SOFIA - Greek foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos said on Tuesday Bulgaria should discuss the safety of its Kozloduy nuclear plant with competent international authorities.
Asked about the safety of the Soviet-made atomic plant in northern Bulgaria, Pangalos, who is on a one-day visit to Sofia, said through an interpreter:
"We think that this issue should be discussed by the Bulgarian government, the competent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Union."
In the last few years Sofia has been pressed by the European Union to close its four 440-megawatt reactors. The plant also has two more modern 1,000-megawatt reactors.
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova said his country's long-term energy strategy, coordinated with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), had confirmed the government's decision to close the four small units at the Kozloduy plant.
Bulgaria, dependent on the plant for 45 percent of the country's electricity, vows to keep upgrading it and to run the four reactors to the end of their operational life, which is 2004-2005 for units one and two respectively and 2008-2010 for units three and four.
On the invitation of the Bulgarian government an operational safety assessment review team from the IAEA started its 17-day mission on January 12 aimed at assessing the operational safety of the four reactors.
"We are not afraid that the (Kozloduy) nuclear plant will explode but Kosovo," Mihailova said, referring to the crisis in the neighboring Yugoslav province of Kosovo.
By Sunil Kataria
NEW DELHI - A multibillion-rupee Indian project to switch to eco-friendly fuels is near completion, and greener fuel will be available at retail outlets by October 1, a senior government adviser said on Monday.
K.P. Shahi, adviser to the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, said 57 billion rupees ($1.34 billion) had been spent to reduce the sulphur content in diesel to 0.25 percent by weight from 1.0 percent.
"The low sulphur diesel will be available across the country from October 1, 1999," Shahi told reporters on the sidelines of a seminar on fuel and vehicular technology organised by the Association of Indian Automobile manufacturers (AIAM).
He added that once the 0.25 percent level of sulphur was achieved, the next stage would be to reduce it further to 0.05 percent - the standard prevalent in the United States, Japan and other developed countries.
In June 1997, India approved a hydro-desulphurisation project at nine refineries to reduce the sulphur content in diesel.
Shahi said the government was spending another 10 billion rupees to remove the lead content in petrol.
In 1996, the government also approved setting up reformers at three refineries, at a cost of 9.9 billion rupees, to reduce the lead content in petrol.
"By April 1, 2000, lead-free petrol would be sold throughout the country," Shahi said.
In 1995, India made it mandatory for new cars to use lead-free fuel and ordered car makers to fit vehicles with catalytic converters to neutralise harmful emissions. But most vehicles are old and do not have emission-control devices.
Delhi Traffic Police data shows there are now 3.3 million cars, trucks, buses and scooters plying the streets of the capital.
Currently, lead-free petrol is sold in India's four biggest cities and some northern towns surrounding the Taj Mahal monument.
Dilip Biswas, chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board, said 80 outlets for compressed natural gas would be opened in New Delhi, one of the world's most polluted cities, by 2000.
Studies conducted by the independent think-tank Centre for Science and Environment show that the level of suspended particle matter, a barometer of air pollution, is five times higher than the upper limit set by the government.
Currently there are only nine compressed natural gas stations in Delhi, which operate at less than 20 percent of their total capacity.
Industry officials blame low gas pressure at the filling stations and few outlets for the lack of enthusiasm.
"The pressure is so low that it takes roughly two hours for a tank to be filled. Who has that sort of time?" said one industry official. ($1= 42.5 rupees)
LONDON - Britain is in danger of being drawn into a growing row between France and Germany over the reprocessing of German nuclear waste, industry executives said on Monday.
Britain and France are worried about the loss of several billion dollars worth of work if Germany phases out nuclear electricity and stops sending nuclear waste to state-owned British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) and French government-controlled Cogema.
German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder raised the tempo on Monday in the growing spat by rejecting claims by France that Germany was breaking contracts that would demand substantial compensation.
So far Britain has taken a back seat in the developing argument and officials at BNFL are optimistic about the robustness of the British contracts with Germany.
"We expect the contracts to be honoured. Government letters supporting the 1991 contracts said 'respective governments will not interfere'" said Peter Osbourne, a spokesman for BNFL.
Osbourne said BNFL had not received any official confirmation from Germany that the contracts would not be kept.
"The German utilities, which whom we actually have the contracts, want them honoured while the British Department of Trade and Industry wants them to be honourd or compensation paid," he said.
