Nuclear energy: booming business in the South

Due to climate change, nuclear power is hot again. Over 44 new nuclear plants are being build worldwide - mostly in Asia. Critics point out the risks of proliferation and say that nuclear energy is not a sustainable option for the South.
It’s been twenty years since Tjernobyl’s nuclear meltdown in reactor four ( 26th april 1986) and now nuclear energy is back in the game. For instance in Belgium, a commercial from the Nuclear Forum stiurred up a lot of public debate. But especcialy Asian and African countries prepare themselves for a nuclear future.
In 2008 no less than fourty developmental countries informed the International Atom Energy Association (IAEA), which conducts inspections on and guards nuclear programmes for the UN, that they were interested in nuclear energy. We find ourselves at a cross road of decisions about energy supplies for our future. The north is slowly deconstructing its old nuclear plants, the south has a growing need for energy, and globaly we have to deal with global warming and the end of cheap petrol.

The nuclear boom

Nuclear energy covers six percent of global commercial energy needs. The production of electricity takes fourteen to fifteen percent for its account. Anno 2009 there are 436 nuclear power plants - spread over thirty countries - active, aldus de fubruary update of the IAEA. if we continu our plans and all the constructions will be completed this number would go out of the roof by the year 2030.
About 44 nuclear plants are being build, mostly in Asia - especially China and India. China with its nine active nuclear plants is the third largest producer of nuclear energy of Asia, right after Japan and South - Korea. Nuclear energy has become the third most important energy source, after coal and water. Compared to 2005, China wants to multiply its nuclear capacity five times by 2020.
Also the Middle East with its rich oil reserves is active in nuclear energy. Eleven states from the region have begun or developed existing nuclear programmes in the past few years.
The United Arabian Emirates signed a treaty with France to build two nuclear reactors. Kuwait, Bahrein, Libia, Algeria, Marocco and Jordan are all working out their plans. Turkey and Egypt are interested again and each one wants to build seven power plants. Their logic, like others, is that oil will be so expensive, that it would be financially interesting to sell oil and to produce an alternative for their own consumption.
Africa uses no more than 3.1 percent of the electrity production in the world and has a great need for technology on energy. The only African country producing nuclear power is South Africa - which generates 60 percent of Africa’s energy. It has two nuclear reactors but wants to expand its capacity with 24  so-called PBMR-types (pebble-bed modular reactor), a South African design of smaller and probably safer installations.
But also Nigeria and Namibia want nuclear energy. In mid March the Russian state company Rosatom signed a principal agreement with Nigeria to cooperate in a peaceful use of nuclear energy, which includes the construction of nuclear plants. Even poor Jemen wants to build a nuclear reactor.

The third wave

The so-called “third wave” of nuclear energy has started through divers impulses. The first wave, in the early 50’, promoted nuclear energy as the best option for certanty and quantity of energy. The second wave, that came with the oil crisis in the early seventies, proposed nuclear energy as the way to independance of oil import through far away countries.
The arguments today point out the expensive oil in the future and especially global warming and the necessity to lower CO2 excesses. They say nuclear energy is CO2 neutral, and its the fastest way to bring the world back on schedule to lower green house gasses in our atmosphere.
It’s true that nuclear power has a smaller CO2 excess than fossil fuels. According to Hans-Holger Rogner of the section Planning and Economy of the IAEA, the total nuclear chain would exces 3 to 24 grams of CO2 per KWH, which is the same as wind or hydro energy. But that doesn’t make nuclear energy a sustainable ecological alternative.
In all the proces of nuclear energy there are a number of ecological down sides, from the uranium mining, transport and stockage of nuclear waste to the radio active radiation and the consequences for future generations. In the current UN-climate negotiations there is a heavy discussion on the fact that nuclear energy should be accepted as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM’s). Through these CDM’s, rich countries gain emission rights by investing in projects for renewable energy and sustainable development in low-income countries.
The question rises if nuclear energy is sustainable energy. The organisation Women in Europe for a common Future thinks its not. In february, on the conference of the UN Ecology Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, they stressed out why. ‘Even by multiplying the expantions on nuclear energy four times, it would only give a neglectable down fall of four percent in CO2 emmission, while its a threat for our safety and health of the current and future generations.’ Furthermore the use of water in nuclear plants is a major problem, especially with the global water shortage.

