G8 energy ministers endorse nuclear power

27 May 2009

Energy ministers of leading industrialized countries met in Rome, Italy, at the weekend and gave greater prominence to nuclear energy than before. A special report on energy economics in the financial crisis was delivered to them.

The meeting of the energy ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the USA) was held primarily to define joint strategies to respond to global climate change. The meeting also aimed to promote investment in energy security and sustainable development, as well as reducing energy poverty.


Language used in reference to nuclear energy was more positive than previous G8 statements, in part because Germany is now the only member of the group with an official anti-nuclear policy and as a result of concerted efforts by Japan to raise the profile of nuclear.


Although nuclear was still an add-on after more fashionable power sources, it was able to gain a seat at the top table of climate mitigation technologies: the G8's proposed low-carbon technology platform should "focus on a limited group of key technologies during the starting phase of the platform such as solar and wind energy, smart electrical grids, low-carbon vehicles, modernization of coal-fired power stations and carbon capture and storage (CCS) and, considering the interest of a growing number of countries, nuclear power."


Using similar wording, the ministers noted that, "in the opinion of a growing number of countries, the use of nuclear power can diversify the energy mix, contribute to energy security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions." They added that safety and cooperation internationally and with the International Atomic Energy Agency should be top priorities.


The meeting also saw the participation of the energy ministers of Algeria, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Libya, Mexico, Nigeria, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Turkey. EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs was also present. Its conclusions will be submitted to the Summit of Heads of State and Government Leaders that is scheduled to be held in L'Aquila, Italy, in July.
A joint statement issued during the meeting by the G8 energy ministers and the EU Energy Commissioner said that they would work to create a common low-carbon technology platform as solutions to climate change and a lack of secure energy supplies.

Energy in the financial crisis


A special report delivered to the G8 ministers from the International Energy Agency  (IEA) described that body's thoughts on how the global downturn could be expected to affect energy investment.
It noted that capital-intensive energy sources like nuclear and renewables could suffer in the coming few years, with nuclear also potentially losing popularity with the decline in oil and energy prices: "The price collapse (and, in Europe, a big drop in carbon prices) has also shifted the relative economics of power-generating plant, to the detriment of low-carbon renewables-based and nuclear power." Coal and gas-fired plants would be the likely beneficiaries of this shift, said the IEA, although coal generation has long lead times and could be hurt by the increased cost of credit.
The IEA noted a dramatic drop in the rate of investment in renewables. Based on figures for the first quarter of 2009, the drop for the whole year could be 38% compared to last year. Considering this comes after exponential growth in the previous few years, the figure for 2009 could be less than half what the renewable industries were expecting before the credit crisis.