Anxiety Surrounding Nuclear Still Lingers

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted February 24, 2012

The topic of nuclear energy cultivates a slew of different reactions from the public and government authorities and varies from country to country.

While the nuclear industry is booming in the United States, Japanese citizens are forming anti-nuclear coalitions to prevent the construction and/or modification of new or existing plants altogether. In France, lingering anxieties about the danger and risk associated with nuclear power continue to permeate public opinion, with the confidence level in authorities to protect citizens from a similar fate is ever-dwindling.

Anti-nuclear groups are pushing to see constructive progress happen in Japan following an uprising of Japanese citizens against the government and nuclear industry.

Activists have joined forces and are filing petitions left and right regarding radiation testing, evacuation policies, and efforts to keep the government from reopening several nuclear plants shut down after the Fukushima disaster last March.

The results of a NHK poll conducted in late October revealed the overwhelming majority of participants are against nuclear power, and hope to see it greatly reduced, if not completely abolished altogether.

But despite the widespread anger over radiation protection and the general anti-nuclear consensus, social pressure to fly beneath the radar when it comes to anti-nuclear sentiment still weighs heavily on the Japanese population.

Much of the movement’s dissemination of information is through word-of-mouth or on the Internet. “If you start holding meetings, you’re seen as an extremist,”  said Miho Abe, Web producer, mother of two, and founder of a radiation-protection group in Yokohama.

It seems the anti-nuclear movement is spreading like wildfire with the Socialist and Green parties in France pushing to shut down over half the country’s nuclear plants in the next thirteen years.

France is more reliant on nuclear energy than any other country with Electricite de France’s 58 nuclear reactors supplying roughly three quarters of France’s electricity.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s strong conviction of refusing to close the Fessenheim nuclear plant in Eastern France has been met with harsh criticism from opposing Socialists and Greens, who pledge to shut down 24 nuclear reactors by 2025 and reduce France’s dependence on atomic power by 50 percent.

Socialist candidate Francois Hollande’s motivations for closing nuclear plants are primarily safety concerns about the reactors’ age, an average 25 years, and while his concerns are justified, shutting down the proposed number of facilities would not only result in a massive upswing in energy costs for French citizens, but also hundreds of thousands of job losses.

Looking 3,000 miles west to the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently approved the construction of new nuclear reactors for the first time in over thirty years when it issued licenses for the construction of two nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Eastern Georgia. In an NPR interview with Dr. Per Peterson, professor and chairman of the Department of Nuclear Engineering at University of California Berkeley, discussed the development and improvements in the design and construction of the new reactors, and also how safety and crisis prevention are of top priority.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu also expressed his support of nuclear energy while on a tour of Plant Vogtle. Chu backs up his nuclear agenda with financial support, a reported $10 million in nuclear reactor and fuel cycle technology research, in addition to the $170 million the U.S. Dept of Energy spent on nuclear research grants in the last three years.

So while the anti-nuclear movement sweeps across parts of Europe and Asia, the U.S. is investing hundreds of millions in nuclear research and hard at work building billion dollar facilities, in turn creating thousands of jobs for Americans.

Even though the nuclear industry gets a bad rap, it continues to be a viable and critical option for energy both in the U.S. and around the world

Until next time,

Stephanie Ginter

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