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

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora