European Affairs

Letter to the Editor: Questions That Need Answering On Nuclear Power     Print Email

Ms. Maureen Koetz is an eminent expert, and she probably deliberately simplified her explanation of the advantages of nuclear energy in her article, "Nuclear Power is Still Going Strong," which appeared in Volume 1 Issue 4 of your journal. It seems necessary, however, to clarify a few details and to raise some questions.

It is certain that the electrical needs of developed countries are rapidly increasing, as well as those of developing countries. Classical energy sources such as oil and natural gas will eventually run out. Carbons pollute. Alternative sources, such as solar energy and wind, can only provide partial answers.

While this may lead to the conclusion that nuclear energy is the solution for the future, the difficulties should not be underestimated. The first difficulty is psychological. Opposition can be expected from people living near nuclear plants and waste disposal sites. Other difficulties, which are not always analyzed in depth, include:

  • Managing the system, and protecting nuclear power plants from threats such as earthquakes and terrorism.
  • Transporting nuclear materials.
  • Treating the residue.
  • Disposing of wastes.
  • Deactivating plants at the end of their lives.

If these questions are not easy to answer in large developed countries, they are even less so in developing countries, where quality checks are uncertain at best and even more difficult to perform. There is a strong tendency to underestimate the risks.

One must not forget the levels of incompetence and national pride that often contribute to the disregard of all notions of prudence, including the embezzlement of resources for personal gain, on the part of political leaders. Given the scale of such difficulties, statistical reasoning by itself is probably insufficient to justify a major expansion of nuclear power. But it does not mean that this reasoning should not be done.

Claude Bassou
Paris, France

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number I in the Winter of 2001.