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By Tom Miles,
10 July 2006

Russia and US to energize G8 with nuclear talks

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The United States has blasted Russia for using its energy clout to intimidate its neighbors, but at the G8 summit the two will jointly promote nuclear energy as a safe alternative to costly hydrocarbons.

President Vladimir Putin will meet President Bush before the July 15-17 summit to discuss ways of giving developing countries access to atomic energy, while ensuring weapons technology does not get into the wrong hands.

"Both presidents have talked in very similar terms about the importance not only of developing civilian nuclear technology and making the benefits of that technology available to developing countries, but doing that in such a way that you guard against proliferation," one Western diplomat said.

"So yes, it is possible that you are going to see further discussion of how they can advance this and in particular how the United States and Russia can show leadership on this."

A draft summit agreement emphasizes the need for countries to diversify their sources of energy, paving the way for a joint U.S.-Russian drive for a huge nuclear expansion.

"We are hopeful of a very substantial rebirth of the global nuclear industry," U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said after a meeting of G8 energy ministers in March.

But Russian officials say German and, to a lesser extent, British objections will prevent the summit whole-heartedly backing nuclear energy, and Putin has said that "development of nuclear energy will not be the subject of discussion".

Putin wants to create "a network of international centers dealing with the enrichment and utilization of nuclear fuel", while the U.S. Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) foresees nuclear work entrusted to a small number of responsible states, barring countries such as Iran from the nuclear circle.

"It appears that the two programs are very close," said Andrei Kondakov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry`s economic cooperation department, who is helping to prepare G8 talks.

Three Times a Superpower

Stephen Kidd, head of strategy and research at the World Nuclear Association, said there was a powerful case for marrying Russia`s commercial interests in nuclear energy with the U.S.-led fight against proliferation. Technical problems with the U.S. plan for a huge spent fuel repository in Nevada made the reprocessing favoured by Russia more acceptable.

And, he said, a U.S.-Russia pact would most likely need to be developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. body that governs the world nuclear industry.

"Looking around the world, I think there`s increasingly a consensus that you`ve got to change existing non-proliferation provisions if we`re going to have this big revival of nuclear power that everyone`s talking about," he said.

Yevgeny Velikhov, president of Russia`s Kurchatov Institute, a top nuclear laboratory, said there were some differences between the U.S. and Russian plans, such as types of reactor and the U.S. keenness to see tight limits on the nuclear club.

"We thought that instead of such a strict delineation it should be voluntary. We think that international control should be more flexible than just picking a list of countries and dividing the world into black and white."

But he said huge financial and technological hurdles meant it made sense to have only a few big players, rather like the dominance of Boeing and Airbus in the civil aviation industry.

"Both we and the Americans are taking a step in the same direction: how to uphold the non-proliferation regime while allowing nuclear energy to develop," he said. "I think there is a good chance of agreement at the G8, but let`s see."

The final draft of the "St Petersburg plan of action on global energy security", quoted by one diplomat, will invite other nations to back the plan without forcing them to sign up.

"It (the G8) takes note of the recent initiative put forward in the IAEA framework regarding multilateral fuel supply assurances as well as the proposals made by Russia and the U.S., aimed at future development of peaceful nuclear energy in a manner that promotes proliferation resistance of the nuclear fuel cycle, including preventing the spread of sensitive nuclear technologies," it says.

A global nuclear revival would confirm Russia as an energy superpower, bolstering its economic arsenal of oil and gas with its huge nuclear stockpiles. Its Cold War stocks of highly enriched uranium already supply a tenth of U.S. electricity.

"In terms of energy content, our exports of refined uranium are already equal to our exports of gas or oil," Velikhov said.

(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Christian Lowe).

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