European Nuclear Power Plant Woes
In its relatively short existence, nuclear power has swum against strong currents of opposition and regulation. In a recent safety review conducted by the European Commission, a hefty sum of 10-25 billion Euros, or about 13 to 32 billion dollars, is said to be needed in order to comply with safety designs. The proposal will be decided by the European Union later on in the month after the report is completely finalized.
The safety tests were carried out in the shadow of the disaster at Fukushima, which occurred in March of 2011. Two chief nuclear disasters have occurred prior to Fukushima: Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. These disasters occurred around the inception of nuclear power and led to the strict safety standards that are in place today. What set Fukushima apart, and as a result launched sweeping inceptions, was that natural forces caused the failure.
A non-finalized draft of the report was disclosed and, according to the BBC, “on the basis of the stress test results practically all [nuclear plants] need to undergo safety improvements… Hundreds of technical upgrade measures have already been identified.” This news poses problems for countries like France, which relies on nuclear power to generate 80% of its electricity. The report also mentioned that all 58 of France’s reactors had “specific failings.” While France is the forerunner in inadequacies, of the 143 total reactors assessed, many countries have some flagrant safety violations and potential hazards.
Not all of Europe is in hot water though. Whereas some countries (like France) have bolstered their nuclear power programs in the aftermath of Fukushima, some have chosen to abandon theirs. Lithuania, Ukraine, Germany, and Switzerland have begun to phase out their nuclear power plants and have begun replacing them with greener options. Some countries, like Germany, have declared that “cleaner gas- and coal-powered plants” will replace nuclear power altogether by 2022.
The tests themselves, which have generated a great deal of tension in Europe, have already generated discrepancies. Since different states have different standards, some have called the stress tests biased. Reuters reports that, “The stress tests are a voluntary exercise to establish whether nuclear plants can withstand natural disasters, aircraft crashes, and management failures, as well as whether adequate systems are in place to deal with power disruptions.” Most plants fell short in the latter factor and four plants were found to be unable to deal with a power outage for more than an hour, which would cause a meltdown. Others have criticized the tests for not shutting down plants that cannot force a plant to shut-down in case of an electrical outage. Reuters also reports that, “ ‘The stress tests only give a limited view,’ said Roger Spautz, energy campaigner at Greenpeace, which believes nuclear power should be phased out.”
When the extremely detailed final report is officially released later this week, European countries, watchdog groups, protest groups, and citizens will be able to get a clearer understanding of the situation.