Nuclear Energy: Yes or No?

Image of a nuclear explosionNuclear ExplosionImage via Wikipedia
With the Fukushima disaster, the 25-years commemoration of Chernobyl yesterday and Berlusconi announcement that Italy will buy nuclear plants from France's AREVA, the question of nuclear energy has come to the fore like never before. And by the way, Berlusconi's annoucement flies in the face of his own government decision a week ago to shelve nuclear plans and scrap the referendum asking Italian citizens whether they want it or not. Thus Berlusconi goes ahead without even bothering with the referendum!

Clearly France that has bet on nuclear energy, with most of its energy needs coming from AREVA nuclear plants, wants not just Italy but the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world to follow suit. India has just agreed with Areva to build the biggest nuclear plant ever. And Italy is poorly placed to resist French demands, when Berlusconi gives up on just about everything, most notably on the Shengen Treaty...

Before the Italians - or anyone else for that matter - start buying French nuclear plants, they would be well advised to WAIT and SEE how the Chinese are doing with their new type of nuclear plants. I blogged about this before (click here) but I want to draw your attention to this again.

It's very important that we be all aware of what is really going on: every nuclear plant producer, Chinese included, are trying to foist on the rest of the world a nuclear technology that is supposedly "proven" (because it's been around for 50 years) but still highly dangerous.  While AREVA claims it is focussed on ensuring nuclear safety and using a "third" and "fourth" and maybe "fifth generation" technology, there is no reason why we should believe them.

How is nuclear energy dangerous?  It's a very complex matter, but let's try to make it simple. We all know it's dangerous in two fundamental ways: with the so-called "proven" rods-based technology, accidents can easily happen as we have seen with the Japanese desperately battling at Fukushima. Once a nuclear reaction has started inside a reactor, it is very, very difficult to stop. The other aspect is disposal of nuclear material after the plants have run their course. In the long-run, this is probably the greater danger. With thousands of nuclear plants on this planet likely to pop up in the near future (there are over 500 now), I really don't know how anybody thinks that the disposal problem is solved.

Now, back in the 1960s and 70s, there had been several experiments in Germany, the US and elsewhere, with a different approach, not using rods but uranium-enriched "pebbles" coated with protective graphite. For various complex reasons (economic and political), the experiments were abandoned before an actual "test" nuclear plant using "pebbles" had been built. As I write, the Chinese have decided to pick up on those experiments and build a couple of new plants using this technology, whose main advantages are (1) easier control over nuclear accidents because the "pebbles" that are smaller and less prone to radio-activity than rods ; (2) easier disposal with a much shorter "life".

I am no expert and I am simplifying the arguments, but the point should be clear. We should follow the UN Secretary General's five-point call for a moratorium on nuclear energy, until we realize clearly what we are getting into. And we should let the Chinese finish their experiment with their "pebbles" nuclear plants before we decide to go ahead.

That means waiting 3 to 5 years: isn't worth the wait to save the planet and the human race?  
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