Gas crisis boost for nuclear

4 January 2006

A dispute over gas prices between Ukraine and Russia’s Gazprom that saw supplies to Ukraine cut off for several days has injected new urgency into the use of nuclear generation in western Europe.

The new impetus has been prompted by security of supply fears after the Russia-Ukraine dispute spread to the European Union, much of which relies on gas shipped through the Ukraine.

European buyers are understood to be receiving adequate supplies after Gazprom began pumping additional gas to countries including France, Germany, Poland, Italy and Slovakia that reportedly experienced a drop in supply after Ukraine's provision was cut.

The dispute concerns price rises proposed by Gazprom that would bring the price of gas supplies to the former Soviet satellite state into line with those of the European Union. Gazprom wants to raise the price by more than 400% to $230 per 1000m3, a price Ukraine has refused to pay, although it is not opposed to a gradual increase in gas prices.

Nonetheless, the gas boycott has, for example, reignited the dispute between the German coalition government which is divided over the issue of the proposed nuclear phaseout. German economics minister Michael Glos has reportedly said that, in view of the gas dispute, phasing out nuclear energy must be rethought. However, Environment Ministry state secretary Michael Mueller reportedly responded by saying: "The nuclear phase-out is irreversible.”

In the UK, meanwhile, where the government is set to undertake a major energy review this year that will look at the possibility of new nuclear development public opinion remains fairly evenly split over the issue. According to an ICM poll conducted on behalf of the Guardian newspaper, 48% of people oppose expanding nuclear energy, while 45% support it.

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