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Global Climate Change - France

Nuclear power - clean but is it safe?

by Philip Turle

Article published on the 2009-11-23 Latest update 2009-12-04 15:50 TU

Security prevented RFI's reporter from going beyond the sign-post to a French nuclear site in Normandy, October 2009(Photo: Philip Turle/RFI)

Security prevented RFI's reporter from going beyond the sign-post to a French nuclear site in Normandy, October 2009
(Photo: Philip Turle/RFI)

France is a leader in the construction of nuclear power plants in many countries. French nuclear technology is also one of the methods used at home to cut greenhouse gases from energy sources. That has contributed to the European Union meeting one of the international gas-reducing targets.But not everyone agrees that it's the best solution.

Nuclear power does help fight global warming, says François Sorin of France’s Nuclear Energy Society. It is the only viable alternative to fossil fuels, he claims.

"France has no coal, no gas and no fuel of its own. So it decided to go nuclear to be independent in the production of 80 per cent of its own electricity," he says.

"And nuclear power replaces fossil fuels which pollute the atmosphere, so nuclear power is good news when it comes to fighting global warming."

But not everyone agrees. José Bove, the veteran anti-globalisation campaigner, says nuclear power poses two main threats.

First, he says, the ships transporting used uranium are an easy terrorist target.

"A few days ago, a boat of nuclear material was sent from France to Japan. Anybody can attack the ships transporting nuclear waste, and this is scandalous."

On top of that, Bové stresses another non-ecological effect of global warming.

"France buys uranium from overseas and we are destroying areas where it is being mined in Niger in West Africa," he says. "So France is not as autonomous as they would lead us to believe."

Questions have also been raised as to the security of the new nuclear power plant under construction at Flamanville in northern France. There is concern about the possibility of a radioactive leak and what might happen in the event of a terrorist attack.

Axel Poniatovski from France’s ruling UMP party says security is the most important priority when building a new nuclear power plant.

"France is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to security," he says. "It, of course, cannot be safe 100 per cent of the time. But that doesn’t mean that there will be a nuclear proliferation. So I think we are in good shape as far as security is concerned."

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