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Why Are Russia & U.S. Promoting Nuclear Power at U.N. Climate Talks? Russian Environmentalist Speaks Out

StoryDecember 06, 2023
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As Vladimir Putin arrives in Abu Dhabi but does not plan to attend the COP28 summit in Dubai, we speak with Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair for the leading Russian environmental organization Ecodefense, about the climate impact of Russia’s war on Ukraine and the renewed push at the summit to expand nuclear power. “When you promote nuclear power, you have to understand it’s diverting resources from renewable energy, and renewable energy is the real, most efficient answer to climate change,” says Slivyak. He also discusses how the collapse of civil society in Russia has pushed him and other social activists to leave the country.

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StoryDec 06, 2023COP28: Amy Goodman Attempts to Question UAE Oil CEO Serving as President of U.N. Climate Talks in Dubai
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AMY GOODMAN: We are broadcasting from COP28 in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has also arrived in the country today but will not attend the summit. This is Putin’s first trip to the region since Russia attacked Ukraine. He’ll also travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Putin faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over war crimes in Ukraine, but neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE have signed the International Criminal Court, the ICC, treaty, so they’re not obligated to detain him.

Today, activists here at COP28 protested Putin’s visit with signs that read “Your power is coming to an end” and “Fossil fuel dictators out.” And Ukrainians also accuse Putin of committing environmental crimes in their country. This comes as Russia welcomed a U.S.-led initiative to triple global nuclear power capacity, in a rare agreement as 21 nations proposed ways to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, including France, the U.K. and Ukraine, in addition to the U.S. At COP28 Tuesday — that’s today [sic] — yesterday, U.S. special climate envoy John Kerry launched an international engagement plan to boost nuclear fusion, that involves 35 nations.

JOHN KERRY: I believe, based on friends I have, people I respect, evidence that I’ve read, that there is potential in fusion to revolutionize our world and to change all of the options that are in front of us and provide the world with abundant and clean energy.

AMY GOODMAN: [The United States has also joined with 21 other countries pledging to triple its use of nuclear power by 2050.] For more, we’re joined here at COP28 by Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair for the leading Russian environmental organization Ecodefense. He won the 2021 Right Livelihood Award, the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize, for defending the environment and mobilizing grassroots opposition to the coal and nuclear industries in Russia. He has left Russia now. Where do you live right now, Vladimir?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: In Germany.

AMY GOODMAN: You live in Germany. I want to start off by asking you about this initiative that’s really being pushed by the United States. So, methane, fossil fuel emissions, they’re really being cut down — the push is to cut them down. And people like John Kerry, the climate envoy from the United States, are saying nuclear is the answer.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, I think he’s wrong. And I think it’s a big mistake by Biden administration to push for it. And there are three reasons for this. First of all, we need action on climate now, but nuclear power, even if it brings some effect, it will be very little effect, and we have to wait for quite a long time, like 20 or 30 years, until there will be some effect. Well, the second thing is that it’s risky technology. It produces nuclear waste that will be dangerous for thousands of years, and our next generations will have to pay for this nuclear waste to make it safe, for safe storage.

AMY GOODMAN: How have you seen —

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: And the third thing is that nuclear power is the most expensive among all sources of energy. So, like, when you promote nuclear power, you have to understand that it’s diverting resources from renewable energy, and the renewable energy is the real — the most efficient answer to climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: So, it’s interesting. I mean, you have, to say the least, the U.S. and Russia at loggerheads, for example, over the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but here they don’t disagree.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, this is very like a disturbing and disappointing thing, because we haven’t seen the U.S. doing promotion of nuclear at previous COPs. But, unfortunately, they started to do what Russia has been doing for quite a long time, promoting nuclear, which is clearly a failed solution to climate change.

