There is an ironic juxtaposition in Le Monde online today. On the one hand, Microsoft is criticized for exploiting the Japanese tragedy to sell its brand (by asking Twitter users to retweet messages from Bing). On the other hand, the Élysée is reportedly extolling the virtues of the French EPR reactor as safer than the type of reactor that is on the verge of meltdown in Japan.
Not only is the Élysée's timing bad, its message is more than a little hasty, since the Japanese event is still evolving, and details are sketchy. Would EPR's safety measures have been equal to a tsunami? We are told that in case of imminent meltdown, EPR's core will cement itself in. But we have also been told that the reason for the Japanese reactors' failures was that they suffered an unforeseen "station blackout," that is, a situation in which all sources of power, including emergency power, were simultaneously eliminated by an incident of unanticipated magnitude. Would EPR's last-ditch mechanism have worked in these circumstances? I don't know, and I suspect the Elysée doesn't either.
What is clear at this point is that safety mechanisms at all nuclear sites will have to be rethought. I have been a supporter of nuclear power, and I believe that France's decision to rely on an extensive network of nuclear power stations was, for all the well-known problems, on the whole a good one. But the Japanese events have made me more cautious, and I think it's not only unseemly but ill-considered for the French government to announce so precipitously and so callously, "I told you so," when it doesn't really know what it's saying.