds a new generation of nuclear power stations, the Green Party has warned.
It claims the government is determined to push ahead with nuclear power despite evidence it is uneconomic.
The government says it is considering nuclear as part of an energy review but has not yet made up its mind.
The report comes as Tony Blair admitted there was a "long way to go" to tackle climate change.
'Not pre-ordained'
The government sees new nuclear plants as a "carbon-free" alternative to coal and oil - and a more secure source of energy than gas supplied by foreign states such as Russia, as North Sea supplies dwindle.
But the DTI insists its current policy review, which is being carried out by energy minister Malcolm Wicks is "not a foregone conclusion".
"It is not a bogus review and there isn't a conclusion that is pre-ordained," a spokesman told the BBC News Website.
The review is looking at both sides of the argument, he added, including the issue of nuclear waste, the costs involved and "public concerns around security".
It is also looking at ways of increasing renewable energy sources, already the subject of major investment by the government, he added.
But the Green Party says its "alternative energy review" looks at measures not being considered by the government.
'Inferior choice'
Green Party principal speaker Caroline Lucas MEP said: "Tony Blair is determined to push this country down the nuclear route, based on two arguments: guaranteeing affordable energy supply, and reducing carbon emissions.
"The Alternative Energy Review proves what anti-nuclear campaigners have long suspected - that, even using these criteria, nuclear power is the inferior choice.
"It shows that a twin-pronged investment in renewable alternatives and energy efficiency and conservation measures will not only deliver greater emissions reductions than nuclear power, it will deliver them more cheaply, and all without the huge safety risks inherent in the nuclear option."
The co-author of the Green Party report, Dr David Toke, said talk of a looming energy gap as North Sea oil runs out had been exaggerated and ministers had been swayed by the powerful and well-funded nuclear lobby.
He said there should be a centrally-organised programme of "demand reduction" - forcing companies to cut their use of electricity use through better efficiency.
Far more wind farms should also be built, he argued, and electronics companies should be fined if they did not scrap the "stand-by" button on computers and televisions, which he said was a major drain on energy supplies.
All of these measures meant consumers would pay less for their electricity, even if it meant possible increases in costs associated with energy efficiency, he told reporters.
"Do people want to pay more for nuclear power that will increase their bills, or do they want to pay for energy efficiencies that will reduce their bills?," he asked.
The Lib Dems have also attacked nuclear power for being uneconomic.
The Conservatives are currently reviewing their energy policy. Zac Goldsmith, deputy chair of the party's environment policy review, due to report in 18 months time, is strongly opposed to it.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Blair acknowledged there was still a "long way to go" to tackle climate change and pledged to work hard with other European leaders to extend the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) beyond 2012.
He said the ETS must be more robust and he hoped there would be agreement on a range of new measures to increase energy efficiency.
He made his pledge as he met green umbrella group "Stop Climate Chaos" in Downing Street.
The government's advisory body on the environment, the Sustainable Development Commission, is due to release its advice on nuclear power on Monday, following a year-long investigation.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Russia's Uranium Stockpiles to Run Out by 2020�� Official - MONEY - MOSNEWS.COM

Russia�s Uranium Stockpiles to Run Out by 2020�� Official - MONEY - MOSNEWS.COM

Russia’s uranium reserves could be depleted by 2020 if the current rate of uranium mining is sustained, said on Monday, Feb. 27, Anatoly Ledovskikh, head of the Russian Subsoil Resources Agency (Rosnedra).The agency’s materials show that Russia only produced 3,200 tons of the 16,000 tons of uranium it needed in 2005 and that it drew on stockpiles to plug the shortage. In other words, uranium mine output must increase six-fold, the materials said. The reserves of Russia’s uranium deposits are estimated at 615,000 tons. Three enterprises belonging to nuclear fuel corporation TVEL mine and explore uranium fields. Uranium will be explored at 28 sites at a cost of 708.2 million rubles in 2006.

Russia needs $10 bln to meet uranium demand by 2015

Russia needs $10 bln to meet uranium demand by 2015

Russia has to invest $10 billion in uranium exploration and production to meet the domestic demand by 2015, the country's mineral resources watchdog said Monday.
Russia is currently producing 3,300 metric tons of uranium annually, or 20% of the domestic demand, said Vladimir Bavlov, deputy head of the Federal Agency for the Management of Mineral Resources.
The uranium reserves in storage facilities are likely to run out by 2015, Bavlov said. He added that a substantial 830,000-ton raw material base of uranium had been accumulated but that it was inferior in quality to that found in Canada or Austria.
Bavlov said that the program to develop the uranium sector envisioned producing 70%-75% of the uranium demand domestically by 2015 and covering the remaining 25%-30% through joint ventures with former Soviet republics and by imports.
Bavlov added that a major uranium deposit, the Elkonskoye, in East Siberia would come on-stream in 2010, with all the necessary industrial infrastructure ready for uranium and ore production.
Under the plan, the project is to yield 3,000 metric tons by 2015 and double that amount by 2020.
Bavlov also said smaller uranium ore deposits would be developed by joint ventures between his agency and the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power to maintain and increase the raw material base.
According to the agency, 720 million rubles ($25.6 million) will be allocated for uranium production in 2006 against 485 million ($17.2 million) in 2005. In 2007, budget investment in the uranium sector will rise to 1 billion rubles ($35.6 million) and further increase to 1.5 billion ($53.4 million) in 2008.
Bavlov also said that the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power would begin making an additional investment of 1.5 billion rubles in the sector in 2007.
'This will make the government contribution to uranium production total 3-3.5 billion rubles [$107-124 million] annually,' Bavlov said.

Baltic states agree to build nuclear power plant in Lithuania

RIA Novosti - World - Baltic states agree to build nuclear power plant in Lithuania

RIGA, February 27 (RIA Novosti, Yuri Guralnik) - The three former Soviet Baltic republics have agreed on the joint construction of a nuclear power plant, the office of the Lithuanian prime minister said in a statement Monday.
The prime ministers of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia agreed at their meeting Monday to build a nuclear power plant in Lithuania before 2015, the statement said.
The premiers concluded that the NPP construction would be the easiest way to resolve an energy crisis expected in 2009, when the Chernobyl-style Ignalina nuclear power plant in Lithuania will be closed due to the European Union's nuclear safety requirements.
Three energy companies - Latvenergo, Eesti Energa and Lietuvos energia AB - will work on the NPP project. They will have to draft an investment plan and select a contractor for the project, which will cost an estimated $3-4 billion.
Lithuania had previously expressed its interest in continuing its nuclear program beyond the closure of the Soviet-era Ignalina nuclear power plant.

Friday, February 24, 2006

British nuclear scientists say waste not a problem

Science News Article Reuters.com

By Jeremy Lovell
SELLAFIELD (Reuters) - Nuclear waste, the spectre haunting the industry, will not pose a problem if Britain decides later this year to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, scientists said on Thursday.
With a lethal life measured in thousands of years, waste from nuclear power stations has a powerful grip on public imagination who fear theft or attack by terrorists or simply that it is an unwanted legacy for generations to come.
"From a technical point of view we can deal with any waste that comes from nuclear plants," Graham Fairhall, chief technology officer at Nexiasolutions, the research arm of the British Nuclear Group, told Reuters.
"And in any case, a new reactor system would produce just 10 percent of the waste volume from the old Magnox reactors," he added during a tour of the Sellafield nuclear site some 300 miles northwest of London.
The British government, facing an electricity shortfall of 20 percent as it closes its aging nuclear power plants, is in the throes of a comprehensive review of how to supply the country's energy needs for coming generations.
Not only is time running out for crucial decisions to be made as the stations are already closing, but Britain also has to meet its international obligations to cut carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his energy minister Malcolm Wicks have made it clear that nuclear power -- touted by its supporters as low carbon technology -- must be an option, although they accept that public acceptance could be a problem.
The scientists and engineers at Sellafield -- site of the world's first commercial nuclear electricity plant which opened in 1956 -- are confident they have the problem licked.
"The only question left is disposal or storage of the waste," Fairhall said.
At the sprawling 700-acre (283-hectare) site which employs 11,000 people, spent fuel rods not only from Britain's 11 nuclear reactors but from plants as far away as Japan are taken into a vast shed where they are initially immersed in pure water for six months.
The outer cladding is then stripped off and sent for storage in concrete-filled vats while the inner uranium core is recovered.

Reprocessing into plutonium and uranium leaves a highly radioactive sludge that is first evaporated in a two-stage process that reduces it to a powder.
That is mixed with molten glass at 1,100 degrees Celsius and poured into large stainless steel urns that are cooled, sealed scrubbed and put into a thick outer flasks for final storage.
The process is conducted remotely, with operators manipulating mechanical arms standing behind lead glass windows one meter (3 ft 3 in) thick.
The flasks are put into a giant repository that currently holds nearly 4,000 of them, awaiting a decision on a final solution later this year by a special government committee.
"This high level waste is still very radioactive, but there is no fissile material and when it has been vitrified it is unusable for anything," Fairhall said.
"To access these you would need an industrial set up like we have here. Anything less and the radiation would kill you -- and there would be no point in any case," he added.
The only question remaining, according to Fairhall, is whether to store the high level waste somewhere from which it may be retrieved in a few thousand years after it has lost its lethal potency or bury it forever.
"France has opted for disposal. But the Swedes have chosen copper containers that won't erode for a million years," he said.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Minister dismisses opponents of N-power as 'fundamentalists'

Scotsman.com News - Politics - Minister dismisses opponents of N-power as 'fundamentalists'

