News / Science & Technology

Europe's Nuclear Debate at Forefront After Japan Disaster

France's oldest Electricite de France nuclear power station in Fessenheim,  April 10, 2011
France's oldest Electricite de France nuclear power station in Fessenheim, April 10, 2011
Lisa Bryant

European concerns about the safety of nuclear power were notched up this week after Japan raised its assessment of the crisis at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to the highest level. Advocates argue nuclear energy is critical, though, in the fight against global warming.

The March accident at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has rekindled a long simmering debate in Europe over whether nuclear power - with its expense, its waste and especially its risk - is worth it. European jitters grew this week after Japan increased the severity level of the Fukushima accident to level 7, which is on par with the world's worst nuclear catastrophe, the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe in Ukraine.

Nowhere is this debate more relevant than in France, a major exporter of nuclear technology and the world's second-largest user of nuclear energy, after the United States. The country's 58 nuclear power plants generate about 80 percent of the nation's electricity.

The Fukushima accident has not changed the French government's support of nuclear energy.

Speaking during a recent visit to Japan, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the problem was more about making sure nuclear power was safe. If nuclear plants were scrapped, he asked, what energy would replace them?

For its part, the European Union has announced a review of the region's 143 nuclear reactors. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the so-called stress tests must be completed by the year's end.

"The terrible events in Japan remind us that while we have very different views on situations in the European Union regarding nuclear energy, we must be united on the issue of nuclear safety," said Barroso. "We must ensure the highest nuclear safety standards are respected."

Are nuclear power stations safe? That question was posed to Bernard Barre, a consultant for Paris-based Areva, one of the world's leading constructors of nuclear reactors.

"There is no answer to that blunt question," said Barre. "Are we doing what's needed to make nuclear power safe? And the answer is indeed, when moving to Generation III, we are doing a lot to increase the safety of nuclear plants."

He said Generation III reactors incorporate the latest technology. In theory, they are designed to be able to cope with threats like terrorist attacks and natural disasters, like the tsunami and earthquake that hit Fukushima, which is an earlier generation reactor.

Christian Taillebois, head of communications at Brussels-based Foratum, representing Europe's nuclear industry, also notes that the current Generation II nuclear reactors in Europe periodically undergo safety tests and upgrades.

"Our feeling is there is no need for an immediate reaction in Europe, because European plants are safe, no doubt," said Taillebois. "But we still think the industry has to learn all the lessons from the Japanese accident."

Anti-nuclear activists disagree. Sophia Majnoni is in charge of nuclear issues at the environmental group Greenpeace France. She said, "The first lesson that Europe should learn from the Fukushima accident is the fact that safe nuclear does not exist and that an accident can happen everywhere around the world - on any reactor."

Majnoni also pointed out that the newest Generation III nuclear reactors have yet to go into service, so nobody knows just how safe they will be.

European governments are deeply divided over nuclear power, while public opposition has grown since the Fukushima accident. While some Eastern countries continue to champion nuclear energy, Germany, Switzerland and Italy are among those announcing suspensions or moratoriums on building or extending the lives of nuclear plants.

Even in pro-nuclear France, the government likely will close an aging nuclear plant in the eastern part of the country following anti-nuclear demonstrations.

Stephen Tindale, a climate change analyst at the London-based Center for European Reform, said, "There is a very big question about whether Europe will, both the institutions, the commission and more importantly the national governments, continue to develop nuclear. That is the enormous question now."

Perhaps the most powerful argument for nuclear energy right now is its role in reducing European dependency on oil and gas imports - and its role in the fight against global warming.

"If we want to meet our target in Europe regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions, we need for sure nuclear," said Taillebois. "Nuclear is not the only solution, but nuclear is part of the solution."

But French energy consultant Bernard Laponche argues the risks posed by nuclear power, and the waste it generates, are just too great.

"You have the risk of accidents, the [same level] of Fukushima, but maybe not the same. And you have the problem of the waste and the problem of proliferation. I think that because of these three reasons we have to go out of nuclear, at least with the actual and foreseen techniques."

Other analysts, like Tindale, believe Europe has no choice, but to continue with nuclear power until less risky clean-energy alternatives are fully developed and the region slashes its energy use.

What is clear is that Europe's nuclear debate is far from over.

You May Like

Video On The Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime bombardment, VOA correspondent finds More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid