Nuclear power: France's experience cited to encourage US

Nuclear Power: In France it Works NBC, tomorrow, 10-11 p.m. Reporter/writer: Steve Delaney. Producer: Reuven Frank. In France today, there is no effective antinuclear protest movement. School children are taught that the glory of France depends upon nuclear independence. France has no oil, no gas, no coal - and, therefore, no choice. Three-quarters of its electricity is generated by nuclear power plants.

``Nuclear Power: In France it Works'' is, in effect, an hour-long plea for a change in attitude toward nuclear energy by antinuclear groups in the United states and throughout the world. ``Looking at a foreign country where nuclear power is a fact of life may restore some reason to the discussion at home, where emotions drive the nuclear debate,'' says writer Steve Delaney. France, after all, is the only country in the world where Chernobyl did not cause a public outcry.

The formula the French have come up with is standardization - of equipment, personnel, education, training, and administration of the nation's nuclear resources. Those in power choose the best reactors on the market and stick with them. And, perhaps most important, there is a skillful public-relations campaign to make the nation aware of the value of nuclear energy and the potential grandeur of France's nuclear-age future. There is little emphasis on the dangers associated with reactors or nuclear wastes, dangers which are regarded in France as ``controllable.'' According to Delaney, the message of the ``unrelenting public relations offensive .... is constant and persuasive.''

This film, produced under the aegis of Reuven Frank, one of television's most respected documentary makers, is full of detailed, previously unreported information about reactors, nuclear fission, and nuclear waste, information the French seem surprisingly willing to share. It makes this viewer wonder if, perhaps, the generosity is part of that same ``unrelenting public relations offensive'' Delaney describes.

``There is in France an aura of glamour around the nuclear industry that no longer exists in the United States,'' Delaney reports, with just the hint of envy in his voice. ``...There are 15 new plants under construction here [in France]. In the US, not one has been ordered since Three Mile Island.''

The documentary would have achieved a better balance if it went more deeply into the antinuclear arguments. But, admittedly, its focus is on France.

Why does it all work there? Listen to Delaney's conclusion: ``The reasons go beyond good management, public relations, and standardization. The French have more faith than we do in government's competence to manage the nuclear program. And the French government has less tolerance for protracted dissent. But most of all, no other country has embraced the atom as enthusiastically as France. There is a unique national consensus here. The French believe their survival depends on nuclear power. That's why, in France, it works.''

This viewer, however, would feel more comfortable about that reasoning if he didn't recall a similar attitude of faith by the French in another panacea just before World War II: the Maginot line.

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