COMMISSION ON SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT:

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NUCLEAR POWER NO SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE

IN MARCH, the ninth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) will be held. The CSD will discuss how to implement Agenda 21, the program of the 1992 Rio conference on Environment and Development. A major focus of this year’s meeting will be energy policy and how it impacts on sustainable development – and a major battleground will be the future of nuclear energy.

(Published in the Pacific News Bulletin, January 2001)

By Nic Maclellan

As with the recent conference on climate change in the Netherlands, the nuclear industry will be out in force at the Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD), lobbying to promote nuclear power as the energy source of the future. In an attempt to prop up their failing industry, nuclear lobbyists are pushing a new idea: they argue that nuclear power is a good way to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and sea-level rise. To obtain a clean bill of health as a climate change solution, nuclear energy lobbyists need to get nuclear power accepted as a sustainable form of energy at the CSD meeting.

The international nuclear industry is in trouble. The number of nuclear power plants under construction is dropping, and nuclear power generation is being phased out in many industrialised countries, such as Germany. No commercial nuclear reactors have been constructed in the United States for twenty years. The nuclear industry has not found a solution for the long-term storage of plutonium and high level radioactive wastes, which last for thousands of years.

Worldwide, the nuclear industry has been plagued by serious problems: high costs; erratic performance; ongoing technical and safety problems; the risk of catastrophic accidents; the high cost of decommissioning old plants; and environmental problems such as radiation releases and radioactive waste management. Pacific islands are living with the radioactive legacies of fifty years of nuclear testing by France, Britain and the United States. Many nuclear countries are still pushing to use the vast "empty" spaces of the Pacific as a dumping ground for nuclear wastes. The Pacific is also a highway for the transportation of plutonium, MOX fuel and high level radioactive wastes from Europe to Japan – an accident could threaten Pacific fisheries, tourism and other vital industries.

The nuclear industry is trying to divert the mandate of the CSD, but any focus on nuclear energy goes against the spirit of Agenda 21. It is contrary to the interests of developing countries, which require sustainable, mostly decentralised, low-cost energy systems, adapted both to local needs and available capital, resources and labour. The official intergovernmental Pacific Islands Regional Submission to the 9th CSD session stresses: "Nuclear energy sources are neither appropriate nor acceptable for use in the region, or for designation as a Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol".

1) Nuclear power is not a clean and safe energy source

Nuclear power is sometimes presented as a clean energy source. However, at all stages of nuclear power generation, nuclear energy produces substantial amounts of waste and environmental pollution (from uranium mining tailings through to spent nuclear fuel, plutonium and other highly radioactive wastes). The nuclear fuel chain is a significant source of carbon dioxide (CO 2) emissions; it causes radioactive contamination of the air, water and land, is highly expensive, and encourages the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

The failure of government and industry to properly manage, contain and regulate toxic and radioactive substances throughout the nuclear fuel cycle has had tragic consequences for human health and the environment. The damage done by uranium mining, milling, processing and enrichment has been severe. Mine tailings in many parts of the world are leaking into the soil and contaminating groundwater.

Commercial reprocessing operations continue to discharge large volumes of radioactive wastes into water from which people draw their food. For example, there are radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea by the British reprocessing plant at Sellafield. The French reprocessing plant at La Hague has pumped radioactive pollution into the English Channel (These two plants are the sites used for reprocessing of Japanese radioactive wastes, which are then shipped across the Pacific through the Exclusive Economic Zones of South Pacific nations).

US, Canadian, French and German corporations, losing markets at home, are trying to sell their nuclear technology overseas. They are eyeing the developing world as a "last gasp" market for their products. Few people today believe the myth that nuclear power is a cheap, safe energy source, so the nuclear industry is stepping up their lobbying efforts with new angles to promote nuclear power.

2) Nuclear power and the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP 6) to the Kyoto Protocol

The latest round of negotiations over the UN Climate Treaty took place in the Netherlands in November 2000, at the sixth Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the Kyoto Protocol. The meeting ended in deadlock with the United States and European Union unable to agree on a range of issues. One topic in dispute was the "Clean Development Mechanism", which will allow industrialised countries to obtain credits for projects done in the developing world that reduce emissions. This way, industrialised countries won’t have to take measures at home to reduce their own industrial emissions that contribute to climate change and global warming. At the Climate Change negotiations, nuclear power plants were suggested as appropriate projects for the Kyoto "flexible mechanisms" to address climate change.

Industry lobbyists argue that nuclear power could be a principal factor in reducing emissions of pollutants, notably carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming. In theory, nuclear power plants emit relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide compared to coal-fired power plants. But are nuclear power plants a good way to eliminate the build-up of greenhouse gases? Climate change, global warming and sea-level rise are a major concern for member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum. But nuclear power is not the solution for climate change. There are other, less polluting solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, without the long-term radioactive hazards of nuclear power.

