John Howard stepped up his claim for climate change credibility yesterday, announcing a joint nuclear energy action plan with the US.
But APEC business leaders demanded immediate action on global warming. They called on their governments to put a price on carbon emissions as soon as possible, saying action on climate change was "urgently needed".
The Prime Minister said Australia and the US had agreed to tackle climate change as a priority.
"This stems from our commitment to action on climate change that reduces greenhouse gas emissions in ways that enable all countries to grow their economies, reduce poverty, and improve living standards," Mr Howard said.
Under the deal, the US will back Australia's membership of a global partnership to develop a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Nuclear and clean coal technology will be shared directly with the US under the pact.
US President George Bush said the PM had been an international leader on climate change.
"Now, I know some say, 'Well, since he's against Kyoto he doesn't care about climate change'," Mr Bush said.
"That's urban legend. That is preposterous."
Backing Mr Howard's nuclear ambitions, Mr Bush said the power source was a vital weapon in the fight against global warming.
"If you believe that greenhouse gases are a priority, like a lot of us -- if we take the issue seriously, if you take the issue seriously, like I do and John does -- then you should be supportive of nuclear power," he said.
"After all, nuclear power enables you to generate electricity without any greenhouse gases."
Under the nuclear deal, the US agreed to support Australian membership of the Generation IV International Forum -- a global body working on next-generation reactor technology. The fourth-generation reactors are being designed to be safer, cheaper and more efficient.
Australia will also join -- as revealed by the Herald Sun in July -- the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, a US-backed initiative to expand the use of safe, zero-emission nuclear energy.
The deal, the product of months of negotiations, comes amid intensive talks on an APEC-wide agreement.
Insiders said delegates were a long way from a consensus, which Mr Howard hopes will be the summit's major outcome.
The APEC Business Advisory Council, which comprises as many as three business representatives from each of APEC's 21 economies, will be urging leaders to set a transparent and consistent policy framework to combat global warming as soon as possible.
"What APEC is saying to those leaders is there is a real sense of urgency in the business community for the policy makers to set clear rules," said Mark Johnson, chairman of retailer AGL Energy Ltd and head of a business advisory council to APEC leaders.
He said business must accelerate innovation, research, development and investment in new technologies.
"For all this to work, clear market-based policies are required for business so business can make judgments about where to invest," he said.
"Consumers are going to have to change their behaviour in response to the cost of climate change, and business is going to have to change its behaviour markedly."
Mr Bush said cutting greenhouse emissions did not require slowing of development.
The US had managed to curb its own greenhouse emissions last year while growing its economy, he said.
A government-endorsed report earlier this year found Australia could have 25 nuclear reactors up and running by 2050.
Mr Howard recently moved to calm concerns about the nuclear industry by guaranteeing local residents a veto on the location of any reactor.
1. Sino-India Nuke Energy Cooperation Possible Under IAEA: Experts
Press Trust of India
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China may be willing to explore the possibility of cooperation with India in the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the IAEA safeguards, similar to the Sino-Pakistani model, a senior scholar with a leading Chinese arms control and disarmament think-tank said here today.
"There is a possibility that China and India can cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy only within the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," a senior research fellow of the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association (CACDA), Zhai Dequan, told PTI.
"It is a matter of time and initiatives from both sides. China has done this with Pakistan (under the IAEA safeguards) and we can also do this with India," Zhai said.
Interestingly, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, during a meeting last Friday with an India-China Eminent Persons Group, had said China was willing to cooperate with all countries on the peaceful use of nuclear energy within the IAEA safeguards.
Meanwhile, other Chinese scholars also stressed that China does not attach great importance in highlighting the 123 agreement reached between India and the US.
"Even in Chinese newspapers, it is not widely published or circulated among ordinary citizens," a Chinese scholar, who did not want to be identified, said, stressing that there is no need for China to 'dramatise' or 'exploit' this issue.
"From the Chinese point of view, there are more important aspects in Sino-India relations for further development because both countries have taken the road of faster development for the betterment of the lives of the peoples of the world's two most populous nations.
"I think specific issues will not affect the development of bilateral relations between China and India," he said, pointing out that India had many wise statesmen who can handle the affairs very well.
1. Neither Deadline for Talks, Nor Commissioning Table for Iran NPP - Russia-1
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A Russian nuclear agency spokesman said Thursday there was no strict deadline for talks on commissioning the Bushehr nuclear power plant Russia is building in Iran, and the contractor denied the project schedule had been finally coordinated.
The date for commissioning the $1 billion project in the south of the country, the Islamic Republic's first NPP, was postponed due to interruptions in financing by the Iranian side.
"The talks will continue until all problems that arose this spring are resolved," said Sergei Novikov, press secretary of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power.
Ali Larijani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said earlier Thursday that the countries had agreed on a final commissioning schedule, a statement that the Russian contractor has denied.
"We do not confirm that a final schedule for putting the Bushehr NPP into operation has been coordinated with the Iranian colleagues," an Atomstroyexport spokesperson said.