Key points• New nuclear power stations are distinct possibility, states minister • Scots politicians entitled to their view but Wicks wants a "grown-up debate"• Comments may produce similar Westminster/Holyrood tensions as those over transport policy
Key quote"There are a lot of people saying No, No, No to this, but people have to make a judgment about where they want the energy to come from." - Malcolm Wicks, UK energy minister
Story in full
SCOTLAND should grow up and accept the possibility of new nuclear power stations north of the Border, Malcolm Wicks, the UK energy minister, has said.
In an interview with The Scotsman, he risked straining relations within the Scottish Executive coalition by appearing to brand Scottish Liberal Democrats, who implacably oppose nuclear power, "environmental fundamentalists".
Jack McConnell, the First Minister, has been softening his stance on nuclear power, despite pressure from his Lib Dem partners. Last month he refused to rule out the possibility of new nuclear stations in Scotland.
The First Minister has the power to use planning rules to block any new nuclear plants proposed in Scotland as part of an energy review Mr Wicks is carrying out.
With ministers in London, who have control of UK energy policy, increasingly convinced that new nuclear reactors must be part of the country's future energy system, there is growing frustration at Scotland's resistance.
Mr Wicks said he is "neutral" on nuclear power, but made clear he thinks no-one - Scottish ministers included - should automatically rule out atomic power.
He did not criticise Mr McConnell, insisting Scottish Labour leaders were "entitled" to their view, but made clear his frustration at the tone of Scottish political debate about energy policy.
"It would be foolish of a nation not to have a mature debate about it, a grown-up debate," Mr Wicks said.
"What I mean by a mature debate is not that every one agrees with me, but I think that minds should be open on this."
Mr Wicks's remarks follow tensions between Westminster and Holyrood over transport policy. A public dispute between Mr McConnell and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, contributed to Labour's disastrous by-election loss in Dunfermline and West Fife this month.
The energy review, scheduled to be completed this summer, comes from the government's twin targets of cutting Britain's dependence on imported power sources - particularly Russian gas - and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
"Our paramount concern [is] to have an energy supply which is clean, and nuclear is a clean source of energy," Mr Wicks said, suggesting that many opponents of atomic power were not realistic.
Mr Wicks will visit Edinburgh and Fife today and tour a wave power project, but in the interview in London yesterday he made clear that such renewable sources cannot meet all of Britain's future energy needs, meaning nuclear power must be an option.
"Even if we really push ahead with renewables plus bearing down on energy efficiency, some people think that adds up to a solution. I think it adds up to a chunk of the solution," he said.
In a veiled attack on Scottish Liberal Democrats and other anti-nuclear groups, the minister pointed to Germany's plans to shut down nuclear power plants, a move he said would mean more carbon emissions. "I would at least hope that the environmental fundamentalists would look at that fact and think through the implications," he said.
Asked to identify those "fundamentalists", he said: "I mean people who are so committed to the environmental agenda but who imagine that the answer can be windmills and some tidal power and some solar power and some recycling."
Britain's nuclear power plants are nearing the end of their working lives, leaving ministers to choose whether to encourage the construction of new facilities.
Mr Wicks's review will be presented to Tony Blair in the summer. The Prime Minister is believed to have accepted that Britain must have some nuclear power.
"There are a lot of people saying No, No, No to this, but people have to make a judgment about where they want the energy to come from," Mr Wicks said.
Mr Wicks will meet Scottish ministers in Edinburgh today to discuss energy policy. An Executive spokesman last night said Scottish ministers would "make a contribution" to the review.
Unlikely revival of fuel that has cleaned up its act
MORE than two decades after Margaret Thatcher's battle with the miners, the British coal industry could be set for a surprise comeback.
Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, yesterday said coal, and particularly coal mined in Britain, will play a key role in our future energy mix. Keen to cut Britain's dependence on imported gas, much of which comes from Russia, Mr Wicks signalled that so-called clean coal has a big future.
"Carbon capture" technology allows coal to be burned, but emit much less carbon dioxide than in the past, and Mr Wicks said this could lead to an increase in British coal production.
There are only 42 opencast sites and eight major deep mines still in production, but there are some signs of recovery: Richard Budge, the former head of UK Coal, is trying to raise £35 million from a stock market flotation to reopen the Hatfield deep mine in Yorkshire.
Mr Wicks suggested that the coal from British mines should be used in new cleaner power stations to test the technology.
"I would like to see one or two major developments in Britain using British coal plus clean coal technology," he said. "My instinct is that it would be sensible for us to be producing more of our own energy, home-growing our own energy."
Some analysts predict coal is set to become world's most popular energy source, accounting for up to 40 per cent of global power generation.
"Whatever the most fierce environmentalists may say and wish, the world is going to be burning lots of carbon, particularly loads and loads of coal, for 100, 200 years to come. The environmentalists may not like that but tough, it's going to happen," Mr Wicks said.
Since coal will remain an important fuel, he said, Britain should lead work to make it more environmentally friendly.
"In the UK, we've been pretty good at energy - look at Aberdeen," he said. "Why shouldn't we be equally good at some of these emerging technologies?"
THE energy minister yesterday made an outspoken attack on gas-powered patio heaters, calling the devices "environmental obscenities".
Gas heaters have become a common sight outside pubs and in private gardens. But with some figures showing a single heater produces more than a small car, they are the target of a growing political backlash.
Malcolm Wicks told The Scotsman people who used the devices should "go inside, wear a jumper, get a life".
MANUFACTURERS could be forced to remove standby settings from televisions and other electronic devices to save energy, the energy minister said yesterday.
Government figures show that household electronics on standby consume two power stations' output every year.
"A poor little innocent button on your TV, but it epitomises the challenge we've got with global warming," Malcolm Wicks said. "There's far more we could do and if necessary make manufacturers do."

Francia se propone relanzar la energ�a nuclear para reducir su dependencia del petr�leo

LA VANGUARDIA DIGITAL - Francia se propone relanzar la energ�a nuclear para reducir su dependencia del petr�leo

Chirac, al igual que Bush, defiende la necesidad de promover energías alternativas y limpias
El debate energético está a la orden del día. Estados Unidos encabeza la reflexión sobre el modo de reducir progresivamente la dependencia del petróleo, pero Francia no le va a la zaga. Jacques Chirac propone promover las energías alternativas, pero sobre todo la energía nuclear, de la que Francia es el segundo productor mundial.
Un tercio de los vehículos de la administración pública funcionará con biocarburantes de aquí al 2007

LLUÍS URÍA - 23/02/2006Corresponsal PARÍSLa dependencia del petróleo no sólo se ha convertido en insostenible para el clima, sino también en inconveniente desde el punto de vista geopolítico. La inestabilidad creciente en Oriente Medio, sumada a la reciente crisis del gas ruso, ha puesto en evidencia en muchas capitales occidentales la necesidad de reducir la dependencia energética. Y aquí, Washington y París caminan al mismo paso. Si el presidente de Estados Unidos, George W. Bush, se ha lanzado a una vigorosa campaña en favor de las energías alternativas, el presidente francés, Jacques Chirac, pone el acento en el desarrollo de la energía nuclear. Chirac expuso recientemente, en un acto con las fuerzas vivas del país celebrado en el Elíseo, los ejes principales de su política energética. El presidente francés abogó, como Bush, por potenciar la investigación y producción de energías sustitutivas del petróleo, como los biocarburantes - cuya producción se quintuplicará, dijo, en el plazo de dos años-, el hidrógeno o las pilas de combustible, así como desarrollar nuevos modelos de vehículos eléctricos o híbridos en diez años. En este terreno, se comprometió a que, de aquí al 2007, un tercio de los vehículos de la administración pública utilicen biocarburantes. Ya suprimir, en veinte años, todo consumo de petróleo en las flotas de las grandes empresas públicas de transporte colectivo: la RATP de París y la compañía ferroviaria SNCF. El presidente francés también aludió a la necesidad de desarrollar las centrales de carbón limpias.Pero, por encima de todo, defendió el relanzamiento de la energía nuclear. Francia, con 59 reactores en funcionamiento, es el segundo productor mundial de energía nuclear, por detrás de Estados Unidos. El 78,2% de la electricidad que se produce en el país tiene origen nuclear. El proyecto estrella de Chirac es el prototipo de un nuevo reactor nuclear de cuarta generación, que debería poder entrar en servicio en el año 2020 y que será más seguro y más limpio que los actuales. Esta nueva generación de reactores, además de generar energía eléctrica, permitirá también producir hidrógeno y desalar agua del mar. La Comisaría para la Energía Atómica (CEA) francesa trabaja ya sobre tres tipos posibles de reactor, en concertación con un foro internacional del que forman parte diez países. El Gobierno francés, con todo, considera necesario abordar la política energética a escala europea, y por ello presentó el pasado 24 de enero en Bruselas un memorando en el que plantea la conveniencia de potenciar desde la UE la investigación sobre la energía nuclear, además de otras energías alternativas. La seguridad del aprovisionamiento energético y la lucha contra el calentamiento climático son los dos principales argumentos expuestos por París para pedir una mayor implicación económica comunitaria.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Global Partnership Aims To Change Nuclear Power Arrangements

Global Partnership Aims To Change Nuclear Power Arrangements

Partners will offer incentives, assurances to poorer countries, U.S. officials say
By Andrzej ZwanieckiWashington File Staff Writer
Washington -- The United States seeks to work with other countries on an initiative that would reorder international nuclear power arrangements to reduce the weapons proliferation threat and encourage sustainable development, U.S. officials say.
Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph told reporters February 16 that international participation is "absolutely essential" to the success of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) initiative, requiring the sharing of nuclear-power expertise, experience and costs.
Clay Sell, under secretary of energy, said at the same briefing that the Bush administration has requested $250 million from Congress for the initiative for the fiscal year that begins October 1. Sell said he hopes that level "will be matched in a very significant way by international partners."
The goals of the international technology initiative were laid out at a February 16 briefing in Washington. (See related article.)
GNEP aims not only to expand the nuclear-power industry but also to make nuclear energy available to less developed countries in a way that would prevent the spread of sensitive fuel enrichment and reprocessing technologies. These technologies can be used to build nuclear weapons.
Joseph said that the initiative addresses the weapons proliferation threat "not by denying any state its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but rather by providing incentives."
Under GNEP, developed countries with nuclear capabilities would provide affordable nuclear fuel to developing nations and then take back spent fuel for reprocessing and ultimate disposal. In addition, simpler, smaller and less costly reactors would be promoted for use in developing countries.
John Deutch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said such an offer would be very attractive to less developed countries that care more about meeting energy needs than acquiring nuclear technology.
"They will believe this is a godsend because an offer for enrichment, reprocessing and waste disposal by nuclear-supplier states is likely to be economically quite attractive," Deutch, former U.S. director of central intelligence, said in a February 17 interview with the Washington File.
He was less certain about the reaction of larger, emerging-market countries -- such as Brazil and Iran -- that either have tried or plan to develop nuclear power on their own.
Demonstrating as early as possible that the new arrangement can create benefits for developing countries would be crucial, he said.
"The people are going to evaluate it not in the abstract but how it is really working in practice," he said.
Joseph said that the United States already has been working to assure non-nuclear countries that they can have access to nuclear fuel while discouraging them from investing in very expensive and sensitive technologies.
He said the GNEP concept would advance nonproliferation and would be "intended to prevent future Irans, future contingencies."
Some environmental groups and energy experts question the nonproliferation value of the initiative. They argue that, with a wide global network of temporary storage sites and transportation routes, terrorists would have more opportunities to steal nuclear materials and build devices dispersing radioactive materials.
Deutch said reprocessed spent fuel must be transported with the greatest care to prevent any accidents or hijacking by terrorists. He added that the proposed arrangement would be much less risky than having pure plutonium stored and transported around the world.
"So while there are risks and very serious matters that require attention [in this arrangement]," Deutch said, "they are preferable to more serious risks associated with the existing closed fuel cycle and reprocessing activities."
Sell said new technologies will allow GNEP partners to build a sophisticated system to monitor and control any diversions of nuclear materials as well as promote best practices in handling those materials worldwide.
For additional information on U.S. policy, see Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Generation gap

