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Reuters Environment NewsBy Jeffrey Jones
Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart and Energy Minister Ralph Goodale plan to consider opinions gleaned at the meeting, to be held in Regina, Saskatchewan, in drafting the country's policy for the United Nations Climate Change Convention in December, Goodale spokesman John Embury said.
"Everyone's talking to industry, they're talking to (environmental groups), so we want to put together a team effort," Embury said.
Canadian industrial interests have recently intensified warnings that the country's economy would be devestated if major cuts to greenhouse gas emissions were imposed because costs to companies would skyrocket.
Scientists have said Canada produces about two percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but it is considered to be among the developed world's highest emitters on a per capita basis.
Environmental groups have criticized Ottawa for not being tough enough on industry for stabilizing emissions.
Most of Canada's emissions are caused by the production and consumption of fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.
Stewart said this week that Canada should be given special consideration in drafting limits on greenhouse gas emissions. Her government has said a large land mass, resource-based economy and dependance on international trade made the prospect of stabilizing emissions "particularly daunting."
Meanwhile, Alberta Energy Minister Steve West, who will be one of the Regina meeting's co-chairs, made it clear he would reject any proposal that threatened to harm his province's energy industry, currently in the midst of a boom, or its standard of living.
Oil and gas-rich Alberta produces about 80 percent of Canada's energy resources and is also a major exporter to the United States.
West also said plans devised for "emotional and philosophical" reasons would severely damage Canada's economic competitiveness.
"Nothing would be better for those countries in Europe to see our industries slow down their investment here and move their resources there," West said.
"Developing countries would just love us to put in carbon taxes and artificial caps and legislative requirements and watch a billion dollars move off someplace else."
Many of Canada's resource industries have signed onto a government program of voluntary greenhouse gas emission cuts, but the policy has been derided by environmental groups.
Natural Resource Minister Ralph Goodale reiterated his preference for voluntary emission cuts rather than regulations.
"Voluntary actions can be very helpful," he told the House of Commons, listing companies that had cut back emissions on their own accord.
Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are believed to cause warming of the world's atmosphere, which some scientists say could lead to widespread disaster from rising ocean levels and weather changes.
Reuters Calgary Bureau (403) 531-1624
Reuters Environment NewsBRUSSELS - Several dozen demonstrators blocked entrances to a nuclear plant in northern Belgium on Friday to protest against the impact the mining of uranium used in such plants has on native peoples around the world.
The action, organised by the Belgian arm of environmental group For Mother Earth, was attended by representatives of indigenous peoples in Australia, Namibia, Canada, and the United States, organisation spokeswoman Krista van Velzen said.
"We blocked two of three entrances with about 40 people -- only two because we did not want to provoke any violence," she told Reuters from Ghent where For Mother Earth is based. The blockade lasted 4-1/2 hours.
The action at the Doel plant, north of the port city of Antwerp, was the start of a six-week European campaign to decry the violation of land rights, health hazards and damage to the environment resulting from uranium mining.
The protestors say that the mining creates radio-active waste, increases cancer risks in miners and people living near the mines, and pollutes and wastes water.
Belgium is the world's third largest uranium importer with annual imports of about 110 tonnes from countries including Canada, the United States, South Africa, China and Morocco.
The campaigners will take their cause to the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday.
Later next week they will go to the Belgian Parliament before crossing the border to Germany for action at the U.S. airbase in Ramstein, a tour of a disused uranium mine in Ronneburg and action at the Greifswald nuclear waste depot.
The campaign also goes to Scandinavia and Austria.
Associated PressMarcia Dunn
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- A frighteningly poisonous substance contained in a box in a box in a box, it's been bombarded by explosions and shrapnel, torched by burning fuel, slammed against steel and concrete, drenched in sea water.
And after years of the most severe testing possible, the Energy Department says the shielded plutonium for NASA's soon-to-be-launched Saturn probe, Cassini, is almost indestructible.
