Reuters Environment News
KYOTO, Japan - New nuclear plants are unlikely to be among the solutions used by the European Union to cut 15 percent from its greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2010, senior EU negotiator Jorgen Henningsen said on Friday.
"We believe the realities in the EU today mean that it's not likely that new capacity will be commissioned before 2010 unless it's already in the pipeline," Henningsen told a news conference on the margins of UN climate talks.
"Building additional capacity would not really be the answer to the question," he added in reference to rich countries' efforts to curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The 15-country EU has pledged the most ambitious target for cuts among rich countries, promising to shave 15 percent off its combined emissions of three greenhouse gases by the year 2010.
France, the EU's main user of nuclear energy, generates nearly three quarters of its electricity by atomic power.
That role is recognised in the bloc's so-called "bubble" plan, to share out of emission cuts and increases within the EU, which requires only that France stabilise its greenhouse gas emissions by the 2010 target date.
Sweden, with a phase-out plan for its nuclear plants, would be allowed a 10 percent increase in emissions by 2010 in recognition of its efforts to replace nuclear capacity with fossil-fuel-powered plants.
Henningsen's remarks are likely to disappoint nuclear industry lobbyists present in Kyoto, who have said nuclear's CO2-free energy generation makes it an ideal solution to problems posed by the threat of global climate change.
"If we are to create the economic growth necessary for future generations to enjoy an acceptable lifestyle, the only solution is a continued and expanded use of nuclear energy, along with conservation and better use of existing fossil fuels and the development of (renewable energy sources)," said a statement issued for the conference by nuclear industry bodies.
Reuters Environment News
By Frederic Niel
PARIS - French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said on Thursday the United States must first agree to significant cuts in greenhouse gases before any plan to trade emission rights among countries could be considered.
Voynet told Reuters that France, which with its European partners wants to set a schedule for deep reductions in the gases blamed for global warming, would not sign an agreement "at any price" at the Kyoto climate conference.
"The adoption of a timetable for emissions reductions at the level we expect them is the main condition for us," she said in an interview.
"A simple stabilisation of emissions as the U.S. proposes is completely insufficient."
EU countries at the December 1-10 conference want to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from their 1990 levels by the year 2010. Washington wants to stabililse emissions at their 1990 level by the years 2008 to 2012.
"The U.S. must be aware of the massive responsibility it has on this issue," Voynet, who will leave for Kyoto on Saturday, said in an interview. "I don't know if they can afford to be singled out as causing the conference to fail."
Voynet, whose environmentalist Greens party is part of the left-wing coalition that came to power in June, said she thought a U.S. threat to quit the conference if its plan was not accepted was only a negotiating position.
"We can't build a viable future on the basis of blackmail, threats and ukases," she remarked.
One U.S. proposal, to allow countries to "trade" their right to emit CO2 and other greenhouse gases with other states that are below their emission targets, was not taboo but could only be considered if a real emission cut target were set.
She said she was more optimistic about a success in Kyoto after Canada proposed to cut its emissions by three percent.
There was also no more talk about forcing underdeveloped countries to cut their emissions, which were lower per capita than those in industrialised countries, she said.
"When we had our industrial revolution, we allowed ourselves to pollute a planet that belonged to them too," she said. "Rather than putting limits on them that we didn't have, we could make sure clean technologies are transferred to the south."
Voynet said France was among Europe's least polluting countries because 95 percent of its electricity was generated by the country's extensive nuclear power network.
But the veteran anti-nuclear campaigner said atomic power was not the best answer to the challenge of global warming.
"The energy that is the cheapest and least dangerous and least polluting is the energy we don't waste," she explained.
"If in France we replaced normal lightbulbs with weaker ones in every house, we could save one nuclear reactor."
Nuclear power was ultimately more threatening than global warming, she said, because its economic, ecological and health costs were huge and still not completely known.
Reuters Environment News
By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO - Fresh delays in the opening of a nuclear fuel storage facility are leading to a pile-up of radioactive used fuel rods at Japan's nuclear power plants and sparking safety concerns, industry sources said on Tuesday.
Japan's northern prefecture of Aomori has yet to decide when to allow the opening of a spent nuclear fuel storage unit -- a sensitive political issue since a series of mishaps at Japanese nuclear plants over the last year.
Aomori prefectural governor Morio Kimura told reporters on Monday he had not yet decided when he would give the green light to the opening of a nuclear fuel storage facility.
Regular storage space was becoming scarce at one prototype reactor on the Japan Sea coast, where up to 40 rods needed to be changed during routine maintenance once or twice a year, the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp (PNC) said.
`There is only space for seven more rods,` a PNC spokesman said.
