Beyond Nuclear International

Past time for action

Algerian victims of French atomic tests should be recognized and compensated

By Jean-Marie Collin, Patrice Bouveret and Merzak Remki

Editor’s note: This article (originally in French) was written before the October 9-10 meeting described below, but unfortunately there were no new developments made there. The article explores what needs to happen to deliver restitution and justice to the Algerian victims of French atomic tests.

Last August 27, Presidents Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Emmanuel Macron renewed the partnership between Algeria and France to “embark on a future in the spirit of appeasement and mutual respect.” With the holding of the High Level Intergovernmental Committee in Algiers on October 9 and 10, this intention should translate into new commitments which will reunite the governments of the two states. 

Not having been discussed during the meeting of the two presidents, this new encounter must mark a decisive turning point for resolving the issue of the consequences of the nuclear tests that France carried out in Algeria and which still impact the local population today.

Between 1960 and 1966, France carried out a total of 17 atmospheric and underground nuclear tests in the south of Algeria, at Reggane and In Ekker.

Among the 13 underground tests conducted at In-Ekker, two of them (Béryl and Améthyste) resulted in a very large release of rocks and lava from the mountain, which has left the area highly contaminated. In addition to the nuclear tests, there were also approximately 40 explosions conducted at Reggane (Adrar) and at Tan Ataram (Tamanrasset), using small quantities of plutonium, but which did not release nuclear energy (these were subcritical tests).

Underground tests conducted by France at In Ekker, Algeria. (Chart courtesy of the report, Radioactivity Under The Sand!)

It is clear that the health and environmental conditions in these areas remain a cause for great concern still today.

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Une farce digne de Feydeau

La France essaie toujours de vendre ses réacteurs malgré le fiasco nucléaire chez elle

De Linda Pentz Gunter

J’ai cherché le mot équivalent en français pour « chutzpah », mais jusqu’à présent, « l’insolence » ou « l’audace » ne couvre tout simplement pas tout à fait le discours renouvelé du président Emmanuel Macron pour vendre la technologie nucléaire française aux États-Unis.

Néanmoins, c’était un objectif central de la visite d’État de Macron dans la capitale nationale la semaine dernière. Dans une mise en  scène digne d’une farce de Feydeau, il a même amené avec lui tout un entourage atomique comprenant des représentants de l’Autorité de  sûreté nucléaire ainsi que des membres du cabinet et de l’industrie nucléaire française (en faillite).

C’est du culot parce que la toile de fond de la tournée promotionnelle nucléaire de Macron est le tas d’épaves le plus époustouflant  qu’on puisse imaginer. Sacré bleu ! Si vous vouliez brosser un tableau d’un fiasco industriel complet, il vous suffit de regarder  l’industrie nucléaire française d’aujourd’hui.

Et pourtant, voici Macron qui tente toujours allègrement de vendre le réacteur “phare” français, l’EPR, probablement juste derrière le réacteur surgénérateur comme l’échec le plus abject de l’histoire des centrales nucléaires. EPR signifie Evolutionary Power Reactor. Avec elle, la France a réalisé l’inimaginable, envoyer l’évolution en marche arrière.

Le président français, Emmanuel Macron, tente toujours de vendre l’EPR, un réacteur qui s’est terminé principalement sur papier. (Image: EPR design, Framatome ANP/Wikimedia Commons)

Macron n’a pas non plus abandonné son surgénérateur bien-aimé, qui a également réussi à renverser la légende de son homonyme – Phénix – en descendant métaphoriquement dans les cendres de l’histoire nucléaire. Et oulàlà, un destin similaire est arrivé au Superphénix, surgénérateur plus gros et un fiasco encore plus gros qui a coûté 10,5 milliards de dollars et produit de l’électricité seulement sporadiquement avant d’être définitivement fermé.

Le politicien français du Parti vert, Dominique Voynet, a qualifié Superphénix de “déchet financier stupide”, ce qui décrit avec précision toutes les nouvelles aspirations nucléaires d’aujourd’hui.

Et pourtant, en février dernier, juste avant les élections qui le voyaient conserver son trône au palais présidentiel, Macron annonçait que le pays irait de l’avant à toute vapeur (radioactive). La France construirait entre 6 et 14 nouveaux réacteurs EPR-2 (oui, le « nouvel EPR amélioré » !) au nom du climat, prolongerait les autorisations d’exploitation de l’ensemble du parc actuel, lancerait des projets de petits réacteurs modulaires, et reprendrait l’exploration de réacteurs dits de Génération IV (lire « rapides » ou « surgénérateurs »).