Not completely indestructible. Almost.
Not impossible to burst and leak. Nearly impossible.
"Impossible is not something you can say here," says Beverly Cook, the Energy Department's program director for plutonium power systems.
"The worst that can happen is a one-mile-in-diameter asteroid could hit Florida right when we hit the launch button. That's not impossible. But I don't think anybody is worrying about an asteroid when we launch Cassini."
Asteroids aside, Cassini is safe whether the rocket blows or no, Cook and other government officials say. Any release of plutonium would be minute, they insist.
But in a scene straight out of a conspiracy thriller, anti-nuclear activists, pacifists and even a retired NASA safety officer have joined forces to expose what they believe are government lies. They want to stop Cassini's Oct. 13 launch, which they fear could kill or maim thousands.
It's the biggest, loudest crusade against a nuclear-powered space shot ever. Then again, it's the most plutonium for a space shot ever -- 72 pounds of the highly radioactive, highly carcinogenic stuff, compressed into a non-pulverizing ceramic form so it cannot be inhaled in the event of a launch accident.
By mail, by phone, by rally and especially by Internet, the anti-Cassini crowd is gaining attention, if not momentum, as the launch date nears. A march near the launch site Saturday drew an estimated 500 protesters.
The result: plutonium pandemonium.
"Can man build something that's indestructible, in the fury and fire of a launch explosion?" asks Alan Kohn, an emergency preparedness operations officer for NASA during two plutonium-powered interplanetary launches several years ago.
Feeling guilty and being retired, he now sides with the opposition.
"You're going by faith -- not faith in God, faith in man," the new Kohn says.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Richard Spehalski, Cassini program manager, contends Kohn and others like him are spreading fear, not facts.
"Their techniques are very much like walking into a crowded movie theater and yelling, 'Fire!' " Spehalski says.
The plutonium-238 dioxide supplies electricity for Cassini's instruments during the 11-year, $3.4 billion mission to explore Saturn, its enchanting rings and icy moons. The trip to the sixth planet from the sun will take seven years, cover 2.2 billion miles and require gravity-assisted fly-bys of Venus, Earth and Jupiter.
Two stories high and 12,600 pounds, Cassini is NASA's largest interplanetary explorer ever. It includes a European-built probe designed to land on Titan, Saturn's biggest moon.
NASA says plutonium is the only way to provide power for such an ambitious mission so far from the sun. Opponents say breakthrough solar-cell technology could be used if Cassini were redesigned.
NASA says there is a one-in-1,400 chance of an accident early in launch that would cause a plutonium release, a one-in-476 chance of such an accident later in launch, and a less than one-in-a-million chance of Cassini re-entering the atmosphere and releasing plutonium during its 1999 Earth fly-by.
Opponents say the chances are much higher.
NASA says in the worst possible accident, during the Earth fly-by, the number of cancer deaths worldwide would increase by 120. Opponents say that number could reach the hundreds of thousands.
The government's six-year safety analysis of Cassini is summarized in a document that's two feet thick; every statistic has been substantiated by independent experts.
"What we're coming down to here now is a case of rhetoric vs. reality," says Energy Department spokesman Matthew Donoghue. "If there is a different reality, we're waiting for them to represent it. ... We want it and we want it now."
Kohn contends neither side is right, that the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Given this uncertainty, he believes the launch should be moved to an isolated locale out in the Pacific.
"Who can tell me what's going to happen in the fury of a launch explosion? No one can tell me that," Kohn says. "The proof of the pudding will be in the explosion, God forbid."
The tally to date for American nuclear-powered space missions: 23 successes and three failures. The Russians also have had their share of flops, including last November's destruction of a Mars probe; its half-pound load of plutonium supposedly ended up in the Pacific Ocean, or perhaps Bolivia or Chile.
The United States launched its first plutonium-powered spacecraft, a Navy navigation satellite, in 1961. Heat generated by the decaying plutonium was converted into electricity for radio transmitters and instruments on the still-orbiting satellite.
