OF THE ASSOCIATION OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY (EFN)
AT THE JOHANNESBURG WORLD SUMMIT
IN AUGUST 2002.
Very little is completely proven about how the increased greenhouse effect will change the world's climate.
But a major chain of reasoning is clearly established and there is no longer any doubt : in order to remain in thermal equilibrium, the Earth reradiates all the energy it receives from the sun, mainly in the form of infra-red radiation. We also know that carbon dioxide and methane are not completely transparent to infra-red radiation. So when atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane contents increase, the atmosphere absorbs more infra-red and reflects some of it back to the surface. The radiative forcing needed to restore thermal equilibrium can be produced only by an increase in the earth's temperature. This is the phenomenon of the increase of the greenhouse effect.
For the consequences of this phenomenon, the world scientific community is still pretty much at the level of conjecture, but the conjectures are strong and multiple, and they predict catastrophic and even cataclysmic events, in the short or long term. The high probability that one or another of these dramatic events will occur, leads us to apply the reasonable and urgent PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.
Sustainable development cannot escape the application of this principle.
For the most part, the increase of the greenhouse effect is due to carbon dioxide produced by human activity. This comes mainly from burning fossil fuels. Coal, oil and natural gas produce about 90% of the world's energy.
WHAT CAN ONE DO while 20% of mankind, today, devour, each year, more than half of the world energy consumption, while the other 80% of mankind are starving for energy ? WHAT CAN ONE DO while the present rich countries have built their wealthy and happy society on an industrial development with its concomitant enormous appetite for energy ? WHAT CAN ONE DO while the today the less wealthy and the poor seek to develop, and while their development will considerably increase their energy consumption ? WHAT CAN ONE DO while our fossil fuel reserves are not unlimited, when we yearly burn resources that nature has laid down over a period of 2 million years, polluting the atmosphere meanwhile ; when oil and natural gas reserves are measured in decades and the discovery of new resources does not cover our consumption ? WHAT CAN ONE DO that is safe, clean and sustainable ?
Faced with this giant problem, EFN believes that mankind, and especially the developed countries (members of OECD), must undertake several kinds of actions :
1. Reducing energy waste: Per capita, the richest countries consume 50 times as much energy as the poorest countries, and therefore produce 50 times as much carbon dioxide. The wealthiest economies (OECD countries) have developed in an atmosphere of wasteful use of energy. Without reducing their life style, they might readily reduce their energy consumption by 10% or 20%, or more. In 1997, a study by the French Planning Commission (Commissariat Général au Plan), for example, suggested that, in this country, 40% of the energy consumed could be saved by introducing the best technology available in 1995. It would, of course, take time to achieve such savings, because they imply a change of culture; and paradoxically the first steps may be costly.
A world-wide study of about 100 countries, from the richest to the poorest, shows that above 1.5 tep/year/head there is no correlation between life expectancy at birth, say, and energy consumption (the highest consumption is 8 tep/year/head). The richest countries should encourage the developing countries, and help them to develop in a context of good energy efficiency, i.e. of minimum energy intensity, without going first through a period of energy waste in which some of them are already engaged. It is comforting to note that China is already reducing its energy intensity.
Obviously, this movement towards energy efficiency has its limits: one cannot ask the poorest people to save on what they do not have. Saving energy is therefore necessary, but is not sufficient.
2. Development of alternative new renewable sources of energy: The sun and the wind seem to offer great hopes. The energy they provide is free, inexhaustible and readily available ; they are not dangerous and don't emit greenhouse gases. They are a good solution providing one is willing to put up with their intermittent character and high cost, and if one accepts the environmental consequences of using storage batteries. Wind turbines, in particular, can easily and quickly bring electricity to isolated populations far from the distribution network, especially in Africa and Asia: 2 billion people - one third the population of the Earth - don't yet have electricity. Wind turbines might contribute to giving them at least a minimal amount of energy, especially in remote areas.
On the contrary, in the advanced countries, wind and solar energy ought not, except for special cases economically justified, go beyond the stage of producing proven and tested technological solutions for export of equipment to developing countries. There may be political reasons to exploit wind and solar domestically, but it should be recognized that there is no economic justification for it.
We believe that there is a place for photovoltaic solar energy in the developing countries; but its high cost compared to wind turbines works against its widespread use, except for niche applications. Solar energy is nevertheless quite interesting for some thermic uses, such as solar domestic hot water production, which should be encouraged more, in many developed as well as developing countries, as well as "solar cookers" which could be developed at low cost, especially for use in the poorest countries, generally well exposed to the sun.
However, due to their characteristic of soft energy, these renewable energies will never make, in the world 's energy balance, more than a modest quantitative contribution.