Guardian Unlimited Business Generation gap

Tony Blair's plan for an EU-wide power grid has won the support of one of Europe's top power executives. It could lead to a single market for Europe's electricity, writes David Gow Thursday February 16, 2006
Tony Blair has received support from a top European executive for an ambitious EU energy plan to meet the challenges of high oil prices, secure supplies and climate change.
Gérard Mestrallet, the chief executive of the French energy group, Suez, says the EU should invest €1,000bn (£682.7bn) in new unified grids for both electricity and gas transmission under a common energy policy.
Mr Mestrallet's comments come ahead of next month's EU spring summit to discuss a European commission paper on the contentious roles of renewables and nuclear power within Europe's energy supply.
The summit will also discuss how the EU's 25 national regulators can create the right policy framework for private sector investment. It is expected to endorse the common grid concept.
Meanwhile, Neelie Kroes, the EU competition commissioner, is today set to warn governments and energy groups in several big countries that they face sanctions after their failure to open up their energy markets in time for full-scale liberalisation in July next year.
But Mr Mestrallet said last week: "Opening markets to competition is not enough, and Europe has not thought enough about long-term security of supply, and the need for investment in new production facilities and sources of energy and transmission infrastructures."
With EU energy consumption expected to rise by 15%, including a 50% leap in electricity use, by 2030 when imports amount to 70% of the primary market, the Suez chief said Europe would require an extra 750 gigawatts (billion watts) of power plants or 1,500 new stations - at an estimated cost, according to the International Energy Agency, of € 650bn.
In addition, electricity grids would have to be upgraded to prevent the current bottlenecks, which led to power blackouts in Italy in 2003, and to create a genuine single market. This would cost an additional €100bn.
With 45% of EU natural gas already coming from Russia, an increasingly fractious supplier, the EU would need to spend €155bn on new production facilities and a further €100bn on developing a common grid - and on new liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities to ease imports from other countries such as Algeria and Qatar.
Suez, Europe's fifth-largest provider of gas and electricity, acquired the Belgian operator Electrabel last year and runs Europe's largest LNG terminal at Zeebrugge, Belgium, on the North Sea coast - home to the gas interconnector (pipeline) with Britain in which it holds a 16% stake.
Mr Mestrallet said: "Europe is fragile and so is its electricity supply system ... Europe's own hydrocarbon reserves will run out in ten to 15 years and it has invested almost nothing in new generating capacity. If we don't wake up Europe will have one of the highest dependencies on imports of energy in the world, facing permanently high prices."
Creating unified electricity and gas grids does not require large-scale state intervention, Mr Mestrallet argues, and can be financed entirely by the private sector without a penny of public funding - provided the 25 national regulators act in common.
"These grids are natural monopolies and the regulator(s) have to give the correct signal. One can dream of coordinated activities by the regulators which would spur Europe's need for a modern infrastructure with a proper reward for capital and tariffs," he said, calling for a single regulator.
Suez, which has 58,000 megawatt of capacity globally, including two nuclear power stations in Belgium it acquired via Electrabel, believes Europe cannot survive without the nuclear option. It is a supplier to the third generation European Pressurised Reactor being built by the French manufacturer Areva in Finland.
Mr Mestrallet said: "It is up to each country to decide but collectively it's a solution which can't be avoided. Nuclear has to have a place in Europe's energy mix to combat global warming."
His group is considering plans to build its own pressurized reactor in France or to join forces, as a minority partner, with part-privatised energy company EDF to build a series there.
But he is less sanguine about the prospects for renewables, despite his group's investment in hydropower as well as wind power, biomass and solar energy, and a target of 18% of installed capacity by the end of the decade.
The group, which delivered a cargo of LNG to the Isle of Grain terminal in Kent last autumn to help ease the then UK shortage of gas, has dismissed as pointless the current inquiry by Ofgem, the British energy regulator, into the alleged failings of the interconnector.
Executives argue flows under the Channel were normal and, anyway, Suez had long-term contracts with continental purchasers it had to meet. Alain Janssens, the chief executive of Distrigas Suez, which holds the interconnector stake, points out capacity has been doubled to 16.5bn cubic metres of gas, and will be upgraded by the end of this year to 23bn.
The executives argue that Britain, which reported its first trade deficit in hydrocarbons (€96bn) last week for 26 years, miscalculated the speed at which North Sea reserves were being depleted - and failed to secure enough long-term contracts or invest in adequate gas storage.
For Mr Mestrallet the UK is a no-go area for large-scale acquisition of the kind being considered by energy groups such as Russia's Gazprom.
He insists that Suez is opting for organic growth, notably by expanding its LNG terminal at Everett, Massachusetts, the biggest US importer, and will only contemplate smaller acquisitions in, say, France and Belgium - despite the urgings of some of his advisers.

Nuclear Energy Initiative Holds Uncertainties

Nuclear Energy Initiative Holds Uncertainties

Bush Plan Could Cut Dependence on Oil but Relies on Unproven Technologies
By Guy GugliottaWashington Post Staff WriterSunday, February 19, 2006; A09
President Bush's new nuclear energy initiative is supposed to help cure America's "addiction to oil" by redesigning a taboo technology, originally used to obtain plutonium for bombs, to reuse spent nuclear fuel.
Unlike past reprocessing methods, the administration says, the new technique would make it prohibitively difficult for would-be proliferators to extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel, and it would drastically reduce the volume of radioactive waste to be stored at repositories such as Nevada's Yucca Mountain.
The result, Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said early this month, would be increased use of nuclear power, reduced oil consumption and fewer hydrocarbon emissions, "making the world a better, cleaner and safer place to live."
If it works. Both supporters and opponents of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership agreed that although it marks a radical change in U.S. nuclear energy policy, it also relies on unproven technologies that will take decades to mature, and it does not guarantee success.
Bodman, in congressional testimony last week, acknowledged that the $250 million requested for the program this year will be used to design a test reprocessing plant so that Bush over "the next two or three years" can make "a go or no-go decision as to whether this is something that makes sense."
But one problem with this calculation, opponents say, is that even a toe-wetting start-up requires that the United States reverse nearly 30 years of opposition to reprocessing at a time of increasing concern about weapons programs in North Korea, Iran and other nations. That "is the wrong signal to send," said Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which opposes reprocessing.
Also, Lyman and others challenged the administration's view that the new technology does not produce "proliferation proof" plutonium, and suggested that would-be proliferators would almost certainly find new ways to handle the spent fuel by the time the new system is ready.
Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell acknowledged these concerns but noted that the U.S. refusal to reprocess spent fuel has been a stance "that virtually no one [else] followed." The world "has moved on without us," he added, and a new technology that makes it harder to obtain plutonium "will make the United States a leader rather than a spectator."
Still, there are other misgivings. Experts in both science and industry doubt that the plan could meet what Sell called an "admittedly aggressive time schedule" to have commercial reprocessing up and running by 2025.
If development drags on, these experts say, reprocessing would have little immediate effect on nuclear waste storage. Meanwhile, the government will be spending billions of dollars developing a fuel that probably will be too expensive to buy in the foreseeable future, except with a government subsidy.
"I'm not dogmatic -- the claims may not ultimately be wrong," said Richard K. Lester, a nuclear scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "But on the time scale that's going to matter, it's very difficult to come close to achieving the objectives that have been set."
Reprocessing technology was first developed by the United States in the 1950s as a way to obtain plutonium for nuclear warheads, but President Jimmy Carter banned it in 1977 because of proliferation concerns. President Ronald Reagan rescinded the ban in 1981, but even then, reprocessing was so expensive and technologically daunting that no U.S. power company ever sought to develop it.
France, Japan, Russia, India and the United Kingdom do reprocess commercially, and all use the old U.S. technology, called purex, which derives plutonium oxide from spent fuel and then combines it with uranium to create a mixed-oxide fuel, called MOX, that can be used in some power plants. MOX is much more expensive than the uranium fuel in conventional reactors.
The conventional plants, which include all 103 nuclear generators currently operating in the United States, use "once through" fuel rods in a controlled reaction to produce steam that drives turbine generators. The rods are replaced every 18 to 24 months, and the spent fuel -- about 2,000 metric tons annually -- is put into temporary storage on the reactor sites.
Eventually, the spent fuel is supposed to go to Yucca Mountain, which will open, at the earliest, in 2012. By that time, the industry will have 70,000 metric tons of spent fuel waiting to ship to it.
"We need to solve a couple of big problems," said Phillip J. Finck, deputy associate director for applied science technology and national security at Argonne National Laboratory. "We have to deal with the waste and destroy plutonium."
The new technology, as described by Finck in a telephone interview, begins with a new reprocessing technique called urex-plus, which, like purex, dissolves spent fuel rods in a bath of nitric acid. The used fuel rods are composed of uranium, plutonium, heavy radioactive metals called "transuranics" and lighter radioactive elements known as "fission products."
Unlike purex, which separates out the plutonium, urex-plus leaves the plutonium and transuranics mixed together, making the resulting product unsuitable for weapons and much more difficult to handle for anyone trying to build a bomb.
The new fuel would be used in a "fast reactor," where neutrons move about much more energetically than in conventional reactors, breaking down the long-lived transuranics into lighter fission products with shorter half-lives.
The spent fuel from the fast reactor would then be reprocessed using another new technology known as "pyroprocessing," which separates the fuel by dissolving it in molten salt and running an electric current through it. The fuel could be recycled several times until the long-lived transuranics all but disappear.
If successful, the new reprocessing method would replace purex, the stockpile of civilian plutonium would stop growing, and the whole cycle would become much more proliferation resistant, Finck said. Also, he added, Yucca Mountain's storage capacity "would increase by a factor of 100." Instead of filling up by 2030, or earlier, the repository would last beyond the end of the century.
That is if the new reprocessing system is ready by 2025. Steven Kraft, senior director of used fuel management for the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry policy group, voiced doubts: "This is a matter of developing future technologies, and those technologies are 50 to 60 years away."
Kraft endorsed Bush's plan as a worthy long-range goal, but nonproliferation advocates said impurities in reprocessed plutonium are not likely to dissuade would-be proliferators from stealing it.
Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, an energy think tank, said: "You can get a one-kiloton explosion with impure plutonium, and if you're a terrorist the most important thing is to have the capability. Such a blast would be the equivalent of 1,000 tons of dynamite. "You don't care whether you destroy the tip of Manhattan or the whole island," he said.

