Munich focus on third world energy

Eight years ago Costa Rica had to export 62 pounds of bananas for every barrel of oil it imported. Today it has to export 924 pounds of bananas per barrel of oil. This was West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt's sobering reminder in opening the Sept. 8-12 World Energy Conference in Munich.

Almost all of the conference's 4,800 economists, engineers, and energy executives from 64 nations acknowledged what Chancellor Schmidt was highlighting: the dire energy straits of the third world as it doubles the per capita annual consumption of a rapidly growing population by the year 2000.

Nobody had much to offer in the way of concrete new solutions at the conference, however. The developing countries will still depend heavily on oil imports for their energy expansion in the '80s and '90s at least -- and with soaring prices their 1980 oil bill has already risen a prohibitive $35 billion over last year.

In response West Germany has been urging the obligation of OPEC nations to charge cheaper prices from their poor cousins. Virtually all the speakers at the privately financed $4.5 million conference thought rapid expansion of nuclear power was essential if the developing countries are going to raise living standards at all. And anti-nuclear demonstrators outside the Olympics stadium conference hall proposed a simpler Western lifestyle, with the Western energy thus waived being channeled to the third world.

At the end of all the discussion, though, the projections still remained the same. Third world energy demand could grow from 445 million tons of oil equivalent (TOE) in 1976 to over 5 billion TOE in 2000 and 10 billion in 2020. The third and especially the fourth world of the very poorest nations will be hard put to find the money to pay for this increase. And the threats to world peace from competition over power resources between both developing and developed lands is likely to grow.

In this context Mr. Schmidt and other speakers stressed the need to accelerate research and production in all non-oil energies. Oil currently supplies 52 percent of world energy, coal a bit over 25 percent, nuclear power (as of 1972) 1 percent. Conference forecasts envision a drop of the oil share to approximately 10 percent by 2020, a steady coal share (meaning a major expansion in absolute terms) of 25 percent, a rise of nuclear power to 20 percent (one speaker's projection went as high as 31 percent), and a rise of gas and renewables to 20 percent each by 2020.

Nuclear power has been expanding rapidly, at 9 percent per year, and by 1985 could provide energy equivalent to a quarter of total oil imports of member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. In the past three years, however, there have been more cancellations of planned nuclear plants than there have been commissionings, with the bulk of the cancellations occuring because of environmental opposition in the US. Dr. Ulf Lanske, executive director of the international energy agency noted that last year only seven nuclear units began operation, were under construction, or were ordered worldwide. Dr. Lanske anticipated a drop in environmentalist opposition to nuclear power in the '80s, however.

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