“Economic and environmental crises : European socialists must act now.”
The RESSEC (french environmentalist and socialist network for carbon-free energy) has been advocating that nuclear energy is not a transition energy, but a sustainable energy that should be developed, as some of the renewables, wherever that can be done in a clean, safe, responsible and sustainable way. How can we be both socialists and pronuclear environmentalists ? How is that possible ?
Our main statement is that some kinds of Nuclear Power Plants (NPPs) are far less dangerous to humans and Gaia than most other energy sources, including most renewables. Of course, we do oppose low-cost, dangerous NPPs (Nuclear Power Plants).
On a personal note, let me make it clear that we share the same concerns about both safety and sustainability of NPPs, since I was an anti-nuclear activist, back in the nineties. As a member of “Les Verts” at that period of my life, I did celebrate the shutdown of SuperPhenix in 1997… which I deeply regretted later !
Superphenix was the first large surgenerator reactor, with electric power exceeding 1000 MW. Surgenerator means that it produced more fuels than it needed, thanks to its core design and a fuel reprocessing plant, hence the sustainability.
It’s only in 2005 that I discovered that its shutdown was a historical mistake : I (we) had been misled for years into believing that civil nuclear energy had to be stopped as fast as possible, by false rumors about the effects of radioactivity on health and nature.
The bottom line is: there is NO SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE of radiotoxicity by external exposure up to doses far larger than what can happen during normal operations of any civil NPP complying with European or American standards. There is scientific evidence to the contrary (many people and animals live very well in naturally radioactive zones with higher levels of radioactivity than near safe and clean NPPs, mining facilities, waste storage or fuel production plants). Furthermore, some people and most animals have continued an almost normal life within contaminated zones in Russia and Japan: massive radioactive pollution that can be spread by accidents like Fukushima is far less dangerous than the human consequences of an extended evacuation, most people in Fukushima have been allowed to return home and should have been much earlier and on a regular basis, wildlife has been impacted by human evacuation, but not by radioactivity. In Russia, some people have been ill : most of them were not evacuated on time or had to work on the accident. Many died, but many more survived. The numbers are such that it is almost impossible to determine what caused their illness : alarming reports show sick people, but it is impossible to know whether they were affected by radioactivity ot other causes, like medical care problems or post-traumatic stress due to the panic caused by the accident, which led to the collapse of health and public services. It is likely that a better handling of the situation by emergency and governmental organizations would have saved many lives and spared woes to those victims. By better handling, we mean swift evacuation and return as soon as volatile radioactive elements have been naturally eliminated, which occurs within a few months after a major accident.
If the humain organization is insufficient as in Chernobyl, the amount of directs deaths approachs one Russian montly car accidents each 30 years, and 3 months for indirect ones, but it avoids 100 time more deaths by inherent with other energies.
On the contrary, the severe pollution due to some blunders in handling toxic radioactive materials from military nuclear applications has much more inescapable and fatal consequences, which should not be confused with those of civil nuclear accidents. This is due to the higher concentrations, thus radioactivity, of military-grade radioactive material and waste.
Even during any severe accident, nuclear reactors of PWR or EPR type, and NPPs of similar design elsewhere in the world, are inherently safe, thanks to their reinforced concrete structure : they will always release much less radioactivity into the environment than that released in the only two large NPP severe accidents (Chernobyl and Fukushima). This was proven in 1979 during the TMI (Three-mile Island, Harrisburg, PA) core meltdown. If you’ve been there, you’ve probably talked to people that can testify that there is no long-term consequence of a major accident. Only the complete destruction of the one-meter wide external concrete shell could change that: it can happen, but catastrophic events capable of achieving this have a time period over 5 million years. It can be argued that the last such event happened only 1 million years ago, during the most recent massive earthquakes in the Alps (the European and African tectonic plates collided long before and will likely create another cataclysmic event within a million year, but most probably not during the next millenia), but we could agree that NPP radioactivity would not be much of a concern if such a cataclysmic event were to happen any time soon.
