Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Agrees to Help Chile Go Nuclear, despite Japan Disaster

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Agrees to Help Chile Go Nuclear, despite Japan Disaster

Article excerpt

Even as radiation leaked from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant, the US and Chile signed a nuclear power cooperation agreement, days ahead of President Obama's visit Monday.

Among the "urgent events" that President Obama said he discussed Monday with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was the unfolding nuclear crisis in Japan that began March 11 when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami along the northeast coast.

While the crisis only appeared to be mentioned in passing during a press conference in Santiago during Mr. Obama's five-day regional tour, it has set off a firestorm of criticism against Mr. Pinera and caused a major rethink over energy policy here.

Yesterday, some 2,000 people marched through the capital to protest a new US-Chile nuclear power cooperation agreement signed Friday as radiation leaked from Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant. The agreement promises cooperation in operating research reactors, handling civilian nuclear training and safety measures. It seemed a natural extension of Pinera's steady push for nuclear power to ensure electricity for Chile's world-leading copper industry.

But recent events appear to have caused Pinera to pivot.

Like Japan, Chile is seismic - its 9.5-magnitude quake in 1960 was the most powerful of the 20th century. And Chile's risk management culture is not as mature as Japan's. Now, this mineral- rich nation faces an energy dilemma: whether to choose earthquake- prone nuclear power plants or greenhouse gas-emitting coal-fired power plants.

Walking the fence

Ditching nuclear power would mark a sharp shift for Chile's government. Pinera said in an energy policy address in November that the country should build small nuclear plants like those found on nuclear submarines - an idea also promoted by the US Commerce Department. And last month, Energy Minister Laurence Golborne visited France and signed a nuclear cooperation agreement. …

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