Reuters Environment News
WASHINGTON - An advisory panel representing a broad spectrum of government, consumers, businesses, environmentalists and utilities on Wednesday urged Congress to move promptly to pass electric utility restructuring legislation.
After a year and a half of study, an advisory committee formed by the Consumer Energy Council of America Research Foundation (CECA/RF) said "Congress should pass legislation sooner rather than later."
It also recommended that the legislation give states final say over whether they will implement retail competition.
The panel issued its recommendations at the winter conference of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.
"The work of the CECA/RF Restructuring Forum will go a long way in assisting state and federal lawmakers to pass restructuring legislation that everyone can support," Jamie Wimberly, CECA/RF vice president, said.
The committee's findings, which it said marked the most comprehensive effort to get consenus on the electricity restructuring issue, left ultimate decisions to states. But it said every state should submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by a set date a report on implementing retail competition in their state, using federal guidelines.
Some of the panel's recommendations, such as the "flexible mandate" for states, mirror principles that Energy Department officials have said likely would be in the administration's restructuring plan. That is expected to be released later this month.
"We've been working with the administration. They've taken cues from us, and we've taken cues from them," Wimberly said.
The panel also cited its "first do no harm principles" which would allow consumers to stick with their utility and pay cost-based rates during the transition period of stranded cost recovery.
The panel - which represented consumers, businesses, utilities, public power companies, energy efficieny and renewables advocates, environmentalists, natural gas companies, state and federal utility regulators, the U.S. Energy Department, Congress and the White House - said the legislation should authorize a federal backstop to ensure reliability of the system.
It said public benefits programs should be maintained to ensure that electricity remains accessible and affordable with a funding mechanism to give assistance to low-income consumers.
The panel encouraged a strong market for energy efficiency programs and public funding for developing more efficient technologies, and for other public benefit research and development programs.
It recommended a full examination of questions on concentration of market power and how to remedy abuses.
It stressed the need for public information and education in a competitive market, and called for strong consumer disclosure provisions and succint, uniform labeling on utility bills. It also called for public access to data, and the need for public awareness campaigns at both the state and federal levels.
The panel said principles should be adopted either in federal restructuring legislation or through other initiatives to reduce power sector air emissions, and for renewable energy technologies.
Reuters Environment News
MOSCOW - Russian President Boris Yeltsin on Wednesday appointed Yevgeny Adamov, a scientist, to the politically sensitive post of nuclear energy minister.
The 58-year old Adamov, whose appointment is likely to be scrutinised by the United States, replaces veteran minister Viktor Mikhailov who was removed on Monday.
Adamov, director of a Moscow-based energy research institute, became widely known in the nuclear sector through his work in helping to tackle the consequences of the Chernobyl accident in 1986.
The explosion in the fourth reactor of the Chernobyl power station in then-Soviet Ukraine, the world's worst civil nuclear accident, has kept international attention fixed on the sector in the post-communist era.
Many Western experts have expressed doubts that the cash-strapped Russian government is capable of upholding acceptable safety standards for its nuclear reactors.
Russia says its nuclear stations are safe and subject to strict controls.
Itar-Tass news agency said on Monday that Mikhailov had managed to stop the stagnation in Russia's nuclear energy sector in 1994 and oversaw year-on-year growth of 2.6 percent in 1997.
Another part of the minister's responsibilities is dealing with U.S. and Israeli concerns over Russia's co-operation with Iran in the energy field.
Mikhailov had been one of the most influential figures in Russia's nuclear establishment, aggressively seeking to market Russian technology abroad in an effort to earn badly needed hard currency and to expand the country's nuclear programme.
In the post since 1992, Mikhailov had endorsed speeding up construction of a nuclear power reactor in Bushehr, Iran, despite U.S. pressure for Russia to end the project altogether.
The United States has accused Iran of trying to acquire a nuclear arsenal, sponsoring state terrorism and undermining the Middle East peace process.
Russia has denied U.S. and Israeli claims that it is helping Iran develop nuclear or long-range ballistic missiles.
Adamov could now take Mikhailov's place at next week's bi-annual meeting in Washington of a commission chaired by U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.
U.S. officials are looking to the meeting to make progress on resolving the U.S.-Russian differences over Iran.