A Shift Based on Science and Politics - New York Times

A Shift Based on Science and Politics - New York Times

February 18, 2006
A Shift Based on Science and Politics
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 — As a naval officer, Jimmy Carter helped design nuclear reactors for submarines. But as president, Mr. Carter banned the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to extract material that would be useful in reactors and bombs. Thirty years later, President Bush has proposed a new version of reprocessing.
The reversal can be traced mainly to uneven progress in technology over the last three decades, and to a lesser extent to political and economic factors.
Today, it is much less expensive to manufacture uranium for nuclear weapons, reducing the likelihood that a country with weapons ambitions would reprocess spent fuel for that purpose. And the failure to find an acceptable way to dispose of the fuel after use — including burying it — has made reprocessing look better by comparison.
Recently the Energy Department admitted that it no longer had any schedule or cost estimate for the planned spent-fuel repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and that without reprocessing, it would soon have to find a second repository site.
In one way, it seems counterintuitive that the United States is considering reprocessing now, when the number of reactors has been growing slowly, compared with the Carter era, when experts expected hundreds of reactors to be built. Back then, uranium was expensive and thought to be scarce, and demand was growing. Mr. Carter's suspension precluded the production of potentially cheaper fuel.
On the other hand, by reintroducing reprocessing, President Bush is trying to develop a different source of fuel for reactors when the uranium they use is plentiful.
Nuclear advocates say, though, that hundreds of new reactors will eventually be built, and that there is no reason to deny the world the value of resources that are locked in spent fuel for fear of weapons proliferation, since reprocessed fuel is no longer the easiest route to a bomb.
"A key part of the logic behind the U.S. decision to forgo reprocessing is now perversely incorrect," said Per F. Peterson, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
It is still possible to make a bomb from reprocessed material from civilian power plants — the United States did it on an experimental basis decades ago. But as the current argument with Iran shows, the preferred route is to make bomb material from virgin uranium, because the technology that enriches the uranium for use in a bomb has advanced so much faster than the technology for disposing of spent fuel.
There are other reasons for the shift, too, including ideology. President Carter, who had been an engineering officer in Adm. Hyman G. Rickover's nuclear submarine program, had a decidedly modest view of what nuclear technology could accomplish. But President Bush's approach to energy, ranging from fuel cells to ethanol to a new generation of nuclear reactors and reprocessing factories, is highly optimistic.
The energy secretary, Samuel W. Bodman, told a Senate committee last week that the administration's solution to energy problems was "transformational technologies."
There are also political problems that favor radical approaches like a new reprocessing plan. While the Bush administration has slogged toward preparing to ask for a license to open a waste repository at Yucca Mountain, the 20-year-old law under which it is looking to open a site has a far more onerous task.
The administration will soon be required to tell Congress what it is doing about finding a site for the next repository, which must go in the eastern United States. If there is no other solution, like reprocessing, the administration could find itself at the beginning of the next presidential primary season scouting out the granite formations of New Hampshire as waste burial sites. (The Energy Department actually looked there in the 1980's.)
Hence the move to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, announced as part of the administration's budget. Under the program, countries that already have enrichment technology would lease reactor fuel to countries that lack production means. The producing country would take back the fuel after it was used.
This would mean that countries like Iran could have reactors without fuel technology. Countries that already have nuclear weapons or, like Japan, do not want them would reuse the plutonium and other nuclear fuels for civilian purposes and reduce the volume of waste.
That is not to say the plan is feasible. Turning ideas about nuclear physics into commercially viable technology is notoriously difficult.
When the Bush budget was released, Clay Sell, the deputy energy secretary, was asked what price uranium would have to reach before a recycled product could compete. He had no answer except to say that the value of reducing the waste's volume and toxicity should be figured in.
The commercial industry applauds the Bush administration's support for new reactors that are modifications of the current designs, but is silent on new reprocessing plants and a new generation of reactors that would use reprocessed material. Congress has not embraced reprocessing, either.
"If the raw material is still cheaper, nobody buys the recycled product," said a federal energy official, who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to hurt his ties with the White House. "Why would you want to pay more for fuel?"
The global partnership, the official said, is not impossible, but "it's not something that is going to be driven by the industry."
It is also opposed by some experts in nuclear proliferation, who say America's 30-year pledge not to take bomb-usable plutonium out of spent fuel has made it harder for other countries to do that.
But the plan still appeals to people who put faith in technology. Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico and chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, spoke warmly of the idea. He said it would help the United States regain leadership in the nuclear field.
President Carter, he said, had stopped reprocessing on the theory that others would follow, but Britain and France still reprocess, and Japan wants to. "We stopped, and the world didn't," Mr. Domenici said.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bush budget seeks to recycle spent nuclear fuel

Science News Article Reuters.co.uk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush asked the U.S. Congress on Monday for $250 million in research funds to restart a controversial program that would reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
The United States abandoned the technology in the 1970s because it was too expensive and there was fear terrorist groups or rogue nations could get access to the plutonium and make nuclear bombs.
However, the administration said it wants to phase-out the old recycling methods that separated plutonium from the spent fuel and created a nuclear proliferation risk.
Using new technology, the plutonium would "remain bound" with other highly radioactive materials, making it less useful for nuclear weapons and reducing security concerns, according to the administration.
The money for its "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" was included in the administration proposed budget for the 2007 spending year. The program would be part of the Energy Department.
Under the recycling program, the administration said the United States would partner with other countries, such as Russia, France and the United Kingdom, to establish the infrastructure necessary to supply nuclear fuel to other nations.
U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said the plan "brings the promise of virtually limitless energy to emerging economies around the globe, in an environmentally friendly manner while reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation."
The United States and the European Union are concerned that Iran's plan to enrich uranium could result in its development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying it wants the uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.
The administration said its plan would eliminate the need for foreign countries to build their own uranium enrichment and recycling facilities, because the United States and its partners could send those countries the nuclear fuel they need to run plants for electricity generation.
The recycling plan would also reduce the thousands of tons of nuclear waste sitting at U.S. nuclear power plants and encourage the building of more reactors to expand domestic electricity supplies, the administration said.
The amount of commercial spent nuclear fuel destined for disposal at the Yucca Mountain storage site near Las Vegas would be reduced by 80 percent under the program, the White House said.
Reprocessing separates uranium and plutonium from spent fuel so the elements could be used further.
Twelve of the 33 nations that generate electricity from nuclear power plants practice reprocessing, but it has not been done in the United States for more than 20 years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.
President Jimmy Carter banned reprocessing because of concerns it could spread nuclear weapons. President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban and President Bill Clinton reinstated it.
The administration said it would pursue creating a permanent nuclear waste storage site at Yucca Mountain, where the used reprocessed spent fuel would be sent. The 2007 budget includes $545 million for the storage project.
Separately, the administration proposed spending $54 million to help the country's major utilities make it feasible to order the first new U.S. nuclear power plant by 2009 and have it in operation by 2014. Energy companies have not placed an order for a nuclear power plant in three decades.

The Impact of Emerging Technologies: Biomass: Hope and Hype - Technology Review

The Impact of Emerging Technologies: Biomass: Hope and Hype - Technology Review

Biomass: Hope and Hype
President Bush thinks weeds can supplant oil from the Middle East. Is he out in left field?
By Kevin Bullis
Our dependence on foreign oil has researchers and policymakers taking another hard look at weeds and corn stalks as sources of home-grown fuel.
President Bush's Advanced Energy Initiative, announced last month, calls for research into biofuels from "cellulosic" plant waste, "to displace up to 30 percent of the nation's current fuel use." Indeed, in his State of the Union address, the president suggested that one solution to the nation's "addiction" to oil could be fuel derived from switchgrass, a tall plant native to U.S. prairies. Reinforcing that vision, more than one recent study has suggested that biomass could eventually play a significant role in U.S. transportation energy needs, and do so without adding to the carbon in the atmosphere.
But are these realistic scenarios -- or just wishful thinking? The idea of using biomass for energy isn't new of course. Already, about four billion gallons of ethanol are produced yearly in the United States by fermenting corn and distilling out its energy-rich alcohol. But the amount that can be produced is limited by the land required to grow the corn. What's more, the process for producing ethanol is inefficient, requiring nearly as much energy to make as is available in the final product.
Advances in genetic engineering, however, now have many experts feeling optimistic about dramatically increasing the amount of biomass that can be harvested from an acre of land, by using microbes to convert leaves and stalks, not just corn, into liquid fuels. They believe this can be done efficiently, too, without exhausting available land and water, and also predict that production costs could be competitive with gasoline.
A recent report by the National Resources Defense Council and researchers at Dartmouth and Princeton projects that by 2050, in part through harvesting both protein and cellulose from corn and switchgrass, existing agricultural land could both supply our food needs and replace gasoline with ethanol.
Unless it's done carefully, however, deriving fuels from biomass could destroy crop lands through erosion, increase air pollution -- and even increase our dependence on fossil fuels. For example, one of the steps in processing biomass, distillation, requires heat. In the short term, inexpensive coal may appear to be a good energy source for this, says John Reilly, associate director for research at MIT's Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. But this would cancel out one of the primary benefits of biomass: carbon released by burning biofuels is offset by the carbon captured by growing crops, leading to near-zero total carbon emissions. Using coal for distillation would destroy this balance. In one scenario, Reilly says that "68 percent of the carbon you think you're saving is actually being emitted through other processes." Likewise, using gasoline or diesel to transport biomass from widespread farms and other agricultural facilities to processing centers would change the overall carbon equation.

