Dutch opt for coal with carbon capture, not nuclear

Thursday, March 20, 2008

THE HAGUE, March 19 (Reuters) - The Netherlands will focus on developing cleaner coal plants and raising renewable energy output to cut carbon emissions rather than expanding its nuclear energy industry at present, the environment minister said.

While other European countries like Britain are taking a fresh look at nuclear power due to its credentials as a carbon free energy source, the Dutch government is sticking to an agreement to build no more nuclear plants during its mandate.

Despite a recent report from a Dutch advisory body urging the cabinet to reconsider nuclear power in 2010, Environment Minister Jacqueline Cramer said there were too many unresolved issues with the technology to make it attractive.

"Some aspects of nuclear energy are positive such as the carbon dioxide level, but the disadvantages are also enormous, such as the waste problem and the safety conditions," Cramer said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.

Bowing to pressure from environmentalists and the wider public, Dutch authorities have phased out all nuclear power stations except for one, the Borssele plant, which is due to stay operational until 2033.

Cramer said the Netherlands was focusing on developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) techniques to build cleaner coal plants, along with increasing its production from renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass.

CCS is a pioneering technology which involves trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from industrial processes, such as power generation from fossil fuels, and piping them underground or offshore below the seabed.

"If we are able to use the CCS technique then we can at least reduce the carbon emissions of coal plants enormously and in the course of time we can also phase out older coal power plants," Cramer said.

She said that coal, the most widely-used but also one of the most polluting energy sources on the planet, was a favoured option for the Netherlands because of its availability and easy access to Dutch ports, but also for security of supply.

"We cannot rely on the gas option for decades anymore, in that case we would have to rely on gas from other countries, and it is not so available as coal," she said. The Netherlands has large but falling reserves of natural gas.

She said the Netherlands was looking at options to store CO2 emissions in empty gas fields and below the sea, and hoped the Dutch would eventually be able to export the technology.
"We have chosen to develop a technology which could apply in other countries where they will be using coal for decades, such as China," she said.

The Dutch government wants renewable energy such as wind power to make up 20 percent of total energy consumption in 2020 compared with 2-3 percent in 2007. The European Union has set the Netherlands a goal of 14 percent for the same time period.

"We are sticking to our own targets because the Netherlands is ambitious in its goals and wants to show the EU that we are confronted with an enormous challenge and potential disaster if we don't act now," Cramer said.

The Netherlands is particularly vulnerable to climate change as a quarter of its territory lies below sea level and it is on the flood plains of three big rivers.

Cramer said there were plans to double the Netherlands' wind energy output on land to about 4,000 megawatts by 2011 and further by 2020 and also to expand its offshore wind farms and solar energy, and examine geothermal and tidal energy.

"Wind power is a well-developed technology which is also rather cost effective compared to other renewable options."

Biomass and biofuels were also options but only if produced in a sustainable manner, Cramer said, adding that certification systems were being developed for the various raw materials used in their production.

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