Kyoto Goes Nuclear

Following Russia’s formal ratification of the Kyoto Protocol last November, it went into force on Feb. 16, 2005. The Protocol obligates "industrialized" signatories to reduce by 2012 their emissions of six "greenhouse gases" – primarily carbon dioxide – to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels.

The United States is not a signatory.

Of course, it’s obvious how one reduces greenhouse gases – go nuclear. Nuclear power plants don’t emit any greenhouse gases.

Perversely, five European Union signatories – including Belgium, with 60 percent of its electricity nuclear – had already decided to phase out nuclear power. Worse still, one of the conditions of EU accession is the closure of all first-generation nuclear power plants. More than 85 percent of Lithuania’s electricity is generated by such plants.

Ironically, last week, in Paris, the International Atomic Energy Agency sponsored the International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 21st Century.

Guess what? Some EU countries – including Germany – are having second thoughts about phasing out nuclear power. For one thing, replacing Germany’s nuclear power plants with coal-fired plants would result in an increase of more than 170 million metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions.

Finland will begin construction of Olkiluoto-3 later this year, and Electricité de France is scheduled to begin construction in 2007 of a new power plant at Flamanville. Several EU accession states are determined to retain the nuclear option. Even in Poland, where nuclear development was halted by parliamentary decision in 1990, the Council of Ministers recently approved a draft energy policy that explicitly includes nuclear power.

Of course, one of the weird things about the Kyoto protocol is that developing countries like India and China, whose greenhouse gas emissions have been rapidly increasing since 1990, are not really covered.

India depends upon domestically mined coal for more than half its energy needs, and is the world’s third-largest producer after China and the United States. India imports 70 percent of its oil and half its natural gas. India’s natural gas demand will almost double by 2015.

Therefore, India announced plans to expand its nuclear generating capacity ten-fold by 2022, and hundred-fold by mid-century.

However, India is not a signatory to the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons. So, at the urging of the United States, the Nuclear Suppliers Group is refusing to allow Russia to supply India any more such things as nuclear power plants unless India subjects its entire nuclear infrastructure – including its nuclear weapons program – to the IAEA Safeguards regime.

Hence, India is developing an indigenous nuclear power plant production capability, based upon the liquid-metal fast-breeder reactor, which breeds plutonium fuel from a natural uranium blanket.

But what about China – also considered a developing country?

China burns about 1.5 billion tons of coal per year. China is the second-largest importer of oil, consuming 120 million tons in 2004, up by more than 33 percent from 2003. China currently imports 58 percent of its oil from the Middle East, a figure expected to reach 70 percent by 2015.

China already has a 50 percent stake in the development of the Yahavaran oil field in Iran. The Chinese National Petrochemical Corporation has acquired the rights to explore for natural gas in Saudi Arabia’s al-Khali basin.

Nevertheless, China plans to raise its total installed nuclear electricity generating capacity from the current 6.5 gigawatts to 36 gigawatts by 2020.

The Russian Federation plans to raise its nuclear generating capacity from the current 22 gigawatts to 40-45 gigawatts by 2020.

And, of course, Russia and China plan to build a half-dozen gigawatt plants in Iran in the next few years – all subject to the IAEA Safeguards regime, of course.

In Paris last week, U.S. Ambassador Constance Morella told conferees that nuclear energy was "clean" and "reliable" and necessary in order for the world to have a "secure energy supply."

Mohammad Saeidi, a vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, delivered more or less the same message to the conferees.

Oil and natural gas “are limited and belong to all subsequent generations" and "unrestrained use of this source of energy is not prudent,” he said.

Iran’s goal, Saeidi added, is nothing less than “self-sufficiency in all aspects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy."

Saeidi called the research into and the production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes an “inalienable right” of signatories to the Nonproliferation Treaty – “without discrimination.”

The Brits, French, and Germans – acting as agents for the EU – have already agreed to that. The question is, can they get George Bush to agree?

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.