The nuclear industry is currently the subject of intense media activity, if only with the recent publication of the parliamentary report “REPORT DONE ON BEHALF OF THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY to establish the reasons for the loss of sovereignty and energy independence of France (1)
What is it about?
This report highlights France’s ” divagations ” in its energy policy leading to the decline of the French nuclear industry, which began in 1998 with the closing down of Superphénix without any valid scientific reason, the restart of the latter having been authorized by the Direction de la Sûreté des Installations Nucléaires (DSIN), judging that it presented a degree of safety equivalent to that of similar series of reactors in the French nuclear fleet.
When we think that the reduction to 50% of the energy produced from nuclear power recommended by 2 successive presidents was not based on any impact study!
Then it was the closing of Fessenheim while energy needs were increasing significantly: personally I remember a conference given by Cédric Villani (mathematician with a “Fields” medal, then a member of parliament and commissioned by Edouard Philippe’s government), telling us that Artificial Intelligence requires a lot of electricity and that its development will require production capacities that are much larger than the ones currently in place: scientists are not always wrong…
Then the ASTRID project was abandoned.
Germany’s abandonment of nuclear power has not helped the case for this type of energy.
“This report tells how the anti-nuclear dogma of political ecology has gradually imposed itself as the key to reading energy choices rather than sovereignty and the urgency of decarbonization”.
This report is quite exciting and shows us clearly that (political?) politics linked to ideology and different electoral agreements have led us this winter to a policy of electricity restriction.
Nuclear power is frightening
Several factors may cause concern and are often put forward by opponents in the public debate.
1°) Accident risks
The power plants are considered as representing a real danger (and the accidents which occurred seem to show it well) but, what about the risk which is associated to it? 
It is true that civil nuclear accidents have had real impacts on health and the environment.
An analysis of these nuclear accidents will allow us to better understand the “danger-risk” ratio, a concept we have already discussed in this blog (2)
 Rappel :  Remember, hazard is the potential for harm (a rifle is dangerous because it can cause serious injury or death) and risk is the likelihood that the hazard will occur. It depends on the frequency of exposure to the hazard, the severity of the injury, and the ability to control or avoid the hazard (if the rifle is well maintained, the user is well trained in its use, and under the right environmental conditions, the risk of being injured by a rifle is relatively low).
The International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES)
Developed in 1990 by the AEIA and the OECD, this scale, ranging from 0 to 7, gives an indication of the severity of a nuclear or radiological event. It applies to all events associated with the use, transport and storage of radioactive materials and radiation sources. It was developed in order to better characterize accidents but also to provide a framework for communication about these events.
Member States use INES (3) to assign a score to nuclear or radiological events indicating their significance.
° Events are classified into seven levels. The scale is logarithmic, which means that the severity of an event increases tenfold at each level.
° Events are considered according to the following criteria: Impact on the population and the environment, Impact on radiological barriers and controls, Impact on defense in depth.
° Events of no safety significance are classified at the bottom of the scale, at level 0.
° Events without relevance to radiological or nuclear safety are not ranked on the scale.
Study of the main nuclear incidents and accidents
The first major accident occurred at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. A succession of material and human failures led to the melting of nearly 45% of the reactor core. The environmental and health consequences were negligible, but communication and crisis management were flawed. This accident has been retrospectively classified at level 5 on the INES scale. It left a deep impression on people and remained a seminal event.
The Chernobyl accident in the USSR resulted in a catastrophic communication from the French authorities which led them to believe that the contaminated cloud had stopped at the border. This disaster was classified at the maximum level 7. It is the most serious nuclear accident in history (AFIS) (4). Hundreds of thousands of liquidators were employed and received large doses of radioactivity: 134 suffered from acute radiation syndrome, 28 died in the months that followed and 19 in the years that followed. In the exposed population, more than 10,000 thyroid cancers have been reported due to the consumption of milk contaminated by radioactive iodine. A model suggests that the accident could have led to the death of 4,000 people. In addition to this human toll, many people were displaced and living conditions were degraded, leading to alcoholism and depression.
