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Peter Doran's Commentary - 29 October
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Nuclear Generation

The contribution of nuclear power to countries' efforts to reduce their dependence on fossil fuel-based sources of energy is an issue facing negotiators in the run up to COP-6. Environmental NGOs are watching to see how negotiators handle the design of project criteria for the CDM and will be keen to see the nuclear option ruled out. The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, put down an early marker when he noted in his speech at the opening COP-5 Plenary that his country has decided to phase out the technology as a result of the particular risks associated with nuclear energy. The question for Environmental NGOs is how hard the European Union will push to have the nuclear option ruled out, for example, under the technological requirements for Clean Development Mechanism projects. The EU Presidency has disclosed that no decision has yet been taken, indicating the difficulty of the question for the Union which contains a number of pro-nuclear countries. A European Commission representative, speaking at a press conference, was more forthcoming. He said there would be reluctance on the part of the Europeans to include nuclear technology under the CDM criteria as this would place a "heavy burden" on the mechanism "if we took that route."

Environmental NGOs are tracking the possible strategies of the nuclear lobby. A World Wide Fund for Nature representative has suggested that the nuclear lobby strategy may simply consist of ensuring that Parties agree no explicit list of technologies, i.e. ruling nothing in and nothing out. This could confront NGOs with the hurdle of convincing Parties that an explicit list of energy technologies compatible with sustainable development should be delineated as part of their work on the CDM. Jose Goldemberg, Chair of the World Energy Assessment, has suggested that Parties adopt a 'holistic' approach to their decision on the nuclear option, recalling that the introduction to the Convention focuses on sustainable development and not only GHG mitigation. He conceded, however, that in purely technical terms the nuclear industry qualifies for consideration under the CDM.

The nuclear lobby has an electronic counter set up in the corridors of the Conference centre, registering the tonnes of carbon saved by the industry's clean energy production. What Parties will have to weigh up is the balance of risk/benefit to be derived from including the nuclear option on the narrow grounds that it is not a significant GHG emitter while disregarding the major risk profile of the industry associated with proliferation, accident consequences and waste management problems.

The nuclear lobby has been working the Conference, challenging some of the traditional perceptions of risk (e.g. highlighting medical applications) and the popular sense that young people are generally opposed to the industry. One of the more obvious strategies has been the promotion of a youth organization which champions the cause of the nuclear industry under the banner of the 'nuclear generation'. The problem for the nuclear generation is that it has never been and can never be an exclusive club. We all endure the legacy of the 'risk society' for which the nuclear industry and its associations with weapons of mass destruction has become a byword. In exchange for mitigating one set of risks signaled by climate change, we may be invited to embrace another.

Peter Doran, Digital Editor at COP-5

© 1999, Earth Negotiations Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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