What's more, models that show biomass supplying a significant amount of the nation's transportation fuels tend to lean heavily on projections that vehicles will use half as much fuel as they do today, or even less. Without this increase in efficiency, however, there's not enough land to provide a supply of biomass sufficient to put a dent in the demand for foreign oil.
"High vehicle efficiency is an essential factor for all sustainable transportation scenarios," says Lee Lynd, engineering and biology professor at Dartmouth and co-author of the NRDC study that said biomass could replace gasoline by 2050. His model assumes two and a half times the current fuel economy for vehicles, as well as sophisticated crop rotations and other land-use decisions to make it possible to supply both food and energy from existing agricultural and pasture lands.
If the past is a guide, such models are extremely optimistic. In fact, although technology has improved fuel efficiency, the average number of miles per gallon for vehicles today is actually less than it was in the late 1980s, according to a recent EPA report. While engines have become better at extracting energy from fuel, cars have also become faster and heavier, cancelling any gains.
Lynd's optimistic scenario also assumes that the conversion of stalks to ethanol can be done much more efficiently than it is today, by combining existing metabolic pathways from organisms such as fungi and bacteria. A recent white paper from a group of biomass researchers at MIT says that existing pathways will also need to be fine tuned to provide adequate yields. Creating these pathways will depend on continued research, even as less-efficient technologies begin to come online.
Experts look at biomass and see the potential to significantly improve our energy security while helping the environment. Certainly, the vision of vast fields of switchgrass and other crops replacing troubled oil fields in the Middle East is an attractive one. But turning biomass into more than a fuel for niche applications will require a strong R&D effort to bring the technology to fruition.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ignalinsk Nuclear Power Station Linked with Al-Qaeda

Kommersant: Ignalinsk Nuclear Power Station Linked with Al-Qaeda

Viktoria Zakurko, a Lithuanian citizen, was arrested in the UK last weekend suspected of links with al-Qaeda. British and Lithuanian law enforcement agencies are particularly apprehended since the detainee’s father works in the security of the Ignalinsk nuclear power station.
The Lithuanian, who now resides in Liverpool, has been arrested on the grounds of her relations with Lebanon’s citizen Mohammed Benhammedi who is believed to be a financier of al-Qaeda. The 19-year-old met the Lebanese businessman through mutual friends and left for Liverpool where she “met him every second night”, she says.Benhammedi was detained last Wednesday and charged with violations of migration regulations. His accounts were frozen as suspected to be financing al-Qaeda. Viktoria Zakurko told the British press that she does not believe the accusations and ready to wait for her lover all her life.The British police got apprehended as they learnt that the girl’s father, Sergey Zakurko, works in Lithuania as a security man at the Ignalinsk nuclear power station.

Tories move away from nuclear power

Party Politics news : Tories move away from nuclear power

Alan Duncan has today indicated that the Conservatives may end their traditional support for nuclear power, as he launched the party's energy review. The shadow trade and industry secretary said the Tories under David Cameron now have "no fixed opinion about nuclear energy". Mr Duncan's comments are the latest effort by the party to persuade voters of their green credentials, which began with the launch of the quality of life policy group headed up by editor of the Ecologist, Zach Goldsmith. Last month, the Tories joined forces with the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP to form a climate change coalition, committed to introducing annual targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Although the government is not part of this coalition – Tony Blair believes these targets would be too restrictive – it has made much of its record on environmental issues, and in particular of keeping the issue on the international agenda. However, ministers' refusal to rule out building more nuclear power plants in their forthcoming energy review has enraged green campaigners. Today's announcement by the Conservatives is a clear step into traditional Labour ground. "The days when it was the left wanting renewables and the right wanting nukes aren't as simple and clear-cut as that," Mr Duncan told The Daily Telegraph. He said that any decision about nuclear power would have to take into account costs of decommissioning power stations, adding: "Some people in the party are very pro-nuclear, some are very anti. We are going to look at the facts." Britain currently has 12 nuclear power stations, providing 22 per cent of electricity, but this will fall to just three stations by 2020 unless they are replaced. A decision must be taken soon, as stations take up to a decade to build. The new Conservative energy review will look at how fossil fuels can be made cleaner, the role of energy efficiency measures in reducing demand, and the environmental impact and economics of renewable energy and nuclear power. "Energy represents one of the greatest challenges facing politicians today," Mr Duncan wrote in the foreword of the review's website, www.energyreview.co.uk. "The UK must take urgent decisions to ensure the future security of our supplies and the protection of our environment while dealing with affordability against a backdrop of rising fuel prices."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

World has 200 years of uranium reserves - Germany

World Reuters.co.in

BERLIN (Reuters) - There are enough global reserves of uranium to generate nuclear power for the next 200 years at least, Germany's Economy Ministry said on Thursday.
"An objective view shows that global uranium resources will allow it to be used to generate nuclear power gloabally for the next 200 years at least," the ministry said in a statement.
Germany Economy Minister Michael Glos, a member of the conservatives, favours a rethink of the country's plans to phase out nuclear power by 2020, and has clashed openly with Social Democrat Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel on the issue.
Gabriel has in the past questioned how long uranium supplies will last.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Russia ready to build 60GW of nuclear power capacity worldwide

RIA Novosti - Russia - Russia ready to build 60GW of nuclear power capacity worldwide

MOSCOW, February 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is ready to build nuclear power plants throughout the world with a total capacity of up to 60GW, the country's top nuclear power official said Wednesday.
"We must set ourselves a goal of taking 20% of the market [for nuclear energy], which would be around 60GW," Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power, told members of the Kurchatov Institute for nuclear research.
Kiriyenko estimates the global market for nuclear energy at 600GW.
He noted that 50% to 70% of demand is located in closed markets, while about 300GW is in countries that are not in a position to build their own nuclear power plants.
Within the next 25 years, Russia should reach capacity of 40GW to 60GW, he said.
At the meeting, Kiriyenko also reiterated his view that Russia should restore the nuclear power infrastructure that existed during the Soviet period, uniting the elements of the complex situated in former Soviet countries into one system.

Bush Budget Plan Could Slow Down Nuclear Projects | newratings.com

Analyst:Bush Budget Plan Could Slow Down Nuclear Projects newratings.com

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)--The Bush Administration's proposed funding cuts to the U.S Department of Energy's Nuclear Power 2010 initiative could hamper efforts to advance new nuclear projects, according to Stanford Washington Research Group analyst Christine Tezak.
The Nuclear Power 2010 initiative is a joint government-industry program aimed at identifying sites for new nuclear power plants based on advanced nuclear technologies.
The industry sees the program as a way to reduce the technical and regulatory uncertainties associated with nuclear projects.
In its fiscal year 2007 budget request released Monday, the Bush Administration highlighted nuclear power as a clean way to produce electricity and proposed a major $250 million initiative to revive nuclear waste reprocessing in the U.S.
However, the administration also proposed cuts to the Nuclear Power 2010 initiative, proposing to reduce funding from $65.3 million in fiscal year 2006 to $54 million in fiscal year 2007.
"We are a bit disappointed by this set of budget priorities that seems to send the signal that administration is putting the cart before the horse at a moment when the nuclear project pipeline is just forming critical mass," said Tezak in her most recent research report, adding that industry sources were hoping to see the funding level for the program jump to $90 million. "The message now being sent to market participants is not one of enthusiastic support."
She voiced concern that the funding cuts could "slow down" the ability of DOE and project sponsors to move forward on nuclear projects funded by the Nuclear 2010 program, which are being pursued by companies such as Dominion Resources Inc. (D.NYS), Entergy Corp. (ETR), Exelon Corp. (EXC), and Southern Co. (SO), among others.
Still, she noted that the U.S. Congress could increase the funding level.
Meanwhile, John Kane, the Nuclear Energy Institute's senior vice president of governmental affairs, also called for increased funds for the Nuclear Power 2010 program as well as a university research reactor and education program.
He noted that the DOE budget request seeks a 55% increase in funding for nuclear energy-related research, but it also zeroes out funding for the university research program and cuts funding for the Nuclear Power 2010 program by 17%.
"The two programs are critical to keep the new nuclear plant momentum up and to support mathematics and science education to ensure a highly-trained work force to support our future," said Kane.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Germany rethinks phasing out nuclear power