The nuclear tipping point

An unconditional expantion of the global civic nuclear installations lead to a dangerous spread of nuclear weapons. Still nobody can prohibit other countries to build nuclear plants. The non - proliferation threaty of 1968, that counters the spread of nuclear weapons, clearly states that every nation is allowed to develop nuclear energy for civic purposes.
The only condition is that the IAEA must be able to conduct inspections and that there is information and transparancy about the programmes. The threaty also states that nuclear nations (US, UK, France, Russia and China) should diminish their arsenal of nuclear weapons - which didn’t happen so far.
A central point of discussion is the question about who is allowed to have installations to enrich uranium - think abou Iran who claims to enrich uranium for civic purposes. The six nations that produce enriched uranium today are France, Germany, The Netherlands, Russia, the UK and the US. They dominate the current market. Other nations fear that the six will cut off their acces to this nuclear fuel.
India has been an exception since a long time. It hasn’t signed the non - proliferation pact, and is in possession of installation to enrich uranium and nuclear weapons.  Nonetheless the US, without any objections, agreed upon a nuclear cooperation agreement with India in March 2006.
This agreement was welcomed with great commotion in the group India, Brazil and South - Africa (IBSA), which established a cooperation on political and commercial themes in 2003. In 2006 they added an agreement on exchange of expertise and equipement on nuclear energy.

‘Total dismantling is the only sollution’

According to the International Panel of Nuclear Fuel fourty countries are in possession of highly enriched uranium, which can be used to build a nuclear bomb. The old structures don’t work any more. Even with the enhanced control of the IAEA proliferation has become a possibility.
“Contradicting the first nuclear wave of 1945-1950, the world is now defined by porous national bounderies, fast communication that facilitates the circulation of technological knowhow, and a fast growing commerce in potentially dangerous dual use technologies and materials” postulates the Bulletin of the Atomic Schientists.
Tom Sauer, professor in International Politics at the University of Antwerp, sees only one sollution: the total dismantling of all existing nuclear weaponry by the five nuclear powers. Sauer: “This is the only way to stop the race. It takes away all reasons of not allowing inspections and facilitates the demand of transparancy and sincerity of information.”
This point of view isn’t utopic. In 2007 Henry Kissinger and other renowed Americans came up with a proposal a like this one, which was imitated by the UK, Italy and Germany. President Barack Obama went even further when he summonned everybody to start with the nuclear dismantling in Prague in April of this year. New negotiations on signing a pact for nuclear disarming are being held between the US and Russia by the end of  this year. Afterwards the intention is to negotiate with other countries for a world free of nuclear weapons.
’ A nuclear renaissance demands a new way of cooperation,’ states Matthew Bunn, PhD in Public Policy at the Harverd Kennedy School. ‘One single Tsjernobyl or a terrorist attack with nuclear weapons can end the idea that nuclear energy is a remedy for global warming.’ An other reason for a new agreement is that the South doesn’t want the West to dictate them any longer and they demand more autonomy. More over, the access to uranium resources are getting tougher. Various conflicts with local inhabitants have occurred around uranium mines in Niger.

Nuclear vs renewable

Many supporters of nuclear energy are of the opinion that nuclear power and renewable energy go perfectly together. The finding is that public funds for research and development for nuclear energy are many times greater than those for renewable energy. This renewable energy is doomed to remain sidelined.

Is nuclear energy really needed to combat global warming and the growing needs? Two years ago the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) and Greenpeace International published The Energy (R) evolution: A sustainable World Energy Outlook. According to this study it is possible that by 2050 CO2 emissions go down by fifty percent,including the phasing out of nuclear energy, given that there will be supportive policies and that efforts are taken to maximize energy efficiency.
According to the report, renewable energy by 2030 will be responsible for 35 percent of energy demand by 2050 and will be seventy percent of the electricity made from renewable energy. Moreover, the countries of the South possess an abundance of resources for renewable energy, like water, waves and tides, but also sun and wind. There must be a will to that path, thinks Arthouros ZERVOS, Director of EREC: ‘There is not a technical but a political barrier to renewable energy as the leading player for the future.”

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