France's Nuclear Failures

Feature story - 2 February, 2009
Hazardous waste, illegitimate and dangerous new reactors and a diversion to the solutions to climate change - here's why France's picture of nuclear energy is just a 'great illusion'.

Greenpeace in action at the construction site of the European Pressurised Reactor in Flamanville, France. Greenpeace is demanding an immediate end to construction at both Flamanville and Europe's other EPR site at Olkiluoto, Finland, calling the plants dangerous, unnecessary and uneconomic.

Despite the French government's global marketing of its flagship European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) as cheap and safe, nuclear energy is rapidly becoming the most expensive way to produce electricity, and its highly radioactive waste poses an ever-increasing problem.

Greenpeace has recently uncovered evidence that nuclear waste from the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) - the flagship of the French nuclear industry - will be up to seven times more hazardous than waste produced by existing nuclear reactors, increasing costs and the danger to health and the environment.

This alarming evidence was buried away in the environmental impact assessment report from Posiva, the company responsible for managing waste at the world's first EPR under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland, and in EU-funded research.

Expensive and hazardous

The EPR is designed to extract more energy from nuclear fuel than any commercially operating reactor in order to maximise electricity output. This "high burn-up" method causes the amount of readily-released radioactive substances in spent fuel to increase disproportionately.

The storage of the hazardous waste will be more costly for a range of reasons - including an increase in the repository size due to the greater distance needed between canisters, more extensive and longer-term monitoring being necessary, and increased security being required.

…not only will spent nuclear fuel produced by the EPR be more dangerous than is acknowledged by the French nuclear industry, but also storage and disposal will be more expensive than the industry and governments proclaim and will increase the overall cost of nuclear energy. The French nuclear companies Areva and EDF, which aggressively market the EPR as safe and cheap, have completely ignored the implications of the increased hazards.

John Large, independent nuclear consultant

No appropriate waste facilities exist - or are even being planned - in Finland, France or any of the countries considering buying the EPR (including the UK, the US, Canada and India). In Finland, plans for burying the nuclear waste that are awaiting approval are simply inadequate for preventing interim and long-term health risks, and will pass on huge financial liabilities to future generations.

"Illegitimate and dangerous"

The EPR construction project in Olkiluoto has been hampered by all manner of chronic problems, delays and cost overruns. It was supposed to have been completed by April 2009, but now faces at least three years' delay - its cost has doubled to over €5 billion and serious construction and safety problems have been identified.

The very same mistakes have plagued a second EPR construction at Flamanville, France, which started just over a year ago. It too is now delayed - by nine months at present - and is already running at over 20 percent of its budget.

Despite all this, President Sarkozy announced last week that a new EPR is to be built in Penly, France. Greenpeace believes that building yet another reactor under these circumstances is entirely illegitimate and simply dangerous.

The Penly decision was taken without any public consultation, open bidding or analysis of energy needs. No other options, such as energy efficiency or renewable energy potential, were considered, no comparisons were made in terms of costs, environmental impacts or needs; in fact, the official study analysing France's electricity needs beyond 2020 is still ongoing, so there is nothing to justify the decision to pour vast amounts of money into building another problematic reactor.

Its only justification is to provide a massive contract to the state-owned industry. In these times of fiscal crisis, however, it is crucial to make the right choices: and investment instead in renewable energy would provide not only climate protection and cleaner energy, but more and better jobs and a truly sustainable state infrastructure.

The great illusion

At a time when France is setting itself up as the political and industrial champion of a supposed worldwide expansion of nuclear power, Global Chance - an  association that includes among its members several of France's few independent nuclear experts - has produced a report that shows how France's nuclear promises are a dangerous illusion. France is locked into nuclear power in a way that presents an obstacle to the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

The Global Chance report shows:

  • how France's nuclear programme fails to rise to the challenges of climate change and energy security;
  • how France has not benefited economically from their 'all electric, all nuclear' approach
  • how nuclear power is liable to suffer serious accidents - whether due to system failure, natural disaster or deliberate attack
  • how no satisfactory solution has been found for the management of long-term waste; and
  • how France contributes to proliferation, which remains a major risk for global security.

The Greenpeace briefing France's Nuclear Failures - The great illusion of nuclear energy summarises the lessons that can be drawn from the Global Chance report.

Energy [R]evolution!

Nuclear power is nothing more than an out-of-date, expensive and failed technology from the last century. It undermines the solutions to climate change by diverting urgently-needed resources away from the true renewable and energy-efficiency solutions that governments who are serious about climate change need to invest in.

Greenpeace's Energy [R]evolution blueprint shows that renewable energy and greater energy efficiency can deliver half the world's energy needs by 2050 and ensure that people have a clean energy future that is free from the dangers of hazardous nuclear waste.

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