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The heat is on; Don't nuke the climate

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(June 9, 2000) As the debate heats up on how to fulfill the Kyoto Climate Protocol targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the proponents of nuclear energy have intensified their lobby. Every occasion is seized by the proponents to convey their message that nuclear energy should be an accepted means to fight the greenhouse effect.

(531.5180) WISE Amsterdam - The latest attempt was undertaken by France during the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York at the end of May. Supported by the United Kingdom, the French negotiators tried to get nuclear energy in the consensus document of the NPT Review Conference as a contribution to sustainable development, and recommended that it be included as eligible for emission credit under the Kyoto Protocol.

Crucial in successfully blocking this attempt by France was the role of a group of Pacific Ocean states and territories which, for the first time, took a firm position against nuclear energy. But even within the Pacific region, the debate is not yet over. It was only more than a month ago that President Nakamura of the Republic of Palau, on behalf of the South Pacific Forum, said at a seminar organized by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) that some members are so desperate about their future (being the countries that will be the first to be swallowed up by rising sea levels) that they have expressed interest in the adoption of nuclear technology.

For the nuclear industry, the position of the Pacific island states is crucial. Although small, they have an acknowledged moral weight in the international discussion on policy on climate change. Officials from Japan, France and the UK welcomed the words of Nakamura as an important opening in the debate, and immediately tried to misuse the expressed concerns over sea-level rising into a plea to include nuclear energy as an accepted means in the Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol (see also WISE News Communique 526.5143: "Clean Development Mechanism: A new nuclear subsidy?")

Apart from the opposition at the Review Conference of Pacific countries, some European countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, Greece and Ireland, were helpful in blocking recommendations for nuclear energy in the consensus document.

The next round in the Kyoto Protocol debate will take place in June 8-18 in Bonn, Germany, where pre-negotiations on the upcoming COP6 climate conference in the Netherlands in November 2000 will take place. The pro-nuclear forces are working much closer together than ever and are trying to get their message across, wherever possible. Most explicit are the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and officials from the US, Canada and the UK. They know the climate debate is their last hope. There are no arguments left to promote nuclear energy otherwise. As an IAEA official said: "Because of its higher costs, nuclear [energy] would not be used by most developing countries in the absence of the CDM mechanism."

The three countries mentioned will work closely together until the moment the issue is resolved, probably at COP6. If nuclear energy is accepted under the rules of the different flexible mechanisms, they for sure will then start competing against each other to win the new markets that might arise.

The UK government has already started encouraging British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) to build reactors in China, so the UK can claim CO2 credits. But China said it would wait on the decisions on the future of the program for new reactors until it is clear if, and how, it can sell "saved carbon-credits".

If nuclear energy would be accepted, countries like China and India would gain easy access to cheap new production capacities (as the reactors would be heavily subsidized by donor countries), and at the same time the sponsoring industrialized countries would no longer have to decrease domestic CO2 emissions.

The leading role in the debate on domestic reductions versus financing projects abroad has been taken over by the US, which has not yet agreed to the Kyoto principles. It is already quite clear that Al Gore, Democratic Party candidate for the new presidency of the US, is in favor of nuclear energy as a means to fight the climate change. John B. Ritch, the US ambassador to the United Nations, and a good friend of Gore, travels around the world to get the message out: "Only one technology--advanced nuclear reactors--offers a realistic promise of contributing substantially to the world's burgeoning need for large base-load power production without catastrophic climate change."


  • Nucleonics Week 4 and 25 May 2000
  • The Guardian, 23 May 2000
  • Green Forum, 29 May 2000

Contact: WISE Amsterdam