ENS NEWS N° 23
In the season of crises it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good
As the French expression goes: “jamais deux sans trois”, or disasters always come in threes. Well, so far this winter has indeed been characterised by a succession of crises. First, we had the credit crunch that continues to threaten financial and economic meltdown on an unprecedented global scale and looks likely to dominate the scene for quite some time to come. Then we had the first “real winter” for many years, with arctic temperatures, heavy snow fall in places like Marseille, Nice and Madrid and resultant travel chaos and increased energy consumption. For those of us who thought that climate change meant warm and wet winters from now on it has been quite disconcerting. And then there was the gas supply crisis that sent many governments into a flat spin. A financial crisis, an energy supply crisis and a severe weather crisis – what an unholy triumvirate! Shakespeare’s famous words “Now is the winter of our discontent…” seem particularly evocative now.
So what, you might say. Harsh winters are par for the course in many countries and those who live there are used to coping with freezing temperatures and extra power consumption. But when a major energy supply shortage erupts onto the scene, generating serious economic, political and social conflict – the winter suddenly takes on a crisis proportion all of its own. When Russia decided recently to turn the gas tap off the harsh reality of Europe’s lack of energy diversity and dependence upon imports really struck home. Eastern European countries, like Bulgaria and Slovakia, were especially hard hit on account of their persistent dependence upon imported Russian gas. Their respective governments even declared a state of emergency as industry, social services and beleaguered citizens had to come to terms with energy shortages. There was even talk of reopening power plants that had earlier been closed to conform to these countries’ EU accession obligations. Many beleaguered European citizens have had to seek alternative methods to heat their homes. Try telling them that a severe winter combined with energy cuts doesn’t equate to a crisis.
Of course, every coin has two sides. The Russian gas crisis has thrust the security of energy supply issue - and particularly the vital need for energy diversity and independence - into the public spotlight like never before. I’m sure that it will not have escaped your attention that the European press has been full of articles promoting greater use of nuclear energy as a means of avoiding over-dependence upon energy imports and keeping energy supplies flowing. The European nuclear industry has been inundated with media requests for comments, as economic and political analysts focus on the true security of supply advantages that nuclear energy offers against a backdrop of dwindling energy supplies and sub-zero temperatures.
The energy independence debate is gathering momentum and as a result has provided fresh impetus for nuclear new build. Poland recently announced that it is going to accelerate its new build programme and go nuclear for the first time. The UK, Slovakia, France, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Finland are either already building new plants or planning to do so in the near future. In Italy, the government wants to review the current moratorium and re-launch its stagnant domestic nuclear sector. Countries that have a nuclear phase-out policy in place have been forced to reconsider. Public opinion, fuelled by a pragmatic need for secure, reliable and competitively priced sources of electricity, continues to evolve in favour of greater use of nuclear energy. For once, it’s not just the strong climate change credentials of nuclear energy that are grabbing the headlines.
Every crisis cloud has a potential silver lining. It’s a question of the whole nuclear community seizing the opportunity and doing all it can to promote the advantages of nuclear energy from a position of strength and growing credibility. But the message is clear - Europe cannot afford to be held to energy ransom again in the future, and until it has more diverse and independent energy supplies of its own it will always remain vulnerable to energy instability. More pressure must be put on politicians to see the reality and promote more nuclear energy together with other indigenous, low-carbon energy sources. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good and if that wind continues to blow in the right direction, and politicians wake up and smell the coffee, then EU citizens could be the ultimate beneficiaries. With secure, stable, and independent supplies of nuclear generated electricity we should be able to avoid some of these crises in the future, and where political and meteorological machinations conspire to make a crisis unavoidable then we would at least be better equipped to manage it.
ENS NEWS N° 23 further develops this “crisis versus opportunity” theme with a Word from the President feature providing a more personal take on the deep-rooted political causes and effects of the recent gas crisis.
But this latest edition of ENS NEWS is not all about crisis. On this occasion Andrew Teller’s thought-provoking column focuses on developing assessment methodology for the accurate calculation of the cost of nuclear energy and exposes some of the false assumptions and conclusions to which analysts sometimes wrongly jump.
Another bumper section on ENS events gives the latest information on four heavyweight fixtures that dominate the 2009 conference agenda – PIME 2009 (Edinburgh, 15 – 18 February), RRFM (Vienna, 22 – 25 March), TopFuel (Paris, 6 – 10 September and ETRAP (Lisbon, 8 – 11 November). Looking further ahead, there is advanced information on ENC 2010 (Barcelona, 30 May – 3 June).
In the Member Societies / Corporate Members section are a number of fascinating reports addressing subjects as diverse as nuclear power in a politically correct world, the global medical isotopes shortage, industry skills development, the latest on reactor kinetics and a summary of events at the AGM of the Spanish Nuclear Society.
Our YGN colleagues have been as industrious as ever, providing reports on the COP/MOP talks in Poznan (Poland), a visit to the underground experimental facilities at SCK-CEN, in Mol (Belgium) and an in-depth look at the technical programme of the European Nuclear Young Generation Forum.
ENS NEWS N° 23 concludes with some recent news stories from NucNet and extra information on ENS sponsored conferences, including ANIMMA 2009, the first International Conference on Advancements in Nuclear Instrumentation, Measurement Methods and their Applications; ICONE 17, the International Conference on Nuclear Engineering and NURETH -13, the thirteenth International Topical Meeting on Nuclear Reactor Thermal Hydraulics.
ENJOY ENS NEWS N°23!
Editor-in-Chief, ENS NEWS