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Monday, January 09, 2006

Going Nuclear

Europe, like the U.S., is attempting to secure stable and environmentally sustainable energy sources for the future. To accomplish this goal, Wolfgang Munchau of the Financial Times says that Europe needs to consider nuclear energy as part of the answer. But the politics won't be easy:

EU must grasp the nuclear nettle, by Wolfgang Munchau, FT: The two overriding objectives of the European Union’s future energy policy should be to secure supplies and ensure environmental sustainability. It is currently in danger of failing in both. ... If Europe is serious about meeting both goals, it will need a new energy mix – one that would include both nuclear and alternative energy sources, combined with policies to encourage energy efficiency. While nuclear energy is not the answer to all our energy problems, it has to be part of any answer. The scientific and strategic case for a return to nuclear energy in the EU is overwhelming. ...

Nuclear energy is not risk-free. In the 1970s and 1980s, the debate was about whether we would be prepared to accept this new technology at the expense of what we were told would be a small accident risk. Today’s debate is different. For one, the accident risk is considerably smaller. But there are also equally grave risks attached to going non-nuclear, the biggest of which is an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Scientists have been warning about the effects of phasing out nuclear energy on future greenhouse emissions. ...[If the energy] gap were filled by traditional power stations, the UK would almost certainly miss its greenhouse gas targets. ...

But it is far from clear whether the EU’s political classes are ready for a change in nuclear policy. ... For the present political generation, the anti-nuclear movement was one of the defining moments in their early political careers. It not only gave rise to green parties all over Europe but heavily influenced the political left – though, interestingly, this was never true of France ... Elsewhere in continental Europe, opposition to nuclear energy is so deep-rooted that even a dangerous rise in greenhouse gas emissions cannot change the views of a seasoned anti-nuclear campaigner. ... There are big differences among EU countries. Finland, for example, has been alone in commissioning a new power station at a time when others are decommissioning. ... Europe needs a common energy policy and it also needs a rethink on nuclear power. I am not holding my breath: there is too much political resistance. But let the debate commence.

Is it time for the U.S. to rethink its position too? I would listen to the arguments, but I'm not sold on nuclear. Here's a related story that points to reasons to reconsider:

Shell’s Sakhalin shows an industry its daunting future, by Thomas Catan, FT:  On a remote island off the eastern coast of Russia, encased in ice for nearly half the year, the future of the world oil and gas industry is beginning to take shape. And judging by the scale of the project ... around the bleak shores of Sakhalin, that future will be expensive, complex and, above all, big. Off Sakhalin’s north coast, two of the largest concrete structures ever built in Russia have been installed in the sea. As large as football fields and as tall as 15-storey buildings, the offshore platform bases have been towed in from 1,000 nautical miles away. Some 6,000 construction workers labour in temperatures that can reach minus 40 degrees laying 800km pipelines down the length of the island.

On the south side, Russia’s first liquefied natural gas plant is being built in Aniva Bay. There the natural gas will be super-cooled into liquid form and shipped to Japan, South Korea and the US – markets that have never before had access to Russia’s massive gas reserves. Europe came to realise just how dependent it had become on Russia for energy after a new year spat between the Kremlin and Ukraine briefly threatened its gas supply. Now Asia and the US are about to join the club. After decades of false starts, the big push is under way to transform Sakhalin into the world’s latest oil and gas province. ... “This is the biggest single project certainly that Shell has and, by most measures, that anybody has,” says Chris Finlayson, Shell’s Russia country manager. ... The project is burning through $100 a second and occupying 60m person-hours a year. ... the scale of the technical task that has led Shell managers to call it “the Mother of all Projects”. ... The list of obstacles faced by Shell and its partners is daunting. ...

Sakhalin’s pristine environment has ... made Shell the target of campaigners around the world. An endangered population of only 100 western gray whales feed on Sakhalin’s north-eastern shore during the summer months. ... Environmental groups also fear that the construction of the twin pipelines, which cross 1,000 rivers and streams, will interfere with salmon spawning and harm the island’s fishing industry. ... The company is drilling under rivers that are held to be particularly sensitive and has sought to allay fears about its impact on the island’s fishing industry. ... A bigger concern is that the company does not have a plan for what to do in the event of an oil spill under ice. It says it is working hard to come up with one. ...

    Posted by on Monday, January 9, 2006 at 12:42 AM in Economics, Environment, Oil | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (7)

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