These radioisotope thermoelectric generators, or RTGs, were redesigned following a 1964 launch accident in which one burned up, as intended, while plunging through the atmosphere, and plutonium leaked.
In 1968, two RTGs plummeted into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast following the failed launch of a weather satellite. They were retrieved intact from 300 feet of water, reinforced and reflown. And in the most famous failure, the RTG from Apollo 13's lunar lander sank in the South Pacific near Fiji in 1970, where it remains, apparently whole.
"If I could go get it I would," says the Energy Department's Cook. "For what I charge NASA for these, they would go get it if they could."
The cost of Cassini's three RTGs: $50 million each.
As for NASA's most prominent successes, each of the six Apollo landers on the moon carried plutonium as did the Pioneer, Viking and Voyager spacecraft.
NASA's shuttle-launched Galileo probe, currently orbiting Jupiter, is powered by 48 pounds of plutonium, the shuttle-launched Ulysses solar probe by 24 pounds. Even the Sojourner rover on Mars has plutonium, albeit less than one-third of an ounce.
The RTGs for Cassini are the latest, safest version, similar to those used on Galileo and Ulysses. They will provide 885 watts of electric power at the start of the mission, 663 watts at the end.
Each of the 216 marshmallow-size plutonium pellets is encased in heat-resistant iridium. Two pellets are encased in a graphite shell with a thermal slipcover. Two of these shells are encased in a graphite block about the size of a handheld tape recorder, and 18 of these blocks go into each of three RTGs. Each RTG is 4 feet long and 17 inches in diameter and weighs 124 pounds.
The RTGs have been tested for every conceivable launch disaster -- especially essential given the 5 percent failure rate of the unmanned Titan 4 rocket that will hoist Cassini.
Unimpressed and unabashed, Cassini foes have taken to the Internet to spread their message of "No nuclear power in space, no weapons in space, stop the military takeover of the space program." They've also bombarded the White House, which must approve all RTG launches, with calls and letters.
Members of the Florida Coalition for Peace and Justice, which protested the 1989 Galileo and 1990 Ulysses launches and even went to court to try to stop Galileo, realize Cassini probably will fly as well. Nonetheless, they hope their doomsday warnings will prevent future nuclear-powered missions.
Among NASA's tentative plans for plutonium: probes to far-off Pluto and Jupiter's moon, Europa. There's even talk of sending nuclear rockets to Mars, an idea that chills coalition coordinator Bruce Gagnon.
"Space is being identified as a new market, if you will, for nuclear power, so it's not just, 'Oh, Cassini.' My God, there's a whole slew of these things in future years," he says. "God forbid if they do launch Cassini, we hope everything goes well. But sooner or later ... you're going to have a problem."
Ottawa CitizenTom Spears
Three earthquake experts say a newly discovered fault under Lake Ontario adds to the risk that Pickering and Darlington, as well as four U.S. nuclear plants, are on shakier ground than anyone thought.
Seismologists Joe Wallach, Arselan Mohajer and Richard Thomas explored the deepest part of Lake Ontario last May.
They say the bottom of the "Rochester Basin" in eastern Lake Ontario has heaved and cracked during the past 11,000 years -- recent time in geological terms.
Mr. Wallach says this shows the same fault that still causes earthquakes along the St. Lawrence River extends well into Lake Ontario, and maybe into Lake Erie as well.
Yesterday, he presented their results publicly for the first time at the annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America's eastern section in Ottawa.
"That area is not as seismically quiet as people would like to think," he said in an interview.
He estimates an earthquake measuring 7 on the Richter scale could happen somewhere along that fault, and says the greatest danger would be if it damaged a nuclear plant and released radiation.
Big earthquakes don't happen often. Mr. Mohajer, a professor at the University of Toronto, has estimated a big one might happen once in 10,000 years in western Lake Ontario, near the Pickering and Darlington plants.