3. Nuclear energy: The thermal neutron reactors (PWRs and BWRs) currently operating in the OECD countries have a vast potential for further development, both in those countries and in all emerging countries. A recent report of the NEA (Nuclear Energy Agency, an OECD agency), has underlined the fact that nuclear energy in the OECD countries avoids rejecting into the atmosphere 1200 million tons of CO2 per year, much more than the CO2 emissions reduction target proposed at Kyoto, which will unfortunately not be respected. Many countries, including the largest producers of CO2, have indeed not lowered, but significantly increased their CO2 emissions since reductions in CO2 emissions were decided in Kyoto, based on the 1990 levels. The current nuclear reactors bring a major contribution to the protection of the environment. They could and should continue to play a major role in an increasing number of countries in the coming years. Unfortunately however, their large size, their high cost of construction and the highly developed culture of safety required for their exploitation lead us to believe that they will not be suitable for most developing countries before many years. For the developing countries, and others, the international nuclear community should press forward with the development of small and middle size high temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTRs). With intrinsic safety features, high efficiency, lower construction costs, such reactors will be well adapted to developing countries. South Africa is at the forefront of this development with the PBMR (Pebble Bed Modular Reactor) project under way. During the two or three decades of their development, the most advanced countries and the nuclear community should help the developing countries to develop a culture of safety and industrial infrastructures which will enable these countries to one day in the future benefit from clean nuclear energy. It is worth mentioning that these small reactors can be made to operate in co-generation mode for urban heating and to produce fresh water by desalination.
Thermal neutron reactors use only a small fraction (about 1%) of the energy potentially available from uranium. In the spirit of sustainable development, one should look forward to the construction of reactors and technologies more efficient in using fuel, fast neutron reactors for example, and in a more widespread recycling of used nuclear fuel.
Finally we wish to remark that the world's uranium resources are much greater than presently known and recoverable at present depressed market prices. If the cost of uranium ore were to rise ten-fold, the effect on the price per kWh of nuclear electricity would be comparable to the effect of a $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil. Actually, the readily available reserves of uranium could last thousands of years with the current reactors and technologies, and tens of thousands of years with already proven and tested new nuclear reactors and technologies (such as fast neutron reactors and multiple recycling of used nuclear fuel). And the thorium potential resources are still much larger.
Nuclear energy should not be put aside of the Clean Development Mechansims (CDM) and maintaining such an attitude whilst seeing that nuclear energy already massively contributes to the protection of the environment and to limit CO2 emissions, and knowing that it could contribute a lot more while at the same time lowering the risks, as well as the amount and the toxicity of the waste rejected in the biosphere and transmitted to the future generations, would be a major mistake, of historical proportion, perhaps the greatest mistake in human history. Our children and grand-children would severely judge our blindness in these regards if we refuse for merely ideological reasons to study and implement one of the most important solutions to the problems faced by humanity today.
4. The market in CO2 emission credits has been much criticized by moralists who haven't thought through the problem. In our opinion, the market would speed the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions because it would reduce the negative economic impact of the measures needed to reduce them. Such a market could and will encourage the development of cleaner technologies and will encourage politicians and economical actors at all levels to make better energy choices,taking in consideration the environmental aspects and the future of the planet. The market, if well organized, could also generate the financial resources necessary to support the necessary development of the poorest countries, the reduction of our energy consumption, and the emergence new clean energies and technologies, such as renewable energies and new generations of safe and clean nuclear reactors.
Aside from being reasonable precautions to be taken, the actions described above lead us to the PRINCIPLE OF NATURALITY proposed by EFN as a general guideline, in addition to the PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE, in order to avoid the risk of irreversible damage to our Planet :
"A human activity is ecologically acceptable if it does not modify environmental parameters in a way that exceeds natural variations of these parameters in time and in space."
Present and coming tendencies of greenhouse gas emissions meet the demands neither of the Precautionary Principle nor of the Principal of Natural Variability.
The actions recommended by EFN all go towards meeting both these principles (PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE and PRINCIPLE OF NATURALITY).
By : Jacques FROT, Leader of the Communication Group of EFN, Spokesman for the greenhouse effect, and Bruno COMBY, President of EFN
This document is available in electronic format in English and in French on the web site of EFN :
English version :
"COMMUNICATION OF THE ASSOCIATION OF ENVIRONMENTALISTS FOR NUCLEAR ENERGY (EFN) AT THE JOHANNESBURG WORLD SUMMIT"
French version :
"COMMUNICATION DE L'ASSOCIATION DES ECOLOGISTES POUR LE NUCLEAIRE (AEPN) AU SOMMET MONDIAL DE JOHANNESBOURG"
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