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

Obama: I Will Do 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace holiday due to its non-religious glamor, commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid