Nuclear power's green promise dulled by rising temps
Problems with Europe's nuclear plants have raised worries just as the energy was gaining support.
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There are vast differences from country to country, though, over whether to invest in new nuclear power technology or even replace aging reactors. Finland is building a giant new nuclear reactor, the first in Europe in 15 years.Skip to next paragraph
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In France,the government plans to build a new pressurized-water nuclear reactor by 2010. And in England, where opposition to nuclear plants has been intense, climate change worries may trump antinuclear feeling.
"The jury is still out," says Simon Tilford, an analyst with the Centre for European Reform in London, where the summer heat brought scattered blackouts. "But I think the government has had some success at turning public opinion around because they argued the environmental case."
There are vast differences from country to country, though, over whether to invest in new nuclear power technology or even replace aging reactors.
Finland is building a giant new nuclear reactor, the first in Europe in 15 years. In France,the government plans to build a new pressurized-water nuclear reactor by 2010. And in England, where opposition to nuclear plants has been intense, climate change worries may trump antinuclear feeling.
A recently published assessment by the European Environment Agency warned that Europe could expect more of the extreme weather shifts that it has experienced over the last five years without reductions in greenhouse gases.
Europe's four hottest years on record, the agency said, were 1998, 2002, 2003, and 2004. It did not account for this year's weather.
Overall, about one-third of all water used in Europe is used for cooling electrical generators, including those powered by both nuclear and fossil fuels. Environmental officials in several European countries, including France and Germany, have warned that water levels in some reservoirs are at historic lows and have not returned to pre-2003 heat wave levels.
The power plants now used in Europe are big water consumers. Technological advances have made generators more efficient. But European utility companies have been hesitant to invest in new plants because they are not sure how deeply European governments will make them cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study just released by Chatham House, a think tank in London.
The more immediate question in most countries is how much to spend on repairing aging electricity-generating plants, most of them located near shrinking water reserves. About two-thirds of the energy produced in a generator is converted into heated thermal waste water, says Michael Sailer, a researcher at the Institute for Applied Ecology.
"The problem affects both nuclear plants and coal-fired plants," says Sailer.
Older-generation nuclear plants require somewhat more water for cooling, however, so nuclear-dependent countries like France are right to start worrying. It's the second hot summer after 2003, he adds. If they have more, they will have a problem.
Anti-nuclear campaigners say that this summer's problems at European reactors are here to stay. Even if you have one new plant that supposedly is better, says Mr. Lhomme, you still have 58 others [in France] that make the same problems.