A matter of faith

17 October 2005

A matter of faith

The nuclear industry is lobbying hard on the back of fears over climate change and the current energy crisis. All the more reason to keep a watchful eye, writes Kartika Liotard MEP.

Published in Parliament Magazine 17 October 2005

A few years of being in the doghouse, supporters, industry lobbyists and campaign groups for the nuclear industry are now cropping up everywhere. Their aim is to break the taboo that still surrounds nuclear energy and increase support for it. Of course, all these lobby groups have the support of the steadily privatising nuclear industry, which is assiduously looking for new markets and investors. For years this industry has benefited from enormous government subsidies, and in fact this is still the case.

In Europe, France in particular is playing a leading role within the nuclear energy lobby, and it is therefore not surprising that this week’s European Parliament seminar organised by Foratom is sponsored by large French state-owned companies such as Eléctricité de France and Aréva. These companies are working with German group Siemens on a new European nuclear reactor, the first of which is being built in Finland with considerable support from the French government.

According to its backers, nuclear energy is the perfect solution to the current energy crisis, The promotional material of industry lobbyists such as Foratom and the Dutch Kernvisie foundation is full of grandiose claims about the great reductions in CO2 emissions that nuclear energy would provide if Europe were to expand its activities in this area. At present, 35 per cent of Europe’s electricity comes from nuclear reactors; in some countries, such as France, the figure is nearly 80 per cent.

We are told that nuclear energy is not only clean and environmentally friendly but also the least expensive, most sustainable way of producing electricity. Oddly enough, the industry’s flashy brochures say nothing of the mountains of waste produced and which will continue to be a major problem for tens of thousands of years. Nor do they mention the dangers of proliferation, terrorist attacks or transportation risks inherent in nuclear fuel such as plutonium and enriched uranium.

Nuclear’s new supporters allege that the dangers have always been grossly exaggerated by opponents – a fact largely based upon ignorance of the details and an unfamiliarity with the subject matter. There is really no reason for us to worry at all because, although nuclear energy is apparently too complicated for the layman to understand, according to the experts it is the least polluting means of generating electricity. Thus it is extremely suitable for the new hydrogen age that, according to optimists, is ushering in the end of the current age of fossil fuels.

Technological optimism is rife, and the boffins effortlessly sweep all objections and suspicion from the discussion table. We’ll simply push the waste problem ahead of us, until a subsequent generation manages to find a solution to it. However, by that time we’ll almost be ready for nuclear fusion, and the ITER experimental reactor in the south of France will undoubtedly make good on the billions invested in it. Is it just a matter of having faith?

Not everyone has this faith. There is a reason why nuclear energy was spurned after Chernobyl. It is not so long ago that Germany decided that no more nuclear reactors would be built, and even in America nuclear reactors haven’t been built for years. Unfortunately the Bush administration has recently changed course and there will soon be a new reactor in Alaska. Internationally renowned scientists such as James Lovelock never miss the chance to tout nuclear energy as the only solution for the greenhouse effect. “Nuclear energy is the only way,” is the new slogan. All the more reason for opponents of nuclear energy to be watchful and to expose the halftruths of the nuclear energy lobby.

Until now, nuclear energy has been outside the Kyoto Climate Accord. The European Parliament is working on a resolution on climate policy where nuclear energy will be emphatically rejected as a solution.

There are too many dangers and objections surrounding the question of nuclear energy, and it does not appear that these will be solved in the coming decades. In order to tackle climate problems and the energy crisis, we must invest in sustainable energy generation through such resources such as wind, sun and water. Furthermore, we must consume less and find a solution for our excessive use of energy at home, at work or while travelling. The strategies put forward by Greenpeace and other environmental organisations show that we can reverse the effects of greenhouse gases without nuclear energy. The vast sums spent on the development and promotion of nuclear energy could be put to better use for wind parks, tidal power-stations and the production of less expensive solar panels.

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