Home>>In de media>>Lets be honest about nuclear energy, both sides

Lets be honest about nuclear energy, both sides

06 jun 2006

This article was published in the magazine of Liberal International.

A large investment into renewable energy is needed in the next decennia. The consequences of the use of fossil energy on the climate and the environment are urgent and severe. Unfortunately the real debate on energy is being avoided by the discussion on whether to use nuclear energy. This July Britain and the Netherlands were speculating about building new nuclear facilities, while Finland is developing theirs. Inmediately the environmental community dug up the telling Tsjernobil pictures. So while both camps should be able to agree perfectly on the need for safe and clean energy.

The polarisation of this subject makes nuclear energy the key variable, leaving renewable energy in the dark. The debate on energy is full of false truths en ideological dogmas. Sure, not all forms of renewable energy are as reliable yet as nuclear power. Only 30 % Wind energy in sea can be used and solar power is not being generated in large enough quantities to be viable. Solar power and Wind power are also said to be too expensive. However it is not mentioned that the costs of these alternative sources of energy are much lower as they are being upgraded, furthermore the negative effects of the fluctuating oil prices are not counted. Sustainable energy will then stay relatively stabile in comparison to fossil energy.

On the one hand the nuclear energy lobby is as fierce as ever. It pictures nuclear energy as the solution for the economy and the environment. But although it is correct that nuclear reactors hardly produce CO2, they ask for very big investments and up until now no solution has been found for the nuclear waste. On the other hand, opponents of nuclear energy use false truths as well. They wrongfully warn that we are running out of nuclear fossils, and spread incorrect information on the duration and harmfulness of the waste. Some environmental activists push the debate into an irrational emotional exercise. When in the Netherlands it was decided that the breakdown of one small nuclear facility was postponed, a huge protest of the environmental organisations broke out.

Nobody paid attention to the fact hundreds of millions of tax money saved on buy-out fees for the facility's board was now going to be invested in renewable energy. The former Red/Green German Government met the same response when they tried to go for the more pragmatic solution for their expiring reactors. So it turns out in politics symbolical decisions on energy seem more important than the net effect on the environment. All this is making more and more clear that the polarisation in the energy-debate is contra productive to the ends. The European discussion on energy only focuses on if nuclear energy should be on the agenda or not. Tony Blair and Angela Merkel cooperatively brought out a plea for more nuclear energy.

It is a shame that leadership like that is not exercised if it comes to working together on renewable energy. Because of this lack many renewable energy project stay national and small. During the European Top of 23-24 of March 2006 there was a chance to start a communal sustained energy policy. Especially France and Germany opposed. The only thing which came out of the talk was the pursuit of 15% renewable energy in 2015.this is totally an utterly insufficient. Especially on the development of large-scale utilization of renewable energy, European countries should work together and all autarkic positions behind. While communal, political and even economic policies are getting more controversial among the European citizens and two of the EU's founding countries have rejected the common constitution, the one pragmatic and should be uncontroversial issue: renewable energy is hardly seriously addressed.

The EU should start a collective research and development programme on renewable energy. Since 1957 such a program exist for nuclear energy, the Euratom treaty where intensive cooperation is established. Why not start a Eurenew treaty which puts the same effort in renewable energy? The geological, geographical and technological advances of the different member states can be exploited. The EU could build a very powerful solar reactor in the South of Europe. The large investment for such a project are much easier raised in EU context that by a single member country. Concentrating solar power (CPS) a highly innovative technique to transfer the warmth of sunlight into a steam reactor which then produces electricity, is very suitable to be used in a large cooperative EU-initiative. It can be utilized in Spain and Italy, or in cooperation with Turkey or North Africa.

Also CPS "technology serves to change salt water in to regular drinking water. So for such an ambitious agenda to evolve, a great collective commitment is needed. Japan has the ambition to produce 4820 MW solar power by 2010, that is 60% more that European objectives. Also in the United States on federal level much more is invested that in the European union. The EU has to drastically increase its budget for renewable energy. While it is spending as much as 5 billion Euro until 2015,on its nuclear energy programme, it is only spending 300 million on renewable energy.

The investments in renewable energy should at least be as much as the investments in nuclear energy. At the same time no technology should by forehand be disqualified. Research into the improvement of nuclear energy and especially into the waste should continue. In the mean time nuclear industries should store there waste abovegrounds as to in time with new technology it can be rapidly disintegrated. Existing nuclear facilities can temporarily provide power until renewable energy facilities have the capacity to take over.

Europe should fully commit itself to the opportunities of working together on renewable energy and should stop having symbolic and polarized debates on nuclear energy, because what a waste of energy that is"¦

Boris van der Ham 

Member of Parliament for the Dutch Social Liberal Party, Democrat 66.