March 16, 2006

US, Russia push nuclear power at G8 energy meet

By Dmitry Zhdannikov and Tom Miles

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia and the United States called on
Thursday for the world to embrace nuclear power to guarantee
stable supplies of energy and cut emissions of harmful
greenhouse gases.

The two, former Cold War foes who still control the world's
biggest arsenals of nuclear weapons, made their atomic appeal
at a meeting of energy ministers from the Group of Eight
nations in Moscow.

"We are hopeful of a very substantial rebirth of the global
nuclear industry," U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a
post-meeting news conference.

A statement issued by Russia, chairing the G8 for the first
time this year, supported "safe and secure" nuclear power as a
key alternative in an era of soaring oil prices.

"Atomic energy alternatives must be accessible to other
countries, including developing countries," Russian President
Vladimir Putin told energy ministers in the Kremlin.

Environmentalists expressed horror at the nuclear push by
Moscow and Washington, which came little more than a month
before the 20th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear
disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Russia is also at the center of international controversy
over its plans to supply nuclear technology to Iran, suspected
by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog of seeking to build an
atomic bomb.

"The nuclear industry is desperate to secure funding of
billions from the taxpayers of the G8," said Shaun Burnie of
Greenpeace International.

"If they succeed we will fail in securing a sustainable
energy future and will fail to prevent dangerous climate

Ministers from G8 members France, Canada and Italy backed
the nuclear call. But Germany, now phasing out nuclear power,
and Japan, hit by leaks from its Tokaimura nuclear plant in
1997 and 1999, expressed reservations.


Russia, the world's largest producer of oil and gas, also
used its G8 chairmanship to promote fossil fuels, marking a
major departure from the climate change agenda set at the
bloc's summit last year.

"Despite the increased presence of alternative sources in
the energy mix, fossil fuels will remain the basis of the world
energy industry for at least the first half of the 21st
century," a Russian statement said.

The statement, which did not reflect a joint G8 position,
contrasted with the line taken at last year's summit in
Gleneagles, Scotland, which focused on cutting greenhouse gas
emissions and promoting renewable energy.

It also appeared to depart from commitments made by Russia
as a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol to curb output of carbon
dioxide -- blamed by environmentalists as the main cause of
global warming.

Environmentalists have posted what they say is a leaked
energy strategy paper being prepared for the G8 summit in St
Petersburg on the Internet. Russian officials have not
confirmed the draft's authenticity.

"My hope is that the end product won't look like the
draft," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate
change program at the World Wildlife Fund. "I am counting on
Germany, France and Britain to ensure that this text is put
into shape."


Russia invited officials from energy consuming giants China
and India and oil producer cartel OPEC to promote a global
energy dialogue ahead of the July 15-17 G8 summit.

But critics accuse the Kremlin of using its massive energy
supplies as a political weapon, adding to the world's energy
woes at a time when oil prices exceed $60 per barrel.

Some participants at the talks criticized the Russian
statement's failure to acknowledge the impact of a recent gas
crisis in Europe.

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of
Europe's gas, shocked the continent in January by briefly
cutting supplies in a pricing dispute with Ukraine.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko
dashed hopes of breaking Gazprom's monopoly this week, saying
Moscow would not ratify the European Energy Charter, which
would entail opening access to its pipelines to third parties.