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      Europe Fails to Agree on Nuclear Tests and Safeguards

      Germany and France took opposing positions in discussions on regulating nuclear reactors.
      By Amiel Ungar
      First Publish: 3/21/2011, 7:43 PM / Last Update: 3/21/2011, 8:16 PM

       

      The European Union failed in an attempt to impose Union-wide supervision and stress tests over the reactors operating in the Union. The Japanese disaster, to some members of the European Parliament and veteran opponents of nuclear power,  was seen as a wake-up call.

      German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had previously backed prolonging the service of aging nuclear reactors and having the companies subsidize transition to other forms of renewable energy, had changed gears. The opposition Greens, the German party most identified with opposition to nuclear power (former German Foreign Minister and Green party leader Joschka Fischer joked that he was for nuclear reactors provided that they were stationed on the sun), was gaining support in the polls at an alarming level.

      The German government attempted to seize the initiative by calling for a reimposition of the emergency procedures that went into effect after German reunification and short-circuited procedures in road construction, infrastructures etc. This would enable the construction of power grids designed to carry safe and clean energy without cumbersome bureaucratic procedures.

      Germany backed stress tests for the reactors, to identify potentially hazardous conditions. Supporters of universal standards also argued that if the European Union could not impose safety regulations on its own members, they would have a difficult time urging them on countries outside the European Union and particularly countries in the former Soviet Union. A disaster there could easily impact on European environmental safety.  Since Europe is awash with a horde of regulatory legislation, even on minutiae, why not regulate on something substantive?

      The proposal hit a wall of opposition. Spain, which operates reactors similar to the stricken Fukushima reactor, argued that the Spanish reactor benefited from performance enhancements and safety modifications. Secondly, in Spain, one could not envisage the succession of an earthquake followed by a tsunami that caused havoc with the Japanese reactor.

      The major opponent of the proposal was France. The French get 75% of their electricity needs from 58 reactors. France is also an exporter of reactors. France, unsurprisingly, argues that had the Japanese installed French reactors rather than American ones, they could have spared themselves the recent tragedy,( a point sorely contested by GE the American manufacturer).

      French President Nicolas Sarkozy invoked environmental reasons against the proposal. Nuclear reactors are essential in cutting down CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions. The message he conveyed was that if Europe insisted on a nuclear reactor shutdown, it would have to shamefully backtrack from its ambitious goals and presumed leadership in reducing the global warming pollutants.

      As for Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu is having second thoughts about a domestic nuclear fuel plant.