BNFL has a contract to reprocess 1,000 tonnes of German nuclear waste from 1994 to 2004 which accounts for 1.2 billion pounds ($1.98 billion), or 10 percent of its Thorp plant's order book.
Jean Syrota, head of French reprocessor Cogema, said the group faced losses of about 30 billion francs ($5.3 billion) over 10 years if contracts were broken.
Nuclear experts said Germany's aim to end its involvement in the nuclear reprocessing business by the end of 1999 may not be logistically achievable.
"There is German nuclear material undergoing treatment in both France and Britain. If the Germans break contracts and France and the UK send the waste back to Germany it will not be good. Germany does not have any facilities to handle this kind of stuff, that is why they sent it to us in the first place," said one British executive.
The German government is set to have talks with German utility companies at the end of the month to try and reach a consensus on how to proceed.
MELBOURNE - Queensland state-owned power retailer Energex said on Tuesday it would buy at least 75 percent of the 30 megawatt output from a A$40 million co-generation plant fuelled by a sugar cane by-product.
Energex chief executive officer Steve McRae said consumers were prepared to pay a premium for energy sources that reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
"Because of that there is a need for more renewable energy in the system," he said.
The plant, a joint venture between state-owned Austa Energy and the Rocky Point Sugar Mill in south-east Queensland, will put 30 megawatts into the power grid from July next year.
The plant would be fuelled by bagasse, a leafy sugar cane by-product, during the cane crushing season and other waste products through the remainder of the year.
Queensland Mines and Energy Minister Tony McGrady said the plant had received a A$3 million grant through the Australian Greenhouse Office.
"It will effectively increase Queensland's green energy production by seven times and is likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 185,000 tonnes annually," he said in a statement.
Energex communications manager Justin Poulus said there had been strong uptake of the company's green energy programme, where consumers paid a premium to fund green energy.
Poulus said the premium was around two cents per kilowatt hour, capped at A$2.50 per week for household users and A$3.00 per MWh for business.
"There are a good deal more people out there than anyone thought who have that social conscience," he said.
Most of Queensland's power generation is from coal-fired generation, considered a major source of greenhouse gases.
PARIS - French state-owned nuclear material company Cogema said on Monday that its German partners had no ground to break contracts on the basis of force majeure following a German government decision to cancel the agreement.
In a statement, Cogema, which risks to lose 30 billion francs in income to 2010 on existing German nuclear waste reprocessing contracts, said; "the plans by the German government are against their contractual engagements and strict international legal obligations. This excludes all possibility to declare force majeure to break the signed contracts."
German members of government last week confirmed the country's intention to end within a year the reprocessing of German nuclear waste taking place at Cogema's La Hague plant.
Cogema said the current contracts had been signed as part of Franco-German government agreements which "have the value of a treaty".
The company said that the text, published in the French Official Journal of August 17, 1990, of the agreement stated that the German government had engaged itself not to hinder neither the access by German electricy generators to the Cogema reprocessing capacity nor the transport of nuclear waste from Germany to France nor the return of reprocessed material.
Cogema's head Jean Syrota told Reuters on Sunday that France would demand "substantial compensation" if the German government scrapped the long-term nuclear reprocessing deals.
WOERLITZ, Germany - Germany's ecologist Greens said on Sunday they were confident Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would push through the government's controversial plan to gradually phase out nuclear energy.
"We trust in his ability to communicate and moderate," Greens parliamentary leader Rezzo Schlauch said, referring to negotiations Schroeder is holding this month with the country's large nuclear lobby over the pull-out.
The Greens, a junior coalition partner in Schroeder's government, have accused the chancellor of dragging his feet over the election campaign pledge.
Speaking after a weekend meeting of Greens executives in the eastern German town of Woerlitz which Schroeder also attended, Schlauch said the coalition row over the nuclear phase out had been settled.
"The fact he came here shows the good relationship within this coalition," Schlauch told reporters.
The planned phase out, which is due to start within a year and is a key Greens condition for backing Schroeder as chancellor, has caused controversy both at home and abroad.
Nuclear firms, which provide around a third of the country's energy, say the move could cost them hundreds of millions of marks in wasted investment and have threatened to sue.
