Wednesday , 12 June 2024
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Global Economy

Between nuclear power and climate change

In France, the presidential mantra is: "Nuclear power is a solution, a sustainable one. It is in France and will be in other European countries."

Golfech on the banks of the Garonne, Blayais on the Gironde and also Saint-Alban, Bugey and Tricastin on the Rhône – these five nuclear power plants are now allowed to direct warmer cooling water into the already overheated and dry rivers for several weeks longer than is actually allowed. So far there has only been one exception – in 2018, only for 36 hours and only for one nuclear power plant.

Frustrated with regulations

But now one heat wave is chasing the other, the rivers are reaching critical temperatures after the reactor has been cooled – because France needs energy. The environmental director Cécile Laugier of EDF, Europe's largest nuclear power plant operator, sees the ecology like this:

The canal at the nuclear power plant, which leads to the Rhône, should actually not be warmer than 28 degrees after the water has been returned. The exceptions now allow a few degrees more. The regulatory authority for nuclear energy promises stricter eco-monitoring. EDF Environment Director Cécile Laugier finds:

"It is difficult to quantify the impact precisely"

In contrast, the popular scientific magazine "Sciences et Avenir" – Science and Future – only mentions one large study more than 10 years after the heat wave of 2003. It showed an average of 1.6 degrees warmer water at a Rhône nuclear power plant. With bacteria, for example, this meant that they were unable to filter as many nitrates out of the water. The fish, on the other hand, avoided the zone.

The magazine writes that EDF does analyze, but not in exceptional situations. The announced monitoring is therefore new. More intensive research must also be carried out and not just checked to see whether a dead fish is swimming at the top. But many numbers are missing. Environmental expert Anne Bringault from Reseau Action Climat says:

Activists are critical of exceptions

The exceptions would not improve biodiversity, tweeted the environmental organization France Nature Environnement. The Sortir du nucléaire network – get out of nuclear power – is also critical and asks: limit values of 36.5 degrees for the Gironde – what will biodiversity look like after weeks of low-temperature cooking? And what are studies worth that the operator does himself. Rather, the network predicts the advance of invasive species and less habitat for crabs, snails and invertebrates.

Anne Bringault is also president of a renewable energy cooperative. She sees things bigger.

But now things have to be done very quickly – a tour de force for society as a whole. In view of the Ukraine war and the gas crisis, France wants to reduce its energy consumption by 10 percent – by 2024. Renewables are being expanded, but so is nuclear power.

Environmental expert Anne Bringault regrets: "If we had planned better, we wouldn't have to choose between more gas, more coal – or pipe hot water into already hot, almost dried up rivers. It's a shame that we are faced with this choice, which actually isn't one."

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