Fukushima (Japan). Still in all memories it was also classified at level 7. The vast majority of deaths were due to the psychological consequences of the evacuation of populations (95,000 people), no deaths were of a radiological nature. In France, evacuation plans have been established for all nuclear sites according to the intensity of radiation and the distance from the site.
These two accidents released massive amounts of radioactivity into the atmosphere and are the only two classified at the maximum level. The impacts on the environment (5) were also measured.
Other accidents and incidents
° Level 6. Only one accident declared 30 years later. In 1957, an explosion at a radioactive waste storage site in Russia (Maiak).
° Level 5. Five accidents in total, including Three Mile Island
° Level 4. Less than 10 accidents including 2 in France at the Saint Laurent sur Loire power plant following a loss of cooling.
° Level 3. A few dozen incidents including 4 in France. The last one in 2008 with an industrial gammagraphy irradiator which irradiated a worker with Cobalt 60.
° Level 2. The last one in France was the flooding of the Blayais power plant during the Martin storm on December 27, 1999.
° Levels 1 and 0. Each year, about 100 level 1 events and a thousand level 0 events.
2°) Waste management
Waste management is also a major source of concern for the population. One only has to follow the developments in the Bure (Meuse) landfill program to be convinced of this.
Dumping at sea was the first solution used. This solution proved to be unsatisfactory, as the unconfined waste could be in direct contact with the biosphere (6).
Storage then represented an alternative. In France, in 1969, a surface storage center was opened, the Orano-La Hague center. The waste is placed in packages and stored in concrete cells. But as nothing is perfect, infiltrated rainwater has sometimes shown that radioactivity can sometimes come into contact with the biosphere. A storage center in Aube (Soulaines-Dhuys) has been set up for low-level waste.
For long-lived medium- and high-level waste, geological disposal has been chosen, but it has met with incomprehension from the public. In Finland, a granite soil was chosen, in France, argillite (Bure site). Even if the management of nuclear waste is better controlled, social issues have become predominant.
3°) Nuclear proliferation
Civilian nuclear technology can be used to produce fissile materials, such as enriched uranium, which is also used to make nuclear weapons.
Nuclear power plants can then potentially serve as a cover for nuclear weapons activities. What is currently happening in Iran is no stranger to this feeling.
4°) Trust issues
Whether entrusted to private companies or governments, the management of power plants can lead to concerns about transparency and accountability, despite the many safeguards developed for the strict supervision of these activities.
Radioactivity is not only a problem of radiation, but it also concerns contamination by radioactive dust, such as that which moved in the famous cloud from the Chernobyl disaster.
The means of protection against radiation are very specific (7)
On the other hand, CBRN protective clothing such as the Ouvry Polynuc is essential to protect against radioactive particles that can be in contact with the skin and mucous membranes, ingested or inhaled.
We have already discussed this topic in 2 articles of the blog: Which PPE for working in nuclear power plants? and What is a dirty bomb? How to react after its explosion.
Nuclear power plants have a very low impact on the greenhouse effect, with almost no greenhouse gas emissions. They therefore have no impact on climate change. If we take into account the complete cycle (from construction to dismantling), their balance is comparable to that of wind turbines. While the government wants to revive this mode of energy production, opponents of nuclear power point out the dangers (accidents, waste management, environmental contamination).
In comparison, coal-fired power plants have caused many deaths due to the air pollution they generate, not to mention the underground miners suffering from silicosis or dying from firedamp.
All means of energy production have their advantages and disadvantages.
May politicians make decisions on the basis of really well-founded scientific arguments and not on the basis of fear, real (triggered by a perception of danger, threat or uncertainty) or supposed, to respond to political or policy objectives?
1- AU NOM DE LA COMMISSION D’ENQUÊTE visant à établir les raisons de la perte de souveraineté et d’indépendance énergétique de la France, 2023
2-Danger, risque, accident : la prévention des risques dans le domaine industriel, blog, Ouvry 2022)
3-IAEA : Échelle internationale des événements nucléaires et radiologiques (INES)
4-AFIS Science et pseudo-sciences, Janvier/mars 2023
5-IRSN. Tchernobyl, 35 ans après : notre dossier spécial
6-Les déchets radioactifs immergés, Andra, 2017
7- Le monde de l’énergie : comment se protéger au mieux des radiations ? 18 mars 2011.