PNC had already decided to cut by half the space set aside at the reactor for emergency situations to make room for spent fuel rods, he said.
The cut in emergency space has raised safety fears about the plant among some residents in the area.
"We had some members in a nuclear safety panel who raised concerns over the impact of the cutback in the emergency space on safety operations," an official for the Fukui prefectural government said.
Space shortages have worsened this year because the spent fuel reprocessing plant at Tokaimura on the Pacific coast, which used to take used fuel rods from other reactors, has been shut since it was rocked by a a fire and explosion in March.
The reprocessing plant, also run by PNC, is expected to remain closed until at least the end of next year.
The Aomori nuclear fuel storage facility, which can store 3,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel, or three-year's worth of fuel from Japan's power generating reactors, was originally scheduled to start accepting spent rods in June.
However, the explosion at the Tokaimura plant, which exposed 37 workers to low levels of radiation, prompted Kimura to delay final approval for spent fuel shipments to start.
Kimura said earlier this year that before the storage facility could be used there would have to be a thorough investigation into the Tokaimura accident and the creation of a government panel that would give Aomori an opportunity to discuss nuclear issues with the central government.
The Science and Technology Agency came up with a interim report on the accident in May, and is expected to release a final report soon. The governmental panel was formed in September.
Reuters Environment News
TOKYO - The following is a list and brief descriptions of the six leading greenhouse gases under discussion for legally-binding reductions at the United Nations conference on global climate change from Dec 1-10 in Kyoto, western Japan :
Carbon dioxide (CO2): a naturally occurring gas produced by living organisms and fermentation, CO2 is also produced by the combustion of carbonaceous fuels. A normal component of the breath we exhale, it is hazardous in concentrated volumes.
CO2 emissions from fuel burning, responsible for about 87 percent of global warming, have increased by about 27 percent since the industrial revolution.
Global production from fuel burning in 1995 was about 22 billion tonnes.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O): naturally occurring from microbial action in soil, N20 is also produced by fuel burning. Scientists say its production is increased by the use of nitrogen based fertiliser in agriculture, as well as by the use of catalytic converters in automobiles.
Global Warming Potential (GWP): 170 to 190 times greater than that of CO2.
Methane: A naturally occuring, flammable gas, methane is caused by geological coal formations and by the decomposition of organic matter. Leading man-related sources are landfills; livestock digestive processes and waste, especially ruminants (cud-chewing animals); and wetland rice cultivation.
GWP: About 24 times higher than that of CO2.
The man-made gases have massive global warming potential compared to CO2. While they are not currently produced in large quantities relative to those of CO2, their emissions have increased significantly in the last ten years.
Hydrofluorocarbon gases (HFC) : specialty gases developed as an alternative to ozone-eating chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), the coolant, cleaning, and propellant gases were blacklisted internationally in 1987.
Because they do not possess chlorine, HFCs do not directly destroy ozone in the earth's atmosphere. They do, however, contribute to global warming.
Principal uses: refrigeration; as agents used to blow foams or insulation; solvents or cleaning agents, especially in semi-conductor manufacturing.
Global warming potential: 4,000 to 10,000 times that of CO2.
Perfluorocarbons (PFC), or Perfluorocompounds: Also replacement gases for CFCs but result also as a by-product of aluminium smelting. PFCs also used as a purging agent for semi-conductor manufacture and small amounts are produced during uranium enrichment processes.
Global warming potential: 6,000 to 10,000 that of CO2.
Sulphur Hexafluoride (SF2) : Very low atmospheric concentration makes it an ideal test gas for gas concentration monitors. Principal uses: insulating material for high-voltage equipment like circuit breakers at utilities. Also used in water leak detection for cable cooling systems.
Global warming potential: 25,000 times that of CO2.
Sources: U.S. Energy Intelligence Agency, International Energy Agency, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
By Philip Blenkinsop
GRONINGEN, Netherlands (Reuters) - The renewable energy industry is set to boom in the coming years as much because of economic necessity as because of choice, the president of the Worldwatch Institute said on Monday.
"The world is on the edge of an energy revolution," Lester Brown told delegates at a Global Panel energy conference.
Brown said he saw two areas in which pressure for change was set to rise: the insurance industry and the agriculture sector.
"The industry where concern is the greatest is the insurance world," he said.
Worldwide, weather-related claims had already reached $57 billion this decade and had led the industry itself to call for limits to air pollutants that affect the climate -- principally 'greenhouse gases' such as carbon dioxide.
The farming sector, said Brown, would shortly follow and was even likely to alter the conservative stance of the United States as crop yields there wane.
"Three of the last nine grain harvests (in the U.S. Midwest) have been reduced by a fifth or more," he said.