United Press International - Energy - Germany rethinks phasing out nuclear power

By STEFAN NICOLAUPI Germany Correspondent
BERLIN, Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Germany's grand coalition is still bickering over the country's future energy mix despite an already agreed-upon plan to phase out nuclear energy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are increasingly unhappy with the plan to shut down by 2021 all 17 nuclear plants still active in Germany. The previous coalition government of Social Democrats, or SPD, and Greens struck a deal with the German energy industry in 1999 to gradually phase out the production of nuclear energy.
Germans overwhelmingly backed the plan, but the tide may slowly turn, observers say. Skyrocketing electricity and heating bills have angered the population, and Germany's four main energy companies, E.on, RWE, Vattenfall Europe and EnBW, in the past month introduced repeated price increases. At the end of January, Vattenfall announced some 3 million households in Berlin would have to pay up to 6 percent more for electricity in 2006.
Merkel argues she wants a broad mix that includes solar and wind energy, two renewable sources the past government heavily subsidized. Critics say building the hundreds of rather inefficient wind energy turbines cost German taxpayers billions. Merkel also wants to keep coal and nuclear energy in the mix.
The conservatives argue that in light of Germany's dependency on foreign energy (it has virtually none of its own resources), the country could use the edge in technology it has acquired over the years, especially as China is building new plants every year.
Companies are also looking at the possibility of keeping nuclear energy, but for different reasons, an energy expert said.
"It's a political topic. Atomic energy plants are money machines for Germany's four large energy companies, which dominate the market," Markus Duscha, head of the energy program at the Institute for Energy and Ecological Research at Heidelberg University, told United Press International in a telephone interview. "They have been slow to improve energy efficiency and modernize in terms of renewable energy sources."
The Social Democrats have so far stood tight by the agreement, with several SPD lawmakers reminding Merkel and her conservatives to abide by the coalition treaty. Nuclear energy is safe in case of no emergency, but what if a plant blows up, and what to do with nuclear waste? That calls for getting rid of nuclear energy, they argue.
Consumers have their own way of dealing with the price increases: Those who have one have fired up the old tiled stove with dead wood collected in forests.
But the Russian-Ukraine energy row earlier this year and the instability in the Middle East is beginning to unsettle leading German politicians, even Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat.
"Global security is directly connected with energy security," Steinmeier said Sunday at the 42nd Munich Security Conference, which drew some 300 high-ranking politicians and security experts from all over the world. He said he was in favor of European nations working together to secure supplies in the future.
When Russia's state-controlled energy giant Gazprom shut off natural gas delivery to Ukraine after the country refused to pay higher prices, leading conservatives in Germany used the incident to call for keeping nuclear energy.
"Of course (instability in the Middle East and Russia) is ammunition for them," Duscha said. "Yes, you can technically heat with atomic energy, but the dependency factor is similar. Only a few countries in the world produce the fuel needed."
Other energy experts have said Germany needs to become less dependent on foreign oil, but should do so by fostering cooperation with other countries, such as building solar power plants in Portugal or North Africa.
Some countries in Europe do not have Germany's problems: Finnish consumers pay roughly half the German prices. The bills are held down by an unconventional energy mix of bio mass (with wood garbage from Sweden) and nuclear energy (from domestic plants).
As oil prices are set to go up, renewable energy sources are the way to go, Duscha said.
"We should hold tight to the plan to phase out nuclear energy," he said. "If we keep questioning and weakening that plan it will hurt security in the energy sector in the long run."

Bush budget seeks to recycle spent nuclear fuel

Stock Market News and Investment Information Reuters.com

WASHINGTON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Monday asked the U.S. Congress for $250 million in research funds to restart a controversial program that would reprocess spent nuclear fuel.
The United States abandoned the technology in the 1970s because it was too expensive and there was fear terrorist groups or rogue nations could get access to the plutonium and make nuclear bombs.
However, the administration said it wants to phase-out the old recycling methods that separated plutonium from the spent fuel and created a nuclear proliferation risk.
Using new technology, the plutonium would "remain bound" with other highly radioactive materials, making it less useful for nuclear weapons and reducing security concerns, according to the administration.
The money for its so-called "Global Nuclear Energy Partnership" was included in the administration proposed budget for the 2007 spending year. The program would be part of the Energy Department.
Under the recycling program, the administration said the United States would partner with other countries to establish the infrastructure necessary to supply nuclear fuel to other nations.
The White House said its plan "will help meet the growing demand for electricity in the developing world through an international framework that will promote emissions-free, safe nuclear energy and eliminate the need for foreign countries to build enrichment recycling capabilities."
The United States and the European Union are concerned that Iran's plan to enrich uranium could result in its development of nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying it wants the uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.
The administration said it recycling plan would also reduce the thousands of tons of nuclear waste sitting at U.S. nuclear power plants and encourage the building of more reactors to expand domestic electricity supplies.
The amount of commercial spent nuclear fuel destined for disposal at the Yucca Mountain storage site near Las Vegas would be reduced by 80 percent under the program, the White House said.
Reprocessing separates uranium and plutonium from spent fuel so the elements could be used further.
Twelve of the 33 nations that generate electricity from nuclear power plants practice reprocessing, but it has not been done in the United States for more than 20 years, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute trade group.
President Jimmy Carter banned reprocessing because of concerns it could spread nuclear weapons. President Ronald Reagan lifted the ban and President Bill Clinton reinstated it.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Russia and US as global nuclear waste collectors? | csmonitor.com

Russia and US as global nuclear waste collectors? csmonitor.com

By Fred Weir and Howard LaFranchi
MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON - Against a backdrop of global efforts to address peacefully the concerns raised by Iran's nuclear power program, the US and Russia are proposing an international "partnership" for controlling the flow of weapons-grade uranium to those who might harbor military ambitions.
The plan, announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week and included in President Bush's budget sent to Congress Monday, would provide energy-starved countries with the fuel they need for generating nuclear power, while taking back the dangerous waste created in its production.
But some experts and critics say the proposal raises many questions for Congress to address, and the science behind the idea of breaking down spent fuels is unproven and dangerous. In any case, they add, the initiative would do little to make the world safer in the case of proliferating nuclear power generation.
In its description of the "Global Nuclear Partnership," the Department of Energy says the fuel supply and handling aspect of the proposal would be addressed "once technologies are proven" for nuclear plant reprocessing.
"What seems rather fanciful about this project is that the fuel-supply aspect appears contingent on proving some highly advanced technology," says Daryl Kimball, executive director the Arms Control Association in Washington. "They're using this as a way to sell reprocessing technology rather than as a way to solve the problem of fuel supply, and that's troubling."
Other experts worry the proposal may simply be using heightened concerns over nuclear security and weapons of mass destruction as a way to get the US back into uranium-processing research - research the US gave up decades ago as uneconomical and dangerous.
"If the idea is to promote a sense of security at the same time that the development of large reactors to a long list of countries is promoted, then it's very misguided," says Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center in Washington. "They're trying to sell this as a nonproliferation initiative, but we shouldn't be so quick to cede that point."
The project, as described by President Putin, would confine the vulnerable stages of the nuclear fuel cycle - uranium enrichment and radioactive waste disposal - to a few specialized centers located in Russia, the US, and perhaps other countries such as France. That would plug a loophole in the current nuclear nonproliferation regime, allowing countries to enrich uranium on their own for "peaceful" purposes, which is the nub of the world community's current worries about Iran's intentions.
A significant problem with the proposal, according to nuclear experts in the US, is that the technology required for the plan to work remains unproven.
The idea of recycling or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has been around since the Ford administration, but was put on hold then and under the subsequent Carter administration.
"The US decided three decades ago that [reprocessing] was not economical and not helpful for nonproliferation," says Mr. Kimball. "This would constitute the US giving up the long-term policy of disavowing reprocessing technology."
Under the plan, a version of which has already been offered by Russia to Iran, access to civilian reactor technology would be expanded for those countries willing to comply with the rules.
"We propose setting up a network of nuclear cycle centers for enriching uranium, and ensuring equal access for all who desire to share in the work of developing nuclear technology," Mr. Putin said in his annual news conference. "We're talking about access without discrimination.... Russia is an obvious partner for resolving tasks of this kind, given the country's advanced nuclear power engineering, its scientific base, skilled personnel, and developed nuclear infrastructure," he said.
At a Saturday meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russia voted with much of the world community to report Iran's suspected nuclear misconduct to the UN Security Council, but the resolution provided that any action be postponed for at least a month. Negotiations over Moscow's offer to transfer Iran's uranium enrichment to Russian facilities are set to resume on Feb. 16.
Experts say that if Tehran agrees to the plan, it could end the current crisis and improve chances for a broader tightening of the existing nonproliferation regime, which has been badly strained by nuclear breakouts by Pakistan, India and North Korea in recent years. "Russia is hoping to to turn this situation from confrontation to compromise, and thus maintain its good relations with both the West and Iran," says Nikolai Kozyrev, an expert at the official Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats. "A great deal is at stake."
Russia has major economic interests, especially in the nuclear sphere, that would be threatened by any international sanctions regime or military action against Iran. The state-owned AtomStroiExport Co. is building an $800 million, 1,000-megawatt light reactor power station at Bushehr in southern Iran, which the Russians insist is a purely civilian project under legal supervision by the IAEA.
"Iran is a major business partner, a good ally, and a big buyer of our nuclear equipment," says Viktor Kremeniuk, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow.
"In fact, Iran's purchases are one of the only things keeping Russia's nuclear industry afloat. Russia's policy establishment will face a serious dilemma if the current crisis with Iran worsens: Should we side with the West, or with Iran? I'm afraid the answer of many in Russia's elite would be to take Iran's side. In that case, our relations with the West - which are already under strain - could slide into a new cold war."
Experts say success with Iran will be crucial if the international community is to develop the means to head-off other countries that might want to develop nuclear weapons in future. The question becomes especially acute in a world of energy shortages, where clean and reliable nuclear power is starting to look like an attractive alternative to costly fossil fuels.
"The time of skepticism about nuclear energy - the Chernobyl syndrome - is over, and in coming decades we will probably see a renaissance of nuclear energy around the world," says Anton Khlopkov, deputy director of the independent PIR Center in Moscow, which specializes in nuclear issues.
"In several years there could be as many as 20 countries with the basic know-how, that could give them the possibility to develop nuclear weapons. So, the kind of cooperation being proposed between the US and Russia could be an important tool for strengthening the nonproliferation regime."
For the Kremlin, which assumed chairmanship of the Group of 8 leading industrial democracies this year on a pledge to promote global "energy security," the diplomatic standoff over Iran presents a tough challenge and a huge opportunity.
"Putin has a grand energy strategy, which includes making Russia a reliable supplier of oil and gas to the world market, and putting it at the center of developing the global nuclear power industry," says Mr. Kremeniuk. "Tightening the nuclear non-proliferation regime through greater cooperation, if it succeeds, is one thing that can be good for Russia, and good for the world."
Others note that the idea of providing fuel to - and taking spent fuel back from - energy-seeking countries is not new, and is one way of dealing with the reality that fuel enrichment technology - a process that can lead to material needed for development of nuclear weapons - has become more available.
That explains the growing interest in dealing with the spent fuels of nuclear power production. The International Atomic Energy Agency under director Mohamed ElBaradei has also proposed a program to supply fuel and take in spent fuels for storage.
"With about a 10-year supply of uranium there's a glut of fuel for ... reactors, and that's what's driving proposals like ElBaradei's," says Kimball. The IAEA proposal includes a five-year freeze on construction of fuel enrichment facilities while the international community works out the details of a fuel supply program - one the IAEA would administer.
The least objectionable part of the proposal, experts say, is the idea of a few secure fuel suppliers taking spent fuel back in for storage. But US experts look back at the domestic controversy over the Yucca Mountain storage facility and say such a plan for internationally produced fuels would require changes in US law - and would certainly raise new protests.

