Nuclear Energy: Is the Game Worth the Effort?

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Ukrainian rescue workers participated in a nuclear accident drill at the Zaporizhia power plant.

The use of nuclear energy to generate electricity is the subject of debate, even more so since the attention of the international community has turned to the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, Ukraine, which continues to operate in full war zone. Many still believe that it is a solution to confront global warming. But is the game worth the candle?

We must first ask ourselves about the reactor used, said the former director of the Center for Nuclear Science and Materials Science and author of the book L&#x27 ;Ile au Bonheur : Men, Atoms and Willful Blindness, Harry Bernas, on the show Facts First on ICI Première.

At the start of work to draw energy fission, researchers were working on nuclear reactors that were totally safe, Mr. Bernas said, but for political, military and strategic reasons at the time of the cold war, we chose reactors in which it is possible that, for example, the meltdown of the core or an accident of this kind may occur.

The development of such technology could be completed around 2045-2050, too long a time frame to make the energy transition in the current climate context, he believes.

The teacher-researcher in nuclear physics at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris, Emmanuelle Galichet, does not share this opinion and believes that research and development are there precisely to give us solutions for the future and that we can't say we don't have time.

“Nuclear is always a trade-off between risks and advantages”

— Emmanuelle Galichet, teacher-researcher in nuclear physics at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.

She indicates that the production of nuclear power produces almost no no greenhouse gases, unlike fossil fuels.

Today, nuclear power is one of the least carbon-intensive ways of producing electricity in the world […], so it has great potential if we want to fight climate change, she pleaded.

There is no consensus on the place that nuclear energy should take in the energy transition, in Canada as elsewhere in the world.

According to the International Energy Agency, the use of nuclear power for energy production has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by more than 60 gigatonnes over the past 50 years. Global energy production produces about 60 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases in two years.

But nuclear power's share of global electricity production has fallen from 17.5% in 1996 to around 10% in 2020. Some experts estimate that a reversal is possible with the development of a new technology: small modular reactors (SMR).

The proponents of SMRs, more and more numerous in Canada, argue in particular that they are safer and produce less radioactive waste, but it will be necessary to be patient before the prototype goes from the table to drawing to reality.

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spoke to the media in Kyiv before setting off with his team to the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.

At the end of August, a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) crossed the front line to inspect the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant, which has been under Russian occupation since the beginning of hostilities, while the international community x27;worried that it was the scene of a nuclear disaster.

These experts then testified that the integrity of the plant had been achieved, but have yet to complete the risk assessment and make recommendations.

For Harry Bernas, the main lesson to be learned from the situation at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is that the distinction between the notions of safety and security is blurring.

“[Scientists have] reasoned about the safety of reactors, leaving the cops and soldiers to deal with issues of general security, military security, security against terrorism, etc.

—Harry Bernas, physicist and former director of the Center for Nuclear and Materials Science

The situation in Zaporizhia, he continued, shows that a nuclear power plant – and more precisely the radioactivity it can emit – can become a weapon of war in the event of a direct attack on a reactor or an indirect one if the power supply was cut following the bombardments on the installations. This issue also raises, according to him, questions about the development of power plants in unstable regions of the world.

Emmanuelle Galichet does not believe that this is an argument against atomic energy, since any industrial object can be diverted and it is difficult to predict which factories could find themselves in a situation of armed conflict. in the future.

Director General of the Security and Safeguards Directorate at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Kathleen Heppell-Masys, believes that the security situation at nuclear power plants of Canada is not as problematic, since its legislation regulates all safety and security for the protection of the environment and citizens.

Canadian facilities must meet strict health and safety standards, so they must be able to deal with different threats.

This allows for a capacity of armed intervention on the site, a reinforced verification of the security , protection against forced entry and national assistance when needed. The power stations are well equipped in this regard, she assured.

With information from Marc Godbout

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