Macron s’est vanté que la France construirait six des nouveaux réacteurs sur trois sites existants, avec la première date de démarrage vers 2035 et pour un coût estimé à 52 milliards de dollars.

Peu importe ce que Macron fume, ce ne sont pas des Gauloises.

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A farce that would make Feydeau blush

France still trying to sell its reactors despite nuclear fiasco at home

By Linda Pentz Gunter

I’ve been searching for the equivalent word in French for ‘chutzpah’ but so far ‘insolence’ or ‘audace’ just doesn’t quite cover President Emmanuel Macron’s renewed pitch to sell French nuclear technology to the United States.

Nevertheless, that was a central purpose of Macron’s state visit to the nation’s capital last week. In a mise-en-scène worthy of a Feydeau farce, he even brought a whole atomic entourage with him including representatives from the state regulator (Autorité de sûreté nucléaire) as well as cabinet members and the (bankrupt) French nuclear power industry.

It’s chutzpah because the backdrop to Macron’s nuclear promotional tour is the most breathtaking pile of wreckage imaginable. Sacre bleu! If you wanted to paint a picture of a complete industrial fiasco, you need only look at today’s French nuclear power industry.

And yet, here is Macron still blithely attempting to sell the French “flagship” reactor, the EPR, likely second only to the breeder reactor as the most abject failure in nuclear power plant history. EPR stands for Evolutionary Power Reactor. With it, France has achieved the unimaginable, to send evolution in reverse.

French president, Emmanuel Macron, is still trying to sell the EPR, a reactor that ended up mostly on paper. (Image: EPR design, Framatome ANP/Wikimedia Commons)

Macron has not abandoned the beloved breeder either, which also managed to reverse the legend of its namesake — Phénix — by descending metaphorically into the ashes of nuclear history. And oulàlà, a similar fate befell the Superphénix, a bigger breeder and an even bigger fiasco that cost $10.5 billion and produced power only sporadically before it was permanently shuttered.

French Green Party politician, Dominique Voynet, called Superphénix “a stupid financial waste,” which accurately describes any and all of today’s new nuclear power aspirations.

And yet, last February, just before the elections that saw him retain his throne in the presidential palace, Macron announced the country would go full (radioactive) steam ahead. France would build between 6 and 14 new EPR-2 reactors (yes, the “new improved” EPR!) in the name of climate, extend the operating licenses of the entire current reactor fleet, initiate projects for small modular reactors, and resume exploration of so-called Generation IV (read “fast” or “breeder”) reactors. 

Macron bragged that France would build six of the new reactors on three existing sites, with the first start-up date around 2035 and at an estimated cost of $52 billion. 

Whatever Macron’s smoking, they’re not Gauloises.

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‘Guinea Pig Nation’

NRC will weaken regulations for new “advanced” reactors says scientist

By Karl Grossman

“Guinea Pig Nation: How the NRC’s new licensing rules could turn communities into test beds for risky, experimental nuclear plants,” is what physicist Dr. Edwin Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety with the Union of Concerned Scientists, titled his presentation last week.

The talk was about how the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is involved in a major change of its “rules” and “guidance” to reduce government regulations for what the nuclear industry calls “advanced” nuclear power plants.

Already, Lyman said, at a “Night with the Experts” online session organized by the Nuclear Energy Information Service, the NRC has moved to allow nuclear power plants to be built in thickly populated areas. This “change in policy” was approved in a vote by NRC commissioners in July. 

For a more than a half-century, the NRC and its predecessor agency, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, sought to have nuclear power plants sited in areas of “low population density”—because of the threat of a major nuclear plant accident.

But, said Lyman, who specializes in nuclear power safety, nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, the NRC in a decision titled “Population-Related Siting Considerations for Advanced Reactors,” substantially altered this policy. 

Ed Lyman’s Power Point slide, Cutting Corners, revealed how public safety would be jeopardized by “new” reactors, whether small modular reactors or non-light water reactors.

The lone NRC vote against the change came from Commissioner Jeffery Baran who in casting his ‘no’ vote wrote “Multiple, independent layers of protection against potential radiological exposure are necessary because we do not have perfect knowledge of new reactor technologies and their unique potential accident scenarios….Unlike light-water reactors, new advanced reactor designs do not have decades of operating experience; in many cases, the new designs have never been built or operated before.” 

He noted a NRC “criteria” document which declared that the agency “has a longstanding policy of siting nuclear reactors away from densely populated centers and preferring areas of low population density.”

