As the energy crunch tightens its grip, we are seeing more and more pressure to reinvigorate nuclear power plant construction in the U.S.. France is touted as the example to show that we can have low-cost, “clean” energy if we will only emulate our friends, the French. There are many articles on the internet that disabuse us of that notion, but the article I quote below does a great job of laying out the history of the French nukes program and points out the folly of any program that would convert the US into a French clone in the nuclear energy department. The evidence is there. France is a disaster waiting to happen. Radioactive materials are now leaking into the aquifer that waters the grapes in the Champagne area, and over a half million cubic meters of radioactive waste has been “sequestered” in such a flawed way that it eventually will follow.
The following text was excerpted from the article posted in 2007 at: http://www.citizen.org/documents/Burnie%20paper%20on%20French%20reprocessing.pdf
If the state-funded corporations AREVA/Cogema and Electricite de France (EDF) were to be believed France is basking in a nuclear powered paradise with none of the nuclear waste problems confronting nations such as the United States. Their chosen "solution" to managing nuclear reactor spent fuel is reprocessing. But far from solving their problem - they have created one of the worlds largest and most complex nuclear waste problems, the management of which they continue to struggle with, and for which unknown and unallocated billions of Euros will be required.
French policy on reprocessing is a legacy of decisions taken during the 1950s-1970s. Those decisions were based upon in the first instance a need for a plutonium stockpile for nuclear weapons development, and later the expected demand that large amounts of the nuclear material would be required to fuel a generation of Fast Breeder Reactors.
In 2007, France no longer produces plutonium for military use, and its only commercial Fast Breeder Reactor has been closed ten years (1997) - but reprocessing continues. This analysis summarizes the current state of French policy and its consequences.
The French breeder advocates located inside AREVA (French Atomic Energy Commission) have found themselves a new mission in the last few years to deliver safe, sustainable and proliferation resistant energy. Policy makers in the U.S. at least, bombarded by spurious evidence from the French nuclear state appear to believe that these ‘new’ reactor concepts under the banner of Generation IV’ will deliver cheap energy, solve the nuclear waste problem, and not increase proliferation risks while also saving the climate.
The international track record in FBR (Fast Breeder Reactor) development including that of France would counter that this is wholly misguided. The reactor concepts are not new, but reinventions of ideas developed at a cost of billions and then abandoned over the last three-four decades. The US breeder community that has survived the lean period of the 1980’s-1990’s following the cancellation of programs such as the Integral Fast Reactor, and the scrapping of the Clinch River breeder, have dragged the Generation IV debate towards the concepts of which they know best — fast neutron reactors with supposedly closed fuel cycles. For those who thought that the breeder concept was long-buried, defeated by its disastrous economics, safety and technical problems, and of course the inherent proliferation threat posed by breeding and reprocessing plutonium – the new reality under (Bush’s) GNEP is that they will be back. It’s like the last thirty years did not happen; if it is possible to have nuclear ground-hog day, this is it.