In France, Greenpeace activists got past security and climbed reactor structures at the Tricastin nuclear power plant. They unfurled a banner which read: TRICASTIN ACCIDENT NUCLÉAIRE: PRÉSIDENT DE LA CATASTROPHE? (Tricastin Nuclear Accident: President of the Disaster?). Earlier this morning, other activists projected a crack onto the superstructure of the plant illustrating that French President, Hollande, needs to shut down 20 nuclear reactors in the country by 2020 in keeping with his promise to cut nuclear power from three-quarters to half by 2025.
The projection of the crack, by the way, is not foreshadowing an eminent condition. Cracks have been found in the reactor vessels of several plants in France, and throughout the world.
In South Korea our office there has been hard at work drawing attention to the dangers of nuclear energy. Last Wednesday saw several climbers suspended from the Gwangan Bridge in Busan showing Koreans that the Gori power plant poses a grave risk to the people living in its proximity. Today, the Rainbow Warrior could be seen from the same nuclear plant – the oldest facility in the country – with a very simple message printed on a banner stretched between her masts: CHERNOBYL, FUKUSHIMA, BUSAN?
The banner onboard the Rainbow Warrior is telling in its simplicity. It creates the spectre of Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by omission Three Mile Island, Windscale and the far too many other nuclear and radiation accidents across the world. It brings to mind images of people whose health has been affected by radiation, and vast swathes of fall-out wasteland which leaves burn scars for generations after the accident. Also telling, because the message itself is simple: Nuclear energy is neither secure, safe nor even practical.
A status report released Thursday by independent consultants makes no bones about – not only the health risks associated with nuclear energy, but the economic impracticality of this kind of energy production as a whole. You don’t have to get very far into the report to find that facilities peaked in their output a decade ago, and have been in decline ever since. This is in the face of an ever-increasing global energy consumption. It begs the question, what’s the point of nuclear energy if demands can be met in a sustainable way?
Although the movement against nuclear power plants in France and South Korea happen to be focused on specific locations, the call to stop generating nuclear energy needs to be heard by everyone. Tricastin is one plant which was breached by our activists this time, but it is representative of five [in French] others' which are decrepit, riddled with cracks, and are at high risk of serious accidents.
The Gori plant in Busan, another ticking time bomb, is indicative of a whole other set of problems besides the safety of the plants themselves. It is the lack of transparency by the Nuclear energy industry as it deftly clucks a narrative of efficiency and sustainability while stroking the backs of any policy-makers within reach. In the past few years the nuclear industry in South Korea has been riddled with corruption involving skirting regulation, faking certificates and forging warranties.
The collusion between state officials and nuclear energy mavens is seen as one of the causes of the Fukushima disaster. In places like Japan it has been repeatedly shown that, were it not for independent oversight, unsafe and outright broken reactors would be re-activated by people gazing at their wallets and not looking out for the health of the people they govern. Again, while focused on one geographic region the problem is endemic. As former US Nuclear Regulatory Commissioner, Peter Bradford, wrote, “For various reasons in many nations, the nuclear industry cannot tell the truth about its progress, its promise or its perils. Its backers in government and in academia do no better.”
There is something else that draws people out of their homes and onto the streets to protest against nuclear power, as they did in Guandong province, China, last week. It is that, as long as nuclear fatly wedges itself into the turnstile though which energy expenditure passes, we won’t be able to seriously talk about clean, safe and renewable power. The 37-billion Chinese yuan that would have gone to a uranium processing facility in the Longwan Industrial Park can be put towards a sustainable way to generate energy. A way that doesn’t degenerate the planet or sicken and kill people.
"The gap between nuclear rhetoric and nuclear reality has been a fundamental impediment to wise energy policy decisions for half a century now," wrote Professor Bradford. Turning the last half-century around to wiser energy policy decisions shouldn't be left to policy-makers, industry leaders, or even the small group of French or South Koreans who shine a light on an increasingly redundant and dangerous industry. It is up to all of us to push nuclear energy off the table, for the health of ourselves and of our planet.
Arin de Hoog is a Media Relations Specialist with Greenpeace International