Is New Zealand Inadvertently Throwing The Nuclear Industry A Lifeline Internationally?
In the midst of global concern over climate change there is one group that is rubbing its hands together with glee - the nuclear power industry. Unlike coal and gas-fired power stations, nuclear plants don’t emit carbon dioxide, leading the nuclear industry to claim it is the solution to global warming. After decades of accidents, economic failure and public opposition, the industry is hoping this simplistic argument will resurrect their fortunes. In Lyon this week, governments officials are gathered for continued negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. Nuclear power will be one of the most contentious issues discussed. Yet surprisingly, New Zealand, who usually leads the charge against the nuclear industry in international fora, is currently taking a position that will directly benefit the nuclear industry.
At the centre of this debate is a part of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Under the CDM, industrialised countries can invest in projects in developing countries which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then claim credit for the reductions when meeting their own targets. The CDM is also meant to assist developing countries achieve sustainable development.
Rules for the CDM will be decided this November at the next meeting of the Climate Change Convention. Among the most contentious issues is the question of whether nuclear power projects should be eligible. The CDM’s mandate of promoting sustainable development should rule out nuclear power immediately. For while it is true that reactors don’t emit carbon dioxide, they do create radioactive waste, are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents, and give rise to hazardous shipments of nuclear materials, such as those that are traversing the Tasman Sea with increasing regularity. Advocating nuclear power to address climate change is the equivalent of advocating smoking to reduce weight: you may lose a few pounds, but the side- effects are life-threatening.
For the nuclear industry, the CDM could be a lifeline. In the industrialised west, no country is building nuclear reactors or planning to, making the developing world the only potential new market. But up to now most developing countries have shunned nuclear power, due mainly to its high costs. This is where the CDM comes in: carbon credits could reduce the price tag on a new reactor and make it a more attractive proposition. An International Atomic Energy Agency spokesperson recently admitted that because of the high cost of nuclear power, developing countries would not consider it in the absence of CDM credits. Inclusion in the CDM would also risk giving the appearance that the signatories to the Kyoto Protocol have endorsed the claim by the nuclear industry to be a solution to climate change, and give it renewed legitimacy.
The boost provided by the CDM could be immediate. China, for example, is currently finalising its 10th five-year plan, which may include orders for up to 6 new nuclear reactors. According to a report in the industry journal Nucleonics Week China is waiting to see if it will get CDM credits for new nuclear plant before it finalises a decision on how many to build. Other countries are also looking to the CDM to subsidise their nuclear plans. India, Vietnam and South Korea have all expressed interest in using CDM credits to fund new construction. The wrong decision in November could very quickly translate into concrete being poured for new reactors.
So where do different countries stand on this issue? Not surprisingly, the Pacific nations are calling for a complete exclusion of nuclear power, as are Indonesia and the Philippines. The EU wants the CDM structured in such a way that nuclear power is excluded de facto, a face saving formula designed to appease its nuclear members - the UK and France. And just this week in Lyon at the latest round of climate negotiations, a submission from Honduras on behalf of Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatamala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Uruguay stated that, according to the environmental integrity principles that guide these countries, they are collectively opposed to the inclusion of nuclear power in the CDM.
And New Zealand? The New Zealand Government claims that it is against nuclear power in developing countries, as you would expect. But that does not mean it is working to ensure the CDM won’t support nuclear power. A number of countries are trying to have the CDM structured in such a way that anything that is not specifically excluded is eligible by default. That is, unless the Parties agree to rule out a technology like nuclear power, it can claim CDM credits. The nuclear industry is pushing hard for this outcome. At the last meeting of the Climate Convention last November the nuclear industry advised its Government supporters not to push for the inclusion of nuclear power, fearing a backlash so soon after the fatal Tokaimura accident. Instead, pro-nuclear countries like Japan and Canada worked for a CDM that ruled out nothing - including nuclear power.
New Zealand’s position on the CDM seems to support such rules. When asked by Jeannette Fitzsimons if the Government was “actively” opposing nuclear power in the CDM, the reply was “NZ may agree not to buy credits itself from these sources. On the question of whether we oppose others doing it that is something we are considering options on that point”. That is, NZ may allow the CDM to be structured in such a way that India and China can use it to subsidise the cost of building new reactors!
This would indeed be an
irony, particularly for a Labour Government. New Zealand
has long sought to reduce the dangers posed by the nuclear
industry, be it reducing superpowers’ arsenals, or opposing
nuclear shipments through the Pacific. Yet now, it looks
set to support an outcome which would throw the nuclear
industry a lifeline - a new subsidy for reactor
construction in the developing world, and renewed political
There is simply no way the Government can justify any position other than one which explicitly and clearly rules out nuclear power. At the climate negotiations currently being held in Lyon, and this November at The Hague, NZ must support the proposal put up by the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) that the CDM “must not support nuclear power”. In addition, it must support efforts to restrict the CDM to renewable energy technologies through the adoption of an exclusive positive list. This is the only way to ensure that the CDM effectively addresses both climate change and sustainable development.
From Tricia Allen, Campaign Director, Greenpeace in NZ
It's time to Turn Down the Heat:
Tell world leaders to use November's climate summit to
reduce the pollution that causes global warming.
PLEASE NOTE NEW EMAIL ADDRESS : firstname.lastname@example.org ========================================= Tricia Allen Campaign and Communications Director Greenpeace New Zealand email@example.com phone ++ 64 9 630 6317 / +64 25 790817 fax ++ 64 9 630 7121 http://www.greenpeace.org.nz =========================================