Europe's nuclear energy dilemma

Two people wear masks during a demonstration called by French 'Sortir du nucleaire' (Get out of nuclear) association demanding an end to nuclear policy in the wake of the nuclear emergency in Japan.

Kai Ryssdal: In Japan today, the latest on the nuclear crisis went like this. The government has asked 140,000 people -- anybody within 20 miles or so of the Fukushima nuclear plant -- to stay indoors. Companies and countries are evacuating their people.

Governments, especially in Europe, are evaluating their own nuclear power plants and plans for them. But there's a catch. Because moving away from nuclear power -- with all its obvious environmental risks -- comes with environmental consequences too.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Adriene Hill reports.


Adriene Hill: Europe has reacted swiftly to Japan's nuclear crisis. European Union officials say they will "stress test" their 143 nuclear plants to see how prepared they are for disaster. Germany will close some of its older nuclear facilities; it's shelve plans to extend the life of others. But not everyone in Europe is turning their back on nuclear power -- in France, the prime minister called it "absurd" to think the crisis in Japan will "condemn" nuclear energy.

Alex Barnett with Jeffries International Bank isn't surprised.

Alex Barnett: Public perception of nuclear power is extremely positive.

Nuclear energy provides about three-quarters of the power France uses. And says Barnett:

Barnett: France really has few palatable options here, so it doesn't surprise me they are not talking about a quick retrenchment away from nuclear.

Backing off nuclear energy isn't going to be an easy call for many European countries. The EU has aggressive targets for cutting carbon emissions. Charles Ebinger is a researcher with The Brookings Institution.

Charles Ebinger: The dilemma all these countries are going to face is that their climate change goals and their views toward nuclear power may be in direct conflict if they decide to abandon nuclear.

Ebinger says it will be nearly impossible for the United Kingdom to meet its target emission reductions if it doesn't move ahead with a nuclear plan. And he says the technology to create and distribute reliable renewable energy -- like wind and solar -- isn't ready yet, at least at the scale required.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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