Irradiated future

Are we stumbling headlong into a radiated future ?  Nuclear waste requires investments spread out over several decades for its removal and millennia, if not hundreds of millennia, for its treatment. What is the responsibility of societies who have been using this energy for such a long time?   Nuclear energy generates radioactive waste, regardless whether it is used in military, medical, industrial, or research settings. This consists of residual radioactive materials as well as radiated or contaminated tools, equipment and infrastructure used in this process. The majority of waste is generated during the preparation, fabrication, use in the reactor, and post-radiation management of the fuel in nuclear reactors. Nuclear waste is classified according to its use and the length of time for which it will remain radioactive. The most highly radioactive waste, which will take the longest to become inert, is generated mostly by the nuclear power industry. Its management is the most problematic. Unlike the overwhelming majority of countries that use nuclear energy, France decided to reprocess its spent fuel. Its reprocessing at the plant in la Hague in Normandy consists of separating this spent fuel initially made up of uranium oxide into three parts: 1% plutonium, which forms during the radiation process in the reactor, 95% uranium, which is impoverished by passing through the reactor, and 4% of “final waste.” The latter consists of what...

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Nuclear daily life

Living with nuclear risk  How does one live near and work at sites where an accident, radiation, or a “low dose” radioactive contamination is a constant threat? Welcome to daily life in a nuclear society, where people have trivialized nuclear and not taken any responsibility for its inherent risks.   The invisibility of the threat of radioactivity is fundamental to how we perceive nuclear risk and the preventive practices we have instituted. Although the sight of nuclear structures, imposing as they are, is the cause of some anxiety, such facilities are generally kept out of view. The location...

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From Chernobyl to Fukushima

From Chernobyl to Fukushima  After almost 70 years of civilian use, the various accidents that have marked the history of nuclear energy reveal our inability to control the power of the atom fully. A look at the weakness of the civilian nuclear power industry.   The health and environmental risks posed by radioactivity were not revealed until relatively late in the history of atomic power. In the 1920s and 30s, radioactivity was seen as a miracle remedy rather than a lethal substance because of the progress it achieved in the field of medicine and the unshakable faith in the alliance between science and technology that the Industrial Revolution gave the Western world. Advertising poster for the energizing drink Zoé (1950) Only once the first cancers were diagnosed and attributed to daily contact with radioactivity did its dangerousness come to light, especially in the watchmaking industry in the town of Bienne, Switzerland. At the end of WWII, the devastation caused by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki raised the first ethical questions. At once apocalyptic and divine, the atom recalled the fire granted to mankind by Prometheus, as well as the ensuing question: would mankind one day deserve such power? The control of its devastating power presupposes the infallible safety of the technology used to prevent inevitable human errors as well as political stability and wisdom. The interdependence of...

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The Myth of Energy Independence

The Myth of Energy Independence      In France, the uranium needed to operate the country’s nuclear reactors is imported mainly from Niger and Kazakhstan. This dependence calls into question the myth of energy independence that civilian nuclear power had promised, as well as its image of providing “clean” energy.     Georges-Besse d’Eurodif Enrichment Facility, France, no date, Bernard LAPONCHE Fund. All rights reserved.     During the first oil crisis in 1973, the development of civilian nuclear power in France was based on an official discourse that centered largely on energy independence. The stated objective of the Messmer Plan was, through its “all nuclear, all electric” approach, to make France completely independent; however, this relied on securing uranium supplies. When the French nuclear power industry was born at the end of the WWII, France still exercised sovereignty over territories whose reserves guaranteed it a long-term supply for its military and civilian programs. Access to these resources, which also held the promise of very lucrative exports for the extracting industries, was the main focus of the CEA’s prospecting policy in France’s colonies in West Africa and Madagascar. This was especially true of Gabon, where deposits were discovered in the east of the country in 1956 under the direction of Jacques Mabille, an engineer from the Corps des Mines.     EXCERPT FROM: GABRIELLE HECHT  “AFRICAN URANIUM: A...

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Challenging Nuclear Energy in France

Challenging Nuclear Energy in France  Although the construction of nuclear reactors in France received widespread support from the political and industrial elite, it did not always play out smoothly. A new look at the challenges and questions that shook the 1970s and 1980s. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki also gave rise to a bitter opposition to nuclear energy. Marked by the scale of the devastation, pacifists began to coalesce into movements. Troubled by the proliferation of nuclear arsenals and the risk of atomic warfare between the superpowers during the Cold War, intellectuals and celebrities the world over united to sign the Stockholm Appeal. Drafted by Fréderic Joliot-Curie, the petition demanded the prohibition of nuclear weapons. More than 3 million people signed, including a very young Jacques Chirac, Lionel Jospin, Pablo Picasso, Pablo Neruda, and Yves Montand. This criticism resonated strongly with citizens and politicians alike, but it did not lead to the disappearance of nuclear arsenals. The Non-Proliferation Treaty and the START and SALT I and II agreements at least reduced the number of nuclear warheads and by a discriminatory logic, reserved their possession to a small number of countries. In the 1970s in France, this opposition to military uses of nuclear power extended to civilian uses as well. The launch of the construction of nuclear power plants under the Messmer Plan, which took place without any...

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Welcome to a nuclear society!

WELCOME TO A NUCLEAR SOCIETY!  Despite the apocalyptic image that the atom acquired from its military use, it has also enjoyed huge popular and political support in France, which became a nuclear society par excellence. How did we get here?   Due to its centralized mode of production and distribution, as well as the State’s involvement in making it possible, civilian nuclear energy shapes the society that uses it. In France, the evolution of the energy model towards nuclear power dates back to the Messmer Plan. Following the 1973 oil crisis, the spike in oil prices strongly impacted...

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Power and Its Privileges

Power and its Privileges  The march towards the atom in France began in the postwar period amidst an international environment dominated by the confrontation between East and West. Although efforts focused initially on nuclear uses for the military, this quest for strategic power soon transferred to civilian uses of nuclear energy. The atom became an indispensable aspect of France’s economic and cultural expansion, for better and for worse. Photograph of a high-ranking official and a banker’s wife, newlyweds, cutting their wedding cake shaped in the form of a nuclear mushroom cloud, [1950], ETOPIA Archives, Belgium. All rights reserved....

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