G8 search for consensus on energy security
By FT reporters
Published: March 16 2006 02:00 | Last updated: March 16 2006 10:44
Russia is hosting a meeting on Thursday of the Group of Eight industrialised nations, members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and high energy consumers China and India, on energy security problems amid growing worries over global supply.
However, the scene is set for possible fireworks after a leaked document this week showed that the G8 are poised to back a broad expansion of nuclear power and call for thousands of billions of dollars in new investment to boost oil and gas supply – something Germany strenuously opposes.
The session also kicks off during growing controversy in the west over the Russian plan to sell nucear reactor fuel to India.
Germany has attacked the plan under consideration by the G8 to back a broad expansion of nuclear energy as a way to enhance energy security, which is strongly supported by the Russians.
Viktor Khristenko, Russia’s energy minister, said “Massive investments will be needed to create an effective system of global energy supply resistant to shocks.” He added that “The International Energy Agency estimates that this will require $17 trillion until 2030, most of which must be spent on production, transportation and refining of energy resources.”
The leaked draft of the G8's action plan on energy, intended for consideration at the summit of G8 leaders in St Petersburg in July, calls for the development of a new generation of safe reactors that cannot be used to create nuclear weapons.
"[Such new reactors] would allow realising the potential of nuclear energy as a virtually inexhaustible energy source, optimising economic conditions of nuclear performance and alleviating problems related to non-proliferation and nuclear wastes," the leaked draft G8 plan states.
"Provided that the countries comply with their obligations and adhere to non-proliferation standards, we intend to make additional joint efforts to ensure non-discriminatory access to this energy source [nuclear]."
However, a German government spokesman on Wednesday said that the paper, which appears to have been drafted by the Russians, "does not represent Germany's position at all". He added that its proposals on nuclear power were "not acceptable to Germany".
Germany has pledged to progressively close its 19 nuclear power stations and exit atomic power altogether.
Britain, which is conducting an energy review to decide whether to allow the construction of a new generation of nuclear reactors, also appeared to have been caught off guard by the draft plan.
Concern over Russian plan to sell nuclear reactor fuel
Although all G8 countries have a nuclear industry, opinion is divided over whether resurgent nuclear power can address concerns about energy security and climate change associated with the burning of fossil fuels.
Some studies have suggested that nuclear power can compete on cost with electricity generated from fossil fuels, while others have found it more expensive.
Environmental groups argue that government subsidies are needed to guard plants against accidents and to clean up nuclear waste. Some engineers argue alternative technologies offer a far better return on investment.
"There is no way that you can deliver atoms for peace without making them available for war," said Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College, London. "That is the reality. What matters is the knowledge and skills, and once that is spread, the nuclear weapons genie is out of the bottle - as the Iranians keep demonstrating."
By Bertrand Benoit in Berlin and Thomas Catan and Fiona Harvey in London