A financial industry contact sent me a link to a press release by Yves Marignac, WISE-Paris and Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), asking me if I knew anything about the source. The release was full of lies and half truths about the French nuclear energy success story. Even the headline of the press release showed how one has to take the words of dedicated campaigners with a ton of salt when they appear on prnewswire.com or on their own web site. In those places, the anti’s can say whatever they want, without challenge. (Most of the time, they will not be set up to accept comments or they will moderate out any critical comments.)
Here is what you need to know about WISE, in their own words.
We’re small. We’re powerful. We’re anti-nuclear. We are grass-root oriented. And we are proud of what we have achieved. We are anxious to go on, serving people with important information and skills. We have existed since 1978, in a small office with seven people working at WISE Amsterdam.
Correction: Yves Marignac of WISE-Paris has informed me that the quote above is from WISE-Amsterdam, which is a completely separate organization from WISE-Paris. He informed me that WISE-Paris is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the following statutory purpose (which he kindly translated from French into English for me.)
WISE-Paris’ statutory objectives are in summary to:
– Promote information on the various sources of energy, and the ecological, economical, political and social aspects of their production and consumption;
– Develop understanding of energy issues, particularly those related to the impact of the use of renewable energies, as well as the consequences of the use of nuclear energy on health, safety and security and on energy policies;
– Develop the participation of citizens to debates and decision making processes covering those issues, and to the development of energy efficiency.
Its past and current activities cover the following fields:
– nuclear energy and its specific risks (safety, security, waste management),
– nuclear energy as part of the electric system (economics, etc.),
– energy prospective and sustainable energy scenarios,
– assessment and decision making processes relating to the above.
(Correction continued: As part of the correction to this post based on comments in the associated thread from Michael Mariotte of NIRS, I have also modified the next sentence to more accurately portray the relationship between WISE-Paris and NIRS. That sentence is the last part of this correction. Correction posted on September 17, 2009)
On the press release and press conference under discussion, WISE-Paris partnered with NIRS, which is open and direct about its mission of anti-nuclear activism. Here is a quote from a campaign sticker that they are running on the front page of their web site.
“We do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power.”
It never ceases to amaze me that journalists will take quotes without challenge from these small groups of professional anti-nuclear campaigners, some of whom have made an entire career from selling the myth that nuclear is expensive, uncompetitive, and somehow dangerous to public safety when the facts of 50 years worth of experience with the technology shows that it has just the opposite characteristics. In traditional journalism, the goal of each article is “balance” where “both sides” of an argument get an opportunity to have their say with the decision left up to the readers.
If you want balance, you will have to do further reading; I have formed a strong opinion about nuclear energy from several years worth of direct experience with the technology and from a couple of decades worth of independent research, running the numbers and checking the facts. There are plenty of people with strong economic motives for opposing nuclear energy because they sell a competing product. There are people with strong emotional motives for opposing nuclear energy because they have been told repeatedly that the technology is dangerous, though they have never actually seen the evidence of this themselves. There is no such evidence other than some old footage from a single industrial accident in the Ukraine that happened 23 years ago or some really grainy footage from an accident at a poorly designed and maintained test reactor being operated in the Idaho desert in the early 1960s. There are also people with prideful reasons to stubbornly cling to their anti-nuclear stance because they were seduced into that stance early in life and refuse to admit that they might have been wrong.
On the other side of the debate, you have some smart, well educated people who have worked with nuclear technologies for their entire, lengthy careers. Many times on this blog and on The Atomic Show Podcast you have heard me mention my friend Ted Rockwell, who blogs at Learning About Energy. Ted was an adult when the first human initiated chain reaction was demonstrated on December 2, 1942 and he wrote the first book on radiation shielding when he was serving as Rickover’s technical director on the Shippingport project. However, he is still healthy and actively promoting knowledge about energy. (I am not sure exactly how old Ted is, but I can do the math to figure out that he has to be at least 88 years old – that demonstration took place almost 67 years ago.)
At American Nuclear Society meetings in the late 1990s, I used to chat with Glen Seaborg, the guy who led the team that first isolated plutonium at a time when people were a lot less cautious about exposure to radioactive materials. He was born in April 1912 and continued attending ANS meetings until close to his death in February 1999, when he was 87 years old. It is not hard to find dozens of similar octogenarians who regularly attend nuclear energy conferences. I know that is “anecdotal” evidence, but it matches well with what I have read in studies like the nuclear shipyard worker study, the work of Dr. Sohei Kondo (The Health Effects of Low Level Radiation) and numerous other reliable efforts by real scientists – people who did not start their careers as two time drop outs or as failed pediatricians.
