Nuclear power is emerging as an option key source of “green energy” for most developing Asian countries, in order to stem the spike in greenhouse gas emission which came along way with the region’s economic success, experts who participated recently in a Manila forum said.
The growing concern over climate change and how it will hurt the region’s environment, human health and economy has forced economic planners, advocates and business leaders in Asia to search for a stable energy source that can moderate the carbon emissions, they said.
“Developing Asian countries should take a look at nuclear power as a source of energy,” said Piyasvasti Amranand, chief advisor of the Bangkok-based Energy for Environment Foundation and former Thai energy minister.
Speaking at the closing of the three-day Asia Clean Energy Forum, organized by the Asian Development Bank(ADB) and the United States Agency for International Development, Piyasvasti said renewable energy sources such as wind power and biofuels are indeed environment-friendly, but they may not be enough to meet the needs of the fast-growing region.
In Thailand, for instance, Piyasvasti said it will be difficult to rely on biofuels for its energy requirements as it doesn’t have enough land for fuel crops like oil palm.
“Nuclear power is proven technology and it won’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
From 1990 to 2006, the average annual 3.5 percent GDP growth rate in Asia resulted to annual energy consumption growth rate of 3.2 percent. But the region’s dependence on fossil fuels has also raised its greenhouse gas emissions, and now accounts for 30 percent of the world’s nearly 30 billion metric tons carbon emissions, the Tokyo-based Asia Pacific Energy Research Centre (APERC) said in a report.
According to APERC, Asia consumed 2,558 million tons of oil equivalent (MTOE) in 2006, most of which were sourced from coal and oil. The threat of climate change won’t stop Asian economies from using fossil fuels, but they will definitely include other energy sources that won’t contribute to global warming.
Naoko Doi, senior economist at the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, said that the trend is moving towards the development of low-carbon technology and diversifying of energy sources which include renewables and nuclear power.
China and India — the twin biggest economies and largest energy consumers in Asia — are actively developing nuclear power in line with their respective policies on energy security and clean energy.
China’s top economic planning body — the National Development and Reform Commission — in May announced that it has developed an energy development plan that focuses on increasing the share of nuclear power and renewable energy such as wind and solar power totheir total energy sources.
Currently, coal accounts for 70 percent of the roughly 980 MTOE that China consumes each year, while renewables and nuclear energy only account for less than 10 percent.
The Indian government, on the other hand, plans to increase the production of nuclear power generation from its present capacity of 4,000 megawatts to 20,000 megawatts in the next decade, according to data issued by the ADB.
Last year, the Indian government sealed a nuclear pact with the U.S. government. The pact will give India access to nuclear reactors, fuel and technologies from the U.S. and supported India’s plan to develop its nuclear power capacity.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had endorsed nuclear energy as one of the “commercially available climate change mitigating technologies,” IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, described nuclear energy as a “green technology” as it doesn’t contribute to carbon emission that causes the global warming.
But not everyone agrees with this view. Environmental watchdog Greenpeace International has been actively campaigning against nuclear energy, arguing that it’s not only expensive and inefficient but also harmful to the environment.
“When it comes to combating climate change, nuclear energy cannot deliver the necessary reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in time; any emissions reductions from nuclear power will be too little, too late and come at far too high a price,” according to a paper issued by Greenpeace in April.
Greenpeace said that no one has yet found a solution to the hazards posed by nuclear wastes.
“Despite the billions already invested in research and development for dealing with radioactive waste, new experiments are still being presented as ‘solutions’; methods that will not be ready for a long time, may never be commercially viable or do little to solve the long term waste problem,” the group said.
For Pachauri, nuclear energy may be an option for those who want to develop green technology. But he admits that nuclear power isn’t for everyone.
“Nuclear energy provides a solution (to our climate change problem), but its not a solution (fit) for every country in the world. You need a certain infrastructure, engineering skills and safety standards that are followed very strictly. Not every country can ensure that,” he said.