Friday, November 25, 2011

Nuclear War

The PS-EELV pact, which envisions shutting down 24 of France's 58 nuclear reactors, has handed Sarkozy a juicy campaign issue, which he plans to milk as much as possible. Although Hollande held firm on the Flamanville EPR, he gave in on the "sortie du nucléaire" line, not going quite as far as Merkel in Germany but still making major concessions to the ecologists. Or does his position reflect a true conviction about the need to exit from nuclear dependency rather than a mere political calculation? Impossible to say.

As I've said, I think this strategic decision is a mistake. It would have been better to promise tougher safety measures and to close any plants that don't measure up. And to couple that with increased research on nuclear alternatives. But to leap into the unknown is irresponsible, and Sarkozy will not let anyone forget it.

I understand the concerns about nuclear power but not the urge to abandon it precipitously and, to my mind, irrationally, with no viable substitutes in sight.

13 comments:

Mitch Guthman said...

I’m not so sure you’re right about this and besides since we adopted nuclear energy quite precipitously, I see no reason not to discard it the same way. Apart from there being a certain symmetry, recent events in Japan have demonstrated we need to prioritize its replacement. This is an excellent opportunity for the PS to put forward a comprehensive energy plan for France.

Regardless of the tactical political maneuvering you are commenting on and regardless of my belief that we need to keep rid of nuclear energy as quickly as possible---I also believe that it won’t be nearly enough for Hollande to simply be the “anti-Sarkozy”----he’s got to start defining himself and his agenda and start putting forward some plans of his own and soon.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mitch entirely. I saw just yesterday that a very good argument can be made that staying nuclear might be as expensive as getting out. If you add the dangers and unsolved problems for the future, it's discussion over as far as I'm concerned. Of course, nobody ever said it should be done brutally.

Steven Rendall said...

For what it's worth, I'm with Art on this one. Unless and until safer alternative energy sources are able to take over--and although progress has been made, we are nowhere near that point yet--it would be foolish to think that we can simply shut down nuclear power, especially in a country that depends on it as heavily as France does. And nuclear power does have ecological advantages, particularly if the alternative is coal. But nuclear plants need to be made as safe as possible, and a solution to the waste problem has to be found.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that they want to phase out 50% nuclear power over 30 years. Not "brutal" by any means.

one problem with safety measures is that they're designed by Areva and enforced by Areva. They never see any problem. There's a reason why France refused that its nuclear plants be inspected by an independent European agency (in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster). Flamantville is a case in point: the external agency that supervises construction told Areva they had 6 months to fix the very very serious safety issues (holes in the concrete protecting shell around the nuclear core) and 6 months later the problems had not been fixed.

But I also remember an off-hand comment by a safety inspector after the Tricastin incident (radioactive elements released in groundwater): "I don't see why they're all freaking out, incidents like this, we got 100 of them a year!"

DavidinParis said...

Afraid I can't agree with you on this one Art. France and the US (and Japan) all leaped into nuclear PRIOR to coming up with a solution for nuclear waste. Putting accidents aside (which in France means hot Merlot!!!), there still is NO solution for the waste.

Cincinna said...

I was very anti-nuclear until I moved to France. I clearly remember a dinner where my dinner partner was Director of some Nuclear agency in France. I stated the usual arguments being used now, and in retrospect, sounded foolish.     After living in France for many years, I saw the advantages of clean, relatively inexpensive energy production up close. 
  I believe that the Left, uniting with the greens, and Green is the new Red, having little to do with solving the energy needs of major industrialized nations, and everything to do with some new variation of anti-capitalist, anti-free market socialism. It is dressed up in old hippie slogans "save the planet, whales, yellow salamander"  and has seized on a counter culture concept that is hip, cool, and ridiculous. 
 No one wants dirty air, dirty water, unsafe food supply. 
  If the goal is to become independent of foreign energy, Nuclear energy must be one part of the solution to meet our energy needs, certainly in the short and middle term. 

  In the US, with its wealth of untapped oil, natural gas, and clean coal resources, I think we should be drilling where the oil and gas are, offshore, ANWR and extracting the coal we have, as we explore new technologies and develop a long term strategy for energy independence. 

  Nothing is 100% safe and certain. But balancing the benefits/risks in today's world, where we, and particularly the Europeans, are dependent on Middle East oil, controlled by dictators, unstable monarchies, and increasingly Islamist anti-Western régimes, I'll take my chances with nuclear. 

DavidinParis said...

@Cincinatta

That Director of something or other was someone who worked with the CEA (Centre de'Energie Atomique) that is the government side of the nuclear industry...these are the same people mounting studies explaining to us that windmills that generate electricity may cause migraines!

I still hear no suggestions for the waste. In the waste equation is the inevitable dismantling of the old nuclear power plants. Costs for this are estimated around 500 million euros per plant...still cheap? And again, where do we put the spent fuel?

Cincinna said...

@David
The issue of nuclear waste is a red herring; something that can be dealt with. It hasn't been an actual security problem in France.
As I've said before, nothing is 100% safe and certain. But balancing the benefits/risks in today's world, where we, and particularly the Europeans, are dependent on Middle East oil, controlled by dictators, unstable monarchies, and increasingly Islamist anti-Western régimes, I'll take my chances with nuclear. 

DavidinParis said...

For a balanced view (read until the end)

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

DavidinParis said...

For a balanced view (read until the end)

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/reaction/readings/french.html

FrédéricLN said...

DavidinParis : your referenced text is very interesting, thank you. Despite the date of writing (1997), most of it is absolutely right today (even if the issue of waste is less onstage has it used to be until +-2006). More than that: we are still in a time a "denial of Fukushima", so the paper is entirely right. Things will change only if people start considering that the complete failure of a plant, including a melting-down of fuel, IS a realistic event one should be prepared to face. But things will not change that much: in the present economic crisis, I guess it's a risk people could be able to cope with.

Cincinna said...

@David
You might want to reconsider the options, if which there are few.
1. Calculate the risk of remaining dependent on Middle Eastern oil, which is controlled by potentates in unstable monarchies, increasing anti-Western policies, civil unrest, and ever encroaching Islamist rule that all represent a threat to energy supply.

2. Then calculate the actual, statistical risk of nuclear power plants, modernized and monitored.

Which poses the greatest threat in the short term? The long term?

We are energy dependent societies that cannot function without a steady, stable supply of energy.

I believe energy diversification is the answer. Nuclear must be part if the mix. In fossil fuel rich countries like the US, we need to drill where the oil and gas are, and exploit our clean coal technology. Europe can benefit from our surplus.

Of course, new, cost efficient technologies must be explored. Not to satisfy the ideological propaganda needs of the ecology movement, but to satisfy the energy needs of an advanced, productive, energy dependent society.

DavidinParis said...

@ Cincinna

"the ideological propaganda needs of the ecology movement"????!!!!!!

I am not some tree-hugging fanatic. In fact, I am a research scientist who has examined in detail this issue. Your grasp of the nuclear industry has a strong taint of propaganda in response to my concerns. Please, tell me about what we do with the waste? There are NO answers. By the way, the nuclear power plants in France are now getting quite old. Whether you like it or not, this issue is not going away.
I won't even try to imagine your views on global warming...