An accompanying ban on the reprocessing of German nuclear waste has prompted demands from France and Britain for compensation over lucrative waste reprocessing contracts at risk because of the policy. Germany's contract with French state-run reprocessing firm Cogema is believed to total 30 billion francs ($5.3 billion) up to 2010. Britain's BNFL also has significant deals for reprocessing at its Sellafield plant.
By Gerard Bon
PARIS - France raised the stakes in a looming nuclear waste row with Germany on Sunday by saying official agreements called for the payment of damages, disputed by Bonn, if it breaks reprocessing contracts.
Jean Syrota, head of the reprocessing firm Cogema, said the accompanying agreements were as valid as the actual contracts and France would demand "substantial compensation" if Bonn scrapped the long-term deals as it withdraws from nuclear power.
"Those accords, published in the Offical Journal on August 17, 1990 after the contracts, have the force of a contract," he told Reuters.
"The two governments clearly stated they would not create any obstables to the execution of the contracts."
Germany's Green Environment Minister Juergen Trittin caused dismay in Paris on Friday when he announced that Bonn's decision to gradually phase out nuclear power was a case of force majeure, which would require no compensation.
The French foreign ministry said commercial deals had to be respected and senior officials made it clear Paris would demand that Bonn stick to the contracts or pay up.
Germany, which has no reprocessing plant, also has some of its nuclear waste treated in Britain. Trittin was due to visit London to discuss this on Wednesday and.
Syrota said Cogema faced losses of about 30 billion francs ($5.3 billion) over 10 years if the new Bonn government went ahead and broke the contracts to reprocess German nuclear waste at Cogema's La Hague plant.
Germany's contracts with Cogema are believed to make up 20 percent of the company's capacity and its total waste on the company's premises amounts to more than 800 tonnes.
Syrota said Paris and Bonn should study the whole legal context of the nuclear agreements and not just part.
The Paris daily Le Monde reported on Saturday the standard reprocessing contract for Germany said no compensation was needed if a party pulled out due to a force majeure, including "government acts or restrictions".
The nuclear row row threw an unexpected spanner in relations between France and Germany, whose new foreign minister, Greens leader Joschka Fischer, has been careful to work closely with Paris on European and other foreign issues.
French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet, a Green opponent of nuclear power, has so far said only that a bilateral commission would study the problems that suspension of the contracts would cause.
She said she was not surprised by the new German approach, based on the coalition agreement signed last October by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and the Greens, but other members of the mostly pro-nuclear cabinet apparently were.
"I took the German decision very seriously," she told the daily Liberation. "Some ministers probably thought it was only a statement in principle that would soften with time."
By Mark John
BONN - German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Saturday rejected demands from France and Britain for compensation over lucrative waste reprocessing contracts at risk because of Bonn's planned pull-out from nuclear power.
Schroeder's no-nuke plans have put his environment-minded government in hot water both at home and abroad - at odds with two major European partners and the two German states most concerned.
"We are not bound to make compensation," Schroeder told reporters after a meeting with his junior coalition partners the ecologist Greens, adding there was no legal basis for any damage claims.
A commitment by Schroeder's centre-left alliance of Social Democrats and Greens to pull out of nuclear energy has run into controversy because of an accompanying ban on the reprocessing of nuclear waste due to take effect from next January.
Germany's contracts with French state-run reprocessing firm Cogema are believed to total 30 billion francs ($5.3 billion) up to 2010. Britain's BNFL also has significant contracts for reprocessing at its Sellafield plant.
Both the French and British government have warned they may seek compensation payments to the firms involved if existing contracts are cancelled.
Schroeder's remarks support the line taken by his Environment Minister, leading Green Juergen Trittin, at a meeting with French government officials in Paris on Friday.
To the dismay of the French, Trittin insisted that the German government's commitment to pulling out of nuclear power, which provides around a third of the country's energy, was a case of force majeure which allowed contracts to be cancelled.
The Paris daily Le Monde said on Saturday that Germany's reprocessing contract with France contained an escape clause that no compensation was called for if one side was forced to pull out by "government acts or restrictions."
The German stand, however, risks damaging relations with two of Bonn's closest European allies. Trittin is due to explain his attitude to the British government officials in London next Wednesday.
Earlier, an offer by Bonn to take back all German waste currently awaiting reprocessing in France's La Hague plant was thrown into doubt by two large German states which said they won't let the waste be returned to storage on their territories.