Yeltsin gave no reason on Monday for Mikhailov's dismissal but Tass said the minister had been pressing Chernomyrdin for some time to allow him to retire after six years of service.
Tass described Mikhailov, an engineer and manager with extensive experience in the nuclear sector, as a "superb professional".
U.S. sources have suggested Mikhailov's resignation might be the result of Washington's campaign to persuade Moscow to halt nuclear co-operation with Tehran.
Reuters Environment News
TAIPEI - State-run Taiwan Power Company has chosen an offshore defence outpost near rival China as its nuclear waste dump site, government officials said on Saturday.
"Taipower (Taiwan Power Company) has chosen the islet Hsiao Chiu as its priority dump site for its nuclear waste," Chiou Syh-tsong, director of Radwaste Administration of the Atomic Energy Council said.
But the company still needs to complete its geological and environmental evaluation reports in six months and obtain approval from both the council and the Environmental Protection Administration before it can set up the waste storage centre, he said.
The islet, under military administration, is just 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) from China, Taiwan's rival since the sides split at the end of a civil war in 1949.
Chiou said because of the location, the proposed dump site would only be able to store 200,000 barrels of waste, falling short of Taipower's originally planned one million barrels.
Taipower has said it would offer T$3 billion (US$93.7 million) in compensation to any township administration if the construction project moves ahead.
On Saturday, however, residents and environmentalists vowed to protest against any plan to set up a dump site on the islet.
"We would stand firm against any move to turn our land into a health-hazardous area," Lee Yi-chiang, head of the islet's administrative office, told Reuters telephone.
Taipower officials said in Taipei the company would do all it can to communicate with the residents and head off worries that the storage site would create radioactive pollution.
The officials said the selection of new site would not affect the company's plan to ship low-radiation waste to North Korea for disposal.
Taipower has signed a contract with North Korea for disposal of 60,000 barrels of waste with an option to ship up to 200,000 barrels.
But protests from South Korea, rival of the communist north, and environmentalists have stalled the shipment plan.
Reuters Environment News
STOCKHOLM - Nordic environment ministers appealed to Britain on Friday to halt radioactive discharges from the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in northwest England.
Environment ministers or officials from Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway and Iceland agreed at a Nordic environment meeting in the Swedish port of Gothenburg to write to the British government on the issue, the Swedish news agency TT said.
"Good neighbours don't act on their own on matters which may harm others," Swedish Environment Minister Anna Lindh told TT.
"Therefore we expect the British to listen to our arguments and find a solution which the marine environment can stand."
In the letter, the ministers expressed concern about the discharges from Sellafield and appealed for a halt until their effects had been better analysed and there was a cleaning technique to reduce them, TT said.
A spokesman at the Swedish Environment Ministry confirmed that the ministers had agreed on the letter but could not give details about its content.
He stressed, however, that the Nordics were not asking for Sellafield to be shut down, but rather for the discharges to be taken care of in a suitable manner.
The Nordic move came after a Norwegian state body last Wednesday blamed the British nuclear waste reprocessing plant for increased radiation levels found in seafood and marine vegetation off western Norway.
The Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority said in a report that lobster and other edible marine life was found to have increased concentration of radioactive Technetium 99, although the levels which have reached humans through the food chain were probably low and acceptable.
In 1994, a new waste reprocessing system was commissioned at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant and British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) began treating a backlog of spent fuel, which was the source of the radiation.
Norwegian radiation authorities have not done work to find out what levels have reached humans.
However, the levels detected in lobster and seaweed were probably acceptable for human consumption, a researcher at the Norwegian protection authority told Reuters this week.
Ireland has also voiced concern about high levels of Technetium 99 in the Irish Sea close to Sellafield.
BNFL has dismissed Irish allegations that discharges from the plant were turning lobsters radioactive, saying they were based on selective data.
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - People living within 10 miles of the Sellafield nuclear facility in northwest England have been told not to eat or handle local pigeons because they might be radioactive.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued the advice after a number of pigeons that had been culled were found to be radioactive, a spokesman said on Friday.
Several government agencies and the nuclear plant's operator BNFL are carrying out investigations as to how the pigeons became contaminated.
Although pigeon racing is a popular sport in northern England the radioactive birds are likely to be wild feral pigeons, a BNFL official said.
"These are not the sort of pigeons you would want to shoot and eat anyway, they are feral," he told Reuters. There has been no sign of pigeon meat appearing in local shops.
