Aomori, Japan: Top economic powers have declared that the world is entering a new era of nuclear energy amid rising concerns over high oil prices and global warming, but Germany stood firmly as an exception.
The group of eight industrial nations got together with China, India and South Korea at the weekend in Aomori, a hub of Japan’s nuclear energy industry on the northern tip of the country’s main island of Honshu.
The 11 nations, which together consume two-thirds of world energy, said in their joint statement that “a growing number of countries have expressed interest in nuclear power programmes”.
“We are on the verge of a new nuclear age,” John Hutton, Britain’s energy secretary, told reporters. He argued it was a “positive thing for the world,” saying that atomic power emitted little of the carbon dioxide that causes global warming and ensured energy supply.
The US, Canada and Italy have all relaunched construction of nuclear power plants as oil prices soared fivefold since 2003. France and Japan are long standing champions of nuclear energy.
Nuclear age: Heads of delegations during the photo session in the G-8 plus China, India and South Korea energy ministers meeting on Sunday. (AP)
Canada’s natural resources minister, Gary Lunn agreed that nuclear power “will see a very important role in the coming years”. Canada has built no nuclear power plant for three decades but is in the process of constructing new reactors. “We are committed to the safe use of nuclear energy for safe and peaceful purposes,” Lunn said.
Italian energy minister Claudio Scajora also said he “strongly” supported the statement on nuclear power. Since right-leaning Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi returned to power last month, Italy said it would begin building nuclear power stations, reversing a 20-year ban in an initiative likely to spark strong resistance.
But Germany has been the notable exception. The country in 2000 declared its intention to shut down all of its nuclear power plants, fulfilling a pledge of the Green Party which was then in power. “Having heard other countries’ positions, I think there is a nuclear power renaissance,” Germany’s administrative energy secretary Jochen Homann said in Aomori. “But Germany has decided to abolish nuclear power generation gradually.”
“There are pros and cons about nuclear energy in Germany. Public acceptance is important and I can’t make any prediction” on changes in public opinion, he said.
Nuclear power has faced major criticism throughout the industrial world, with some environmentalists arguing that it poses too much of a safety risk. A 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine contaminated large parts of Europe, killing thousands of people.
The world’s largest nuclear power plant, in Niigata prefecture northwest of Tokyo, was forced to shut down last year due to an earthquake, although no one was injured.
Despite nuclear power’s image problem, Japan said on Saturday it would help build nuclear power plants in the US, sensing opportunities for Japanese companies.
South Korean minister Lee Youn-Ho hailed nuclear power as “cost-efficient, stable energy source” in the backdrop of spikes in oil prices.
The Paris-based International Energy Agency said in a recent report that halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would require building an additional 32 new nuclear power plants every year along with 17,500 wind turbines. “I don’t think it’s an unreasonable forecast or estimate,” US energy secretary Samuel Bodman said.
“We are really on the verge of a very substantial increase in the number of nuclear power plants,” he said.