At 9:40 am (local time) on Thursday there was an explosion at EDF’s Flamanville nuclear power plant in northern France.
This explosion was reportedly well outside of the nuclear zones at the plant, as was the fire that apparently caused it. Authorities are saying that, this being the case, there is no risk of contamination to the public.
The facts as we now know them are that: a fire in the turbine hall caused an explosion; this was in a non-nuclear part of the plant; an on-site team brought the fire under control by 11 am; the cause of the fire is unknown but sabotage has been ruled out apparently; the reactor was taken offline by EDF in response to the explosion and fire; and, while there were no reported injuries, 5 people were apparently treated for fumes and smoke inhalation.
Reuters provides some interesting context:
“Industry experts said fires of this nature happened fairly frequently and that there was unlikely to have been any release of radiation, but Flamanville is at the centre of a deep controversy in France over the future of its nuclear industry and the degree to which its engineering can be trusted.
“Atomic power accounted for over 70 percent of the country’s power generation in 2015, and reactors made by another state-controlled firm, Areva, have been installed around the world.
“Areva and EDF are building the prototype for a new generation of reactor at the Flamanville site on the Normandy coast in the hope it can be the first of many and extricate them from financial difficulty.
“Areva is close to bankruptcy due to a lack of orders, disputes with existing customers, and an investigation into document falsification and is undergoing a restructuring that involves EDF buying a part of the business.”
It should be remembered here that the “new reactor type” discussed above is the one that will reportedly be used at the Hinkley Point C nuclear project in the UK (presuming that it ever actually gets built). The cost is approximately twice the cost of solar or wind (something we basically knew back in 2012/2013), and it is only moving forward because taxpayers are footing the bill and the risk (and very possibly government corruption).
So, to recap, the explosion/fire at the nuclear power plant is apparently not very important according to industry experts, because it’s something that happens “fairly frequently,” and there was apparently no release of radiation or radioactive particles as a result of it, so nothing to worry about.
So, why are we reporting on it then? Because when there’s an explosion at a solar PV project, or an offshore wind farm, or a geothermal plant, the first thought that comes into people’s minds isn’t:
- whether or not they are going to now end up getting thyroid cancer;
- whether or not their kids or grandkids are now going to end up getting leukemia;
- whether the area in question will have to be abandoned and/or walled off for thousands of years.
Some of the nuclear energy proponents reading this will probably complain that that is a cheap shot, or that decisions shouldn’t “be guided by fear,” but the truth is that without taking unpleasant possibilities into account, one can’t make a decent judgement on a matter. The fear of having another Fukushima or Chernobyl (or worse but similar event) is something that should influence collective decisions about the use of nuclear energy.
What’s more important though, to my mind, is that the fear of what happens over the long term to accumulated nuclear wastes and to nuclear power plants located in areas that will end up facing large wars, societal breakdown, and/or insurgencies isn’t often taken into account. Also, what happens when food and water insecurities lead to profound changes in governmental priorities should be taken into account.
That’s the real problem with nuclear energy, because of the timescales involved (with regard to waste and potential contamination events), it’ll always be someone else’s problem eventually.
It’s not a decision that just affects those making it — in effect, it’s a decision being made for future generations (who are the ones who will really have to deal with the problems), a decision being made by people who won’t even be around when the impending resource, climate, and social/cultural problems really start shredding any sense of stability (and thus sense of responsibility to the future).
That simply isn’t the case with most other electricity generation modalities. Whatever environmental problems may accompany them (renewables certainly aren’t completely benign), the scale and timescales involved are completely different.
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