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Developing nations don't want our dirty energy

Developing nations don't want our dirty energy
Thu 18 July 2002 PHILIPPINES/Manila

With the Earth Summit on Sustainable Development only a month away, some countries still don't understand what the word "sustainable" means. They are trying to push polluting coal and nuclear technology on developing nations as a solution to their electricity needs and global climate change.

It must have come to her in a flash, a divine epiphany during another boring bureaucratic meeting. "I know," she thought, "we will export nuclear energy to developing nations. They'll get off our backs about wanting electricity and we will claim we are offering a solution to climate change at the same time."

What else could European Union Energy Commissioner Loyola de Palacio have been thinking?

The proposal presented by de Palacio yesterday to push polluting coal and nuclear technology on developing countries at the Johannesburg Earth Summit next month is not the only one.

Australia, Canada and the US are also undermining international action against climate change by pushing climate-disrupting fossil fuels and radioactive waste-generating nuclear technology on developing nations.

"Safe" nuclear energy, along with "clean" coal, will help stop climate change, they say.

In truth, "inherently safe" reactors are a myth. An accident can occur in any nuclear reactor, releasing deadly fission products into the environment. Even normal operation of reactors regularly releases radioactive materials into the air and water.

The problem of burgeoning nuclear waste has also never been dealt with. It's been 50 years, and the nuclear industry still hasn't found a solution to disposing highly radioactive spent fuel rods, for example. This waste will be around for hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of years.

But perhaps they have found a solution - dump it on developing nations.

And there is also no such thing as clean coal, for this is the world's dirtiest fuel. A new clean coal plant created with federal subsidies in Jacksonville, US, for example, will still spew 10 times as much smog-causing nitrogen oxide as a natural gas generator. It will also release twice as much carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change, and considerable amounts of sulphur dioxide, an ingredient in smog and acid rain.

Obvious oxymorons aside, it is mad folly to replace one environmental disaster with another. Climate change will be stopped by increased energy efficiency, and shift to renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass. It will not be solved by taking a step backward to the dirty and dangerous technologies of the last century.

And developing nations don't want our dirty, antiquated technologies.

The Spanish Energy Commissioner's proposal was met by protest today in the Philippines. Half a dozen traditional Filipino harvest giants rallied at Manila harbour as the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise arrived.

The five metre papier mache protestors or "higantes" are one of the Phillippine's most famous cultural icons. Historically, regional workers made higantes for the harvest celebrations to both give thanks for the crop, and at the same time poke fun at their unaware Spanish overseers, who assumed the giants were honouring rather than mocking them.

This is an apt response to a proposal that is energy colonialism at its worst.

The demand for electricity in developing countries is growing, but these days there is a choice. Why should developing countries be forced to make the same mistakes their northern partners did? The European nuclear industry is on its knees, crippled by spiralling costs and a growing radioactive waste mountain. Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are currently engaged in nuclear phase outs.

It is simply obscene for the European Commission to push its deadly mistakes on developing countries when the technology exists for clean, sustainable energy now.

We are lobbying governments to make a commitment at the Earth Summit to provide clean and affordable renewable energy to the two billion people around the world who currently live without electricity.