But there are plenty of smaller quakes. Ontario Hydro has recorded more than 50 little ones, some too small to feel, in the past six years near the lake's west end.
There have also been mid-sized quakes in modern history.
Ontario Hydro says it won't comment until it sees a written version of the Wallach team's study. Hydro has always insisted it built its nuclear plants strong enough to withstand any earthquake likely to hit southern Ontario.
Mr. Wallach is a consulting seismologist who used to work for the Atomic Energy Control Board. His team descended in a submersible to more than 200 metres beneath Lake Ontario last May, and found sheer drops of 15 metres where the lake bed had shifted.
He says it's almost proven that this is an extension of the St. Lawrence Valley fault -- which was supposed to come no farther west than Cornwall.
And he said the rock that has been sliced and shoved around is brand-new rock, formed since the last Ice Age ended a little more than 10,000 years ago. That shows these aren't just leftovers from earlier earthquakes.
"There's a whole series of faults (in eastern Lake Ontario) and they're geologically young," he said. "If that structure goes through Lake Ontario, and I suspect it does, then it definitely has a bearing on the earthquake risk at the nuclear power plants."
"We're looking at all these things as contributors to an elevated seismic risk," Mr. Wallach said. "It can't be ignored."
The new findings are the second evidence of a fault near Pickering and Darlington. Mr. Mohajer and others found a fault running down to Pickering from the north in the early '90s.
And divers have since found "pop-ups" in the lake near Pickering and Darlington. These are places where the rock on the lake's bottom has been squeezed sideways and heaved up.
He said plants near the fault zone include four U.S. nuclear stations: the Ginna station near Rochester, the James Fitzpatrick and Nine Mile Point stations near Oswego, N.Y., and the Perry station in Leroy, Ohio.
"The more you learn about the nuclear plants and their circumstances, the more dangerous they seem," said Tom Adams of Energy Probe, a critic of the nuclear industry.
Associated PressBy Steve Gutterman
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- The United States and Canada will pay $2.5 million to repair a deteriorating section of the casing surrounding a ruined reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, an official said Tuesday.
The project is designed to shore up the ventilation stack, which towers over the radioactive remains of the reactor, said Carol Kessler, a U.S. official who is in Ukraine for talks on closing Chernobyl by the year 2000.
Without the repair, the stack could fall onto either the fragile roof of the ruined reactor or the adjacent third reactor -- the only one still operative. Workers will try to complete most of the repairs before winter.
Last spring, Ukraine and the Group of Seven industrialized nations agreed on the first phase of the Chernobyl shutdown, which calls for removing nuclear fuel and other safety steps. But negotiators still must raise nearly half of the estimated $750 million cost from private and government donors.
The chimney is the most visible of the dangers posed by the ramshackle concrete-and-steel "sarcophagus" that was hastily built over Reactor No. 4 after a deadly explosion in 1986 -- the world's worst nuclear accident.
The G-7 has pledged $300 million, and Ukrainian Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko said Monday that his country would contribute $50 million. Ukraine also is to provide $100 million in related expenses, Kessler said.
Kessler and Kostenko said they are hoping that a conference of potential donor countries in New York next month will generate enough money to ensure the project's completion.
The G-7 agreed Tuesday to begin "an intensive joint effort" to raise the rest of the money, Kessler said.
Kessler and Kostenko were less upbeat about another key aspect of efforts to close Chernobyl by 2000 -- a controversial plan to compensate for the energy loss by completing nuclear reactors at two other Ukrainian plants.
Ukraine pledged to close Chernobyl by 2000 under a 1995 memorandum with the G-7, which consists of the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan. But Ukraine has repeatedly warned it may not make the deadline unless $3.1 billion in promised aid is donated sooner.
TORONTO - Ontario Hydro had an internal report showing its nuclear power plants were in terrible shape four months before it alerted the public about the problems.
