State may delay ‘moon landing’

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Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called ambitious plans for carbon recapture at Statoil’s Mongstad gas power plant the equivalent of a ‘moon landing’ for Norway, but now it faces further delays. Meanwhile, more Norwegians seem positive about nuclear power as a means of reducing carbon emissions.

Carbon recapture at Mongstad may be further delayed. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

Newspaper VG reported over the weekend that Oil and Energy Minister Terje Riis-Johansen may go along with further delays for carbon recapture at Mongstad. Initially, the power plant was supposed to have its recapture system in place when it started up this year, but that later was delayed until 2014 over loud protests from environmental groups.

Even though Riis-Johansen showed off the plant and plans for carbon recapture to his American counterparty, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu, just a few months ago, Riis-Johansen now seems to be lowering expectations for it all. He stressed that carbon recapture at Mongstad is demanding and will be more expensive than expected, and told VG that “if we must use more time, we must.” He added that “it would be downright dangerous” to be “hasty” with the project.

On Monday, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Gassnova, the company planning the project for the state, thinks start-up by 2014 is “too early” because a test facility needed to secure the project isn’t in place yet. “The politicians must be responsible enough to postpone the project,” Bjørn-Erid Haugen, managing director of Gassnova, told NRK.

That’s setting off alarms among environmental organizations, which remain upset over the earlier delays. “The technology is in place, Norway should be able to cut emissions from its biggest sources at Mongstad, Kårstø and Snøhvit,” Mari Winsents of Natur og Ungdom told news bureau NTB. “This is all about political will.”

Frederic Hauge of environmental group Bellona called  Riis-Johansen a slappfisk (lazy and inactive) and made it clear he wants the project to pick up speed, not slow down.

Risking loss of prestige
The carbon recapture program at Mongstad has involved  a lot of prestige for the Labour Party’s Stoltenberg, who dubbed it Norway’s equivalent of a “moon landing” back in 2007. His government partner, the Socialist Left, had to swallow initial delays and now claims the 2014 date still stands. “We must maintain our tempo,” SV spokesman Snorre Valen told NTB.

Opposition politicians were calling for a full status report on the Mongstad project from Riis-Johansen in Parliament, as soon as possible.

Not so negative to nuclear power
A new public opinion poll, meanwhile, indicates that nuclear power is no longer being completely ruled out as means of generating power without carbon emissions. A TNS Gallup poll, conducted for homeowners’ organization Huseiernes Landsforbud, found that more than half of Norwegians under age 30 said they’d support nuclear power if it helped reduce carbon emissions in Norway.

Siri Meling of the Conservative Party said she think many young Norwegians view nuclear power plants as  cleaner than plants using gas or coal. “When even the prime ministry urges Sweden to get its nuclear power plant back in operation (to help bring down the winter’s high electricity bills) it contributes towards making nuclear power seem less dangerous,” Melig told newspaper Aftenposten.

Norway has no nuclear power plants and suffered from radioactive pollution following the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Environmental groups remain firmly opposed to nuclear power plants and 63 percent of Norwegians aged 45 to 59, who remember Chernobyl, are opposed to nuclear power.

“We don’t think we need them to reduce carbon emissions,” said Nils Bøhmer of Bellona. “It’s positive that so many young people want to reduce emissions, but we must make the right choices and not subject society to other negative effects.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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