Wolfgang Clement, premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, said he would stop any transfers of waste back to the state's Ahaus depot, one of Germany's largest nuclear waste storage centres.
"We won't let that happen," he was quoted by Focus magazine as saying. "If it happens, I will personally intervene to the chancellor," he added, meaning Gerhard Schroeder who, like Clement, is a Social Democrat.
Lower Saxony, the north German state were the other main storage centre is located, also said it would oppose any shipments, which in the past have triggered fierce battles between police and anti-nuclear protesters.
"Shipments threaten the peace... and the state premier of Lower Saxony has no interest in threatening the peace of the population of Lower Saxony," the region's premier Gerhard Glogowski told NDR radio.
Asked to comment on the threatened vetoes of shipments, Schroeder insisted it was up to the Federal Radiation Protection Office, not state premiers, to sanction them.
BONN - Germany's nuclear lobby said on Friday that draft government legislation to phase out nuclear power went back on promises made by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder late last year.
Nuclear industry executives told German newspapers there would be no sense in attending talks to agree on the country's planned pull-out from atomic energy if the government's reform draft was not changed.
But government spokesman Uwe-Karsten Heye said Schroeder was confident the talks, scheduled for January 26, would go ahead.
"I have heard nothing to indicate the contrary," Heye told a regular government news conference.
Schroeder had called for a 12-month consultation period with utilities to avoid potentially huge compensation claims from firms forced to close down their plants, which together produce a third of Germany's energy.
But nuclear chiefs said legislation drawn up by Environment Minister Juergen Trittin broke Schroeder's promises that the withdrawal would be as painless as possible.
"There are very problematic positions which do not tally with what was agreed in the meeting with the Chancellor on December 14," Otto Majewski, head of Viag AG's Bayernwerk nuclear operator, told Die Welt daily.
Majewski said the government needed to come up with a good explanation for his actions if the energy consensus talks were to have a chance of making progress.
Trittin said on Thursday he would launch a bill this month setting out the gradual phase-out of Germany's 19 reactors.
He said it would be accompanied by a ban on German firms sending their nuclear waste to reprocessing plants in France and Britain, effective from next January.
The French government has insisted it will demand compensation for French companies if existing reprocessing contracts are cancelled as a result.
Trittin was in Paris on Friday for talks with French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet on the matter.
The mass circulation Bild printed a letter from managers of Viag, RWE and Veba, Germany's three main utilities, to Schroeder warning against a stop to reprocessing.
The letter said the reprocessing ban could immediately disrupt the running of their nuclear plants and said Trittin's bill risked "making the scope for any consensus too narrow".
Majewski said cancelling reprocessing contracts would cause massive problems for utilities, which lack space to store waste fuel and have not been granted permission to expand their storage capacity.
Germany, which does not have reprocessing facilities of its own, sends its nuclear waste to France's La Hague and Britain's Sellafield plants for reprocessing.
German contracts are estimated to make up a fifth of the business of French state-run reprocessor Cogema. Cancellation of outstanding contracts, some of which run till 2010, would cost Cogema up to 50 billion francs, company sources say.
British Nuclear Fuels has a contract to reprocess 1,000 tonnes of German nuclear waste between 1994 and 2004. Sellafield has so far received 600 tonnes of spent fuel.
By Frederic Niel
PARIS - A major row loomed between Paris and Bonn as Germany on Friday said it would not pay compensation if it scrapped waste reprocessing contracts with French companies as it abolishes nuclear energy from German soil.
"There is no legal basis for compensation," German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin told a news conference after talks in Paris with his French colleague Dominique Voynet.
He said a sovereign decision by the new German government to gradually phase out nuclear energy was a case of force majeure under which contracts may be rescinded without compensation. Germany does not have its own nuclear waste reprocessing plants.
Trittin, of the German Greens party, is expected to present a nuclear bill to parliament by January 27. The nuclear shutdown would also include a ban on the export of German nuclear waste to France and Britain for reprocessing.
Britain said it was seeking urgent talks with Bonn. Trittin is due in London on Wednesday.
Voynet, a member of France's Greens, said the French government had yet to decide its stand on compensation. She said a joint French-German commission would study the technical, financial, economic, legal and employment problems raised by a suspension of the contracts.
The French Foreign Ministry said commercial deals had to be respected, and senior officials made it clear France would demand Bonn stick to the contracts or pay up.
