Nuclear power belongs in the past

Feature story - 25 April, 2008
It is now the 22 anniversary of Chernobyl explosion, the largest civil nuclear disaster ever. Serious contamination spread over 150 000 square kilometres in Byelorussia, Ukraine and Russia. Radioactive clouds deposited radiation thousands of kilometres away. Hundreds of thousands people had to be evacuated, and millions more were left to live in areas that were dangerous to their health and lives.

Construction of the sarcophagus (cover) over the destroyed Chernobyl reactor.

Scientific studies have shown that the full consequences of the Chernobyl disaster could top a quarter of a million cancer cases and nearly 100,000 fatal cancers. However the nuclear industry is now attempting to exploit fading memories of the disaster. It's attempting to revive its dangerous business. But, even 22 years after Chernobyl the very same mixture of incompetence, political and economic pressure, cover-ups and arrogance that lead to Chernobyl continues.

Dangerous situations such as uncontrolled nuclear reactions, near reactor melt down or failure of crucial safety systems, have happened in the last ten years in Japan, US, UK, Sweden, Bulgaria and elsewhere.

Spanish nuclear leak

The recent scandal we exposed in the Spanish Ascó nuclear plant, again confirms this deadly pattern. Numerous errors and safety system failures resulted in radioactivity being released. Initially, the management did not report the accident to the nuclear safety authority nor did they warn the public. In fact, several groups of school children were visiting the plant while the leak was ongoing. When radioactive particles were found on public land, the plant's operators were forced to admit the accident, but with the cooperation of the state safety authority the scale of the accident was downplayed for several days. The radioactive leak was in fact several hundred times bigger than was initially announced, more than a thousand people needed to be screened. Dangerous radioactive particles were found as far as 60 kilometres away. Greenpeace Spain has called for criminal charges against operator and called upon the European Commission for an independent investigation.

The French nuclear industry is pushing for more global business, but behind the PR the same failings remain. It's new "European Pressurized Reactor" (EPR) project is promoted as being safer, cheaper and more reliable. However, this new flagship of the  nuclear industry is already a fiasco in Finland. After less then three years of construction, it is two years behind schedule, 1.5 billion Euro over budget and plagued by serious safety issues in its concrete base, reactor vessel, piping and protective containment.

A second EPR construction started last December in France with assurances it would be a model project. But, the list of problems inspectors have discovered after just three months of construction is damming: the reactor's concrete base has been poured incorrectly, the concrete base slab for the reactor has developed cracks, steel reinforcing bars have been wrongly arranged, in the containment liner one-quarter of the welds are deficient. Hardly a record to inspire confidence in any building project, let alone a nuclear plant.

The nuclear industry remains mired in accidents, lies, cover-ups and incompetence. Today's 'renaissance' reactors are threatening to become tomorrow's Chernobyls.

Big banks say no to nuclear

Fortunately the nuclear industry's charm offensive is being rebuffed. Two days before this year's anniversary of Chernobyl, several banks announced that they would not put their money into a construction of risky reactors at the Mochovce plant in Slovakia. This withdrawal follows an international campaign by us and other environmental groups across Europe and in Japan.

Nuclear power is more than fifty years old and has always been expensive, dirty and dangerous. What we really need in the 21st Centuary is an energy revolution that focuses on energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state-of-the-art decentralised power stations.  Our report: ' Energy [R]evolution', details how to halve global CO2 emissions by 2050, using existing technology and still providing affordable energy and economic growth. A revolution in energy policy and evolution in how we use energy.

There is no place for dangerous expensive nuclear power in meeting future energy demand or in helping to avert catastrophic climate change. Chernobyl should never be forgotten, but nuclear power belongs in the past.

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