Mon, Jun 27, 2005 - Page 11 News List

US and Europe weigh in on nuclear energy

GROWING CONSENSUS?With an upsurge in world oil prices, leaders in the US and UK are pressing for more dependence on `clean and cheap' nuclear power. But a safe way to dispose of nuclear waste has not been resolved, and accidents are always possible

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The primary reactor of Taiwan's Nuclear Power Plant No. 4 under construction. A US scholar suggested that the Taiwan Power Co (Taipower) should make this power plant a thermal rather than a nuclear one. Taipower officials responded that the suggestion is technically feasible, but other issues such as nuclear waste disposal should also be taken into consideration.

PHOTO: HUANG LI-HSIANG, TAIPEI TIMES

Nuclear power plants, shunned since the meltdown at Three Mile Island and the disaster at Chernobyl, may make a comeback in Europe and the US as companies and governments try to reduce record energy costs and pollution.

Finland is building the first nuclear plant in Europe approved since 1986, and France plans a new US$3.6 billion reactor.

NuStart LLC, a group of utilities including New Orleans-based Entergy Corp and Constellation Energy Group, last month said it expects to select two sites by October for the first US nuclear power stations in 30 years.

More than US$200 billion will be spent on nuclear power by 2030, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, an adviser to 26 of the world's largest energy users. A surge in oil to a record above US$59 a barrel and concern that the carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels leads to global warming are driving the revival.

US President George W. Bush in April said he wants to expedite the licensing of new reactors. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair may decide next year whether to replace the nation's aging nuclear plants. Even Ukraine, where the 1986 Chernobyl blast killed 31, the world's worst nuclear disaster to date, sees nuclear energy as a way to break a reliance on Russia for oil.

"Since Ukraine has uranium and zirconium fields, we should be concentrating on developing nuclear energy domestically," Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko said last week in Kiev.

Globally, there are 440 nuclear power plants, and 24 are under construction, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. Any new power plants need government approvals, and in some countries, such as Switzerland, voter referendums can block such plans. In Taiwan, a US$7 billion reactor now being built and planned to start next year may not be switched on, should public concern about the project's safety persist, Minister of Economic Affairs Ho Mei-yueh (何美玥) said on June 20.

Investors are betting on nuclear. Uranium prices have jumped 62 percent in the past year, partly driven by hedge fund purchases in a bet on growth in atomic energy, said Gerald Grandey, chief executive of Saskatoon, Canada-based Cameco Corp, the world's biggest uranium producer, in Vienna this week.

The price of uranium, used to fuel nuclear reactors, rose to US$29 per pound this month from US$17.90 a year ago, according to the Metal Bulletin's Uranium Nuexco Restricted Post Price.

`Dirty and Dangerous'

Companies that would benefit from a new round of construction include General Electric Co, Munich-based Siemens AG and Areva SA of France, which build the reactors, and Essen, Germany-based RWE AG and Dusseldorf-based E.ON AG, which operate nuclear plants that have to close under current plans.

In Western Europe and the US, approvals ground to a halt after the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine sent radiation as far away as Sweden. Death rates among the more than half a million workers who participated in the cleanup operation soared, and thyroid cancer rates in Gomel, Belarus, increased 22-fold from 1986 through 1990.

The Three Mile Island meltdown in Middletown, Pennsylvania, in 1979 was the most serious US nuclear incident. The accident caused "negligible" harm to people and the environment but led to "fear and mistrust" of the industry and the government, according to a US Nuclear Regulatory Commission fact sheet.

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