ROME, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Atomic energy will play a vital role in tackling climate change and the challenge for the world is to maintain even current levels of nuclear generation, a top executive of Germany's E.ON EONG.DE said on Monday.
But whether Germany could be persuaded to overcome its opposition to nuclear power remained to be seen, E.ON’s Chief Operating Officer Johannes Teyssen told Reuters in an interview.
“The climate change issue is very serious for mankind and short-term answers are limited,” Teyssen said. “All CO2-free fuels, we would definitely need and should not foreclose the discussion.”
Teyssen was speaking on the sidelines of the World Energy Congress, that every three years showcases the work of the World Energy Council of which he is vice chairman, Europe.
“We don’t see an answer (to climate change) without nuclear,” he said. “It will be a huge challenge to keep the share of nuclear intact,” he said further, referring to the fact nuclear plants are ageing and some need to be retired.
In Germany, nuclear power must be phased out by the early 2020s because of political opposition, rather than any technical problems, and construction of new plants is outlawed.
“It’s hard to call,” Teyssen said on whether that would change, but for now E.ON, Europe’s biggest utility in terms of sales, was interested in involvement in nuclear plants abroad.
“E.ON participates in the public discussion in the UK and shows its willingness to take part in the solution there and has also discussed projects in other parts of the world,” he said.
Britain is close to deciding whether to approve a new generation of reactors.
Opposition in Britain and in some other countries to nuclear power has become more muted as memories of the world’s worst nuclear accident at Chernobyl in 1986 fade and nuclear presents a virtually carbon-free solution to the need for secure energy.
MILLIONS OF TONNES OF CO2
According to World Energy Council figures released on Monday, the European Union’s nuclear power generation prevents the annual production of 500 million tonnes of CO2, blamed for global warming, that would be emitted if coal-fired plants were used instead.
That compares with the 12,000 tonnes of nuclear waste produced each year from Europe’s nuclear stations.
In Germany, public hostility to nuclear fuel was stoked this year after Vattenfall Europe VTTG.DE had to close two nuclear units there following a fire at one of them.
“The people are extremely sensitive to any problems. Even if you can muster more support for nuclear, you always have to be prepared that there will be setbacks and the general population will be critical,” Teyssen said.
Resistance to nuclear has increased reliance on coal.
Europe must take a lead in clean coal technology as coal’s use would remain high in the developing world, Teyssen said.
“This is a rather cheap and available energy source ... If you say it’s dirty and you won’t handle it, you can’t meet Europe’s role of leadership in bringing clean coal technology to developing countries,” he said.
The aim of the World Energy Council is to promote sustainable energy for the widest benefit.
Rejecting the suggestion its congress this week was just a talking shop, he said he believed “clear messages” would emerge.
“We can’t make statements that we will lower carbon emissions by whatever percentage ... but we can provide the fact-based environment for decisions to be made in the years to come,” he said.
Editing by Marguerita Choy
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