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Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Myths Of Nuclear

Is nuclear power really an unlimited, cheap and safe energy source as often claimed by policymakers and the pro-nuclear lobby?  In a new book ‘Myths of Nuclear Power – A Guide’, the Heinrich Böll Stiftung has attempted to shed some light on the debate and to kill what they call the “myths” used to justify the ongoing use of nuclear power.

Despite recent claims of a “renaissance of nuclear power”, speakers at the book launch event in the European Parliament yesterday stressed that the number of nuclear power plants in use worldwide has steadily decreased since 2002.  Any reconstruction work taking place on existing plants since January 2008 has been mainly in China which has done 21 refits, Russia with six and Korea with three, and not in Europe and other Western countries.    

Speakers at the launch also contested the assumption that the second phase of third-generation nuclear power, otherwise known as ‘3G+’, would be cheaper than earlier generations.  They stressed that during 50 years of nuclear power energy production, nuclear power costs have not decreased.  In France, where 58 reactors have been constructed in the last 20 years, construction costs have tripled and energy capacity declined compared to the rest of the world, they claimed.

Speakers also presented arguments against 3G+ programmes as a guarantor of secure nuclear power-based energy generation, saying that nuclear power generation is especially unsafe in emerging countries.  For example, they said, only six of the 30 recently reconstructed power plants in China, Russia and Korea conform to EU and US safety requirements.

Clearly this is a controversial topic.  It can be argued that nuclear power is neither unlimited nor very cheap or safe.  However, large nuclear power plants are still generating a considerably greater quantity of energy than large renewable plants, agreed the speakers.  

However, speakers also claimed that if we see nuclear power as a bridging technology and not as an alternative to the full-scale use of renewables, we open the door for nuclear to keep putting pressure on renewables in a renewables market which is already under economic pressure.

Text: Filip Haugland
Image:  kyodonews.jp (Fukushima nuclear power plant)

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