Monday, November 12, 2007

Chile neither politically, nor technologically advanced enough for Nuclear Power rules the Zanelli Commission


(Nov. 12, 2007) A group of government-convened scientists who spent the past several months analyzing the “nuclear option” shared their much-anticipated findings late last week. Offering what observers alternately characterized as both a “non conclusion” and a lukewarm endorsement of nuclear energy, the Zanelli Commission described the option as politically and technically “strategic,” but cautioned that further research is necessary.

“It’s an energy that in many parts of the world is safe and quite successful. There’s no reason that wouldn’t also be the case in Chile,” commission leader Jorge Zanelli, a physicist, told members of the press on Thursday.

Energy is a hot button issue in Chile, where electricity consumption is rising at an annual rate of approximately 6 percent. Complicating matters more is the so-called Argentine gas crisis. Chile produces roughly 62 percent of its electricity in thermo-electric plants, most of which were designed to run on natural gas. For the past several years, however, Chile’s principal natural gas supplier, Argentina, has been unable to juggle both domestic and international demand and has thus periodically cut the flow of gas to Chile. As a result, energy producers in Chile have had to run their plants with diesel, a costlier and more polluting alternative.

Chile’s other major source of electricity is its collection of river dams, which together account for roughly 38 percent of the nation’s generating capacity. Numerous projects currently in the works promise to increase hydroelectric output in the coming years. One proposal, the controversial Aysén Project, calls for a five dam complex in Region XI that would generate some 2,750 MW, equivalent to more than 20 percent of the country’s current overall generating capacity.

The Aysén Project and other large-scale hydro ventures, however, have sparked opposition from a host of national and international organizations. They have joined together in a high profile campaign against the Aysén Project and the companies behind it: Spanish electricity giant Endesa and Chilean utility Colbún.

In the meantime, Chilean government authorities have begun exploring a third option –nuclear energy – to which the Zanelli Commission has now given something akin to a yellow light.

The Commission concluded that Chile is not yet prepared - neither institutionally nor legally - to embrace the nuclear option. The country does not, for example, have people sufficiently trained in nuclear technology. Cost could be another problem. The state would likely have to foot at least part of the bill as private investment alone would probably not be enough to pay for potential nuclear plants, according to Zanelli and his colleagues.

(However, Enel SpA, Endesa's Italian parent company, has the expertise: Enel SpA, Europe's second largetst utility and Endesa S.A. owner, ready to develop nuclear power across Europe with EdF Energy of France )

Still, given its successful application in other countries, the nuclear option should not be ruled out in Chile, where proper research and training could make it both safe and effective, the Commission said.

“From the point of view of international evidence there is no reason not to consider nuclear energy as a future option for our energy matrix,” Energy Minister Marcelo Tokman told members of the press, apparently choosing to interpret the Commission’s findings a partial plug for the nuclear option.

Sara Larrain, a high profile Chilean environmentalist, had a very different take on the subject. Given the Commission’s “non-conclusion” on nuclear energy, she said, Chile has all the more reason to invest in non-traditional, sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar.

“Our country should look into all existing energy sources, the technologies required to make use of them and mechanisms for financing and promoting their development. The goal should be an energy matrix that is both safe and sustainable. They should study options that include geothermal, small-scale hydro dam, wind, biomass, solar and tide-generated energy,” said Larrain, who heads the environmental group Chile Sustentable.

Here is the full article.