G8 split in nuclear-energy talks

Group of Eight (G8) countries were divided on Thursday on ways to ensure long-term world-energy security, as the European Union admitted its members had diverging views on ambitious plans for developing nuclear power being pushed by Russia and the United States.

“It is a very different approach from the members of the G8,” Andris Pielbalgs, EU commissioner for energy, told reporters as G8 energy ministers huddled in talks on how to ensure secure energy supplies amid rising global demand that is stretching supply capacity.

“I think it’s very difficult to see a common view on nuclear energy in the G8,” Pielbalgs said, adding: “A common position on nuclear energy is still difficult to reach because it’s still controversial.”

Germany had attacked a plan under consideration by the G8—Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US—for broad expansion of nuclear power as a way of enhancing energy security.

Pielbalgs acknowledged that, among the EU states, Britain was in the process of reviewing its energy strategy, France was “very strongly supportive” of pursuing nuclear development, while “Germany is phasing out nuclear power plants”.

Nuclear power development was likely to figure prominently at the G8 summit in St Petersburg in July in a growing debate about the use of nuclear energy amid high oil prices and a volatile situation in the Middle East.

“The instability of oil prices and their dependence on a series of non-economic factors is having a negative effect on the global situation,” Russia’s Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko said when opening the G8 discussion.

On January 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an initiative for the creation of an international network under UN supervision for production of nuclear fuel to be provided to any country with the means to pay for it on a “non-discriminatory” basis.

The US, which has also been discussing plans to boost safe nuclear-energy development, has warmed to the Russian proposal, with US energy secretary Samuel Bodman saying here on Wednesday that Putin’s initiative on nuclear energy was “consistent with our thinking”.

As G8 states voiced starkly differing views on the nuclear issue, Russia showed little inclination to give in to mounting European pressure for it to sign an energy charter treaty, laying out ground rules for energy producers and consumers.

The treaty, which the US has also balked at, would, among other things, prevent Russia from curtailing energy supplies as it did during a gas-price dispute with Ukraine in January, and would encourage the opening of Russia’s energy transport infrastructure to outside competition.

While the US and Europe have called for “liberalisation” in Russia’s vast and coveted energy sector—increasingly controlled by state-run firms like the energy giant Gazprom—Moscow has reacted coolly.

As the world’s second-largest exporter of oil behind Saudi Arabia, and owner of the world’s largest natural gas reserves, Russia holds a lot of the cards in the debate on energy security.

But it was also Moscow, chairing the G8 for the first time, that placed energy security at the top of the G8 agenda, and Russia will likely have to show some flexibility on Western demands for higher “visibility” in its energy sector if its G8 presidency is not to be seen as a flop.

Piebalgs said earlier that Europe was not satisfied with the level of Russian gas production.

“We want Russia to produce more gas and consume less,” Piebalgs told Moscow Echo radio in an interview late on Wednesday.

Greater energy saving in the country “would be advantageous for Russia, the EU and the international market,” he said.

Europe, which depends on Russia for some 25% of natural-gas imports, is concerned that Russia may not be producing enough gas for export, and is still edgy after Russian gas-supply disruptions in January and February.

In Brussels on Tuesday, EU ministers called for a “new partnership” with Russia to secure EU energy imports after Moscow’s spat with Ukraine over natural-gas prices briefly lowered the bloc’s supplies.—Sapa-AFP


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