Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nuclear Nostalgia

A few days ago, Der Spiegel revealed that the European Commission is supporting the development of new types of nuclear reactors, notably the building of a mini-reactor. The first one should be operational in 2030.

Do not worry that they will not fit into eco-friendly cars to make them eventually independent of lithium batteries that are still too low in their electrical storage capacity. These new reactors will, however, fulfill the need for scattered small energy units since nobody likes long overland cables for the transport of electricity. Already nowadays distributed small gas-operated power stations support the existing grid locally in cases where wind and solar energy are lacking.

The basic idea behind the new generation of reactors is to lower Europe's dependence on Russian gas. At the same time, CO2 emissions are to be diminished in the European Union.

Red Baron shakes his head. While Germany will shut down its last power reactor in 2022, shall it schizophrenically support the development of new reactors at the same time? On several occasions, I have fustigated the nuclear industry for the unsolved problem of permanent safe storage of nuclear waste. The development of new devices does not help.

Fessenheim nuclear power station at the Grand Canal d'Alsace (©Wikipedia/Florival)
Here in Freiburg, people are particularly sensitive when nuclear energy is involved. The reason is the oldest operational power plant in Fessenheim located in Alsace on the other side of the Rhine river 1.5 kilometers from the German border and, in particular, at a distance of 25 kilometers from Freiburg in the prominent westerly wind direction. The plant was commissioned in 1977 and is technologically outdated. It has no cooling towers but uses the water of the Grand Canal d'Alsace, a canal channeling the Upper Rhine River.

Fessenheim and Freiburg too close for comfort (©Wikipedia/Sebturner)
The Fessenheim plant located in the Rhine Graben is subject to risks from seismic activity and flooding. There is an on-going debate about the adequacy of its design in these respects.

Although French President François Hollande had promised to shut-down Fessenheim in 2016, his environment minister and former companion Ségolène Royal ironically postponed the closing date to 2017. Does Ségolène have to settle an old score with François? Again, I can only shake my head.

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