On the other hand:
– public safety regulations are weak : emergency drills have proven that the risk of contamination by inhaling volatile fission products or absorbing solute radiotoxic material through food and water may not be ignored. This can easily be improved, at least in the U.S., Canada, Japan and Europe, at a minimal cost compared to benefits (extremely low air, water and soil pollution results from the entire cycle with fuel recycling, which only Fance masters so far). The problem is far worse in other countries (including Pakistan, Russia, China, India and Ukraine), where environmental awareness is not strong enough.
Ressec and other socialist organisations have suggested a Civil Nuclear treaty to enforce worldwide safety regulations and provide international emergency assistance, under UNO supervision.
– Low cost NPPs should be either secured or shutdown, depending on the cost of necessary safety improvements, because they actually threaten the health and welfare of thousands of people (not millions). Many such plants are still operating, dozens in Europe and even more worldwide: we should focus our attention and criticism towards those power plants, and tighten public control over all existing and new plants.
– NPPs are NOT THE PROBLEM, but part of the solution: we environmentalists should focus on fighting against pollution, not energy. It is not true that all energy sources are pollution factors: some are much more polluting, threatening both wildlife and human health, than others, far more acceptable. Energy transition is indeed about picking winners and losers. Not choosing is not an option. But we must make choices based upon facts, not senseless fear nor hatred !
The criterion for energy transition must become sustainable progress : last saturday’s socialist progress forum (12/23/2013 in Paris) was right to the point ! Sustainable progress is not just energy savings: it starts with energy savings, up to the point when savings become costlier than sustainable energy. Sustainable energy includes clean, safe, self-sustained nuclear power. Self-sustainability is achieved thanks to Generation IV reactors. SuperPhenix was the first affordable, safe, clean NPP !!! We were wrong in assuming it was a problem: it was the missing link towards sustainable energy !!! Europe must base economic and social progress upon their technical and scientific advances. Ref : http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x16wyti_clip-le-progres-face-aux-ideologies-du-declin_news
– Sustainable energy also includes hydraulic power : many small and medium-sized dams have become natural and economic assets. There are still 25 GW of small, clean, affordable, on-demand hydraulic electricity dams to be built in Europe (5 GW in France). Let’s do it !
– Sustainable energy also includes high-performance solar power built with environmentally responsible materials : there are 4 companies which are leading the path. Let’s subsidize them and stop subsidies on low-cost, polluting and invasive solar power. It’s easy to do: just add technical performance criteria for subsidized purchase price, in peak power, annual output and GHG emissions per unit area (respective units: W/m2, MWh/m2/yr and gCO2eq/kWh, thresholds: to be defined). Here they are:
1. Solar Euromed : http://www.solareuromed.com
2. Heliotrop : http://www.heliotrop.fr/
3. Dual Sun : http://dualsun.fr/
4. EMIX : http://www.emix.fr/index.php
– Sustainable energy also includes second-generation biofuels from wood and recycled biomass, assisted by carbon-free heat and electricity, which are currently wasted for lack of storage capacity. Current production price is 2 €/liter before tax but will go down to 1 €/l by 2020 if we organize it wisely. This will become imperative by 2020, since most european forests will be exposed to increased risk of massive wildfires due to climate change. We have a choice to let burn or trim: which do you prefer ?
Sustainable energy does not include off-shore wind nor low-cost solar PV electricity, because it’s not only expensive (well over 150 €/MWh), but requires fossil fuel backup plants upper than 10% of mix if stockage is not guaranteed..
Hence, nuclear power is not a transition energy, but offers a major, sustainable share of the solutions to the three major environmental crises (climate change, air/water/soil pollution and biodiversity) and the three major economic crises (lack of fuel, natural resources, jobs).
It’s a bit long an explanation but we must propose and act now… or face the consequences, both environmental and political.
Target 2050 for France: 50% renewable and 50% nuclear energy (final). Electricity: 20% solar and wind , 10% hydro, which means lowering nuclear electricity from 75% to 70%. All details (in french) may be found at: http://ressec.wordpress.com/about
member of the INCoFEEE (in english) : http://INCoFEEE.wordpress.com/about