France, Fukushima and Congressional Futility
After the nearly inconceivable, yet oh-so-visible horror of Japan’s tsunami, followed by the additional, quiet terror of the Fukushima nuclear reactors’ failures, the governments of Belgium, Germany, Japan and Switzerland all announced the phasing-out of their countries’ nuclear power programs.
But what of France — the most nuclear power dependent nation in Europe? Her 58 civilian reactors supply over 75 percent of France’s electricity. Well, French President Nicolas Sarkozy says phase-out simply isn’t feasible. Yet, the French are mired in the universal nuclear fuel/waste conundrum. The planet-wide predicament of where to safely dispose of radioactive waste plagues France greatly. She has no repositories such as WIPP.
So France “reprocesses” her civilian waste — along with Italy’s, the Netherlands’ and Spain’s. But reprocessing actually increases rather than decreases the volume of waste. Radioactive liquids and gases result from separating old fuel rods’ plutonium and uranium. These weapons-grade and fissionable products are then shipped back to the countries the rods came from, while France stores her own 80-plus metric tons of plutonium above ground in Normandy.
Groundwater in the nearby Champagne region has been found with radioactive contaminants. And, incredibly, France discharges tens of millions of gallons of acidic radioactive fluids through submerged pipes into the English Channel each year — oddly, an act that would be illegal were the wastes sealed in containers. Medical studies have found elevated rates of leukemia in seaside towns.
Perhaps most sad, France, in an effort to increase business, has exported civilian nuclear technology and training to India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan and South Africa. How nice! Most of these states play so well together! (Israel wasted no time bombing Iraq’s reactor to smithereens.) To be fair, most developed nuclear states pedal their deadly technology in the exact same manner.
France “mined-out” the last French uranium deposit in 2001. Today, she imports all the ore she requires from Africa — shattering any myth of “French energy independence.” The mines are in Niger, Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where heinous wars periodically convulse the region, largely sparked by mineral conflicts.
Eerily, France’s own 210 now-abandoned uranium mines spawned 210 French atomic bomb tests worldwide — most of them atmospheric (oceanic), not underground. Several South Sea island cultures (and gene pools) were callously destroyed in the process. And it might give some the willies to know that President Sarkozy has toured the globe promoting nuclear power as “a bridge to the Islamic world.”
But back at home, France possesses a very active anti-nuclear dissidents’ movement. Sortir du Nucléaire is an alliance of over 840 member groups nationwide. A three-month BBC News poll, taken as the shattered Fukushima reactors melted down, asked Frenchmen about their attitudes toward nuclear energy now. 83 percent replied: No more nukes!, up from 66 percent opposed to nuclear power in 2005.
In late November, French protestors blocked an 11-car waste train leaving the reprocessing plant, bound for Germany. With teargas and batons, police broke up their citizens’ effort to shut down the tracks with large tree branches. But once in Germany, the train was again detained by 200 activists, lying on the rails. 20,000 German police removed the resisters.
With domestic support for French nuclear energy waning, French companies hope to build seven nuclear stations here in the U.S. (One of these projects has already collapsed in the planning stages.) But there is one reason why, with luck, we will never host a string of French nuke plants on American soil. The 1954 Atomic Energy Act explicitly prohibits “foreign ownership or control” of a U.S. reactor.
Here’s hoping the steam’s gone out of America’s “nuclear power renaissance” anyway. That one cataclysmic spasm last March, just off the shore of Fukushima, Japan, may very well have seen to that!
Our current and internationally embarrassing 112th Congress, which sputtered into recess just before Christmas, has so far been the most anti-environmental (read “anti-scientific”) session of a U.S. federal Legislature in American history. The “tea party”-packed House of Representatives is chiefly responsible for this shameful record. The House voted 191 times during 2011 to block, weaken or to eliminate the country’s environmental protections.
Clear-thinking, educated economists and clear-thinking, educated legislators know that for every dollar spent by a polluting industry to control, for instance, emissions toxic to our air and water, each American citizen receives approximately $30 in benefits — to our health, recreation, wildlife, agricultural and real estate values.
But under the guise of “unmuzzling the economy,” ultra-conservative politicians insisted upon repeatedly defying reality throughout 2011. Oh, well, don’t confuse the far right (and this includes our congressman) with the numbers or the facts.
Sources: Beyond Nuclear, Nuclear Information & Resource Service, UPI.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2011