The predominant alternatives appeared to be wind, followed by solar power.
The growth in wind power, he said, is currently running at 24 percent per annum, such that by the end of this year some 7,600 megawatts of capacity should be in place worldwide.
"The potential for harnessing wind power is enormous... it is shown that a mere three states (in the U.S.) could satisfy the entire national needs," he said.
Solar power was growing at a more modest 15 percent per year, but he said was "getting ready to take off."
His comments to the Global Panel session entitled "Gas, oil and the geopolitical map of the 21st century" came as world environmental leaders meet in the Japanese city Kyoto to discuss air pollution limits.
Brown said that it was notable in the last year that companies such as BP and Shell had started to define themselves as energy companies, with commitments to renewables, rather than as oil giants.
One modest concession to fossil fuels Brown was prepared to make was to welcome a shift to gas.
Gasunie chairman George Verberg, speaking later, picked up on this theme. He said that traditional fuels would continue to account for around 90 percent of energy needs "for the next decades," but stressed that gas combustion produced significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than did other fossil fuels as well as efficiency benefits in combined heat and power units.
"Gas is an essential bridge to a future in which sustainable energy will play an increasingly important role," he said.
In conclusion, he urged the European Union to adopt an energy taxation policy that reflected gas's lower ecological impact.
Brown's conclusion was slightly different.
"Gas is a move in the right direction, but we have to go one step beyond that," he said.
Reuters Environment News
KYOTO - The European Union and the United States traded barbs about how to cope with global warming on Monday, the first day of a United Nations conference negotiating how to reduce greenhouse gases.
Under fire for not doing enough as the world's biggest producer of such gases and insisting poor nations must share the burden, the U.S. singled out the European Union's (EU) ambitious plans to cut gases as a matter of "strong concern".
In what was shaping up as a new trans-Atlantic row, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Melinda Kimble icily dissected an EU position that has won it diplomatic and environmental points for offering far greater cuts than Washington.
"We continue to have strong concerns about the proposed European Union 'bubble'," she told delegates from 160 nations.
Under the EU "bubble" plan, the bloc as a whole, rather than individual countries, would cut emissions by 15 percent from 1990 levels by 2010, compared with a U.S. offer to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.
Kimble said the EU plan needed further explanation and justification in five areas, from what happens if more nations join the bloc to how to enforce compliance.
EU spokesman Jorgen Henningsen, director for the environment and natural resources, shot back that Washington seemed perturbed by the EU's ambitions for the environment.
"If the strong concerns....are the fact that the EU position is uncomfortably ambitious for the U.S. then I would say we have a comparable concern that the U.S. position is uncomfortably unambitious from our point of view," Henningsen told Reuters Television.
Conference president Hiroshi Oki, Japan's environment minister, said climate change was one of the most serious environmental issues the world had encountered.
"Only a fully worldwide strategy can effectively address the problem of climate change," Oki said in an opening speech.
"Projected changes in climate will result in significant, often adverse, impacts on many ecological systems and socio-economic sectors. Developing countries and small island countries are especially vulnerable to climate change."
Forecasts of effects include low-lying island states disappearing under the ocean as water levels rise from the heating up of polar ice caps, the spread of deserts, and a rise in tropical diseases such as malaria.
But business leaders fear the costs could have equally damaging effects on economic growth and jobs.
At talks over the next 10 days, delegates will try to settle on a plan to cut gases such as carbon dioxide, produced from burning oil, coal and other fossil fuels.
The Third Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3) will hold official-level talks until next Monday when ministers, including possibly U.S. Vice President Al Gore, take over the final negotiations.
Nearly 10,000 visitors -- 1,500 officials, 5,000 environmentalists and 3,000 journalists -- have descended on Kyoto, one of Japan's least polluted cities.
The conference opened in this ancient Japanese capital with the world badly split on how to stop the earth from heating up.
In a sign of fissures, discussion has already started on how to word a fallback position if the meeting does not agree on a binding protocol by the time it ends on December 10.
Debates raged over what gases to cut, whether to choose a target year and the role of developing nations.
Japan suggested three natural gases -- carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Others wanted to include three gases produced by man -- hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).
Oki said: "Developed countries should take the lead now in committing themselves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels."
Host Japan has singled out compromise by the United States as a key to a successful outcome.
"The U.S. is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases, as well as the greatest economy. It is quite necessary that the world community see that the U.S. agrees," Oki told reporters.
As well as cautioning against burdensome economic cuts, the United States wants commitments by poor nations such as China and India to cut emissions, a plan they flatly oppose.
The U.S. Senate has passed a unanimous resolution asking President Bill Clinton not to sign any agreement that does not contain emission cut commitments by developing countries.