Saturday, November 17, 2007

ASEAN summit to promote nuclear energy, solar power

by Martin Abbugao Tue Nov 13, 9:38 AM ET

SINGAPORE, Nov 13, 2007 (AFP) - Southeast Asian leaders will promote the use of civilian nuclear power, along with other alternative energy sources, when they meet in Singapore next week, a draft statement obtained Tuesday said.


Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will also agree to establish a "regional nuclear safety regime" to ensure that plutonium, a key ingredient for making atomic weapons, does not fall into the wrong hands.

A draft of an ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability, obtained by AFP, said the leaders will agree "to take concrete measures to promote the use of renewable and alternative energy sources such as solar, hydro, wind, tide, biomass, biofuels and geothermal energy"

They will also support "civilian nuclear power" for interested countries -- a move which environmental campaigners see as worrying.

But the draft says ASEAN will ensure "safety and safeguards that are of current international standards and environmental sustainability".

Heads of state and government from ASEAN's member states Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are to sign the document next Tuesday during their annual summit.

Host Singapore has said it wants climate change to be the focus of the summit, but the meeting is instead expected to be dominated by rogue ASEAN member Myanmar's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September.

The document commits ASEAN states to implement environmentally sustainable practices, improve cooperation to fight trans-boundary pollution and to take action against illegal logging.

Weak law enforcement to control the use of fire for clearing agricultural land in ASEAN's biggest member, Indonesia, has been identified as a main cause of the haze that blankets wide swathes of the region each year.

ASEAN leaders will also pledge to improve energy efficiency, reduce the loss of biodiversity in the region and halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2010, according to the draft.

But the decision to promote civilian nuclear power has sparked criticisms from environmental activists.

Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam have announced plans to build nuclear power plants by 2020 in a bid to cut their dependence on crude oil and natural gas.

World oil prices topped 98 dollars a barrel earlier this month.

"If they are going nuclear, I think they are going into disaster for the region," warned Nur Hidayati, a campaigner for the environment watchdog Greenpeace.

"The nature of this region is that it is very unstable, and so when there is an accident, the whole region will suffer," she told AFP by telephone from Indonesia, referring to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Southeast Asia also does not have the technology, the expertise or the raw materials to operate a nuclear power plant, she charged.

This means governments will have to import them from foreign sources, defeating the objective of gaining energy security, Hidayati added.

However, she supported ASEAN's efforts to promote solar, hydro, wind and geothermal power.

"There is still a lot of potential in the region that is not being tapped effectively. It is better for governments to look at these alternative energy sources that are relatively clean and safe," she said.

Singapore has embarked on a strategy to establish itself as a centre for solar energy development.

Last month, Norway's Renewable Energy Corporation (REC) said it planned to invest more than 3.0 billion euros (4.31 billion US) to build a manufacturing plant in Singapore for solar wafers, cells and modules.


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