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

Captured IS Militants Explain Why They Fought

Fighters from Turkey, Syria tell VOA Kurdish Service what drew them to extremism, jihad More

Security Experts Split on Kenyan Barrier Wall

Experts divided on whether initiative aiming to keep out al-Shabab militants is long-awaited solution or misguided effort More

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Officials say they hope to turn Manila into the next Macau, which has long been Asia’s gambling hub 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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More