Monday, January 30, 2023

As climate talks continue, nuclear power remains a subject of controversy

SULIN-DUYS, France (AP) – Deep in a French forest of oaks, birches and pines, a continuous stream of trucks carries a silent reminder of the often invisible cost of nuclear energy: cans of radioactive waste being stored for the next 300 years.

While climate negotiators in Scotland plan how to fuel the world and cut carbon emissions, nuclear power is a central stumbling block. Critics denounce its gigantic cost, the disproportionate damage caused by nuclear accidents, and the radioactive debris that remains lethal for thousands of years.

But louder and more influential proponents, including some climate scientists and environmental experts, argue that nuclear power is the world’s best hope for keeping climate change in check, noting that it emits so few harmful emissions to the planet. safer on average than almost any other. another source of energy. Nuclear accidents are scary but extremely rare – while pollution from coal and other fossil fuels causes death and illness every day, scientists say.

“The scale of what human civilization is trying to do over the next 30 years (to combat climate change) is staggering,” said Matt Bowen of the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. “It will be much more difficult if we rule out new nuclear plants – or even more daunting if we decide to shut down nuclear plants all together.”

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Many governments are pushing for the inclusion of nuclear energy in climate plans discussed at the Glasgow conference known as COP26. Meanwhile, the European Union is debating whether it is worth labeling nuclear energy as “green” – a solution that will channel billions of euros in investment for years to come. This has worldwide implications as EU policy can set a standard that other countries will follow.

But what about all this waste? Reactors around the world produce thousands of tons of highly radioactive detritus per year, in addition to what is left over from decades of using the atom to electrify homes and factories around the world.

Germany leads a group of countries, mainly members of the EU, and is strongly opposed to calling nuclear energy “green”. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is backing nuclear power, China is building a dozen reactors – and even Japan is pushing nuclear power again 10 years after the disaster at its Fukushima power plant.

But nowhere in the world are nuclear reactors more dependent on France than France, which is at the forefront of the pro-nuclear leap on the European and global levels. And it is one of the leading players in the nuclear waste industry, recycle or recycle materials from around the world.

South of the battlefields of World War I in Verdun, trucks with radioactive warning stickers enter a waste storage facility near the village of Soulin-Douis. They are repeatedly checked, wiped and scanned for leaks. Their cargo – compacted waste poured into concrete or steel cylinders – is stacked by robotic cranes into warehouses, which are then filled with gravel and packed with concrete.

Andra’s waste agency knows it scares people. “I cannot fight the fears of people. Our role is to ensure the safety of people, the environment and workers at the site, ”said spokesman Thierry Pocho.

The repositories contain 90% of the low and intermediate level radioactive waste in France, including tools, clothing and other materials related to the operation and maintenance of the reactor. The site is designed to last at least 300 years after the last shipment arrives, when the radioactivity of its contents is predicted to be no higher than naturally occurring levels.

For longer-lived waste – mostly spent nuclear fuel that remains potentially lethal for tens of thousands of years – France is laying the foundation for permanent underground storage under corn and wheat fields outside the nearby stone-house village of Bure.

At a depth of approximately 500 meters (yards) below the surface, workers are testing clay and granite, cutting tunnels and trying to prove that a long-term storage plan is the safest solution for future generations. Similar sites are being developed or studied in other countries.

If the repository receives French regulatory approval, it will contain about 85,000 metric tons (94,000 tons) of the most radioactive waste produced “from the beginning of the nuclear era to the end of existing nuclear facilities,” said Audrey Guillemene, a geologist and spokesman for the underground laboratory.

“We cannot leave this waste in storage on the surface,” she said. “It’s safe, but unstable.”
Guillemene said the € 25bn ($ 29bn) proposed storage has already been budgeted for by French utilities. But this is only a fraction of the staggering costs of building and operating nuclear power plants, and one reason there are many objections.

All around Bure, street signs have been replaced with graffiti that read “Nuclear Power Out”, and activists have camped at the city’s main intersection.

Greenpeace accuses the French nuclear industry of dumping waste to other countries and hiding problems at nuclear facilities, which the industry denies. Activists staged a protest last week in the port of Dunkirk as reprocessed uranium was loaded onto a ship bound for St. Petersburg, demanding that it stop using nuclear energy and conduct more research on solutions to existing waste.

“Nuclear waste … needs to be addressed,” Bowen said. But “with fossil fuels, waste is being pumped into our atmosphere, which threatens us due to the risks of climate change and the impact of air pollution on public health.”

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Some prominent scientists are now turning to nuclear. They argue that nuclear power plants have escaped an estimated 60 billion tons of carbon dioxide over the past half century, providing energy that would otherwise be derived from fossil fuels.

US Climate Envoy John Kerry says he ditched nuclear energy early in his career due to a greater need to cut emissions.

“People are beginning to understand the implications of going nuclear,” said Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT. Amid “growing awareness of the growing climate risks around the world, people are starting to say,” This is a little scarier than nuclear power plants. “

Some activists want to end nuclear power today, others soon. But Emanuel gave examples of countries or states that shut down nuclear power plants before renewables were ready to fill the gap – and they had to go back to coal or other energy sources that were overwhelming the planet.

The current energy crisis provides nuclear proponents with another argument. As oil and gas spending has led to a crisis in energy prices in Europe and beyond, French President Emmanuel Macron has proclaimed “European renewable energy sources and, of course, European nuclear power.”

Meanwhile, the waste is not going anywhere.

To prevent local residents from disturbing the dumps of radioactive waste, Andra organizes visits to schools; one site even has a quest. The waste storage researchers are preparing for all kinds of potential future threats – revolutions, extreme weather conditions, and even the next ice age, Guillemene said.

Whatever happens in Glasgow, “whether we decide to continue using nuclear energy or not,” she said, “we will need to find a solution to manage the nuclear waste” that humanity has already produced.

Associated Press contributors Frank Jordaens and Ellen Knickmeyer from Glasgow, Scotland contributed.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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