Friday, September 25, 2009

Nuclear Power in France: Setting the Record Straight

France sees the light re: nuclear power.


► The state-owned French nuclear industry has
cost taxpayers billions, including huge export
losses, construction and shutdown costs.

►The breeder reactor – on which the French
nuclear hopes were based – was an expensive
gamble. The Superphenix breeder averaged a
7% capacity factor over its 14 years of operation.


►60,000 people rallied in five cities in March
2007 in opposition to a proposed new European
Pressurized Reactor (EPR) in Northern France.

►Annual polls show at least 60% of French
citizens would like to see nuclear power phased
out and a shift made to renewable energy.

► In 2007, 50,000 French citizens signed a
petition demanding a referendum on radioactive
waste dumping in their communities.


► Two majority French-government-owned
corporations – Areva and Électricité de France –
would reap huge U.S. taxpayer funds if nuclear
power is expanded in the U.S.

► Areva would be the beneficiary of U.S. tax
dollars should a proposed uranium enrichment
facility – owned by Areva – go forward in Idaho.

► EDF, a partner with Constellation, is applying
to build EPR reactors in Maryland and in upstate
New York. At least five additional EPRs are also
under consideration in the US.


► In Niger – as in many countries – uranium mining
has disproportionately affected indigenous peoples
who have seen none of the economic benefits but
have suffered from health and environmental impacts.
Proposed new mines across northern Niger have
sparked opposition from tribespeople who have been
arbitrarily arrested, tortured and executed without trial.

► Areva has mined uranium for 40 years in Niger,
West Africa, creating radioactively-contaminated air,
soil and water. Discarded radioactive metals from the
mining operation are sold in public marketplaces.

► Areva has signed a deal for a huge new uranium
mine in Niger that, if opened, would be the second
largest in the world. Uranium mining threatens to
deplete the Sahara Desert area water supply.

France gets nearly 80% of its electricity
from its 58 nuclear reactors. However, its
heavy reliance on nuclear power creates
safety and environmental risks, including an
unresolved radioactive waste problem.


► France reprocesses its own, and some
foreign, irradiated reactor fuel. That is, the
fuel is cut up and soaked in acid to extract
plutonium and fissile uranium. This results
in massive releases of radioactive gases,
solids, and liquids into the environment.

► One hundred million gallons of
radioactively contaminated liquids are
discharged annually into the English
Channel from the La Hague reprocessing
center. Dumping these same wastes into
the sea in containers would violate the
1970 London Dumping Convention.

► The claim that France “recycles” its
irradiated nuclear fuel is a major
exaggeration. Only about 1% of the
reprocessed fuel is used as reactor fuel
while 99% remains as radioactive waste.

► A plane crashing on a La Hague
irradiated fuel storage pond could release
radioactivity more than six times the
equivalent released at Chernobyl.

► Radioactive discharges from La Hague
have contaminated area beaches and
waters as far as the Arctic and beyond.
These discharges likely caused the
elevated rates of leukemia near La Hague
found by two independent medical studies.

► La Hague routinely releases radioactive
gases including concentrations of krypton-
85 found at levels 90,000 times higher than
in nature.

►Aerial discharges of carbon-14,
considered to be one of the most damaging
radioactive isotopes to human health, have
also been detected in the La Hague area.
Radioactive carbon dioxide — the leading
climate change culprit, is also released.


► France has no high-level radioactive waste
repository and faces public opposition to the
only one it is exploring, at Bure.

► Reprocessing has created large quantities of
solid waste contaminated with plutonium that
will need to be isolated permanently.

► Much of the waste remaining in France from
the reprocessing of foreign fuel has never been
returned to the country of origin, rendering
France a de facto international dump site.

► The so-called low- and intermediate-level
radioactive waste dump sites that do exist –
including in the important Champagne region –
are leaking radioactivity into the groundwater.

► Radioactive tailings from the 210
abandoned uranium mines in France have
been used in public areas, including school
playgrounds and public parking lots.


► After plutonium and uranium are extracted
during reprocessing, they can be combined into
mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel. This is used in fewer
than 20 MOX reactors which generate less
than 10% of French nuclear electricity.

► MOX reactors, like all reactors, also
generate plutonium. There is no significant net
reduction of plutonium from using MOX fuel.

► Dangerous plutonium oxide powder is
transported regularly from La Hague to the
MOX fuel fabrication plants in Belgium and
Southern France.


►The 80-plus metric tons of plutonium
stockpiled at La Hague in hundreds of
vulnerable containers are enough to make
at least 10,000 bombs.

►France has exported civilian nuclear
technology and training to, or assisted in
the nuclear programs of, Pakistan, Israel,
India and South Africa, all of which
developed nuclear weapons.

►France exported nuclear technology to
Iran, now the subject of international
controversy about whether Iran is also
developing nuclear weapons.

► France has sent shipments of
plutonium fuel overseas, risking hijacking,
accident or diversion.

► France delivered and helped build
Iraq’s Osirak reactor that was
subsequently bombed by Israel in 1981.

►French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has
toured the globe promoting nuclear power
as a “bridge to the Islamic world.” France
is marketing nuclear technology to much
of the Middle East and North Africa.


►The French European Pressurized
Reactors (EPR) under construction in
France and Finland have encountered
serious technical flaws including
substandard parts.By July 2009, the
Finnish reactor was already at least three
years behind schedule and 60% over

► The summer of 2008 saw a cascade of
nuclear accidents in France. Drinking and
bathing in the water was banned after
radioactive spills at the Tricastin nuclear
complex contaminated rivers.

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