Residents of Seascale, the town near Sellafield, were alerted to the presence of radioactive pigeons after authorities were called in to sort out the conventional hygiene problems caused by two middle aged sisters feeding up to 700 pigeons a day.
Tests on a number of culled birds found they were radioactive and a widespread cull was initiated. BNFL has already culled 400 pigeons that regularly roosted on its nuclear site.
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - The French are as keen as ever on nuclear power but they are worried about radioactive waste, an opinion poll shows, nuclear newsagency NucNet reported on Tuesday.
A convincing 67 percent, three points less than a 1996 survey, favoured the continued operation of France's 57 nuclear reactors, a poll of 2,250 by research institute BVA found.
France has one of the highest proportions in the world of nuclear power generation at around 77 percent and French governments have for years said that nuclear power is a foundation block on which to build an independent and secure energy policy.
The poll found that 62 percent, up six points on 1996, believed nuclear power will be the most important energy source in 10 years time; 11 percent think building new power stations is unnecessary, up one point; and only 15 percent want to close the country's current crop of 57 reactors.
Even though the sample group thought nuclear power was here to stay, only 21 percent, up six points on 1996, believed it to be the most economical energy source. That prize went to renewable energy sources at 28 percent.
Nearly half believed it was not possible to store radioactive waste safely, up two points from 1996.
Reuters Environment News
LONDON - Nuclear power is set for strong growth in Asia, boosted by a lack of viable alternatives and increasing concern over air quality, a Korean academic said.
Even despite the economic turmoil in the region Asia was still set to spearhead a surge in global energy demand, KunMo Chung said.
"The current economic problems would not make any major impact on the nuclear programmes of Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and India," he told Reuters in an interview.
Nuclear power generation in South Korea has even provided important savings of foreign exchange during the recent financial crisis. Chung said that whereas oil and gas require foreign currencies to purchase, nulcear power does not require short-term purchases of fuel.
"Nuclear power generation really helped us to overcome the sudden increase of fossil fuel costs," said Chung, of the Energy Systems Research Center at Ajou University, Suwon.
Although Asia's economic downturn would lead to a drop in electricity demand, Chung believed nuclear power could take market share from imported fossil fuels.
The World Energy Council estimates global electricity use will expands by at least 50 percent and possibly 75 percent by 2020.
At present China's 1.2 billion citizens use close to 1,000 kWh of electricity per person per year against 15,000 kWh in European countries.
Chung said in a lecture to the British Nuclear Energy Society published this month that it was likely electricity consumption in China and other developing nations will soon reach similar levels of demand to South Korea's 5,000 kWh.
"Asian countries are expected to expand electricity generation by more than five percent a year during the next 20 years, as compared with one per year in most OECD countries," he said.
Many Asian countries rely heavily on energy imports -- by 80 percent in the case of Japan and 90 percent for South Korea -- prompting a concerted move to diversify.
Chung said that to a large degree nuclear power is viewed as a domestic energy source even if uranium has to be imported and foreign technologies used. Once operational low fuel cost made nuclear power attractive in the long term.
Air quality in many Asian cities is far in excess of that found in Europe and America and in some cases above World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Chung picked out the heavy dependence on coal in China and India as leading to acute urban air pollution.
"Because of air pollution and acid rain problems, expanded use of nuclear power is regarded as the realistic alternative to fossil fuels," he said.
Hydro-power was limited to areas of China, solar power technology required further development while wind power and geothermal had limited applications, Chung said.
Opposition to nuclear power was more limited and less coherent than in the West, he added.
"Policy makers and the majority of the general public have viewed the expansion of nuclear power programmes with equanimity in contrast with the pessimism surrounding the nuclear power future in most Western countries," he said.
But in Japan incidents at the Monju Fast Breeder Plant and the Toktai fuel cycle complex have caused some alarm, while in Korea and Taiwan there were difficulties in getting sites for development and waste management, he said.
But nuclear power already has a firm foothold in the region. It provides Japan with 33 percent of its electricity, South Korea with 35 percent and Taiwan with 30 percent, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Chung said nuclear generation in China and India was still small, accounting for only one percent and three percent of electricity respectively, but that both countries planned substantial expansion programmes.
Pakistan was set to commission its second nuclear plant in 1998 while Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have been talking about building plants.