Germany's contracts with the French state-run reprocessing company Cogema are believed to make up 20 percent of the company's capacity and total 30 billion francs ($5.3 billion) until 2010.
"Contracts have been signed. These contracts must be respected...The French government will be very firm on this," Education and Research Minister Claude Allegre said.
The head of the ruling French Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, said Germany could drop nuclear energy if it wanted to. But it was bound by the decisions of the previous governmment and would have to pay compensation.
Trittin said Germany would take back all the waste shipped to France, which Cogema has estimated at more than 800 tonnes. Voynet said Germany had asked to be given time to build waste storage facilities.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, concerned the nuclear ban could put German firms in breach of contract with French and British reprocessors, has insisted it be delayed by a year, a plan the Greens have accepted.
Germany's energy industry has warned Bonn it could face huge compensation claims if plants, which together produce a third of Germany's energy, are forced to be shut down.
SOFIA - Bulgaria will pay with goods for part of Russian nuclear fuel supplies and disposal of highly radioactive waste from its Kozloduy nuclear plant, a senior energy official said on Friday.
"We hope to sign the payment deal for 1999 between the two countries as soon as possible as we are ready with the draft contract," the official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.
He said some 20 percent of the price for reprocessing and disposing of Kozloduy's spent fuel and for buying fresh nuclear fuel will be paid for mainly with foods and medicines.
Russia is the sole supplier of nuclear fuel for the six reactors at the 3,760-megawatt, Soviet-made plant at Kozloduy.
BERLIN - German Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said on Thursday he expected to unveil new legislation this month setting out the government's plans to gradually phase out nuclear energy.
Trittin, a leader of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's junior coalition partners the Greens, said in a statement he expected to present the bill to parliament by January 27.
Trittin, who was due to travel to Paris to discuss the plan with French government officials, insisted the shutdown would also include a ban on the export of German nuclear waste to France and Britain for reprocessing.
"Germany does not want to turn France or Britain into a nuclear waste dump," he told reporters in Berlin before leaving for France. Germany does not have its own reprocessing plants.
Assuming parliament approves Trittin's bill, the gradual shutting down of Germany's 19 reactors, which provide around a third of its energy, is scheduled to begin after a 12-month consultation period with plant operators.
The timing of the pull-out had looked in doubt after the ecologist Greens and Schroeder's Social Democrats could not agree on when the ban on waste shipments should take effect.
Schroeder, concerned it could put German firms in breach of contract with reprocessors at the La Hague plant in France and Britain's Sellafield, insisted the ban should be delayed by a year, a plan the Greens have accepted.
Trittin has scheduled a joint news conference with French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet for Friday during a two-day visit to Paris. He will also discuss the plan with British officials in London next Wednesday.
Germany's energy industry has warned Bonn it could face huge compensation claims if plants are forced to be shut down.
LONDON - European and American physicists are in a race to come up with a viable solution to destroy hazardous radioactive waste with a neutron treatment called transmutation, the New Scientist reported on Wednesday.
The magazine said transmutation might destroy the existing inventory of deadly plutonium, minimise the threat of nuclear terrorism and might even help to generate electricity.
"Add a neutron or two to some of the most dangerous radioactive elements and you destroy then," the weekly said. "Plutonium, for example, is split asunder, while the most intractable fission products are rendered harmless."
Physicists believe that transmutation can shorten to 15.8 seconds from 200,000 years the time it takes for one of the most noxious constituents of radioactive waste, technetium-99, to decay to half its initial radioactive level.
Technetium-99 is a fission product of uranium and reactors around the world spew out about six tonnes of it each year. Because it dissolves easily in water, it accumulates in the food chain. Concentrations of the product have risen 100-fold in some parts of the ocean since the 1960s because of nuclear policy.
Despite some scepticism, the Spanish, French and Italian governments are about to receive a report outlining the details needed to build a prototype transmutation reactor, the magazine reported, while the U.S. Department of Energy is ploughing $4.0 million into its own research and development.
With new research into a theory that had been rejected as technologically and economically unfeasible, European physicists are also now trying to produce cheap power on top of destroying plutonium and reducing hazardous waste.
Their proposed machine has been dubbed the "Energy Amplifier" by its designer, the Nobel prize winning physicist Carlo Rubbia.
But so far, all research is at an early stage. Despite being bullish, experts only have a simulation and a series of experiments on isolated aspects of a system.