3) Nuclear waste shipments through Pacific

Some nuclear powers are seeking Pacific island support for nuclear transshipment and waste dumping as a payoff for action on climate change. In an effort to prop up the nuclear industry, Japanese officials now argue that nuclear power is a solution to climate change! At the Japan-South Pacific PALM summit in April 2000, Japanese officials lobbied hard to argue that nuclear power is a valuable tool in reducing the use of fossil fuels and the generation of greenhouse gases that cause warming of the earth and sea level rise. Pacific leaders from the Cook Islands and Niue were taken on a tour of a nuclear power plant, and Japanese officials lobbied for continued transshipment of plutonium and MOX fuel through Pacific waters.

At the 2000 Forum meeting in Kiribati, Pacific leaders called for action on Japanese plutonium and MOX shipments through our Exclusive Economic Zones (asking for prior notification, further negotiations on compensation and liability schemes in cases of accident, etc.).

Japan has now offered a US$10 million trust fund in an attempt to buy off Pacific concerns, even though Japan’s nuclear industry has been rocked by a series of accidents and scandals over safety (for example, Japan has demanded that British Nuclear Fuels Limited take back the MOX fuel assemblies that were shipped through the Pacific in August-September 1999,as crucial safety records had been falsified).

The September 1999 Tokaimura nuclear accident, which killed two people and irradiated 439 more, raises concern over safety in Japan’s nuclear industry. Pacific Island countries must look to safer, cleaner options that will not generate large amounts of long-lasting radioactive wastes. In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan lobbied to dump radioactive wastes in the Marianas Trench. Now that ocean dumping of wastes is banned, where will they store long term hazardous wastes if the nuclear industry is expanded?

4 ) Renewable Energy Options

One of the primary problems for climate change is economic: which set of technologies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions for a given amount of money? Many energy technologies can reduce carbon dioxide emissions: wind power and solar energy are examples. Construction of nuclear reactors diverts limited funds from research and development of more effective means of combating global warming.

Nuclear power is not a cost-effective answer for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are already cheaper and safer energy options available: high-efficiency natural gas power plants can reduce more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of investment than nuclear energy. Electricity generation is responsible for just one third of fossil fuel consumption around the world, so nuclear power generation cannot reduce other sources of fossil fuel emissions. Energy efficiency improvements however are available for the entire range of fossil fuel uses. Implementation of energy efficiency measures is seven times more effective at reducing greenhouse gases per dollar spent than is nuclear power.

At its last meeting, the G-8 group of industrialised nations stated its commitment to: "encourage and facilitate investment in the development and use of sustainable energy, underpinned by enabling domestic environments, (which) will assist in mitigating the problems of climate change and air pollution. To this end, the increased use of renewable energy sources in particular will improve the quality of life, especially in developing countries."

Pacific governments should call on the G-8 countries to put their money where their mouth is. Governments, international banking institutions and industry should invest in renewable energy systems that address global warming and provide clean power and transportation to the world’s people.

 

ACTIONS TO TAKE

It is time to leave nuclear energy behind as a failed dream of the last century. Most countries are now committed to phasing out or not developing nuclear energy. They also formally oppose the inclusion of nuclear energy into the projects of the Clean Development Mechanism to be established under the Kyoto Protocol. Nuclear power should not play a role in the on-going international negotiations on how to combat global warming.

At the CSD 9 meeting in March, Pacific island governments should add their voice to this growing international consensus. In developing policy on climate change, Forum member countries should:

1) Explicitly reject nuclear power as an answer to the global warming problem.

Forum countries can argue for non-nuclear energy solutions. In particular, industrialised countries should not be permitted to offset greenhouse gas emissions by funding nuclear power projects in developing countries under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism.

2) Call on industrialised nations to halt the funding and construction of proposed nuclear power plants.

Forum member countries should all for industrialised nations to re-invest significant funds in clean, renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures.

3) Express concern that nuclear energy has been included in the draft agenda of ninth Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-9).

Pacific governments preserve the integrity of the CSD process by ensuring that all non-sustainable energy technologies, particularly nuclear energy, are excluded from CSD9 debates, exhibitions and other activities. The CSD should focus on promoting clean, secure and sustainable forms of energy for the welfare of present and future generations.

4) Take action to strengthen regional conventions and treaties to halt the transport and dumping of hazardous and nuclear wastes in the Pacific Islands region.

Pacific countries should ratify the 1995 Waigani Convention on the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, and call for a Review Conference of the Rarotonga Treaty for the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone (SPNFZ), in order to strengthen and implement regional mechanisms. 

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I lived in the Marshall Islands from 1962 until 1968, I was exposed on Kwajalein to many testing. I am sick and feel it contributed, where is the compensation for American's exposed? Leslie Duncan lduncan210@gmail.com

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