BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Commission will on
Wednesday unveil detailed plans to slash greenhouse
gases by 2020, with the focus on renewable fuels and emissions trading,
despite French attempts to push the nuclear option. France
has recently been joined by Britain at the forefront of the
pro-nuclear lobby, extolling it as a more reliable, less polluting fuel supply which cuts down on Europe's huge dependence on Russia and the Middle
East for increasingly scarce and expensive fossil fuels.
However the anti-nuclear camp has only to mention the nuclear plant disasters of Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986),
plus the long-term issue of radioactive waste storage, to raise the public alarm levels.
Nuclear power is certainly not among the EU's key list of clean, renewable energy sources central to Wednesday's package.Last
year EU leaders agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020, against 1990 levels
in a bid to tackle global warming. The leaders
also set a binding target for renewable energy -- wind, wave, solar -- to provide 20 percent of Europe's needs by 2020, compared to 8.5 percent currently. The Commission will this week set out individual goals for the
27 member states in order to achieve the overall cuts, including proposals to bolster emissions trading.
France, which derives over 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy, has in the past pleaded in vain for quotas
to be drawn up for "low carbon emitting energies" -- a category in which nuclear power could be front and centre. Paris is not alone in blowing the nuclear trumpet. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers
report European utilities, including Germany's E.ON as well as France's EDF, rank nuclear as the most likely technology to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions within the energy sector by 2017.
Industry officials are promoting third-generation pressurized water reactors which provide greater energy, improved
security and reduced waste compared to earlier versions of nuclear reactors. Earlier
this month the British government approved a new generation of nuclear power stations, against a backdrop of oil prices hitting
100 dollars a barrel. "This announcement is aimed at securing energy supplies
as well as tackling climate change," a British department for business spokesman told AFP.
Britain is looking beyond 2020 and is seeking to "decarbonise our
energy sources" by 2050, he added.
Britain's governing Labour Party had called nuclear power an "unattractive" option as late
as 2003. Environmental campaigners Greenpeace have certainly not changed their tune.
"The conclusion we draw is that, for climate change, nuclear power does too little, too
late against too high costs," Greenpeace's EU policy campaigner on nuclear issues, Jan Haverkamb, told AFP. He added that another by-product of a nuclear policy was that countries lose the incentive to seek alternative
solutions to the environmental problem.
Last September Brussels set up a reflection group on nuclear energy. However a senior official with the European Commission
-- the EU's executive arm -- believes that broad agreement within the EU on the merits of nuclear energy was not a realistic
prospect for decades to come.
While French President Nicolas Sarkozy has described nuclear power as the "energy of
the future" and Britain has renewed its enthusiasm, Germany has decided to shut down all its reactors by 2020 while Italy abandoned nuclear power in 1987. Currently nuclear power produces
around a third of Europe's electricity, with 15 of the 27 member states producing it.
"It is not the EU's role to decide if they (EU nations) should or should not use nuclear power," EU Commission head
Jose Manuel Barroso said last year. Many agree that, regardless of what the scientists
say, the nuclear decision remains largely political and economic rather than technical.
Greenpeace's Haverkamb also stresses the security aspect, citing the global threat of nuclear arms proliferation. "In all the politically unstable areas of the world proliferation is a real concern...
North Korea and Iran got (capability to build the bomb) on the back of civil nuclear technology".
That's certainly not an accusation that can be levelled at wind turbines or solar panels, he adds.