DOE unveils nuclear power initiative

United Press International - Energy - DOE unveils nuclear power initiative

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6 (UPI) -- The Energy Department on Monday announced an initiative to expand the use of emissions-free nuclear energy worldwide.
Deputy Secretary of Energy Clay Sell outlined the Greater Nuclear Energy Partnership, which was allocated $250 million in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget.
"The world energy demand is expected to double by 2050," he said in a news briefing. He said that demand can't be met with existing fossil fuels because of the greenhouse gas effects and pollution concerns.
"Nuclear power must a play a significant role in meeting this demand," he said.
The GNEP strategy is made up of several elements, including: building a new generation of nuclear power plants in the United States, developing new nuclear recycling technologies and finding a way to store spent nuclear fuel in the United States.
Sell said members of DOE met with representatives from Britain, France, Russia, China and Japan to discuss plan. He said the United States hopes to work with those nations to develop a fuel services program that would provide nuclear fuel and recycling services to nations in return for their commitment not to develop enrichment and recycling technologies.
In turn, these nations would work with developing nations to lease them clean nuclear fuel in exchange for their commitment to forgo enrichment and reprocessing activities.
Under GNEP, Sell said there would be significant nuclear safeguards against proliferation of expanded nuclear power.
"The scale of what we are trying to undertake is massive," Sell said, noting the $250 million allocation was only the beginning of the funding.

BP CEO save climate with nuclear

Cloudy With a Chance of Chaos - Jan. 17, 2006

To do that, carbon emissions would have to be reduced ultimately by seven gigatons a year. A gigaton, or a billion tons, is even bigger than it sounds. Eliminating just one, argues Browne, would mean building 700 nuclear stations to replace fossil-fuel-burning power plants, or increasing the use of solar power by a factor of 700.

Climate change may bring more violent weather swings -- and sooner -- than experts had thought.

