EPR against expensive oil: the nuclear mistake

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While the government announced the construction of a second EPR reactor, Stéphane Lhomme, the spokesman for the Network to Phase Out the Nuclear Age challenged each of the arguments that have been put forward to justify this decision.

Mr Sarkozy claims he wants to build a second nuclear reactor in France to reduce the country’s energy costs whilst fighting global warming. But one only has to look around to see that nuclear power is completely ineffective in dealing with the serious climate and energy problems. Just like its neighbours, France has been hit by the energy price explosion in spite of 58 reactors producing 80% of its energy.

Moreover, the Ministry of Economy’s annual documents (1) are clear: for 2006, “The cost of the foreign energy supply has doubled since 2003. Without it, France’s foreign exchange market would show a surplus of 30 billion“. For 2007: “Without energy, the balance of trade would exceed 5.6 billion Euros; with energy, it will show a deficit of 39.2 billion.”

Pro-nuclear supporters have been reduced to suggesting that “without nuclear power, it would be worse“. This is both laughable – is this the “nuclear miracle”? – and false: nuclear power actually makes things worse since we have to pay both the oil and gas bills AND the nuclear bill. This, as nuclear power is not, as certain misleading statements lead people to believe, “free“, quite the contrary :

– the initial investment is extremely high: moreover, France still has a long way to go before it finishes paying for the reactors that are currently in working order. If public money invested in nuclear power for the past 50 years appeared on EDF* bills, citizens would see that nuclear electricity is extremely expensive. This is true to such an extent that, in the USA, it is only because the Federal State offers private companies substantial public aid that some of them consider building new reactors.

– the “downstream” nuclear bill (dismantling installations, radioactive waste) is also incommensurable: EDF likes to think it is reassuring people by claiming that it has set aside several tens of billions of Euros, but Great Britain, which has fewer installations than France, has set the cost of dismantling its own installations at 103 billion. It is obvious that, sooner or later, we will be several hundreds of billions of Euros short… and even more if new reactors are built. Our children will be pleased.

The final nail in the coffin is that nuclear power only covers 2.5% of world energy consumption: such a small part that it has had almost no influence on the climate and on energy prices. And, contrarily to what one might have read in various places, this share will go down even further: new reactors are unfortunately going to be built here and there but they will be fewer than those which will shut in coming years. Half of the 435 reactors in working order on Earth are nearing the end of their lifespan.

One must also look at what is happening in China, presented as the new nuclear power “el dorado“. If the Chinese build the 40 new reactors that have been announced, nuclear power will cover a princely… 4% of their electricity, that is to say, 0.7% of Chinese energy consumption. The data is practically the same for India. In the USA, nuclear power represents 20% of electricity, that is to say 4% of total energy consumption and the majority of the 103 American reactors will close in the next 20 years. In any case, nuclear power will remain a marginal source of energy, even in the most nuclearised countries.

Nuclear power is therefore incapable of “ensuring the energy independence” of a country, even when it covers 80% of electricity as it does in France. And this, especially as 100% of uranium, the nuclear reactor fuel, is imported. Its price has already been multiplied by ten in a few years and this is just the beginning: the different nuclearised countries (with China at the forefront) have started fighting to access the last easily extractable reserves.

Moreover, one should not forget the problems associated with nuclear power that are well-known but have not been discussed in more detail here:

– disaster risks: disaster nearly struck again during the summer of 2006 in Forsmark in Sweden and during the summer of 2007 during the earthquake in Kashiwasaki in Japan;

– radioactive waste: despite all the declarations that have been made over the past 50 years which promised so much but failed to deliver, there is no acceptable solution and an actual disaster is taking place in Germany where waste is being stored in a salt mine which was supposed to provide “perfect” confinement. In France, the State is currently looking for a site to bury radioactive waste: 3115 mayors have been contacted… but understandably, no-one wants this poisoned chalice;

– waste in the environment : a major scientific study has just shown that there are excess cancer cases within a 50 km radius of nuclear power stations in Germany;

– the contamination of the environment by uranium mines: thus, France’s nuclear power contaminates Niger, this is truly “pollution delocalisation“;

– proliferation for military purposes : ‘nuclear’ France does dirty business deals with dictators such as Kadhafi.

Finally, we should remember that, contrary to what its promoters claim, the EPR was not designed to withstand an airplane crash : the author of this article was arrested by the Directorate of Territorial Surveillance twice and could be jailed for 5 years for having made a confidential defence document from EDF that recognises this vulnerability, public. It would appear that nuclear power is as dangerous for democracy as it is for the environment.


*Électricité de France (EDF) is France’s main electricity generation and distribution company.

(1) France’s energy summaries and bills since 1996 General Directorate for Energy and Raw Materials

Stéphane Lhomme

Spokesman for “The Network to Phase Out the Nuclear Age

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