Energoprogress, a Russian subcontractor, said in late July that the Bushehr NPP could not be completed by the fall of 2007 as suggested by Iranian authorities, and would only be commissioned a year later. "Today we can say with all certainty that it would be unrealistic to put Bushehr into operation this fall," said Ivan Istomin, the Energoprogress head.
Istomin said his company could not assemble the key operating equipment for the plant due to a failure by third countries to supply the necessary components, and cited the lack of Iranian funding as one of the reasons. "Suppliers no longer have confidence in the Bushehr project," he said.
The official said it would take six months to restore trust and agree on new supplies. "The real deadline for the physical launch of the power unit will therefore be put off until the fall of 2008," he said.
The NPP, being constructed under a 1995 contract, came under threat in February after Russia complained about shortfalls in funding. Moscow said Tehran had only covered 60% of the required funding by the fourth quarter of 2006, and had completely stopped payments in mid-January. Iran denied any funding problems and accused Russia of delays.
1. Australia to Tell Russia No Uranium Sales to Iran
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Australian Prime Minister John Howard said on Thursday he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin that he would not approve the sale of uranium to Moscow if there was any possibility it could be resold to Iran or Syria.
Howard said he would put Putin "through the ropes" when he meets him on Friday in Sydney on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific leaders' forum.
"The condition on our selling uranium is that we obtain the guarantees necessary to satisfy us that it won't go to Iran and Syria," Howard told local radio.
"We will be taking the Russians through the ropes in relation to any arrangement we have and we will be wanting to satisfy ourselves completely that won't occur," Howard said.
Australia, with 40 percent of the world's reserves of uranium, exports the mineral to 36 nations and hopes to sign a deal with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Western accusations he is seeking nuclear bombs, saying Iran's nuclear program is meant to generate electricity.
Iran, the world's fourth largest crude exporter, has said it wants to build a network of nuclear power plants with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020 to enable it to export more of its valuable oil and gas.
Russia is Iran's closest major ally and has helped water down international sanctions against Tehran.
Asked by Australian media whether Russia could be trusted not to onsell uranium to Iran, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Moscow was fully aware of concerns about the development of nuclear weapons in Iran.
"I really suspect that the Russians understand the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon," Rice said late on Wednesday in Sydney.
"Let's remember that Iran is an awful lot closer to Russia than it is to the United State or to Australia. I know that they would be very careful about the proliferation of any material to Iran," Rice said.
Washington accuses Iran and Syria of supporting terrorism and bars both countries from receiving U.S. exports and controls sales of items with military and civilian uses.
Australia recently ended a ban on uranium sales to India, reversing a policy of selling the nuclear fuel only to Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories.
Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for A$250 million ($205 million) worth of uranium exports to Beijing. Japan is also set to sign a deal with Australia to secure uranium for civilian nuclear energy use, Kyodo news agency said on Wednesday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission reversed a three-year secrecy policy and said Tuesday it would release hundreds of documents involving the troubled operations of a Tennessee nuclear fuel processing plant.
The commission said it had directed its staff to review and make public some 1,900 documents that had been kept secret under the veil of national security involving Nuclear Fuel Services Inc. in Erwin and BWX Technologies in Lynchburg, Va.
Both plants supply fuel to the U.S. Navy's nuclear fleet. The NRC, worried about releasing sensitive information, has withheld all documents about the two facilities since 2004, including a report on a potentially lethal spill of highly enriched uranium in 2006 at Erwin.
ï¿½While we must continue to be mindful of the national security aspects of these facilities, we must also remember that our regulatory oversight process should be performed in an open and transparent manner that instills public trust,ï¿½ NRC Chairman Dale Klein wrote in his ballot supporting the policy change.
The decision followed congressional pressure and an outcry from environmentalists and residents near the Tennessee facility after the NRC revealed the uranium leak in April as part of the NRC's annual report to Congress. The spill was one of three major incidents involving NRC licensees in 2006.
No one was injured when 9 gallons of highly enriched uranium spilled onto a floor at the privately held Nuclear Fuel Services plant on March 6, 2006. However, the NRC said the solution could have accumulated in such a way as to cause an uncontrolled nuclear reaction. ï¿½It was likely that at least one worker would have received an exposure high enough to cause acute health effects or death,ï¿½ the report said.
The incident was civilian operation side, where surplus highly enriched uranium is converted into commercial reactor fuel for the Tennessee Valley Authority.
But the public didn't learn about it until more than a year later because of an ï¿½Official Use Onlyï¿½ policy on all documents at NFS and BWX Technologies. The NRC adopted the policy after the Department of Energy's Office of Naval Reactors raised concerns about disclosing sensitive information.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he is convinced the NFS Erwin plant is safe but he supports more openness.
The NRC staff will review about 1,900 documents about NFS and BWX Technologies generated since Jan. 1, 2004, including licensing actions and orders, inspection reports, performance reviews, enforcement actions and event reports, the NRC said.
Reviewing the documents, redacting still-sensitive information and releasing them to the NRC's public Internet-based archives is expected to take until May and cost about $523,000.
The NRC staff has already identified 60 licensing actions and six orders that could be made public in the coming weeks, according to an agency statement. It was unclear how the agency would handle about 10,000 earlier documents that had been removed from the NRC's public archives.
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