Thursday, March 12, 2009

No oil but ideas...

Following the post of ncristea, I would like to talk also about nuclear. Coming from France, a country where 80% of its electricity is produced by nuclear, I grew up with it, and nuclear seems normal and npeople are not scared of nuclear in France. More than 30 years ago, when the first oil crisis happened, oil prices were multiplied by four, unemployment appeared and raised, inflation arrived…

The French government then decided to make an important turn in its energy policy and developed nuclear energy over the next few years. To make accept nuclear and its dangers by the population, an advertising campaign was done by the government saying: “In France, we don’t have oil, but we have ideas!” which became really popular.

Today, 80% of our electricity comes from nuclear. There are 59 reactors all of them controlled by the same company EDF (Electricity of France) whereas there are more than 100 nuclear reactors in the US which made it leader for the number of reactors. As ncristea said and also Meredith in one of the first posts, the most important problems about nuclear power are nuclear wastes and how to deal with them.

In France, the third generation of nuclear reactors is being built in Flamanville [1], and the French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed recently to the construction of another center. This generation of reactor does not produce any CO2 emission and Flamanville reactors will be in operation in 2012, and the first reactors should stop around 2020. 10 countries: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA are already thinking to the fourth generation [2] which could be commissioned between 2040 and 2405.

According to EDF website [3], there are two kinds of nuclear wastes:

- “Short-lived waste loses half of its radioactivity every thirty years. It comes from the operation, maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear power plants. It accounts for 90% of total radioactive waste inventory (based on the ANDRA=National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management inventory) and contain 0.1% of total radioactivity. This waste includes filters, resins, valves, plastic film and fabric, etc.

- Long-lived waste loses its radioactivity over periods of more than 30 years. It comes from spent fuel processing activities. It accounts for 10% of total radioactive waste inventory and contain 99.9% of total radioactivity.”

As (for the moment, this is going to change) only one company in France owns all the nuclear reactors, it is simpler to apply the same conditions for all of them. Over 20 years, EDF divided by 3 the amount of short-lived waste. They do the appropriate conditioning for each type of waste in order to avoid the spread of radioactivity. Then, at the difference of the US, “once waste is conditioned, it is placed in temporary storage at secured facilities” [4]. They also have made plans for future and for not letting future generations paying for nuclear waste storage. The Government Accounting Office has been monitoring EDF which has made some plans for the funding of waste management. That means that in France, the price of kWh takes into account the cost of long-lived waste management and also the cost of plant decommissioning.

Nuclear wastes in France are stored in different places. This all very monitored by four different agencies to prevent any risk and to make sure that EDF does its job well. Storing is not solving the problem, but it seems that apart trying to minimize waste quantities at the source and recycle the most possible plutonium and depleted uranium, there will still be nuclear wastes. I don’t think that any miracle solutions could be found to avoid nuclear wastes. I do appreciate nuclear advantages (nearly zero CO2 emission when taking into account the whole life cycle, less danger for health of the neighbor population…). I agreed that we need also more renewable energies (solar, wind, biomass…), but I don’t think that the energy future can be done without nuclear power… (but of course I might not be really objective as this is the main source of electricity in my country!)





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