A copy of the report, obtained by CTV News, reveals that senior executives at the Crown corporation knew in mid-April that they had potentially serious safety problems.
The public wasn't notified until the August release of a U.S. consultant's report that reached many of the same conclusions as the utility's own Nuclear Performance Advisory Group.
Release of the U.S. report was followed by the resignation of president Al Kupcis and announcement that Hydro's its problems were so bad that it would be shutting down seven of its reactors.
"The fact is, there was a very serious problem and Ontario Hydro covered it up," Dave Martin of the Durham Nuclear Awareness Project said of the earlier report in April.
In a story prepared for broadcast Sunday, CTV said that in the 15-page report, dated April 17, 1997, Hydro's own nuclear experts examined every aspect of the operation and detailed scores of serious problems.
The internal report said operations were "below standard" and so was maintenance, training, engineering, radiation protection and organizational effectiveness.
"Management leadership has been ineffective in both assigning and accepting personal responsibility and accountability to correct some longstanding maintenance department weaknesses," said one section of the report.
Wayne Arthurs, mayor of Pickering, just east of Toronto and home to one of Hydro's nuclear plants, said officials should have shared their findings with him.
Energy Minister Norm Sterling told CTV he never saw the report and maintained that the public didn't need to see it because it was preliminary.
"I don't know if it would have made any difference if it had crossed my desk because I wouldn't have taken any action," he said.
In June, Hydro went before the Atomic Energy Control Board to ask for a five-year licence renewal for Pickering. Despite the findings of the April report, Hydro told the board its nuclear plants were operating well.
The board only gave Ontario Hydro a nine-month extension.
"I think it was completely irresponsible, based on this, to be asking for a five-year licence," said Arthurs.
Hydro spokesman Terry Young said the report was preliminary and the utility had no obligation to inform the public.
"You can't go out and tell people what you've found until you're sure that that is what indeed the situation is," he said.
A committee of the Ontario legislature begins hearings today into the findings of the U.S. consultant's report.
Reuters Environment News
By Suren Babayan
TBILISI (Reuter) - Ten border guards are being treated for radiation sickness in Georgia after 15 radioactive containers were found abandoned in and around a former Soviet military base, officials and doctors said on Sunday.
"They have got high levels of radiation and will now have to be treated for many years," Sergei Filin, a Russian doctor helping treat the victims, told reporters.
Ten containers were buried at a shallow depth below what is now a border guards training centre in Lilo just outside the former Soviet republic's capital Tbilisi. Five more were found outside the base, border guards chief Valery Chkheidze said.
He said four of the containers, used to calibrate radioactivity measurement devices, had radioactive caesium in them.
Chkheidze said the canisters had been abandoned without any protection when the Soviet army handed over the base, then used for civil defence, in 1992 after the collape of the Soviet Union. No mention of them was made during the handover, he said.
"We are talking about criminal nonchalance when dealing with radioactive materials," Chkheidze told reporters.
"There are special standards for using radioactive materials for the study purposes and those materials must strictly never leave the territory of the testing ground."
He said the territory of all bases abandoned by the Soviet army in Georgia would now have to be tested for radiation.
Shukri Abramidze, a nuclear expert at a Georgian physics research institute, was shocked at how the canisters were abandoned.
"I have been working in this field for 40 years and have never seen anything like it," he said.
Film footage broadcast by commercial Russian television channel NTV showed one of the soldiers in hospital with a red sore on his back. Another had a nasty sore on his thigh.
Russian hospitals have offered to treat the victims but none has been transferred yet.
Some of the doctors who have arrived to help the victims are from a Russian medical centre which helped treat victims of the world's worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986.
A radiation safety expert identified as Noe Katamadze was quoted by Itar-Tass news agency as saying the radiation level at the Lilo base was now normal. Tass also said Georgian authorities had decided to set up a special commission to investigate.