And observers remain cautious. Richard Bush, the fuel processing manager at Britain's AEA Technology science and engineering business, said too many untested claims were being made. Others say technically the process is on the "edge of the possible" but still question whether it makes economic sense.
By Adam Tanner
MOSCOW - The environmental group Greenpeace said on Tuesday Russia was considering importing nuclear waste from Switzerland for long-term storage in a move it called illegal and environmentally risky.
A Russian Atomic Energy Ministry official who took part in September talks in Zurich confirmed to Reuters Moscow was exploring reprocessing and storing spent fuel from Switzerland and other Western nations but had struck no deals yet.
"There were such talks, but that does not mean that Russia or Russian representatives have agreed to import or export anything," said Boris Nikipelov, a ministry marketing expert.
"The question is being studied in Switzerland and France and Germany and in the East."
In Zurich, Swiss utilities acknowledged having held talks on storing nuclear waste in Russia, but they did not inform Swiss authorities since no contractual agreements had been made.
"A memorandum of understanding is not a contract and therefore not presented to authorities," the Swiss utility Nordostschweizerische Kraftwerke (NOK) said in a statement which it released on behalf of itself and other nuclear utilities.
Greenpeace released a September 17 document signed by Russia and a Swiss utility official from Elektrizitaets-Gesellschaft Laufenburg AG expressing Swiss interest in sending spent fuel to Russia for permanent storage.
"Such a shipment is completely illegal under Russian environmental law," Greenpeace anti-nuclear campaigner Igor Forofontov said. "Society knows nothing of these activities."
NOK said the fact that Swiss utilities have made various international contacts to talk about permanent international storage sites has been publicly known for years.
The memorandum did nothing more than confirm talks would also be held with Russia about the possibility of international long-term storage of radioactive nuclear waste, it added.
A spokeswoman for Switzerland's Environment, Energy and Transport Ministry said they learned of the memorandum from the Greenpeace statement.
Nikipelov, one of two ministry officials present at the talks, said nuclear officials were trying to change a 1991 law that allows reprocessing but not storage of foreign waste. "Before reprocessing you need to have storage," he said.
Many countries import or export nuclear power plant waste, but the issue alarms some Russia experts who say the country is already unable to handle its own waste left from the Soviet era.
Before the 1991 law was adopted, Russia imported waste from countries using Soviet-designed nuclear power plants including Ukraine, Lithuania and Finland, officials said.
"All necessary safety measures are taken: a special train, reinforced security," said Yuri Bespalko, a spokesman for Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry. "So far there is no basis to sound an alarm. This alarm by Greenpeace is a false alarm."
If the nuclear waste imports from Switzerland take place from 2000 to 2030 as outlined in the preliminary protocol, it would be the first time Russia had accepted nuclear waste from Western-designed reactors, officials said.
Environmental officials estimated Russia stood to earn between $270 and $1,000 a kg ($120 and $450 a pound) by taking nuclear waste, with the Swiss protocol calling for several thousand tonnes to be sent to Russia over the 30-year period.
Such amounts mean billions of dollars for cash-strapped Russia, but political pressure from environmental groups has already ended an agreement to process Finnish nuclear waste.
BONN - German Environmental Minister Juergen Trittin will meet top French government officials in Paris on Thursday to discuss Germany's plans to abandon nuclear energy, a spokesman said on Tuesday.
Trittin was due to meet Economics and Finance Minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn during his visit to Paris, an Environmental Ministry spokesman said.
Trittin, a leader of the Greens, has battled with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder about the pace of the nuclear energy exit even though both agree on the goal to phase-out nuclear energy use.
They will hold a coalition meeting in Berlin on Wednesday aimed at resolving a row over a proposed ban on exporting nuclear waste for reprocessing. German government officials have signalled a compromise is emerging on the issue.
Under the proposed agreement, Germany would delay by one year the ban on nuclear waste being sent abroad for reprocessing.
That would give the nuclear firms time to renegotiate existing contracts for the reprocessing of their waste, which is currently sent to France's La Hague plant and Britain's Sellafield.
The German government is examining the possibility of citing force majeur to justify the cancellation of long-term contracts with the foreign reprocessing firms.
"Under certain circumstances, such as force majeur, the contracts could become invalid," said Environemntal Ministry spokesman Michael Schroeren. "Force majeur could be, for example, a change in the German law."
