'World needs 20 times as many nuke plants to avoid greenhouse catastrophe'
Sydney, Oct. 16(AP): The world needs 20 times more nuclear power plants to avert an environmental apocalypse that could kill billions of people due to global warming blamed on growing greenhouse gas emissions, a top nuclear advocate said on Monday.
The suggestion from John Ritch, the Director General of the World Nuclear Association, drew condemnation from environmental groups who say the risks of nuclear power _ including weapons proliferation _ far outweigh its potential benefits.
Speaking at a conference on nuclear energy in Sydney, Ritch said a 20-fold increase in the number of nuclear reactors globally was the minimum needed to meet the voracious demand for energy from fast-developing countries such as China and India.
In developed countries, around 1.4 billion people _ or 20 percent of the global population _ currently use about 80 percent of the world's energy supply, which comes mostly from burning coal and oil, which in turn produces greenhouses gases.
But China, India and other developing countries could soon outstrip the developed world in their greenhouse gas emissions, Ritch said.
``Scientists now warn, with ever increasing certainty, that greenhouse gas emissions, if continued at the present massive scale, will yield consequences that are, quite literally, apocalyptic,'' Ritch said.
Scientists predict an average increase in global temperatures of just a 2 C (4 F) could cause increasingly severe weather patterns, droughts, flooding, species extinction, rising sea levels, widespread disease and famine.
``If those predictions hold true, the combined effect would be the death of not just millions, but billions of people, and the destruction of much of civilization on all continents,'' Ritch said.
Currently, around 440 nuclear reactors produce around one-sixth of the world's electricity. At least 8,880 reactors producing up to 10,000 Gigawatt hours of energy were needed to prevent a global catastrophe, Ritch said.
Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the air, which many scientists blame for global warming. Proponents of nuclear power say it is a cleaner alternative because it produces relatively little greenhouse gas emissions.
Critics, however, say the risk of nuclear proliferation by countries like North Korea and Iran, and the long-term problem of storing nuclear waste, undercut its viability as a safe alternative to fossil fuels.
``The uranium and nuclear power industries pose unacceptable risks of contributing to the proliferation of nuclear weapons,'' said Steve Shallhorn, the head of Greenpeace Australia. ``North Korea is the latest example that developing nuclear power for 'peaceful purposes' just cannot be guaranteed.''
Greenpeace says more than 20 of the 60 countries that have nuclear power or research centers have used those facilities for covert weapons research.
Environmental groups say renewable energy sources _ such wind and solar power _ are a safer, more sustainable long-term solution to global warming.
``We should be backing the real, clean energy solutions that we have,'' said Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaigner Jim Green. ``Climate change can be tackled using renewable energy such as solar and wind and by introducing energy efficiency measures.''
Meanwhile, Australia's Prime Minister John Howard threw his support behind the development of a nuclear power facility in his country.
Australia has 40 percent of the world's known uranium deposits, but has only one nuclear reactor for medical research purposes.
``Those who say they are in favor of doing something about global warming but turn their faces against considering nuclear power are unreal,'' Howard said. ``If we're serious about having a debate about global warming ... we have got to be willing to consider the nuclear option.''
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