The French Nuclear Debate

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Is Nuclear Power good for France?
List of French Nuclear Installations

Editor’s Note: Without at times annoying whoever may have made up their minds another way, it is much harder to otherwise search for answers to environmental challenges with the passion that we do. And in so doing we elicited a most passionate response from a visitor to EcoWorld who lives in France.

We think nuclear power is preferable to biofuel from rainforests, for example, and arguably better than hydropower at least according the wisdom of the preservationists. So we disagree here and there with anti-nuke folks. But preserving open speech is at least as sacred as preserving open space.

Nuclear power is something we believe needs to be vigorously debated. The green vs. brown characteristics of nuclear power can only be debated via reasoned analysis and ongoing dialogue. And to enable this process, journalistic skepticism is as crucial to society as scientific skepticism is crucial to science. In science a theory is continuously tested, and only hardens into an axiom of reality after years of exhaustive, interdisciplinary applied skepticism. In society, what we decide is beyond debate, how we organize our institutions, where we place our faith is constantly tested in the laboratory of reality. Ecology is everywhere. Debate is the crucible of truth.

Nuclear power is a topic we ran a few features on, and in one of them, “Nuclear Power – Cleanest & Coolest Choice?” the author was unabashadly pro-nuclear, and made mention of France’s reliance on nuclear power. This in turn prompted an email to the editor from a decidedly anti-nuclear person who lives in France. Her email was answered, both in a return email, and also in an EcoWorld blog post on 10-8-07 “The Nuclear Option.” The writer of this email, Therese Delfel, has consented to letting us publish her response using her name. So here is a letter from our esteemed correspondant in France. And perhaps we will comment, like anyone in the world might, using the original post again as the forum for this discussion of nuclear power. Let it be an open forum for open minds.

Is nuclear power green? We think in some situations nuclear power, as well as biofuel, can be appropriate choices. We also think global warming alarm is being used to sell everything to everyone, including biofuel and nuclear power. So we want to help restore debate that relies on reason instead of emotion, we want to help restore balance, we want to help encourage more scientific and journalistic skepticism, and let all credible positions have their say. Nuclear power, rainforest preservation, global warming, ‘smart growth,’ political ideology – and countless other vital issues all require constant skepticism, constant dialogue, constant freedom of speech, that the truth always ultimately prevails, and we continue to progress as a species.

- Ed “Redwood” Ring

Letter From France – Continuing thoughts on nuclear power, ecology, and biofuels.
by Therese Delfel, September 9, 2006

(original post and ongoing comments)

France Geography Map
The beautiful nation of France.
CIA World Factbook – France

—–Original Message—–

From: Therese Delfel

Sent: Tuesday, October 09, 2007 1:56 PM

To: Ed Ring

Subject: Nuclear Programs

Dear Ed Ring

Thank you for your reply which shows you care about your readers’ views.

Ecology can be defined via very simple,
“hands-on” questions:

1. Is the process taken from A to Z to assess what impact it leaves on the Planet?

2. Is the process at all necessary / acceptable / economically viable?

3. Is the process placed in perspective, i.e. after-effects over years or centuries taken into account?

In all three questions, nuclear energy falls short of providing any satisfying answer. All figures and examples to follow are for France but the dynamics are very much the same in all developed and developing countries.

From A to Z, Nuclear Power’s impact, economic viability and after-effects:

- Uranium is NOT a renewable source of energy unless it is enriched, and then only partly renewable and then it is a … WAR product.

- Uranium does NOT guarantee economic independance: France imports all of its uranium.

- The transportation is NOT safe and nor are the plants no matter how modern and upgraded they are. And what technology could safeguard them against earth quakes or terrorist attacks?

- If the cost of implementing and dismantling the plants is taken into account (at present financed by tax-payers), nuclear energy is the MOST EXPENSIVE energy and absolutely not competitive against market prices.

- It generates a traffic and transportation unacceptable in terms of safety and ethics (hundreds of lorries crisscross France every day with their loads of nuclear fuel and waste). Like your children to be on their routes?

