ENVIRONMENT: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Kyoto Protocol unleashes the friendly atom
, May 21, 2005
Green lobbyists have unwittingly been responsible for countries turning increasingly to nuclear power, writes Peter Westmore.Environmentalists - convinced that the world was on the brink of disaster through "global warming" - were delighted in 1997 when the UN Climate Change Convention in Japan drafted the Kyoto Protocol, which called for mandatory reduction of emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
But today they might be wondering whether their feelings of triumph were premature. Eight years later, as the Kyoto Protocol comes into force, it is emerging that green lobbyists have unwittingly been responsible for an outcome none of them could have wished for. In a growing number of countries, an increasingly preferred source of base-load electrical power is none other than nuclear energy.
The protocol is a legally binding agreement under which most industrialised countries have agreed to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, so that by 2010, they will be five per cent lower than in 1990. (Compared to the emission levels that would be expected by 2010 without the protocol, this target represents a 29 per cent cut.)
The agreement has been criticised for a variety of reasons. It excludes developing countries, including China and India, which are the fastest growing producers of greenhouse gases. It has not been signed by the United States, which is the world's largest existing producer of these gases. And many scientists regard the rationale for Kyoto as scientifically flawed.
Many thought that it would lead to the widespread use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power. These forms of energy, even though their use has grown substantially since 1997, supply far too little energy to provide base-load power for the rapidly growing demands of the world.
Renewable energy sources (e.g., solar, wind power, tidal or geothermal) produce only two per cent of global electricity.
Oil and gas usage has increased, as a result of the increased number of motor vehicles on the roads, so the only way out for many countries has been to turn to nuclear energy, against which the greens have a pathological aversion.More nuclear power
Indeed, countries around the world have been investing more in nuclear power since the Kyoto protocol came into effect. The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency estimated earlier this year that up to 130 new 1000-MW nuclear power plants are in the offing.
Nuclear power is becoming popular precisely because it has no greenhouse gas emissions, allowing countries to meet their Kyoto obligations to cut emissions.
In Britain, for example, the last Conservative Government closed down the last of Britain's coal-powered generators, leaving all of them running on gas (much of which needs to be imported from Russia), and 14 nuclear power stations, built many years ago.
(There are some 300 years' worth of coal reserves still lying underground.)
In order for Britain to meet its legal obligations under Kyoto, the only alternative that is currently under discussion by both the Conservatives and Labour is nuclear energy.
Referring to the Labour Party's recent election manifesto, the London Times observed, "There is remarkably little said about the matter at all, given the apocalyptic view that the Prime Minister apparently takes of the impact of climate change.
"There are two reasons for this unwonted reticence.
"The first is embarrassment. Having pledged to curb UK carbon emissions by 20 per cent of the 1990 rate in 2020, and 60 per cent within a generation - cuts far steeper than the Kyoto Protocol requires - emissions have been rising, not falling, for the past two years.
"The second reason is the reluctance to grasp the nuclear nettle. Labour is determined to get through this election without saying where it stands on building new nuclear power stations - one of the 'greenest' energy sources in climate change terms, but a dirty word with green lobbies worried about waste and potential 'meltdown'."
France, one of the strongest supporters of the Kyoto Protocol, has been phasing out old coal-fired power stations and replacing them with nuclear power plants for many years.
Currently, France obtains nearly 80 per cent of its electrical needs through nuclear energy.
The US currently acquires 20 per cent of its electricity from nuclear energy, and Russia 16 per cent.
The accelerating price of both oil and coal is also pushing countries towards the nuclear option.
It is ironic that the radical environmentalists who most strongly pushed for the Kyoto Protocol, are about to see the re-emergence of their worst nightmare, nuclear power.