India, Japan pitch for carbon credits from nuclear energy

Non-profits irked. Say lessons not learnt from Fukushima

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Saturday 15 October 2011

Even after being hit by one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, Japan is pitching for inclusion of nuclear energy as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). India and Japan opposed the option of banning nuclear power plants from earning carbon credits under CDM at the United Nations climate negotiations in Panama. The move has drawn severe criticism from several environmental non-profits.


The negotiations which ended on October 7 have set the stage for United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban later this year.
 “Japan’s support to expand CDM to nuclear energy means that it still wants to get credits for exporting to developing countries the very technology that brought tremendous hardship upon its own people,” says Climate Action Network, a network of over 700 non-profits.

It asks, “Nuclear is neither safe nor clean. If the ongoing, dreadful tragedies in Fukushima cannot make this simple fact clear, what will it take for Japan to realise the problem is incomprehensible?”

World Wildlife Fund also condemned Japan’s move. “Japanese power industry’s inability to deal with the aftermath of a partial meltdown of the Fukushima reactors in March should prevent the country from building nuclear power plants in poorer countries,” says Naoyuki Yamagishi, a policy analyst with WWF.

Nuclear energy under CDM will help Japan

Japan’s aspirations to earn carbon credits can be gauged from a bilateral deal it signed with Vietnam in January. Japan is funding and building Vietnam’s first nuclear power plant. This may help Japan meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, nuclear energy is excluded from CDM. Despite reducing green house gas emissions, nuclear energy has been a contentious matter because of concerns like safety, radioactive waste disposal, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. The Kyoto Protocol expires next year and countries are reconsidering whether to include or permanently drop nuclear power from CDM basket. 

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The discussions became more intense after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Countries like Germany declared complete phase out of nuclear power by 2022. The unrest is growing among the public in Japan and India who are protesting against safety of nuclear power plants even as their governments push for nuclear expansion.

According to International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been pushing for nuclear energy as one of the best options for CDM, industrialised countries view CDM as an additional mechanism for emission reductions elsewhere at lower costs than through domestic action. And for developing countries like China and India, CDM offers an opportunity to get capital and technology sponsored by developed countries in exchange for greenhouse gas emission credits. This way they can cover the difference between the capital intensive nuclear power plant costs and coal fired power. Both China and India have massive plans of nuclear power expansion.

Renewable energy will be hit

On the other hand non-profits have been keen to push nuclear projects ineligible for CDM status. "If nuclear power becomes eligible for the CDM, it will not be good for the environment,” says Karuna Raina, nuclear energy campaigner with Greenpeace India. CDM will provide a new subsidy for the ailing nuclear industries. With increased production of radioactive waste and the constant risk of catastrophic accidents, every dollar spent on nuclear power will be diverted from the development of sustainable energy systems and effective measures to combat climate change, she adds.

Even a massive four-fold expansion of nuclear power by 2050 as predicted by International Energy Agency would provide only marginal reductions of about four per cent in greenhouse gas emissions, when we need 50 to 80 per cent cuts by 2050, states a statement released by several non-profits recently. Every dollar invested in nuclear power means a dollar less invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, it adds.

Over 190 nations gathered in Panama to draft a roadmap to a new climate treaty which will be discussed at the UN climate talks in Durban in South Africa in December. “Changes in the $1.5 billion CDM scheme are expected with a decision to expand it to Carbon Capture and Storage technology and nuclear facilities,” said Point Carbon, an Oslo based Energy and environment market research agency. 

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