France and Japan – the cost of arrogance

Le Monde ran an opinion piece by Hervé Kempf on March 30, 2011 which in my view merits a wider audience because of the parallel he draws between Japanese and French nuclear policy.

“Day after day, the Fukushima catastrophe becomes increasingly normal: the unacceptable has become part of daily life. Radioactivity is leaking, and will continue to leak. As the French Authority on Nuclear Safety – masters of the subtle art of understatement – said on March 28 “the prognostic of evaluation of reactors 1 to 3 should remain very uncertain during the coming weeks.” What is certain, is that the nearby waters and soil are being poisoned insidiously. Let’s try to establish a preliminary balance sheet, based on the optimistic assumption that Japan’s engineers and workers will succeed in stopping the emission of gases and cancerous particles.

Japan has lost four, perhaps six nuclear reactors, estimated at a value of 20 to 30 billion euros, not including decommissioning. More than one thousand square kilometers around the reactors are contaminated to different degrees, making normal life impossible. The Fukushima nuclear plant will become a nuclear cemetery, requiring surveillance during hundreds of years to come. The country’s energy policy will be upturned. There will be calls for political accountability.

In nuclear matters, Japan is France’s twin: same policy, same techniques, same opacity, same arrogance of the pro-nuclear lobby, same passivity in the political class. Fukushima will have consequences here.

No-one can accept the hypothesis of seeing Nogent-sur-Seine, just 100 kilometres from Paris, or Saint-Alban, at 50 kilometres from Lyons, going through the same thing as Fukushima. The requirements of nuclear safety will increase considerably, and so will the cost of electricity. Attention will also shift to the question of nuclear waste and the decommissioning of nuclear facilities, and there are no real solutions.

Aside from the debate on an end to nuclear energy,  we will have to question the logic of privatization which has informed nuclear policy for the past decade. Will EDF have to be renationalized? Should GDF/Suez build reactors in France? Is the EPR of Penly useful? Is the liberalization of the electricity market a good thing?

…..What the disaster in Japan teaches us is that opacity, in a technological society, is intrinsically dangerous.”

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One response to “France and Japan – the cost of arrogance

  1. Pingback: Water Pump Shed | Water Pumps Direct

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