- 20% of total energy production is sold to neighbouring countries and 30% of total energy consumption could be… saved in an energy-saving program! Which means that already now, the 80% nuclear part could be reduced to less than 30% in grand total production.

- Testing in the Pacific was more than “a mistake”: it was criminal BUT every single country that operates nuclear plants HAS TESTED its bombs (be it in deserts or in oceans).

- There is NO “safe storing” in caves: it will leave 24 generations with our poisoned heritage, i.e. where we found breathtakingly beautiful tombs, precious stones and ores, they’ll find neatly layered waste in landfills and deadly nuclear waste that will kill for … 2,000 years! Would that be the definition of safety and the ethics of ecology?

- Ethically acceptable is when we know how to responsibly handle what we produce (and not hope others will learn at their own expense): would you give your baby a sharp knife in the knowledge that some day it will know how to use it? (this point is true for genetically engineered crops by the way).

- “We” is a commodity all too easily used these days: where “I” make mistakes (or worse), “others” should sort them out as “we” are all part of the big human family? What sort of “evolution” is that? This present generation is responsible for what it itself produces, consumes and destroys (even though everything is more subtle and intricate, the basics remain the same).

But my actual question is: why do you present nuclear generated cars as the alternative to biofuels ? There is NO link! (and the rush for biofuels is solely dictated by profit making, nothing to do with ecology at all… though the original idea may have been along the right line). We have reached a point where the question is not where to find more (of whatever, be it petrol, water, or anything else) but how to consume less!

Painting of Paris and the Eiffel Tower
Where is France bound? Will the earliest, biggest adopter
of nuclear power determine it was folly? Are better
sources of energy ready to replace nuclear power?

The technology for solar powered vehicles is as (if not more) advanced as so called biofuels (that I just as strongly oppose both because of rainforest destruction and because of impoverishment of local ethnicities AND promotion of GE crops).

Car sharing, public transportation and energy saving programmes are THE future of our planet (if there is one! For instance, who could pretend he cares about the environment when he sits all by himself in a powerful car and blows into the atmosphere the worth of hundreds of gallons of petrol over and over again? Figures in France show that the traffic would be cut down to one third of its present state if cars were shared and efficient public transportation systems implemented, i.e. no new destructive road networks, one third exhaust fumes and noise left, two thirds of petrol consumption redundant, etc.

Another example: passive houses (gradually implemented especially in Germany and Northern countries) consume zero energy (neither nuclear nor coal !) and even produce some that can be stored (or sold but not for profit).

To sum up my position: I just as strongly oppose biofuels as nuclear energy (for whatever purpose) AND genetically engineered crops for that matter, I actively support rainforest and biodiversity protection as well as fair exchanges with local ethnicities (see WildAid’s “Surviving Together” program, the Wildlife Alliance actions, etc.), I am a tireless advocate of solar energy (in every single possible context and country), of efficient energy-saving and car-sharing programs, of the building of “passive houses” and honestly, I have little hope that the governments, industrial barons and financial tycoons will ever care about the Planet if they don’t make a profit out of it but I do find it really difficult to cope with people who advocate greenwashed ecology.
And I do think that Dr Ed Wheeler’s article presents a dangerous and false view on Ecoworld’s website and that it should at the very least be counterbalanced by facts that prove his view mere greenwashing (and I am sorry but I cannot accept that Ecoworld should, implicitely or explicitely, endorse it. Even though I accept your apologies in his stead, you do advocate nuclear energy yourself!

So all in all and though I respect everyone’s opinions, I strongly believe that the only actual human evolution ever will be for everyone to assume their opinions in their full implications and effects and I’m not sure whether such articles as Dr Wheeler’s contribute to the spreading of more responsible ecology or rather to an urge for greenwashed consumption (that gives an easy “good conscience”)… and THAT is a heavy responsiblity in itself.

Best regards

Therese Delfel

May I add and insist that France is but one country, absolutely similar in its destrutive ways to all the developed and developing countries, better in some ways, worse in others but definitely in the same boat, so best not to take other countries as examples for making things worse or the worst.

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