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Going nuclear: Should nations unilaterally decide?

Going nuclear: Should nations unilaterally decide? DW, 6 Jan 22,

As nations like France extend the life of ageing nuclear energy infrastructure, bordering countries that could suffer most from a meltdown have little say.

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster that spread radioactive waste across Europe — some of which remains present 35 years later — sparked a reevaluation of the cross-border impacts of nuclear energy. Some plant projects in border regions were abandoned, while existing reactors were subject to more stringent safety regimes.

Twenty-five years later, the fallout from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster caused the likes of Germany to commit to phasing out atomic fuel by 2022. Belgium also just confirmed it will be nuclear-free by 2025.

But a decade on from Japan’s tsunami-induced meltdown, countries from China to France and the United States continue to rely on power generated by nuclear reactors, many of which were constructed in the 1960s and ’70s.

France, the world’s most nuclear-energy dependent country that generates 70% of its electricity from atomic power, confirmed last February that it would extend the life of its 32 oldest nuclear reactors for another 10 years.

Due in part to increasing safety risks with ageing facilities, some are asking if such nations still have the right to make this decision on their own.

When France shut a reactor in February 2020 at its oldest nuclear plant at Fessenheim on the German border due to reported cracks in a reactor cover and other faults, then-German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze affirmed Germany’s wish to influence nuclear policy across the Rhine.

“We won’t let up in our efforts to campaign for a move away from nuclear power in our neighboring countries,” she saidadding thatthe”nuclear phaseout in Germany is rock solid.”

Who has the power to decide on nuclear?

Though a raft of treaties and agreements lay out minimum consultation requirements between states, there is no framework to specifically consult with local communities across borders that could be most affected by a nuclear accident, noted Behnam Taebi, co-editor of The Ethics of Nuclear Power and professor of energy and climate ethics at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.

The 1991 Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context obliges contracting parties to prevent, reduce and control “adverse” impacts across borders, while the 1998 Aarhus convention applies Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration that states “environmental matters are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens.”

But according to Taebi, these conventions are about transferring risks between states, and they do not say anything about local communities at the borders of neighboring counties, or whether and how they should be consulted. There is no binding transboundary procedure relating to nuclear energy development, and no framework in place that could, for instance, force France to communicate and consult with towns and cities across the border. ………………………………..

in 2018, referring to Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, the Dutch Safety Board — which independently investigates the causes of incidents or accidents — concluded that cross-border “cooperation has partly been arranged on paper, but that it probably will not run smoothly if a nuclear accident were to occur in reality.” 

For 10 years, Austria opposed the Czech Republic’s Temelin nuclear plant that opened in 2000 near its border, with some politicians threatening to block Czech entry into the EU until the latter agreed to tightened safety measures.

While the European Commission stepped in to help resolve that conflict, Kirchner noted that under current agreements, neighboring countries have no power to veto unwanted developments.

January 8, 2022 - Posted by | 2 WORLD, safety

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