Rich nations snub Blair vision for nuclear-powered future

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World leaders at the G8 Summit in St Petersburg failed to agree common ground on nuclear energy and global warming yesterday. Tony Blair's struggle to persuade the world's eight most powerful nations to unite to end climate change produced a disappointing one-line acknowledgement that the issue matters to some countries, but not others.

The British delegation had hoped yesterday's main session of the summit could be used to kick-start informal talks over what the world will do when the Kyoto agreement on climate change runs out in 2012. Mr Blair is adamant that negotiations must begin soon and must involve the US, which notoriously did not sign up to the present agreement.

The Prime Minister had the enthusiastic backing of the French President Jacques Chirac, who told the summit: "We cannot talk about energy security while there is no progress on climate change. Mankind is dancing on the edge of a volcano."

Their battle was never going to be easy, given US indifference and the Russian determination to concentrate on securing world markets for its oil and gas. They then suffered another setback when the summit was overtaken by the crisis in the Middle East. When Mr Blair met President George Bush face- to-face yesterday morning, they did not get around to discussing global warming, as Mr Blair had hoped.

The document on Global Energy Strategy, agreed by the eight yesterday, frankly acknowledged their differences over Kyoto. It said: "Those of us committed to making the Kyoto protocol a success underline the importance we attach to it".

But in an echo of the statement Mr Blair managed to have adopted by last year's summit in Gleneagles, the document also committed the G8 "to meet our shared and multiple objectives of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the global environment, enhancing energy security and cutting air pollution in conjunction with our vigorous efforts to reduce poverty".

Another openly acknowledged difference was over civil nuclear power, which Mr Blair has embraced as an energy source that does not aggravate global warming, at a time when Germany has committed itself to phasing out its nuclear industry by the 2020s.

"We recognise that G8 members pursue different ways to achieve energy security and the goals of climate protection," the document said.

"Those of us who have or are considering plans relating to the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy believe that its development will contribute to global energy security, while simultaneously reducing harmful air pollution and addressing the climate change challenge."

It included a phrase German officials said was important to Berlin, namely: "We are committed to further reduce the risks associated with the safe use of nuclear energy."

The statement also backed the plan from Moscow to set up international centres in Russia to produce nuclear fuel for countries with atomic power plants and a US plan to create a multilateral nuclear fuel bank. All of these would be under the supervision of the UN nuclear watchdog.

The ideas were brought forward to counter Iran's claim that it needed its own enrichment programme to guarantee a fuel supply for its civil nuclear industry. Once enriched, the fuel could be used to make weapons.