The ban on nuclear waste being sent abroad for reprocessing was to have begun immediately with the introduction of the nuclear phase-out law. But energy firms warned that could put them in breach of contract with the British and French firms.
Germany relies on nuclear fuel for around a third of its energy needs. Schroeder has agreed to hold 12 months of negotiations with Germany's nuclear energy firms before determing how quickly the withdrawl should go ahead.
Because of the long working life of many of Germany's nuclear reactors, the phase-out could take decades.
By Miho Yoshikawa
TOKYO - Nuclear power is the key to whether Japan will be able to meet the stiff targets for greenhouse gas cuts that it agreed to at a 1997 United Nations conference, a senior official at Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said on Wednesday.
At the Kyoto conference, host Japan committed itself to an average six percent cut in emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases from 1990 levels by the period from 2008 to 2012.
"It will probably be just about impossible for Japan to meet its (reduction) target...unless plans to build nuclear power plants progress as scheduled," TEPCO's Director of Environment, Research & Development Yasuo Hosoya told Reuters.
He was referring to Japan's plan to create as many as 20 new nuclear reactors in the next dozen years, a goal widely seen as difficult if not unrealistic in light of the widespread public distrust in Japan's nuclear energy policy.
Hosoya acknowledged that the target of launching so many nuclear reactors will be no simple task.
"To be frank, it will not be easy," he said.
A spate of accidents and cover-up attempts in the domestic nuclear power industry since 1995 have undermined public faith in Japan's nuclear policy, making it extremely difficult for the industry to find a new site to build a nuclear reactor.
"It is not easy to regain trust you have lost," Hosoya said.
As director of environment, research and development at Japan's largest electric power company, Hosoya is at the vanguard of the industry's move to reduce greenhouse gases.
Hosoya said nuclear energy was also important for Japan because it could be recycled, a characteristic which is invaluable for a nation that is almost totally dependent on imports for its energy needs.
Nuclear power is the base load supply for Japan's electric power industry, and is the source for a little over a third of the electricity generated by Japan's nine leading power utilities.
Trimming greenhouse gases in Japan is seen as virtually tantamount to cutting CO2 emissions.
Data from Japan's Environment Agency shows that CO2 emitted from energy sources accounted for 85.5 percent of all greenhouse gases produced in Japan in fiscal 1995/96.
Moreover, the electric power industry, which produces CO2 in the process of generating electricity, accounts for about 25 percent of the nation's total CO2 emission, and thus has a large role to play in their reduction.
The industry has said it will try to cut 1990-level CO2 emissions per kilowatt-hour of electric energy by nearly 20 percent by 2010.
Hosoya said achieving the target to cut greenhouse gases was difficult as it required a balance of "the three Es" - energy, the economy and the environment.
HAMBURG, Germany - Three times as potent as petrol and with water its only waste product, liquid hydrogen went on sale to German motorists on Tuesday with the launch of the first filling station in Europe to offer the fuel.
Early business was slow, but with car-makers racing to offer the world's first mass-produced hydrogen vehicle, backers of the venture insisted it was only a matter of time before their forecourt was as crowded as any petrol and diesel garage.
"Hydrogen will be the most important energy source of the 21st century. Long-term, it will replace oil and gas," said Fritz Vahrenholt of Deutsche Shell, part of the consortium behind the station.
Early prototype vehicles using special fuel cells have harnessed 70 percent of the energy created from the combustion of hydrogen compared to the mere 23 percent of petrol's potential exploited by standard engines.
While exhaust fumes from petrol-driven cars are seen as contributing to global warming, hydrogen cars produce nothing more objectionable than plain water.
On the downside, cooling hydrogen down to the minus 253 degrees celsius at which it becomes a liquid requires so much energy that attempts to commercialise the technology have so far been thwarted.
Automakers such as DaimlerChrysler AG have sought to get round such problems by building a prototype using the more easily manageable fuel of liquid methanol. The car itself then converts this into hydrogen gas for immediate use.
A DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman said on Tuesday the company aimed to be ready to offer vehicles either running directly from hydrogen or from converted methanol from 2004, depending on market needs.
Environmental groups view hydrogen cars with great scepticism, arguing that the overall energy expenditure - including that used in the manufacture of hydrogen in the first place - means there are no ecological benefits.