But, said Baran, under the new policy, a “reactor could be sited within a town of 25,000 people and right next to a large city. For reactor designs that have not been deployed before and do not have operating experience, that approach may be insufficiently protective of public health and safety…And it would not maintain the key defense-in-depth principle of having prudent siting limitations regardless of the features of a particular reactor design—a principle that has been a bedrock of nuclear safety.”

That is just one of the many reductions proposed in safety standards.

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No use in the climate crisis

New Talking Points delivers all the reasons why small modular reactors have no role to play for climate change

By Linda Pentz Gunter

We’ve written a lot on these pages about small modular reactors (including again last week) and there’s a reason. Even though SMRs are a mirage, languishing as aspirational power point reactors loaded with false promises, there is a tsunami of license applications coming down for them. 

And we are saddled with a compliant Congress, White House and nuclear regulator, all of whom have bought into the Great Lie that SMRs can do something — anything — for the climate crisis. So they will likely rubber stamp the lot. Unless we stop them.

On December 2 it will be 80 years since the first human-made self-sustaining chain reaction occurred, at the Chicago Pile-1 under the leadership of Enrico Fermi and his team. That generated the first cupful of radioactive waste, which, along with the numerous other attendant problems of nuclear energy, has never been solved. Here we are, 80 years later, still relentlessly tilting at nuclear windmills. By now, we ought to know better.

You would think it would be obvious to anyone giving this technology a second thought, that given the immense lead times, high costs, uncertainties about design and safety, and the complete absence of a radioactive waste management plan, any nuclear reactor, large or small, is a climate liability, not a solution.

The new Beyond Nuclear Talking Points on small modular reactors covers the five key areas in which SMRs are deficient.

Nevertheless, the empirical evidence is being drowned out by denial. “We don’t get to net zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix,” US Special Climate Envoy, John Kerry, unhelpfully, and untruthfully, told a press conference during the COP27 climate summit while announcing SMR deals with Romania and Ukraine.

It’s possible that our illustrious leaders know better. They just prefer to maintain the creature comforts of the status quo, content to be the puppets of big polluters — fossil fuels and nuclear power — where the votes and, more importantly, the money are.

We can’t compete with the money. But we can change the votes. Elected officials want to stay elected. That means pleasing their electorate. So they need to hear from us. Because when it comes to pushing small modular reactors, we aren’t at all pleased.

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In the grip of the energy crisis

How has the Russian war impacted Germany’s renewable revolution?

By Sören Amelang, Clean Energy Wire

The energy crisis fueled by Russia’s war against Ukraine is dealing a heavy blow to Europe’s biggest economy Germany, due to its large dependence on Russian fossil fuels. Policymakers, businesses and households alike are struggling to cope with skyrocketing prices, which are fanning fears of irreparable damages to the country’s prized industries, economic hardships for its citizens, and social unrest. The long-term impact on the country’s landmark energy transition remains uncertain, as Germany redoubles efforts to roll out renewables, but also bets on liquefied natural gas (LNG), a temporary revival of coal plants and a limited runtime extension for its remaining nuclear plants to weather the storm. This article provides an overview of the state of play of Germany’s shift to climate neutrality, which is now dominated by its response to the crisis. It will be updated regularly. [UPDATE: Government earmarks 83 billion euros for gas and power price subsidies.]

As winter approaches, the German government in Berlin has launched massive energy relief packages for citizens and companies. (Photo by Norbert Braun on Unsplash)

What’s the energy crisis’ impact on the economy and households?

  • The energy crisis is set to push Germany into a recession, as rising energy prices put a damper on industrial production and inflation means citizens will buy less. Both the government and the country’s leading economic research institutes expect the economy to shrink in 2023. The government forecasts an inflation rate of 8 percent in 2022, and 7 percent in 2023.
  • Many German industrial companies have relied on cheap Russian pipeline gas, among them key producers of basic materials needed for many other products. These firms are particularly concerned about the energy crisis, as permanently higher gas prices threaten competitiveness and long-term survival.
  • The government has launched massive relief packages for citizens and companies (see below). Without these, many households would face additional energy costs running into thousands of euros per year, with retail gas prices multiplying for many citizens, and retail power prices also rising steeply.
  • Policymakers, consumer protection groups, and social care services have warned that the energy price hike could result in social hardships and even unrest if households are overburdened. But so far, protests have remained limited in scope and scale, and mainly limited to regions notorious for their rejection of government policies.
  • Most citizens blame the energy price hike on external factors such as the pandemic and the war on Ukraine, and generally approve of the government’s handling of the crisis, according to surveys. They also say that they are ready to contribute to energy savings. But rising prices have become the biggest concern for a vast majority of the population.
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