AMY GOODMAN: Biden did not come to the U.N. climate summit. Apparently, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is not, either, but he did come to the UAE. He was in Abu Dhabi this morning. He’s going to Saudi Arabia. Were you surprised by this? This is a rare trip outside of Russia. What do you think he’s here for?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, I was very surprised, because Vladimir Putin was not really going internationally for quite a long time. I think there are two important things for Putin here. One is oil. And they’re talking about the, like, oil prices and how they regulate oil drilling and sale of oil around the world to keep prices up. And the second thing is, of course — I think it’s weapon. Russia needs more weapon. It’s not producing enough weapon for war in Ukraine — well, not as much as using in Ukraine. And I think Putin will be looking for some new supplies from Arab countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you think the U.S. is promoting nuclear power right now?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, I think it’s about the money for Western nuclear industry, because it was long time ago when investors stopped to invest into nuclear, because, well, it’s risky, it’s always over budget, it’s taking long to build them. It was a pretty much economic disaster in the past. So investors don’t want to put money in it anymore. And what governments obviously came up with is to push for nuclear power here at the climate negotiations just for one simple reason: to be able to take money from the climate funds and use it for construction of new nuclear power plants. It’s not about climate. It’s about saving mostly Western nuclear industry.

AMY GOODMAN: When I was in Rivne and Lviv in Ukraine a few years ago after the Katowice U.N. climate summit, there were monuments to the people of Chernobyl. And they are all over Ukraine and Russia.

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: And Russia, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: If you can talk about the significance of Chernobyl shaping your opposition to nuclear power, and then how you see renewable energy being the answer, even in the short term?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, when we speak about climate change and what we’re going to do about it, then renewable energy obviously is the first choice, for a reason that it’s cheaper than nuclear. It’s much faster to be installed, so means gives you much faster result or effect in emission reduction. This is what we are looking for today.

Nuclear is a risky technology. We had Fukushima. We had Chernobyl before it. Chernobyl, basically, led to collapse of the Soviet Union in the end. Chernobyl provoked the new civil society movements, anti-nuclear movements in the Soviet Union, that became active and, in the end of 1980s, succeeded to actually entirely stop the development of nuclear power in the Soviet Union. It was later restarted, mostly when the Putin came in. He went on a mass scale, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what’s happening at these climate talks — do you hold out hope? — and also a new report that’s just been released on the environmental effects of Russia’s invasion and war on Ukraine?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Well, first of all, about these climate talks, it’s a scandal by design, because the president of this COP is actually a head of a big oil company, one of the leading in the world. So, the guy who’s supposed to push other countries to reach an agreement on ending fossil fuel is actually interested in promotion of oil contracts for his company. So, I don’t know how much — what kind of a result we can expect from this COP.

And it’s true that a couple of days ago Ukraine presented an assessment of environmental damage from the war in Ukraine, the Russian war in Ukraine. And the representatives of Ukrainian state said that there was nearly 3,000 of environmental crimes conducted by Russian army, a worth of over 60 billion of American dollars. It’s not total cost of a war, of course, or the damage from the war. It’s only environmental cost of a war. And in this, included, there are about 150 million of tons of CO2 that was additionally emitted because of this war, that would never happened without war. So, Ukrainian state assess this greenhouse gases emission as worth of about 12 billion of dollars.

And what they want right now, they want international community to ask Russia for or to push Russia for reparations, including this, well, $12 billion for additional CO2 emissions and this over $60 billion for environmental damage that was caused by the war. And right now Ukrainian state wants to really push the United Nations to create the structure that will come up with some kind of a scheme of how these reparations from Russia could be taken.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, would you be able to say these things in Russia? And when did you leave?

VLADIMIR SLIVYAK: Absolutely not. Russia is — in my opinion, it’s a fascist state that you can easily compare to Nazi Germany from the 20th century, from the Second World War. All kinds of activists are under repression. I mean, it’s every day that we’re getting news that somebody else got to jail or there is new criminal case. Everybody under pressure from the state. It’s feminist activists, LGBT activists, environmental activists, human rights activists. The Putin regime is just mad about civil society. It wants the end of a civil society. So, if you decide to criticize Putin in Russia, you will just immediately go to jail.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Vladimir Slivyak, co-chair of the Russian environmental organization Ecodefense, 2021 Right Livelihood Award winner. And we will link to your reports at democracynow.org.

Latest news: Norman Lear has died at the age of 101. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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