More countries join US-led nuclear energy programme

by Michael Adler, AFP, Sept. 16, 2007

VIENNA (AFP) - Eleven countries joined Sunday a US-led initiative to spread atomic power but not technology which can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Australia, Bulgaria, Ghana, Hungary, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Ukraine signed in Vienna a statement of principles for the programme, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP).

It called for the "the expansion of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes worldwide in a safe and secure manner."

GNEP seeks to help states get nuclear fuel, such as uranium, so they do not produce it themselves.

It also aims to promote the use of nuclear reactors that do not present proliferation risks, such as producing plutonium, and to recycle spent nuclear fuel so that plutonium can not be separated out.

Enriched uranium and plutonium can be fuel for reactors but also can be used to make nuclear weapons.

The GNEP started as a US initiative in February 2006 and had its first meeting in May this year in Washington when the United States hosted fellow members China, France, Japan and Russia.

Nuclear power is seen by many as crucial in a world where energy demand is booming since it makes electricity without adding to the greenhouse gases which cause global warming.

The United States is seeking to promote nuclear power while guarding against the danger of the spread of nuclear weapons which arises when states like Iran develop strategic technologies such as uranium enrichment, which makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

The United States wants GNEP to organize countries that have secure, advanced nuclear capabilities to provide fuel to other nations which agree to use nuclear energy just for power generation.

Their compliance would be monitored by the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said Sunday that GNEP had no specific projects yet.

"Our task today is to formally commit to the principles espoused by GNEP and to begin discussions with like-minded countries that seek to develop civilian nuclear power in a safe and secure manner and who, not coincidentally, have been reaching out to us," Bodman said in a speech at the GNEP meeting, which also included 22 candidate partner and observer countries.

Bodman later told reporters that GNEP is "not committed to any (one particular technology)" but is "looking at everything that is available."

"What we are attempting to do is to start looking long-term . . . how we should go about developing nuclear power on a safe and affordable basis" while protecting "against proliferation," Bodman said.

"We have a lot to do here just to get ourselves organized," he added.

Asked if the GNEP initiative was coming too late, with Iran for instance already enriching uranium, Bodman said: "It may have been better to do this 10 years ago and not now."

But "we're trying to do the best we can given the set of circumstances that confront us," Bodman said.

Joining GNEP does not entail obligations, such as giving up the right to enrich uranium, the US energy secretary said.

Dennis Spurgeon, assistant secretary for nuclear energy, said "the idea behind GNEP is countries voluntarily coming together for a common good."

GNEP is "not supplanting the IAEA in terms of safeguards. We'll need them more than ever," Spurgeon said.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the GNEP meeting that the program is "a major initiative that is badly needed and is very timely."

"We need energy because again without development there is misery, there is conflict, there is war," ElBaradei said.

Some of the new countries, like Lithuania and Poland, a strong coal user, do not yet have nuclear power but want to develop it.

Polish Economy Minister Piotr Wozniak said his nation wanted to "change our energy mix."

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