Category Archives: nuclear

Bowing to public fears, France stalls on 3rd generation nuclear reactor

France took a little longer than Germany to process the post-Fukushima shift in public opinion, but today it was announced that plans to build a 3rd generation nuclear power plant at Penly in Seine-Maritime has been “paused”. The EPR – European Pressurized Reactor – developed by France’s Areva between 1990 and 2000 – is currently under construction in Finland, China and France. Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, said that the project “no longer has a calendar”. This was quickly deflected by the Energy Minister, Eric Besson, who insisted that the project was “not blocked”.

Construction was to have begun on the Penly project in 2012. It would have been the first nuclear reactor not to be 100% controlled by the electricity company EDF. EDF was to have been a 50% stakeholder, with 8.33% for Total and the rest divided between Italy’s Enel and Germany’s Eon.

The two other EPR’s already under construction in Europe – at Flamanville in France and another in Finland – have been dogged by delays and vast budget over-runs.

Laure Noualhat‘s blog at Liberation contains an interesting piece of internal communication at EDF from last month. It’s a message from EDF’s CEO Henri Proglio to his employees, issued several days after Fukushima. Here are some highlights:

“As employees of a group whose nuclear activity is known and recognized, you will inevitably be questioned by your family, friends and neighbours. It is important that you are able to reassure them on the means that EDF has put in place to prevent risks at its plants.”

“Under such circumstances, humility and responsibility are de rigueur. When the time comes to do an audit, we will draw lessons from the Japanese tragedy to make our installations even safer.

“I know that I can count on your support during this delicate period for the nuclear industry.”

This all started back in the 1970s, when France – responding to the 1973 oil crisis – announced a huge nuclear program aimed at generating all of the country’s electricity from nuclear power, without any public or parliamentary consultation.

So, contrary to what may appear like public support for the nuclear lobby, what the Fukushima experience has revealed in fact is just how fragile public opinion is on this issue.

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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.”

France sends nuclear experts to Japan; but robots refused

France’s nuclear company Areva has sent two experts to Japan to support TEPCO’s efforts in the nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima. The experts, who are going at the request of Tokyo Electric Power Co, are specialized in “dismantling” and “clean-up” of nuclear power plants, according to today’s Le Figaro. However, the standing offer to send robots to operate in areas where humans cannot has so far been refused by the Japanese company, and the robots are still parked at Chateauroux airport in France.
nb Tepco did not apparently refuse the 100 tons of boric acid, 3000 masks, 10,000 radiation suits, 20 000 gloves sent by Areva / EDF on the 17/18th March.

Areva is commissioned by Japanese power companies to process uranium-plutonium mixed-oxide fuel, so-called MOX fuel. MOX fuel used at the No. 3 reactor unit at the Fukushima Daiichi plant was shipped from France in 1999.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is up for re-election in 2012 and faring badly at the polls, announced this week that he would visit Japan on Thursday, making him the first foreign leader to visit the country since the nuclear disaster began. The domestic context for Sarkozy is dire: his prime minister broke ranks with him recently on how to deal with a sudden surge in the far-right at the polls; pollsters forecast that he will not even make it to the second round of next year’s presidential elections in all but one of several scenarios. So he flies off to Japan to declare his solidarity with the Japanese, and to play the role of chief flak for France’s nuclear industry.