By Eugene Linden
January 17, 2006: 5:07 PM EST
(FORTUNE Magazine) - A disturbing consensus is emerging among the scientists who study global warming: Climate change may bring more violent swings than they ever thought, and it may set in sooner. Lately John Browne, the CEO of BP, has been jolting audiences with a list of proposed solutions that hint at the vastness of the challenge. It aims at stabilizing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at about double the pre-industrial level while continuing economic growth. To do that, carbon emissions would have to be reduced ultimately by seven gigatons a year. A gigaton, or a billion tons, is even bigger than it sounds. Eliminating just one, argues Browne, would mean building 700 nuclear stations to replace fossil-fuel-burning power plants, or increasing the use of solar power by a factor of 700, or stopping all deforestation and doubling present efforts at reforestation. Achieve all three of these, and pull off four more equally large-scale reallocations of capital and infrastructure, and the world would probably stabilize its carbon emissions.
There's just one catch: Even change on this vast scale might not stop global warming.
What if the secret behind civilization is that we've had really good weather? Humankind has prospered and multiplied during one of the most benign climate eras in the history of the planet. And the past two centuries -- which witnessed the great expansion of the Industrial Revolution, a sixfold increase in human population, the triumph of the consumer society, and the rise of the integrated global economy -- have been particularly stable. One would have to go back 115,000 years to find a time as tranquil and warm as the present.
Even so, during the relative calm of recorded history, climate has periodically turned angry. And while this moodiness is but a shadow of the cataclysmic weather violence of the Ice Ages, it has been sufficient to shake or destroy civilizations. A sudden cooling and drying 8,200 years ago set back the development of the first cities in the Fertile Crescent. Some 4,000 years ago, decades of drought accompanied by howling winds scoured the Mesopotamian plain of the Akkadians, the most powerful civilization of the region. The Mayans never recovered from intense drought in the first decade of the tenth century A.D. And were it not for the Little Ice Age that thwarted the expansion of Viking civilization just six centuries ago, Europeans living in Canada and the U.S. might be speaking Norse rather than English.
Now climate is changing again. Most scientists recognized the reality of global warming more than a decade ago; most also agree that humans play a role in the changes. The consensus on climate change has solidified to rival the medical consensus on the dangers of smoking--but in the matter of climate, public perception has yet to catch up. Like the tourists on Phuket beaches who stood and gazed at an oncoming tsunami because it was outside their experience, society is reacting to the coming wave of climate change without urgency. People still believe that the science is controversial and the threat of climate change far off in the future; and while a few businesses, notably major insurers, have begun to adapt, governments are responding only slowly, as the lack of progress at this fall's international forum in Montreal showed.
The wave is coming, though. The last decades of the 20th century saw an unmistakable and extraordinary warming. During this same period, we suffered by some measures the strongest El Niño in 130,000 years and a swarm of statistically extraordinary droughts, floods, and other weather extremes. In 2005 precedents continued to fall, as wave after wave of tropical Atlantic storms continued right through the end of the year. The hot ocean waters that helped nurture storms in 2005 may also play a role in an intense drought in the Amazon rain forest, normally one of the wettest places on earth.
These and other weather surprises make scientists uneasy because they resonate with a new understanding of how climate changes. Just 40 years ago the consensus was that climate shifted from warm to cold and vice versa, smoothly and over many centuries. Since the early 1990s, however, scientists have been coming to see climate change as less like a dial and more like an on-off switch. The transition from, say, warm to cold is far more abrupt--taking decades, not centuries--and far more chaotic than previously supposed (though still not as fast as in The Day After Tomorrow, the 2004 disaster flick in which a new Ice Age arrived in a matter of days). Scientists now compare such transitions to the flickering of a flame or a fluorescent bulb--where the "flickers" may be quite violent, marked by fluctuations in temperatures of more than 18 degrees Fahrenheit in just a few years, as well as extreme variation in wind speeds and precipitation.
The Earth's heat-distribution system has already begun shifting massively in response to rising levels of greenhouse gases. Precipitation patterns, the change of seasons, storm intensity, sea ice, glaciers, temperatures on the tundras--all are in flux. As scientists nervously monitor sea and air currents for signs of major shifts, many believe that today's proliferation of weather extremes may be the prelude to another epochal transition--a possibility first flagged by the great oceanographer Wallace Broecker in the journal Science in 1997.
How bad could it get? Imagine Europe suffering floods and heat waves on a vastly greater scale than those endured in 2002 and 2003, while northern regions experience intermittent deep freezes as atmospheric and ocean circulations struggle to find new equilibrium. At the same time, droughts and floods not seen since ancient times would afflict some of the most densely populated regions on earth. The probability of drought in the American breadbasket would rise, and along with it the possibility that the U.S. grain surplus--which accounts for the dominant share of world grain exports--would disappear.
A flickering climate wouldn't just clobber countries with the wealth and technological resources to try to cope. It would affect every part of the planet, and in so doing reduce the resiliency of the global community. With every nation dealing with local emergencies, it would be more difficult to mobilize resources to aid victims in other areas, and there would be fewer resources to mobilize.
Municipalities around the world would struggle under the burden of greatly increased demands on funds to maintain and repair basic infrastructure. Forget about safety nets--FEMA and its ilk would be bankrupt. In the world's tightly coupled markets, financial tsunamis would surge through the system, leaving banks and corporations insolvent. Financial panics, largely absent for more than 70 years, would return with a vengeance.
Here at home, a flickering climate would impose an enormous tax on every individual and business. Property values in most places would plummet as buyers disappeared and costs of insurance and maintenance soared. The upper-middle-class American family, today so well protected against external shocks, would find its layers of insulation gradually stripped away as fuel, food, jobs, and social order became less certain. Katrina's aftermath exposed how quickly extreme weather can reduce an orderly society to dysfunction.
Some of the calamities that may happen--droughts that last more than a century, an advance of arctic zones southward, incessant and epic storms--simply overwhelm the imagination when we try to envision them in a world of six billion people depending on an exquisitely balanced food system. Earlier civilizations destroyed by climate did not have modern technologies or markets as a bulwark against nature's stresses. But changing climate won't challenge only markets and economies; it will stress the environment too, and by decimating ecosystems, we have undermined crucial buffers against weather extremes.
The storms, floods, and other weather calamities of recent years are just a start.
Consider the "500 year" floods in the Midwestern U.S. that caused $27 billion of damage in 1993. Decades of development had channeled and otherwise altered the Mississippi and other great rivers of the Midwest, reducing their access to floodplains that had absorbed and moderated the effects of extreme rainfall. Without those buffers, the rivers in 1993 rose higher than they might have in years past. When they breached dikes and other barriers, they spilled into the old floodplains, now largely occupied with farms and homes, amplifying the damage. We saw this pattern repeated in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and in the Christmas tsunami of 2004. While the tsunami killed more than 280,000 people and destroyed settlements over a swath of several thousand miles, a series of powerful tsunamis in that part of the world during the 19th century passed with far less damage and loss of life. They took place before protective buffers of mangroves were destroyed, before hundreds of millions of people moved into the potential path of the waves, and before cars, trucks, and other contrivances proliferated only to become projectiles when the 2004 tsunami swept them up.
Around the world, humanity has reduced nature's capacity to dampen extremes to an astonishing degree: more than 59% of the world's accessible land degraded by improper agriculture, deforestation, and development; half the world's available fresh water now co-opted for human use at the expense of other species and ecosystems; more than half the world's mangroves destroyed; half the world's wetlands drained or ruined; one-fifth of the world's coral reefs (including crucial barrier reefs) destroyed and one-half damaged--the list goes on and on.
Nature does not alert us to all her tripwires. Perhaps that's why in recent years the unprecedented has become increasingly ordinary. When pushed past a certain magnitude, the damage of natural events increases exponentially, and that threshold falls as natural buffers are eliminated. Research led by MIT climatologist Kerry Emmanuel suggests that hurricanes have doubled in intensity during the past 30 years as the oceans have warmed. Hurricane Katrina surged to its immense power when the storm passed over a deep layer of 90-degree Fahrenheit water in the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Rita transfixed meteorologists when it strengthened from Category 2 to 5 in less than 24 hours while moving over those same hot seas. And in October, Wilma bested that by strengthening from tropical storm to Category 5 hurricane in a single day.
Since we are dismantling natural buffers just at the point when we really need them, it's tempting simply to conclude that humanity has a self-destructive streak. The explanation, of course, is not masochism but a collective failure of imagination--compounded by the fact that we are only now learning to weigh the threat. There are no models to estimate the economic impact of rapid changes in temperatures, storm tracks, precipitation, and so on. In a 2001 report entitled "Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises," the National Research Council, the principal operating unit of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that most modeling of impacts has been confined to cases in which changes are gradual and moderate. Modeling the effects of abrupt change is a lot harder, but the study makes a couple of important points.
First, economies can minimize the effects of a gradually changing climate if people recognize the threat and respond. With abrupt climate change, however, things happen so rapidly that neither markets nor ecosystems have time to adapt. Moreover, a dynamic market economy with capacity to respond to intermittent crises by spreading risk and reallocating assets may be unable to respond when crisis is ubiquitous and risks loom everywhere.
Second, even gradual climate change would pose immense challenges. Tim Barnett, an oceanographer at Scripps Oceanographic Institution, took part in a study of the likely effects of climate change on the Los Angeles area. Surprisingly, he says, even modest decreases in rainfall during what he called a "best-case scenario for future climate change" (a gradual and small change, decades in the future) could reduce available water for the area by 50% by 2050. The region has limited storage capacity for water and relies on the winter snowpack that builds up in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies for water during the dry summer months. Under even modest climate-change scenarios, however, the snowpack would be smaller and would melt earlier. The region would dry up before its driest months.
Angelinos wouldn't necessarily go thirsty. California has plenty of agricultural water that could be diverted to human needs. The ancillary effects would be harder to manage. Farm output would be reduced, and water shortages could idle hydroelectric plants. Drought also makes trees more vulnerable to pests, such as the pandora moth that afflicts ponderosa pine. Dead trees are tinder for wildfires, like the ones that destroyed hundreds of homes in Southern California in 2003. Such impacts would roil the economy. Consider how increased fire risk and other effects of acute water scarcity might affect housing prices or the job market.
Keep in mind that the 50% reduction of available water was a best-case scenario. And while the richest state in the world's richest nation has some ability to weather a drought, such shifts would not be occurring in isolation. The changing climate that brought drought to Southern California would also be affecting weather throughout the American West and beyond--damaging property, disrupting agriculture, and spurring migrations.
You're in unsure hands.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 opened insurers' eyes to a catastrophic risk that they had been assuming for free. Their reaction provided a foretaste of how the global market might react to abrupt climate change. Following 9/11, insurers stopped writing policies that automatically included coverage of terrorist attacks. A number of major construction projects had to halt because banks would not finance them without terrorism coverage. Ultimately Congress passed and President Bush signed a law shifting responsibility for $100 billion in damage from future terrorist attacks to the U.S. government, and the construction projects got rolling again.
As climate change starts inflicting losses, insurers will again pull back, shifting financial risk to businesses and homeowners, the banks that finance them--and finally to taxpayers. In Florida, huge increases (up to 40%) in insurance rates are already making it harder for people to sell homes, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
More than 1,000 miles from New Orleans, in Cape Cod, Mass., a far-flung echo of Katrina has been the 20% rise in reinsurance costs (reinsurers are financial institutions that backstop insurance companies). The increase prompted Hingham Mutual Group, a property and casualty insurer, to drop coverage for 6,500 commercial properties. Customers left in the lurch have a fallback in FAIR (short for Fair Access to Insurance Requirements), a program mandated by various states and run by insurers. But Massachusetts's FAIR plan recently requested big rate increases, arguing that past weather patterns may no longer be a guide to estimating future climate risks. That rationale was "unprecedented," a team of industry experts noted in a report entitled "Availability and Affordability of Insurance Under Climate Change"; it's a vivid example of how insurance has difficulty adapting to changing climate.
For insurers the hazards of climate change become more concrete each year. Andrew Dlugolecki, a risk analyst at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research in Britain, recently estimated that if climate gradually warms, the chances of the industry getting wiped out by weather-related catastrophes will rise from about one in 100 worldwide today to nine in 100 by 2050. A ninefold increase in the risk of collapse places a heavy burden on insurers, but the risks may be far greater than that. Asked in 2003 how climate change that's abrupt and chaotic might affect those odds, Dlugolecki speculated that the risk of catastrophic weather-related losses rises to about nine chances in 100 by as early as 2010. To insure a property or business affected by that degree of risk, a carrier would have to charge annual rates as high as 12% of insured value--most businesses and individuals start self-insuring (industry-speak for dropping their coverage and taking their chances) when premiums reach 3% of value.
Already the pain of weather-related insurance risks is being felt by owners of highly vulnerable properties such as offshore oil platforms, for which some rates have risen 400% in one year. That may be an omen for many businesses. Three years ago John Dutton, dean emeritus of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, estimated that $2.7 trillion of the $10-trillion-a-year U.S. economy is susceptible to weather-related loss of revenue, implying that an enormous number of companies have off-balance-sheet risks related to weather--even without the cataclysms a flickering climate might bring.
Corporate leaders could soon feel the heat too. In 2004, Swiss Reinsurance, a $29 billion financial giant, sent a questionnaire to companies that had purchased its directors-and-officers coverage, inquiring about their corporate strategies for dealing with climate change regulations. D&O insurance, as it is called, insulates executives and board members from the costs of lawsuits resulting from their companies' actions; Swiss Re is a major player in D&O reinsurance.
What Swiss Re is after, says Christopher Walker, who heads its Greenhouse Gas Risk Solutions unit, is reassurance that customers will not make themselves vulnerable to global-warming-related lawsuits. He cites as an example Exxon Mobil: The oil giant, which accounts for roughly 1% of global carbon emissions, has lobbied aggressively against efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. If Swiss Re judges that a company is exposing itself to lawsuits, says Walker, "we might then go to them and say, 'Since you don't think climate change is a problem, and you're betting your stockholders' assets on that, we're sure you won't mind if we exclude climate-related lawsuits and penalties from your D&O insurance.' " Swiss Re's customers may be put to the test soon in California, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pushing to restrict carbon emissions, says Walker. A customer that ignores the likelihood of such laws and, for instance, builds a coal-fired power plant that soon proves a terrible bet could face shareholder suits that Swiss Re might not want to insure against.
How business can take action--and why it needs political backup.
As businesses begin to recognize the dangers of climate change, markets will help economies adjust, pricing the risks and shifting resources. Yet markets have blind spots: They typically underprice long-term or novel risks. In the case of climate change, where large-scale actions must be taken lest change hit with full force, a purely market-based response would be too little, too late. To address the risks, governments need to get involved.
With the Earth's atmosphere already warming dramatically, we are probably stuck with some form of climate change. Yet the energy economy is still in the process of squeezing rather than easing the pressure on the trigger. China and other emerging economies are ramping up their consumption of fossil fuels, while the U.S., which is the world's largest producer of greenhouse gases, continues to resist international efforts to rein them in.
In November and December, delegates from scores of nations convened in Montreal to negotiate emissions-control goals for greenhouse gases in the years following the expiration of the Kyoto treaty in 2012. But days of haggling produced nothing more than a resolution to discuss the issue further in coming years. (The U.S. and Saudi Arabia were the last to agree even to that.)
By itself, the Kyoto treaty will have minimal impact on the global-warming threat. Very few of the 160 countries that ratified the treaty (which went into force last February) will meet the targets of reducing emissions 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S. rejected the treaty, and China, which is likely to surpass the U.S. as a greenhouse-gas producer in the coming years, is not governed by its provisions. Says Elliot Diringer of the Pew Center for Climate Change: "Unless there is continued action after Kyoto expires, it will have been nothing more than a blip" in the buildup of carbon in the atmosphere.
Up to now, the primary objection by the Bush administration and other opponents of reducing greenhouse gases has been economic impact. The unknowns of climate change have made projecting costs and benefits an economist's guessing game. For instance, in 2002 the White House Council on Environmental Quality cited estimates by the federal Energy Information Administration that achieving Kyoto's goals would erode U.S. economic output by $400 billion in 2010. That estimate was the worst of seven scenarios examined by the EIA; another put the cost at only $7 billion to $12 billion by 2010. Other studies, like a recent one sponsored by HSBC and entitled "Carbon Down, Profits Up," cites dozens of companies, cities, and regions that have found reducing carbon emissions to be profitable, in part because carbon reduction is often synonymous with increased efficiency.
But as the weather grows worse, such exercises will become moot. The ambitious proposals that BP's John Browne has been talking about--building nukes by the hundreds, for example--would stabilize the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 500 parts per million by 2050, vs. 380 ppm today. Yet even that might not be enough to prevent climate chaos. Says Chris Mottershead, a distinguished advisor at BP: "Nobody knows whether climate's tipping point is at 400 ppm, 700 ppm, or if there is a tipping point." Science does know, however, that today's concentration of carbon dioxide is higher than any in 650,000 years; past climate flips took place with far less carbon in the air. What's more, BP developed its proposals with physicist Robert Socolow and ecologist Stephen Pacala, professors at Princeton University who worked with models of gradual, not abrupt, climate change.
Despite the daunting gap between present actions and what's required, plenty more can be done. Politics enables markets: An international agreement limiting carbon that includes the U.S. and the developing nations would supply the discipline necessary for carbon markets to flourish. (Carbon trading lets developed countries achieve emissions-reduction targets by paying to reduce emissions in developing countries.) According to an upcoming study of carbon markets by Ecosystem Marketplace, a website devoted to popularizing environmental derivatives, the carbon market in Europe has already surpassed $4 billion in trading value as utility, industrial, and insurance companies experiment with this new tool.
If U.S. politicians eventually conclude that action on the scale of the BP plan is necessary, they could jump-start change by redirecting the purchasing power of federal, state, and local treasuries--more than $1 trillion a year. Once government at all levels commits to purchasing clean technologies, making efficiency improvements, and using alternative energy where possible, this massive spending would provide economies of scale that would help speed the commercialization of new technologies as well as prepare society for the shift away from fossil fuels. Equally sensible would be to reduce subsidies and tax advantages that abet the waste of fossil fuels.
Such proposals have been on the table since the early 1990s. Many are even more salient today. By not taking action on greenhouse emissions, we are betting our well-being that climate change poses little threat. If we are wrong, we will meet our fate.
This article has been adapted by the author from his new book, The Winds of Change: Climate, Weather, and the Destruction of Civilizations (Simon & Schuster); see also eugenelinden.com.