Reuters Environment News
TOKYO (Reuter) - Japanese power utilities have asked the state science agency to check on the safety of canisters containing radioactive waste due to be shipped back from France next year, industry and government officials said on Thursday.
The nuclear waste is spent nuclear fuel from four Japanese electric utilities which has been reprocessed in France, and which is due to be transported back between January and March, a Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc (TEPCO) spokesman said.
The three other power utilities whose toxic waste will be shipped back together are Kansai Electric Power Co Inc, Chubu Electric Power Co Inc 9502 T and Kyushu Electric Power Co.
The nuclear fuel was recycled by France's Cogema company.
The toxic waste is the third such shipment, following deliveries in 1995 and earlier this year which were met by a storm of protest from countries on the ship's route.
A Science and Technology Agency official said government officials would be dispatched to France and to the storage facility in northern Japan to check on the canisters' safety.
The waste, contained in 60 canisters each weighing between 471 kg and 509 kg, includes radioactive material, which is mixed with glass.
The canisters will be taken to the Mutsu-Ogawara Port located within a reprocessing plant complex at Rokkasho village in Aomori Prefecture, about 580 km northeast of Tokyo, which is operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.
Reuters Environment News
WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The Energy Department Wednesday said it was confident a dump for medium-grade radioactive wastes in New Mexico salt caverns would be a safe solution to cleaning up Cold War refuse.
The department said its choice would be to stash defense-related waste such as machine parts and laboratory equipment used to make nuclear weapons and other tainted clothing and equipment "up to current legal limits for permanent disposal" at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), near Carlsbad.
Energy Secretary Federico Pena will make a final decision next month on the project, which environmentalists say could contaminate water and would remain dangerous and susceptible to breaching for the next 10,000 years.
"We are confident that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plan can be operated safely. This facility is an important solution to a national problem -- cleaning up decades of Cold War-generated radioactive waste at sites nationwide," Al Alm, assistant energy secretary for environmental management, said in a statement.
But Don Hancock, of the Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, said: "It's another example of DOE (Department of Energy) wanting to go ahead with what they themselves know is not the cheapest or safest alternative. It will cost five, six, seven times as much as safely handling waste at the sites where it is currently located."
The WIPP project to stash contaminated materials now at various Energy Department weapons sites around the country has been in the works for 20 years, and was completed almost 10 years ago, but has yet to open.
The department said this final environmental impact statement reflected consideration of more than 4,000 public comments on the project.
The project also is awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency and New Mexico's Environment Department.
Reuters Environment News
By Matthew L. Wald
WASHINGTON -- Through most of the 1950s, while the government reassured the public that there was no health threat from atmospheric nuclear tests, the Atomic Energy Commission regularly warned Eastman Kodak Co. and other film manufacturers about fallout that could damage their products, according to a review of government literature by a private watchdog group here.
The warnings were confirmed on Monday by people in the photographic industry.
Kodak discovered in the early 1950s that some film was fogged before use, and it traced the problem to fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests, both American and Russian. The watchdog group, the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, a nonprofit organization in Takoma Park, Md., that specializes in nuclear weapons issues, said Kodak hadthreatened to sue the Atomic Energy Commission, which had then promised to warn Kodak about future tests.
The National Cancer Institute said in August that fallout from the blasts, most of them between 1951 and 1958, had probably caused 10,000 to 75,000 extra thyroid cancers. A Senate subcommittee is planning a hearing on Wednesday to investigate when the hazard was first recognized and people were not protected.
The documents, declassified in the 1980s and made public as part of an "openness initiative" by Hazel O'Leary, the former energy secretary, include "Report by the Director of Military Application, Summary of Relationships between the A.E.C. and the Photographic Industry Regarding Radioactive Contamination from Atomic Weapons Tests, from January through December 1951."
A spokesman for Kodak, Paul Allen, gave an account similar to the institute's about how his company had discovered the fallout. Some film was fogged because it had been packed in a material made from corn husks that had been contaminated by fallout, for example. But Allen said no one still working at the company knew whether Kodak had been warned by the government.
