Albion Monitor /News

Nuke, Oil Industries Claim Green Image

by Suvendrini Kakuchi

on the PR campaign by industry
(IPS) KYOTO -- As countries began discussing targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions on December 1, the nuclear and oil industries were busy arguing that they can present cleaner alternatives to "dirty" fuel blamed for global warming.

Proponents of nuclear power said it is the major energy source readily available for countries that want to curb their reliance on fossil fuel for industry and power needs.

In a report handed out here, the London-based Uranium Institute says the operation of nuclear plants, which supply six percent of the world's total commercial energy, cuts the emission of carbon dioxide by 2.3 billion tons a year. That is about ten percent of total emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas.

The oil industry was not silent either, with some petroleum firms taking out advertisements to press their case.

In an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal during the first week of the conference, Mobil oil company boasted that it has sizably cut carbon dioxide emissions from its fuel products to boost car engine efficiency. Since 1990, the use of these products has cut vehicular carbon emissions by one million tons, it added.

Challenging theories on global warming's impact, the firm calls for gradual action instead of what it described as overreaction. Said Mobil: "There's considerable pressure to reach an agreement in Kyoto. Frankly, the pressure seems misplaced. Let's not rush to a solution before we fully understand the problem."

Asian pollution from dirty coal grows by 115 percent, but the developed world reinforces dependence on fossil fuel by energy subsidies
To many activists, these are last-ditch attempts by the nuclear and oil industries to find an audience at a time when the harmful effects of greenhouse gases are widely accepted and are already being felt around the world.

In full force in Kyoto, anti-nuclear critics bitterly disputed the nuclear lobby's arguments. "Nuclear energy is not the solution, but part of the problem," said Dr. Edda Muller of the German-based Wuppertal Institute for Climate Environment Energy.

Critics say the costs of nuclear power are high, whether in accidents or the problem of dealing with radioactive waste. Having run out of customers in much of the developed world, the industry sees a chance to reinvent itself to get more orders from the developing world, they add.

But beyond that, Muller says one of most basic problems lies in current patterns of energy production and consumption, which are increasing dependency on world energy markets and resources like fossil fuel such as coal and oil.

With little change in these habits, the appetite for more and more energy, often from the same old sources, continues to grow. As a result, there are not enough serious efforts to develop and invest in renewable energy, like solar or wind power.

The premise that there are only a few viable choices leads to arguments such as those being asked by pro-nuclear groups here: What is better for China, nuclear energy or its own dirty coal?

Asia's growing appetite for energy is often identified as a problem. Excluding Japan, its energy demand is growing by 115 percent, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

An IEA paper says Asia's greenhouse gases are expected to rise rapidly because coal, the most carbon-intensive of conventional fossil fuels, is the major fuel source for power generation and industry in China and South Asia.

China is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the United States, but is a much smaller contributor on a per capita basis. Still, the IEA estimates that by 2010 China will be responsible for 35.3 percent of world carbon emissions.

Muller says the developed world reinforces dependence on fossil fuel by energy subsidies. The European Union alone spends some $15 billion a year to subsidize energy systems that add to global warming or increase nuclear risk, she added.

Friends of the Earth, in Washington D.C., says government subsidies and tax breaks to polluting fuel and coal companies and transport industry amount to $10 billion. Their removal would cut U.S. carbon emissions by 27 million metric tons by 2010, the group says.

More than 80 percent of Japan's energy budget goes to the development of expensive nuclear power
If there is not enough of alternative energy technology, it is because countries are not taking it seriously and not because there is none available, critics say.

Japan, for instance, gets one percent of its energy needs from renewables like solar and wind power and biomass energy, compared to 30 percent of its needs from nuclear power. The rest are from conventional fuel sources.

Dr. Jinzaburo Takagi of the Tokyo-based Citizens' Nuclear Information Center says this is not a surprise, since more than 80 percent of the government's energy budget goes to the development of expensive nuclear power, including construction of new plants. Just one-twentieth of funds go to renewable energy.

Even in the IEA, less than 10 percent of public support for energy research and development goes to renewable energy and 50 percent goes to nuclear technology.

Takagi says the huge investments in nuclear study, despite the loss of nuclear markets in the industrialized world, are linked to what many believe are profitable opportunities. "What they are supporting is the bottom line of corporate interests of fossil fuel and energy industries," he pointed out.

Japan itself, while having a solar program envied by other developed countries, has sales of nuclear-related business that exceed $15 billion annually. It is also anxious to sell nuclear power technology to other Asian countries.

Several experts who came for the climate change conference argue that there are ways to cut carbon emissions without turning to nuclear power.

John Bryne of the U.S.-based Center for Energy and Environmental Policy of the University of Delaware says China has great potential for wind power, which he estimates at eight times its current power generation capacity. Solar energy would also work well there, he added.

Both solar and wind technology may already be used to bring electric services to agriculturally-based communities that are not yet connected to power grids, he said.

Energy campaigners add that use of indigenous energy sources often creates more jobs in rural areas and redistributes means of energy production. One U.S. study presented at an NGO forum here said wind technology creates five times more jobs than coal or nuclear power generation.

Experts also say that low fossil fuel prices discourage greater investments in renewables, but explain that it may well be a mistake to argue that solar power is much too expensive to use commercially.

One study cited at a climate change meeting in Manila last month said the cost of solar electricity would approximate the cost of power from conventional grids by the year 2007. And if environmental user costs are thrown in, then solar energy may not be that far behind, it added.

In any case, the path to greater use of renewables is an uphill journey.

Japan, host of the global warming conference, plans to build 20 new nuclear plants to help curb greenhouse emissions. South Korea, whose carbon emissions are nearing those of industrialized nations, also views its nuclear program as a means of easing air pollution. Its relies on nuclear power for 35 percent of its energy demand.

Even Indonesia, caught in a dilemma since it is both a major oil exporter and a developing country demanding greenhouse cuts, has nuclear plans of its own.

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Albion Monitor December 15, 1997 (

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