ENS NEWS, N° 17:

Raising the political stakes

When asked about what politics meant to him Albert Einstein replied: “Equations are more important to me, because politics is for the present, but an equation is something for eternity.” Well, if Einstein were around today, with all the elections that have taken place in Europe recently, he would have every opportunity to contemplate eternity and to ignore more mundane considerations like radical political reform or forming coalition governments. But would he still play down the importance of politics? Isn’t what happens today the future of nuclear science?

For some of us, science and politics simply don’t mix; we prefer to stick to science rather than engage in the political process. For others, trying to influence the political debate in order to secure a better deal for science and research is essential and many of us actively lobby politicians, state our case and try to influence the political agenda.
The debate about whether science and the Machiavellian arts are complementary or immiscible is a familiar philosophical one and we won’t go down that road now. But consider this: the changing political landscape in Europe could have profound implications for the future pace and direction of scientific research, development, education and training. It could greatly influence future generations of scientists.

A policy rethink on the orientation and funding of research will affect us all directly. It will redefine priorities, set new deadlines and have a great impact upon the context and framework within which we work. Of course, we are not all natural political animals, as Aristotle claimed, but isn’t it better to take part than observe; to be in motion rather than in inertia? By playing a more active role in the political process we have a better chance of making our case heard and refocusing governments’ minds on priority issues. If we don’t plead our case who will? We should try and influence things from the inside rather than observe impassively from the outside. Surely being apolitical is simply not an option – even for those who doubt they can have much of an effect? Like it or not, being apolitical is simply not an option.

So, what are these political events that are redrawing Europe’s political map? Firstly, the mandate given by French voters to “citoyen Sarkozy” is a good thing for the nuclear sector. Any lingering doubts about France’s commitment to nuclear energy in the event of a Ségolène Royal victory have been duly dispatched to a deep underground repository somewhere. The EPR programme is now sailing in clear blue water.

Across the English Channel, the UK has taken the radical decision, fired by the pragmatic realisation that its own energy resources are dwindling and that it must act to achieve its CO2 reduction targets, to consider a nuclear new build programme. Britain’s new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has lent his support to this, just as his predecessor, Tony Blair, did. Major players like EDF and Westinghouse are jockeying for position in order to cash in on lucrative construction contracts in the UK.

In Belgium, negotiations are underway for the forming of a new coalition government. Yves Leterme, the leader of the Flemish Christina Democrats, is hotly tipped to become the new Prime Minister and he has already come out in favour of reviewing Belgium’s nuclear phase-out policy. But until the composition of the new government is decided, speculation about whether Belgium will follow the advice of the Commission 2030 panel of experts and phase out the phase-out will continue. One thing is certain, though, the science community must makes itself heard and respected sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, in pro-nuclear Bulgaria, the first Balkan MEPs have taken their place in the European Parliament following a national vote. More pro-nuclear MEPs can have a greater influence on the political debate in the EU and lead to greater visibility for nuclear science and research at both the European and national level.

Speaking of Europe, the re-emergence of nuclear energy as a key element of the EU’s energy strategy has led to the creation of a Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform (SNETP) and put the Community’s fission research programme under increased scrutiny. Nuclear energy is no longer a taboo subject – marginalised outside mainstream political thinking. The time is right for Europe’s scientific community to do even more to seize the initiative and cash in on nuclear energy’s new-found place at the heart of EU energy policy.

With the EU more favourably disposed towards nuclear energy and more and more governments looking to phase-out their phase-out policy, expand their nuclear base or go nuclear for the first time, the premium for cutting edge nuclear science and research has never been greater. But investing in nuclear means investing more financial resources in the science that is needed to fuel and sustain the nuclear renaissance. Greater investment in human talent – recruiting and supporting current and future generations of scientists – is also vital if the nuclear resurgence is to prove really sustainable. These are areas where we must lead the debate. With a more favourable political wind blowing across Europe right now and the nuclear revival maintaining its momentum, we may never have a better chance to thrust science to the top of politicians’ agenda.

Issue N° 17 kicks off with a word from our President, who urges scientists to communicate more effectively with the general public (and don’t forget that the ENS website is a public one) and rid themselves of the stereotyped view that they are all dressed in white coats and live in an intellectual ivory tower, divorced from every reality. Next up Andrew Teller gives a thought-provoking appraisal of the subtle difference between evidence and absence.

The events section in this summer’s edition of ENS NEWS features a teaser on the upcoming ENC2007, in September, in Brussels.

ENS members continue to send in their contributions in ever growing numbers, which shows the dynamism and motivation of members and helps keep the nuclear science community up to date with everything that is going on in our sector. The contributions this time include a report on the Assisi Symposium on Nuclear Conversion and Development, a personal view of German Presidency of the EU from Peter Leister of the Swiss Nuclear Forum, a feature about the JRC’s new science web portal NUCLEONICA, a report from Sweden about unusual nuclear reactor concepts, a summary of what happened at the recent ICAPP conference and a piece about how new Genitron radio systems are helping to upgrade the safety monitoring process around Chernobyl’s 30 km exclusion zone.

The Young Generation section contains a glimpse into what the future holds for young nuclear professionals - as discussed at this year’s European Young Generation Forum (EYGF), in Amsterdam; a detailed account of the Czech Young Generation’s visit to SKODA’s manufacturing facilities, in Pilsen (Czech Republic) and an early announcement about ENC2008, in Interlaken (Switzerland.

Finally, the World News section contains the latest edition of the NEI’s Nuclear Energy Overview newsletter and two reports from NucNet.

Enjoy ENS NEWS N° 17 and above all have a lovely summer break!

Mark O’Donovan



Word from the President

Scientists and the nuclear debate

At meetings on nuclear energy, most papers deal with technological or scientific aspects. This is certainly not abnormal as most people working in the nuclear field and attending meetings are scientists or engineers and, therefore, tend to consider that most of the problems of nuclear energy - and I mean nuclear energy in the broader sense, also non-power applications - are of scientific or technological nature and should be solved as such.


The subtle relationship between evidence and absence

by Andrew Teller

The promoters of new technologies are usually given a hard time when they try to support their case by pointing out that no detrimental effect of their use has been observed.


ENC 2007

Global networking at the heart of Europe this autumn

Key players in the world’s nuclear community from the fields of research, development and industry will be in Brussels, Belgium, in September for the European Nuclear Conference (ENC) and you are invited to join them.


Assisi Symposium on Nuclear Conversion and Development

On April 13 and 14 2007, a meeting took place in Assisi, to promote a programme for the conversion of nuclear warheads into nuclear fuel for nuclear power plants. According to the Megatons to Development programme, part of the income raised from the programme can be used to finance development projects in the southern hemisphere. The European institutions and the European nuclear industry can play a leading role in strengthening the link between nuclear energy and peace and possibly also in promoting socio-economic development.


A Stroke of a Genius

When Germany took over the six monthly presidency of the EU-Council at the beginning of 2007, the start of this period fell right in the middle of in the so-called “fifth season.” This phenomenon is unique to Germany and manifests itself by a part of the population going crazy for a couple of weeks. It is more commonly known as the carnival season.


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