But Thomas Dufficy, the executive vice president of the Photographic and Imaging Manufacturers Association, said the government had given regular warnings to his industry. Dufficy, who joined the group in 1967, when it was called the National Association of Photographic Manufacturers, said that government officials would call to give a warning after any radiation release, including nuclear blasts by foreign countries.
After the companies were warned, they could wait a few months before using materials that might have been contaminated with iodine-131, which is radioactive and produced in abundance by nuclear tests, to let the level of radioactivity drop.
Senator Tom Harkin, a Democrat from Iowa, who is the ranking minority member of an Appropriations Committee subcommittee that will hold the hearing on Wednesday, said, "It really is odd that the government would warn Kodak about its film but it wouldn't warn the general public about the milk it was drinking." Iodine-131 is absorbed by cows and incorporated into milk. In humans, it concentrates in the thyroid gland, where it can cause cancer.
"The only thing I can surmise," Harkin added, "is that they just didn't want any public reaction against the atomic tests." Harkin said that part of his thyroid had been removed 17 years ago, that his brother had died of thyroid cancer last year, and that a niece had received a thyroid cancer diagnosis earlier this year. Harkin said he did not know the source of his cancer but was concerned about his family's exposure to radiation from fallout.
Reuters Environment News
By Rolf Soderlind
VIENNA (Reuter) - Hans Blix, outgoing director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), urged the world on Monday to turn to nuclear power as a way of curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Blix, in a speech at the start of the annual general conference of the world's nuclear watchdog agency, said vigorous expansion of nuclear power for peaceful use was now evident only in southeast Asian countries while stagnation or slowdown was seen in most other parts of the world.
But he said the risk of global warming -- the so-called greenhouse effect -- had emerged as a new argument in the 1990s for using nuclear power rather than fossil fuels.
The burning of coal and oil creates greenhouse gases, the most important being carbon dioxide (CO2).
"If nuclear power were adopted more widely, it could have a significant restraining impact on CO2 emissions at costs which are not very different to those of fossil-fuelled power," Blix told delegates from 106 member states at the IAEA's 40th anniversary gathering.
He said only hydropower could compete with nuclear reactors as a non-carbon dioxide producing source of electricity.
The meeting, which will last until Friday, elected Egyptian Mohammed el-Baradei as successor to Blix, a former Swedish government minister who has been IAEA director-general since 1981. El-Baradei was the sole candidate and will replace Blix in December.
About 30 Greenpeace environmental activists chained themselves to each other briefly in the street outside the conference in Vienna's Austria Centre in a protest against the IAEA's pro-nuclear power position.
"Nuclear death is no answer to climate disaster," said a banner unfurled by the protesters. It was later confiscated by police, who carried the activists away from the centre.
"It is futile to promote one environmental disaster to solve another catastrophe. It's like trying to put out a fire with gasoline," Greenpeace spokeswoman Gabriele Faber-Wiener said in a statement.
"The IAEA is making a last-ditch attempt to promote nuclear power...in the leadup to the United Nations conference on Climate Change to be held in Kyoto (Japan) in December," she said.
More than 150 countries are expected to set binding measures at the Kyoto conference to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases thought to cause global warming.
Blix, who has earned plaudits for his stewardship of the IAEA, one of the smallest and most cost-effective within the U.N., said the world had learned a lesson from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in what was then the Soviet Union.
"While the Chernobyl accident has undoubtedly had a deep and negative impact on the public acceptance of nuclear power, the accident has also served as a powerful signal for states and utilities to strengthen international collaboration in the field of nuclear safety," Blix said.
"I note also that where nuclear power has been rejected as an energy source, experience shows that it is for the most part replaced by fossil-fuelled power -- not renewable.
"When one day governments, utilities and the public return to look at the nuclear power option, they should find that the nuclear industry offers new improved models of reactors which build on the collective experience of the past decades," Blix said.
