This days the media are full reporting about a possible nuclear threat coming from North Korea and for sure considering that neither the US nor North Korea have mental stable leaders this threat is real. But it is wrong to believe that a possible nuclear war is the only nuclear threat the world face. Have a look on Europe! Just recently, actually pretty much exactly a month ago Sylvia Kotting-Uhl, the German Green Party spokeswoman for nuclear politics, warned: “Germany is surrounded in the west and south of its border by dilapidated and dangerous nuclear zones, which puts the German population at a great risk”. Belgium and Switzerland have unsafe nuclear power plants just across the Germany border.
In Switzerland there is the Beznau nuclear power plant, located in the municipality Döttingen, Canton of Aargau, Switzerland, which is just 24 km from German border and 30 km from Zurich, where more than 1 million people live. The Beznau I reactor started to generate energy in September 1969 and is the world’s oldest nuclear reactor which is still in operation. There were a number of Greenpeace protests on operating such old dangerous reactors, and when it did not pass an earthquake resistance tests in 2012 and defects were found in its pressure vessels the reactor was put on rest in March 2015. But in November 2016 its owner the energy company Axpo claimed that the reactor was safe to be restarted and submitted the safety case to the Federal Nuclear Safety Inspectorate (ENSI). “From Axpo’s viewpoint, there are no safety-technical concerns regarding the continued operation of the plant up until 2030,” the company said. On 20 December, Swiss media reported that ENSI’s examination of the test results was taking longer than previously assumed and that the inspectorate has requested further information from Axpo and will not be taking a decision on restarting the plant until March 2017. Surprisingly already Friday 17, 2017 the reactor was switched back in operation and was manually shut down again after the operator KKL noted a malfunction of the exhaust system.
Tihange Nuclear power station is Belgium’s plant which is located around 70 km from the German border. One of its reactors Tihange 2 is 41-years-old, on June 2016 it was shut down due to motor failure. On September 2016 Tihange 1 was also shut down, because one building of the plant had been damaged during construction works. It still didn’t restart, as the reconstruction works could not be completed in time, but it is planned to restart it before 31 May 2017. Neighboring countries, including Germany, have called for the permanent closure of the ageing plant. But Belgium’s official nuclear safety agency has insisted that there is “no legal basis” to call for them to be closed.
And just across the German border sit France’s oldest nuclear power plant, Fessenheim, located within only 1.5 km of the border with Germany. This nuclear power plant has been in operation since 1977. In 2014, one of the plant’s reactors had to be shut down after water was discovered leaking from several places. Since than the Fessenheim plant has been a source of tensions between France and its neighbors Switzerland and Germany. Last year, Barbara Hendricks German Federal Environment and Nuclear Safety Minister demanded on Fassenheim nuclear power plant closure at the earliest possible date. Finally in the beginning of 2017, French authorities announced that the country’s oldest nuclear power plant will close by 2020.
Beside the risk of a nuclear disaster caused by outdated reactors which are kept longer and longer in operation we face an other risk! German Media reported in April 2016: “Nuclear power plant COMPROMISED: Fears grow as power plant affected by malware”. Gundremmingen plant in southern Germany was found to be riddled with computer viruses, including those which would allow attackers remote access to equipment for moving nuclear fuel rods. Fears of an ISIS-inspired nuclear attack have grown in recent weeks after terrorists involved in the Brussels attack were found to be monitoring an official in charge of a Belgian nuclear plant and Investigators discovered 10 hours of footage filmed by jihadis of the home of the research and development director of the Belgian Nuclear Program. This terrifying prospect of an ISIS nuclear attack was confirmed when police searching the flat of Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam found documents relating to a German nuclear base.
It is not a secret that nuclear industry is not popular with the public, especially in the industrialized nations. The accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima have given nuclear power a bad reputation, many people have serious concerns about the safety of nuclear energy and the impact of the radioactive waste it generates. Although nuclear power plants are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel power station, we still can’t say they are emissions-free. There is considerable energy expended to develop uranium mines, operate them, transport people and materials to remote mine sites, process fuel, build nuclear facilities, and transport and store wastes. Furthermore, nuclear power typically operates in tandem with other power sources that do produce greenhouse gases. This happens firstly because of nuclear energy being not very reliable, according to official statistics small breakdowns on nuclear power stations are happening every day. Repairs are frequent and while nuclear stations are down, coal-fired stations are used. Secondly, nuclear is used to provide only basic power needs. Coal or some other source is required to provide peak power-such as when everyone gets up in the morning, turns on their lights and cooks breakfast, or during bad weather conditions.
To be pro or con nuclear energy is not an easy decision. We need clean energy. Energy which does not pollute our environment and nuclear energy is still better than burning fossil fuels, but if we use nuclear energy it has to be done with care and we should not allow energy giants to keep outdated plants running just to increase profits. And security needs to be prioritized. Nobody wants to see again a nuclear power plant being out of control.
Each year there more and more countries are willing to join the “Nuclear club”. Currently there are 60 new nuclear power plants under construction in 15 countries and we should all remember that there are no safe nuclear power plants. Nobody can guarantee that sheer greed, human error, a natural disaster or a terror attack will not cause a disaster like Chernobyl or Fukushima again.
More like the question is not if but when and where it will happen!