"Huge amounts of energy are actually destroyed during the process," said Wolfgang Lohbeck of the German arm of environmental pressure group Greenpeace.
"We're not saying there's absolutely no future for hydrogen as a fuel but at the moment this type of thing is just a publicity stunt."
PARIS - France's state-owned nuclear fuel firm Cogema said on Monday that an investigating magistrate had launched an inquiry into its work after anti-nuclear activists said it endangered public health.
A magistrate in Cherbourg, near Cogema's nuclear reprocessing plant in La Hague, said the probe would evaluate whether Cogema violated atomic safety regulations in such a way as to kill, injure, cripple or mutilate people.
Cogema said it was surprised by the accusations since its reprocessing work was regularly monitored by public officials and no immediate mortal threat - a key element in bringing such charges of endangering others - had been noted.
"Cogema formally disputes the charge that it has abandoned, dumped or arranged to have dumped waste materials in violation of the law," it said in a statement.
The environmental group Greenpeace said in November that tests at La Hague had revealed airborne radioactivity many thousands of times above normal atmospheric levels.
Cogema dismissed the accusations as theatrics and said the rare radioactive gas Krypton-85 that Greenpeace found was not highly toxic.
By Bill Tarrant
SEOUL - North Korea on Tuesday threatened to abandon a key nuclear accord, accusing Washington of failing to keep its end of the deal, in what was viewed as a rhetorical blast ahead of crucial diplomatic talks.
"The United States has not faithfully implemented any of its commitments... This compels the DPRK (North Korea) to expect nothing any longer from the Agreed Framework," North Korea's official newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an editorial.
Under the Agreed Framework concluded in Geneva in 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for commercial nuclear power reactors and fuel oil supplies to keep its shattered industries going.
"We have no intention of observing the Geneva agreement because the United States refuses to abandon its attempts to use it as a lever to stifle the DPRK," said the editorial, carried on the official Korean Central News Agency.
"It is high time the U.S. clarified its stand about whether it will implement or break the agreed framework. The DPRK also has the right of choice," the editorial said.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman dismissed the latest blast from Pyongyang as the sort of "routine rhetoric" it churns out ahead of diplomatic talks.
"The threats seem to be routine rhetoric before any important meeting like the Geneva talks," spokesman Lee Ho-jin said.
North Korea and the United States are to meet in Geneva on Saturday over Washington's suspicions about a possible revival of the North's nuclear programme.
The bilateral talks are to be followed by four-party talks on Monday among the two Koreas, China and the United States aimed at replacing the fraying armistice that halted fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War with a permanent peace.
Tensions have grown along the last Cold War frontier since North Korea fired a missile over Japan last August and refused to grant access to what Washington suspects is a vast underground nuclear site near Yongbyon.
The site is at a Soviet-era nuclear power plant that has been mothballed under the Agreed Framework.
A U.S. official visited North Korea in November bit failed to win access to the site after rejecting Pyongyang's demand for $300 million in compensation for allowing inspections.
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman on Monday repeated the compensation demand, but analysts were intrigued by what appears to be new flexibility from Pyongyang over the issue.
The North Korean spokesman told KCNA if the United States could not provide the $300 million in compen move toward opening diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, end long-standing trade sanctions and step up food and development aid.
North Korea is suffering widespread food shortages due to a combination of floods, drought and mismanagement of the state-run agricultural system.
Its Soviet-style economy is in shambles eight years after the Soviet Union disintegrated and massive aid from Moscow ended.
ANKARA - Two Turkish scrap collectors could die from radiation received from highly radioactive Cobalt 60 contained in iron ingots they were breaking up in an Istanbul scrapyard, Anatolian news agency reported on Saturday.
They went to an Istanbul hospital on Friday complaining of frequent nausea, listlessness and dizziness, it said.
"The two patients' lives are fatally in danger. There are depressions in their bone marrows," Anatolian quoted hospital doctor Caglar Canbolat as saying.
The agency said the men had bought two tonnes of scrap lead, which contained the iron ingots with the Cobalt 60. It did not say when they were initially affected and gave no indication of the origin of the scrap.
Police cordoned off the scrapyard in western Istanbul and issued a notice telling people who might have been there recently to report to hospital.
Anatolian said eight other people reported to hospital on Saturday but gave no indication as to whether they had been affected by the radioactice Cobalt.
It said experts from a nearby nuclear research centre had to survey the scrapyard.