Reuters Environment News
WASHINGTON (Reuter) - U.S. appeals court judges Thursday pressed a U.S. Energy Department attorney on why the department should not start moving and storing spent fuel from commercial nuclear reactors next year.
In oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, Energy Department attorney John Bryson said the department was proceeding as fast as it could to deal with nuclear waste, but it did not have authority from Congress to provide temporary storage for it.
The attorney for nuclear utilities, Jay Silberg, contended that the department was trying to nullify a deadline that Congress set 15 years ago for the government to take responsibility for the waste by January 1998.
If the department does not start moving the spent fuel by the January 31 deadline, Silberg said the court should order that some $600 million utility ratepayers pay annually to the Nuclear Waste Fund be put into escrow.
The court last year ruled that the Energy Department must comply with the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 that said the government was to start disposing of spent fuel from commercial reactors in January 1998.
Utilities, backed by a number of state utility commissions, then pressed the court to force the Energy Department to get a plan to start removing the waste, and to escrow payments to the waste fund until the department starts removing the spent fuel that is accumulating at reactors across the country.
Some $13 billion has been paid into the fund that was to be used to build commercial reactor waste storage.
Bryson said the department did not have authority from Congress to provide temporary storage for the waste, and still was in the process of determining whether Yucca Mountain in Nevada was a suitable long-term storage site.
Judge David Sentelle, one of three judges hearing the arguments, appeared skeptical that the department, which stores some foreign nuclear waste, could not take the utilities' waste.
"DOE's not real good at receiving messages," Sentelle said at another point during Silberg's argument that putting funds in escrow should prod the government into taking the waste.
Speaking to reporters after the oral arguments, Silberg said he expected a ruling in the next two months. "I would be very surprised if it dragged beyond January 31, 1998. They know the symbolism of that date," he said.
Reuters Environment News
By Vicki Allen
WASHINGTON (Reuter) - The Clinton administration released a study Thursday that said technology and energy efficiency could completely offset the costs of cutting the industrial pollution that is warming the planet.
"If you design a climate policy to allow time and flexibility, then you can use the ingenuity of our scientists and engineers," Joseph Romm, acting assistant energy secretary for efficiency and renewable energy, said in a telephone news conference.
In the study done by five of its laboratories, the Energy Department said investments in techologies such as advanced natural gas turbines, biomass and biofuels, and energy-saving appliances, could save many consumers and businesses money and would keep the nation's overall energy bill from rising.
Opponents of the administration's efforts to forge a treaty for countries to cut emissions from burning oil and coal have focused on how industries such as automobiles and other heavy manufacturing could be ravaged.
The White House, trying to build support for its stance in the treaty negotations that are to end in December, is holding a conference on the global warming issue on October 6.
The Energy Department study acknowledged "there surely will be winners and losers" in a major effort to switch to a high-efficiency, low carbon-producing economy. But it said the overall economy could thrive under a treaty that forced cuts in carbon emissions.
Earlier this month, Clinton said the nation could slash its carbon emissions by 20 percent with available technology, a view that Romm said this study supports.
The study said U.S. carbon emissions could be reduced at no net cost by the 390 million metric tonnes needed to stablize emissions at 1990 levels. It would require technology and a scheme to trade credits to pollute that put a $50 per metric ton permit price on carbon emissions.
Reducing emissions would cost from $50-$90 billion per year, while reduced energy use would save $70-$90 billion per year, the study said.
Energy savings could be substantially higer if carbon permit prices rose above $50 per ton, and if an international emissions trading scheme existed, Romm said.
The study looked at 200 technologies used in four major energy-intensive sectors of the economy -- transportation, buildings, utilities and industry.
For example, it said, retiring coal-powered electricity plants and retooling to natural gas could save some 95 million tons of carbon emissions.
Greater transportation fuel economy and more use of ethanol could save 103 million metric tons, the study said.