U.S. President George W. Bush says nuclear power is a key to tackling climate change, along with new energy technologies, but green groups want Asia-Pacific leaders meeting in Sydney to commit to greenhouse gas reduction targets.
Australia has made climate change a major issue for the 21 leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit this week.
But developing APEC economies, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, believe little will be achieved at APEC.
I was surprised this is being suddenly introduced as a priority issue by the Australian chairmanship, Philippine deputy foreign secretary Edsel Custoduo said on Wednesday.
Green groups say the APEC summit will be a failure if the leaders do not commit to binding greenhouse gas reduction targets.
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Australian Prime Minister John Howard said before APEC that the summit would not set binding targets, but may agree on a post-Kyoto consensus.
If you truly care about greenhouse gases, then you'll support nuclear power, Bush told a news conference with Howard on Wednesday. After all, nuclear power enables you to generate electricity without any greenhouse gases.
Howard backs nuclear energy in the fight against climate change, but Australia has no nuclear power plants and there is widespread public opposition to nuclear power in Australia.
During a bilateral meeting on Wednesday, Howard and Bush agreed to a joint nuclear energy action plan involving cooperation on civil nuclear energy, including research and development, and technical training.
Howard also said Australia would join the U.S.-sponsored Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, under which member countries agree to supply fuel for nuclear power plants.
Australia has 40 percent of the world's known reserves of uranium and exports uranium to 36 countries.
Green groups said Australia would become a nuclear waste dumping ground if it joined the partnership, although the government said the plan would not affect a long-standing policy of not accepting other countries' radioactive waste.
Joining this global nuclear club will leave a toxic legacy for generations of Australians without solving dangerous climate change, said Greenpeace's Steve Shallhorn.
Australia recently ended a ban on uranium sales to India, reversing a policy of selling the nuclear fuel only to Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signatories.
Australia is currently negotiating safeguards for A$250 million ($205 million) worth of uranium exports to Beijing and is expected to agree to sell uranium to Moscow after holding talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at APEC.
Japan is set to sign a deal with Australia to secure uranium for civilian nuclear energy use, Kyodo news agency said on Wednesday. Kyodo said the deal will be signed when Howard meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abeources at APEC.
Australia was also believed to be seeking Japan's cooperation in building and operating nuclear power plants in the future, said Kyodo.
Nuclear is a dead end, high risk technology and the proposed research and development will not realize anything for decades. It represents a great missed opportunity for real action at APEC, said Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Dave Sweeney.
Green activists want a 30 percent cut in greenhouse emissions by 2020 through clean energy, arguing if the world doubled nuclear power by 2050 it would only cut emissions by about 5 percent.
Howard needs to ensure APEC builds momentum...by firm national targets, said Peter Garrett, environment spokesman for Australia's Labor opposition.
Australia and the United States oppose the Kyoto Protocol, arguing its binding greenhouse targets are flawed because major polluters India and China are excluded from the protocol.
(Additional reporting by Jalil Hamid in Sydney)