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Russia, US push nuclear power at G8 energy meet

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Mar 16 (Reuters) Russia and the United States called for the world to embrace nuclear power to today guarantee stable supplies of energy and cut emissions of harmful greenhouse gases.

The two, former Cold War foes who still control the world's biggest arsenals of nuclear weapons, made their atomic appeal at a meeting of energy ministers from the Group of Eight nations in Moscow.

''We are hopeful of a very substantial rebirth of the global nuclear industry,'' US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told a post-meeting news conference.

A statement issued by Russia, chairing the G8 for the first time this year, supported ''safe and secure'' nuclear power as a key alternative in an era of soaring oil prices.

''Atomic energy alternatives must be accessible to other countries, including developing countries,'' Russian President Vladimir Putin told energy ministers in the Kremlin.

Environmentalists expressed horror at the nuclear push by Moscow and Washington, which came little more than a month before the 20th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Russia is also at the centre of international controversy over its plans to supply nuclear technology to Iran, suspected by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog of seeking to build an atomic bomb.

''The nuclear industry is desperate to secure funding of billions from the taxpayers of the G8,'' said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.

''If they succeed we will fail in securing a sustainable energy future and will fail to prevent dangerous climate change.'' Ministers from G8 members France, Canada and Italy backed the nuclear call. But Germany, now phasing out nuclear power, and Japan, hit by leaks from its Tokaimura nuclear plant in 1997 and 1999, expressed reservations.

FOSSIL FUELS RULE Russia, the world's largest producer of oil and gas, also used its G8 chairmanship to promote fossil fuels, marking a major departure from the climate change agenda set at the bloc's summit last year.

''Despite the increased presence of alternative sources in the energy mix, fossil fuels will remain the basis of the world energy industry for at least the first half of the 21st century,'' a Russian statement said.

The statement, which did not reflect a joint G8 position, contrasted with the line taken at last year's summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, which focused on cutting greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable energy.

It also appeared to depart from commitments made by Russia as a signatory of the Kyoto Protocol to curb output of carbon dioxide -- blamed by environmentalists as the main cause of global warming.

Environmentalists have posted what they say is a leaked energy strategy paper being prepared for the G8 summit in St Petersburg on the Internet. Russian officials have not confirmed the draft's authenticity.

''My hope is that the end product won't look like the draft,'' said Jennifer Morgan, director of the global climate change programme at the World Wildlife Fund. ''I am counting on Germany, France and Britain to ensure that this text is put into shape.'' PROMOTING DIALOGUE Russia invited officials from energy consuming giants China and India and oil producer cartel OPEC to promote a global energy dialogue ahead of the July 15-17 G8 summit.

But critics accuse the Kremlin of using its massive energy supplies as a political weapon, adding to the world's energy woes at a time when oil prices exceed 60 dollars per barrel.

Some participants at the talks criticised the Russian statement's failure to acknowledge the impact of a recent gas crisis in Europe.

Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom, which supplies a quarter of Europe's gas, shocked the continent in January by briefly cutting supplies in a pricing dispute with Ukraine.

Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko dashed hopes of breaking Gazprom's monopoly this week, saying Moscow would not ratify the European Energy Charter, which would entail opening access to its pipelines to third parties.

REUTERS OM RN2358

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