Nuclear power to save the climate

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In the wonderful movement to save the climate we live now in Belgium, a myriad of proposals and sensibilities are emerging. Each one tries to catch the attention of the participants in an exchange of ideas, sometimes constructive sometimes antagonistic.

There are several areas involved in the fight for climate: the main ones are industry, insulation, transport, agriculture and power generation. In the field of electricity generation, there is a broad consensus to condemn the use of coal and oil, the most polluting fossil fuels. Natural gas, also of fossil origin, produces significantly less CO2 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) produced and could fill the gaps left by the current renewables, depending on wind and sunshine.

The pronuclear right has recently discovered pro-climate virtues in the nuclear reactors and is trying to establish the nuclear power industry as an asset in the fight against climate catastrophe. What to think about this? We present eleven arguments.

Nuclear is neither low in CO2 nor CO2 free

Nuclear power can not be considered as without greenhouse or with little gas emissions. At present, considering the entire life cycle of fissile material, from mine to waste, nuclear emits per kWh between 88 and 146 g of CO2, much more than wind (10 g), photovoltaic (32 g) or geothermal (38 g)[1]. The CO2 emission is comparable to that of a gas work of Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) plant[2]. The thermal pollution of pressurized water reactors is not negligible: only one third of the thermal energy of the reactor is transformed into electricity, the remaining two thirds are ejected into the atmosphere in the form of water vapor and into the nearby river or sea.

Nuclear power occupies a modest place in relation to the global energy supply

Nuclear produces only 10% of the electricity at the global level, and less than 5% of the total energy. 85% of the world's energy comes from oil, coal and gas. At the global level, nuclear power can be abandoned at the same time as fossils. In Belgium, which today depends on nuclear for half of its electricity supply, it will take a multi-year plan to get out of the nuclear power.

Nuclear energy contaminates the environment and drinking water

The nuclear power industry generates year after year 4 to 5 tons of Uranium waste for every kilo of fissile material. A fraction poisons earth, air and drinking water. The reactors produce 10,500 tons of used nuclear assemblies per year worldwide, as well as a wide range of other radioactive wastes and emissions. Reactors require huge amounts of water for their cooling system, up to 4,000 million liters of water a day, reducing the amount of drinking water and damaging aquatic ecosystems.

Nuclear power ignores human rights and the right to land

Current uranium mines are found in areas inhabited by indigenous peoples, so-called Third world countries or low-income populations. Radiations are doubly harmful for women and girls compared to men. They are very harmful for fetuses and babies; whose care is most often the responsibility of women. Radioactive contamination will harm the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.

Nuclear energy blocks renewable energies

Nuclear power needs large direct and indirect subsidies. These are financing, research and development, tax benefits, shifting of civil liability, insurance by the State, recovery by the public service of waste and dismantling: the list is not complete. All this diverts the intervention of the State from the field where it must be useful: the development of renewable sources of energy.

Nuclear is dangerous

Disasters such as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1989) and Fukushima (2011) can undermine or even stop a national economy, create undesired political instability and derail energy policies necessary to counter climate catastrophe. In Belgium, the Doel power station, 12 km from Antwerp's Grote Markt, in a potentially dangerous petrochemical "SEVESO" zone, poses a constant threat to our country. The nuclear reactors of Doel 3 and Tihange 2, riddled with flaws, must close immediately and definitively.

Civil nuclear energy is inseparable from the military

The pressurized water reactors are directly derived from the engines of the North American submarines, derived from the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The reprocessing plants deliver materials extracted from the waste of civil power plants to make bombs. The military is used to hide the nuclear problems as a defense secret, and to protect the facilities. Twenty US atomic bombs are stationed in Kleine-Brogel, under the orders of the supreme commander of the US Army: President Trump.

Nuclear energy is expensive for households

Ownership by two firms, ENGIE-Electrabel[3] (subsidiary of the French multinational company Engie, formerly known as "Gaz de France" and "GDF Suez")[4] and EDF Luminus[5] (EDF is another French multinational company that owns through this daughter company 10% of the Belgian NPPs) of the Belgian nuclear plants that produce half of the current allows to fix the price of the current without taking any competition into account. The price of electricity sold to households is very high, while big industry benefits from a low tariff, to prevent competitors from entering the market. The free market does not work in practice.

Nuclear power threatens our democratic rights

ENGIE-Electrabel holds such financial and electrical power that the firm can ignore laws passed in Parliament, or even pass laws that suit it. Thus, the 2003 law provides for the exit of the nuclear power by shutting down the reactors after 40 years of operation. The three reactors that reached 40 years, have been extended by ten years! A special law was passed to make the nuclear risk borne by the State (Paris Convention 1960, Belgian law 1964-85). The Federal Agency for Nuclear Control is not able to carry out the necessary checks. A human chain of 50,000 people between Tihange and Aix (June 2017), a petition of 500,000 signatures (handed over July 2018) have had no effect on our authorities to date.

Nuclear power is bad for health

Each of the different stages required to produce nuclear electricity, each step in its life cycle, can affect human and animal health in the long term. These are mainly cancers such as thyroid cancer or leukemia, but also other diseases and genetic problems such as congenital deformities, even at minimal doses during long exposures.

Nuclear power is too slow

The construction of new reactors, less dangerous than the current models, is much too slow to cope with the climate challenge, while the existing reactors must close their doors in 2025. The Flamanville EPR reactor, whose commissioning was expected in 2011 for 2.5 billion would now be delivered in 2020 at a price of 11 billion Euros.

Conclusion: Solutions to the climate catastrophe are easy to find ... and difficult to apply

A quick and socially just solution to the climate challenge is to take production out of the fossil AND fissile, nuclear power. It is necessary to establish a smart grid which makes it possible to add the twelve sources of renewable energy, the wind, the sea, the solar rays, the heat of the earth, the current of the rivers so that they fill each other's gaps. The use of electricity must be reduced by eliminating unnecessary and even harmful use and by increasing the efficiency of electricity in all its applications. We call this the negawatts, the 30% of the use of the current that is superfluous.

All this must be part of a Belgian public plan of electrical equipment, which should spread over 5 years and will cost tens of billions of Euros. Such a plan is too important to be entrusted to ENGIE's Board of Directors in Paris, which has been refusing since 2003 to implement it to be able to cope with the nuclear exit decided by our Parliament. The citizens must together determine their needs and the means to implement them. In the meantime, the most dangerous reactors, Doel 3 and Tihange 2, must be shut down immediately and permanently.

Leo Tubbax – spokesperson Nucléaire Stop Kernenergie – 06.03.2019