Back to some of the specific claims by WISE-Paris/NIRS.
1. “French nuclear technology is deeply flawed.” The claimed basis for this statement is that the first of a kind European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) is having some developmental challenges, just like every large, complex construction project with inexperienced workers. The press release also points to the fact that nuclear regulators ask hard questions during the licensing phase – what the release does not mention is that the designers have ANSWERED the hard questions to the satisfaction of the European regulators and received permission to build and they are well into the process of answering the regulators in the US and the UK. It is the regulator’s JOB to ask hard questions and demand satisfactory answers.
2. “French nuclear construction delays are getting worse, no better.” Here there is a grain of truth when you l
ook just at the calendar achievements of the last four nuclear plants built in France, but there is a good explanation. When the French decided that they would go all out with nuclear energy development, they built up a large and effective construction and manufacturing work force that built 55 plants in a relatively brief 15 year period in a small country. It is not surprising that the last few plants to come on line, with no real prospects for additional plants in export markets, took a bit longer than average to complete. Both managers and workers have plenty of reasons to want to work a bit more slowly and methodically when they know that they are near the end of a good run. In this case, the company is owned by the government, which certainly did not want to lose a bunch of jobs or even to disperse a trained work force while working to open other markets to their product offerings.
3. “French nuclear power costs are just as out of control as they are in the US.” WISE-Paris/NIRS thinks this is true because the current estimates of the power costs from the first EPR projects are significantly higher than they were when initially estimated. However, the numbers that are currently being discussed should not scare any customers when they are compared to the alternatives – how many Germans who are now paying 19.9 euro cents per kilowatt hour (and 49 euro cents per kilowatt hour as the feed in tariff for solar electricity) would worry when told that the new source of power being brought on line in Finland is going to cost a whopping 5.4 euro cents per kilowatt hour?
4. “Nuclear power has not promoted French energy independence.” I think I will just let the record speak for itself on this one.
5. “French nuclear power is not “safer” . . . and the nation does not have a long term solution to waste storage.” I will agree with the first clause – US nuclear energy production is just as safe as the French nuclear energy production. Both are much safer than combustion alternatives. With regard to the second clause, the French recycling program is well operated and is demonstrating that there is no pressing need for any different solution. As the tour guides tell visitors, if the current building used for all of the waste fills up, they will simply build another building.
6. “Nuclear power in France is not popular.” Once again, I think I will let the record, or perhaps some readers from France or with experience in French poll taking, to speak on this one.
7. “The “nationalized” nuclear model in France is completely incompatible with the market-driven U.S.” I have to agree here. There is no reason to believe that nuclear energy generation should be owned and operated by a nationalized endeavor. In the US, we have at least a dozen well qualified operating companies and there is no reason to suspect that number is at a maximum.
8. “State ownership of French nuclear power means that the true costs are hidden.” That is probably somewhat true, but certainly not in the sense that WISE-Paris/NIRS means it. From what I know about the cost of nuclear energy, the government is probably not completely honest about just how cheap it is and how much money their cash cow is supplying to the federal coffers. If they did make their costs more open, their neighbors who now buy the output of about 6 of the currently operating plants, might decide to become competitors rather than customers. There is a reason that the French workers can afford to take 4-6 week vacations and work just 35 hours per week without bankrupting the government. There is a reason why the technocrats that run the country do not want to allow a public offering for Areva or EDF – they have no real desire to share the growth prospects with fickle investors.
If you are really patient or just curious, you can listen to the press conference that WISE-Paris and NIRS hosted upon the release of their “analysis” of the French nuclear energy experience at http://www.hastingsgroupmedia.com/091509Marignacevent.wma.
Your comments are welcome here.
Update: I have just finished listening to the “press conference” that announced the above press release. It was somewhat amusing to hear the conference organizers almost begging for questions; there were two posed questions on the audio line. The “expert” speaker could not answer the first question, which was a simple one about the cost of used fuel recycling, and he stumbled a bit when answering the second, which was about the factors causing cost overruns in the new nuclear plants. There was also a submitted written question. All in all, I have to say that the press conference was kind of a flop if the goal of the conference was to create interest. Perhaps I should just remove this post. . .