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Friday, May 23, 2008

French power myths

France may export massive amounts of nuclear power, but that success doesn't come without its difficulties

In his rebuttal to Lawrence Solomon's May 13 column on France's nuclear power system, French ambassador Daniel Jouanneau made a number of highly misleading claims (letter, May 16). These assertions are especially relevant in light of France's recent entry into Ontario's potential multi-billion market, in which Franco-German Areva NP, the world's largest nuclear vendor, is competing against Japanese-owned Westinghouse Electric Co. and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

Working in France on nuclear issues for 25 years, four of them as a direct advisor to the Environment Minister's Office, I am familiar with the French nuclear establishment. The Ontario government should thoroughly scrutinize both the French nuclear program in general and, in particular, the ongoing difficulties of Areva NP in meeting quality-control standards, deadlines and budget terms at its current building sites in Finland and France.

The ambassador's general claims conveniently confuse electricity and energy. While nuclear energy provides 78% of France's electricity, this corresponds to only 18% of the total energy that consumers use. In other words, France's nuclear program does not come close to "ensuring its energy independence." Oil meets almost half, and fossil fuels over 70%, of France's final energy needs, as is the case in many other countries. Moreover, all of France's uranium is imported.

"Since 1970, 50% of France's CO2 emissions have been avoided thanks to nuclear energy." That statement by the French ambassador is flatly wrong. France's carbon dioxide emissions in 2006 were some 13% lower than in 1970, but even higher than by the middle of the 1980s.

"Efficiently meeting the power needs of its population"? Let's rather say, the government-owned electricity utility -- Electricite de France (EDF) -- deploys massive efforts to encourage ever more electricity use, in particular in the form of highly inefficient space heat. Picture this: To generate electricity, you heat water and lose between half (a modern gas plant) and two-thirds (a nuclear plant) of the energy in the transformation process, plus an additional 7% to 10% in the grid before the electricity heats air in the home. A modern natural gas or oil-based central heating system loses less than 10% of the energy in the form of waste heat.

"Environmentally responsible"? The Hague plutonium factories emit thousands of times the amount of radioactivity of a French nuclear power plant and cause a collective dose to the world population comparable with those that resulted from the major accidents in 1957 at Kyshtym in Russia or Windscale in the U. K.

France's nuclear energy policy is anything but "innovative." The best example is the nuclear establishment's total inability to adapt to the failure of the plutonium-fuelled fast-breeder program. Having squandered tens of billions of dollars on the plutonium economy, it now sits on two giant plutonium factories at The Hague, despite having lost nearly all of its foreign commercial reprocessing clients. Yet Areva continues to boast that one gram of plutonium is "equivalent" to one ton of oil. It is amazing that such an apparently valuable resource gets a zero value in the accounts of EDF, owner of a stunning 50-ton plutonium stockpile -- at US$100 per barrel of oil, the plutonium should be worth more than US$30-billion! Even more amazing, the Dutch pay EDF to rid them of their plutonium separated at The Hague. Usually, one sells a valuable resource.

(read more)
(Source: National Post)

1 comment:

rsm said...

The reference to the collective dose from La Hague is meaningless if the individual does were less than 10 rem each. Both the Health Physics Society and the ICRP have stated that collective dose is not valid for tiny individual doses over large populations (i.e., if 6 billion people received an extra millirem, you cannot do a risk calculation assuming 6 million person-rem was received). It is a mis-application of the methods.