G-8 leaders back nuclear power

The Washington Times, July 17, 2006

With high demand and worries about supply driving oil near $80 a barrel, the Group of Eight offered cautious support yesterday for nuclear energy as an alternative.

Although the leaders of the world's leading industrialized nations endorsed the use of nuclear power, they hinted at a disagreement with Germany, which has opposed renewed interest in the energy source.

In an otherwise upbeat joint statement -- which delegates privately suggested was out of synch with reality -- the leaders acknowledged differences over the question of nuclear power.

"We recognize that G-8 members pursue different ways to achieve energy security and climate protection goals. ... Those of us who have or are considering plans for the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy believe that its development will contribute to global energy security," the statement said.

G-8 leaders also recommended a two-week extension for a deadline aimed at breaking the impasse over long-stalled global trade negotiations.

"We welcome the decision to ask the [World Trade Organization] director-general to consult members intensively in order to promote early agreement," their statement said. G-8 leaders called on Pascal Lamy to consult with members to reach an agreement on agriculture and industry tariffs "within a month."

Russian Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko said that the inclusion of a section on nuclear power was "a significant event" giving countries the opportunity to work toward developing nuclear energy, "which we plan to do," he noted.

He said, however, that differences remained. "Yes, it's true that different countries view the prospects for nuclear energy differently. Some of them continue active internal discussions on whether it is possible or not to develop nuclear energy."

Energy security was a theme of this year's G-8 summit, after hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico drove global oil prices to record highs last year and Europe was caught short of gas after a price fight between Russia and Ukraine disrupted supplies last winter. Since then, Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program and renewed violence in the Middle East have sent oil prices even higher.

The G-8 leaders said they were committed to transparency, competition and increased investment in the energy sector.

"Development of transparent, efficient and competitive global energy markets is the best way to achieve our objectives," they said.

They identified 11 key issues, among them diversification of supply and demand, energy efficiency and the safeguarding of critical energy infrastructure, including against terror attacks.

Delegates, however, suggested that the statement was out of step with the real situation, not least because of concerns over the openness of Russia's vast energy markets.

"In terms of language, it's extremely positive -- it's the reality that's lacking," an official of the European Union said on the condition of anonymity.

Diplomatic officials with the French delegation said of the statement: "We wanted it to go much further."

Worries over Russia's reliability as a supplier were highlighted by the price fight with Ukraine, as supplies to Europe were disrupted when Moscow temporarily switched off the gas to its neighbor.

That led to criticism that Russia had destabilized European energy supplies by using its energy clout to punish Ukraine's Western-leaning government and highlighted Europe's dependence on Russia for a quarter of its oil and gas.

Last week, Britain introduced its energy plan for the coming decades and said nuclear power could make a "significant contribution" to the country's needs as it seeks to reduce dependence on imported fuel.

Notable among nuclear power's numerous opponents is Germany. Under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schroeder, Germany reached an agreement with industry to phase out nuclear power completely by about 2020. Some members of current Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives are pressing for reconsideration, but her Social Democrat coalition partners are opposed.

The G-8 is made up of the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada.

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