Several months ago, I was discussing with a neighbour at the swimming pool of my condominium in Malaysia. We were talking on my green professional activities when he told me that N. Sarkozy, the actual French President, was well known as the green man for Europe. It was not a surprise for me to hearing that affirmation as the French President was such depicted in local newspapers. My immediate answer was to inform my neighbour that Sarkozy was not at all the green man people thought he was but, at the contrary, he was using the green way for political issues. These are just politics or how to insert some measures in order to win elections.
I was right at that time and I am dead right today: 2 billions euros have been announced as savings in green government subsidies-financial helps following the announced cuts in budget. It appears to be a desperate measure which could be avoided when we see other countries pushing the green for an economical recovery. A better way to be persuaded of false intentions to enter the green way is to evoke the existing clues since the last election.
1. The super rep. The new President Sarkozy has made several titles in the international press. He was presented as the first rep for the nuclear plants to be sold, trying also to get new foreign state stakes in French gas industry. What could we say about nuclear plants? For the pro, this mode of energy production is, for sure, a green one: no CO2 rejection in the atmosphere. For the con, Nuclear power is not that much green because of radioactive wastes which have no real secure stocking system, even in France (10 years after the first studies of deep stocking, there is no site yet available). Wastes must be isolated from man and environment for more than 300 years and the time to decrease significantly the radioactivity level may indeed be several tens of thousand of years (1). Besides, a nuclear power plant at what cost?
2. Nuclear: costs are not the first variable to make a decision. As for other ways of producing energy, we may take into account the non-renewable primary energy source, uranium, and its life span. It has been estimated by different agencies at not more than 100 years and, more certainly, 72 years with the actual level of consumption. If electrical capacity were increased six-folds, then the supply would at that moment last 12 years (2). If many countries were entering the nuclear energy production or were increasing sharply their actual capacities, then we would talk about same life span for uranium depletion as we talk today about fossil fuel.
The price of this raw-material is not considered as an important variable in the economic cycle for nuclear production. Effectively, uranium is available and produced in 15 main countries (3) with Australia, Kazakhstan and Canada for the main producing countries with low cost uranium. What is rarely evoked is who are the main companies involved in the uranium production? No studies have been conducted although newspapers articles were talking a few years ago on the stakes re-composition between two main companies (producers in continent are generally local companies with main European actors present in Africa). Then, the actual estimates of 9% in the production costs for the raw material may increase in case of shortage due to higher demand and/or higher spot prices (spot markets exist for uranium) as we have seen for oil and gas.
What do we know exactly on the overall cost for a nuclear plant? Costs studies are mainly conducted by power companies and Association in favour of nuclear plants. Therefore, data are better than any other way of producing. However, real data given by non-partisan think thank shows higher cost level per kWh installed and that no one can trust the power company’s data (4). One forgotten cost - in relation with the stocking process (radioactive waste) you don’t have with other form of production- the low estimates of disassembly costs, the use historical data for raw material and the absence of raw material in the calculation method are among elements which don’t allow a real comparison.
However, the nuclear choice is merely a state choice and the costs for nuclear plants are lower when mass production is engaged. We know two main players in the nuclear, USA and France, which are followed by Japan and, more recently, Korea. So, France has a technology to sell, even if Finland has a two-year delay with the new ERP…
3. The French green way: the masquerades of the Grenelle’s agreements. Three months after French presidential election, a super Ministry in charge of the environment has been created. It became later a single State secretary in a new Ministry (Ecology, Energy, Sustainable development and Sea). More, on the 27th February, 2009, a decree has abolished the only state’s structures dedicated for environmental matters (Regional Division of Environment and Regional Division of Industry, Research and Environment). After two laws, the Grenelle's agreements have been impoverished, minimizing the actual legislation for environmental while new decisions have showed the weakness of the environmental concerns of the government (5). One of them is regarding the lack of consultations for nuclear and its real costs with two decisions to implement two new power plants, although things were going badly in Finland with higher estimated costs (7 Billions € compared to 3.5 Billions €).
At the same time, a report from the Parliament was proposing to make difficult the achievements conditions for wind-mill. Players of the renewable energies were yet preoccupied by the second Grenelle's agreement and the content of the new law which will make difficult the possibilities to built new wind-mills (6) and will make difficult a sustainable development of the photovoltaic network. In the meantime, two years after the first Grenelle’s Agreement, with the second one under elaboration, no big money has been engaged, nor spent, in the former proposed budget.
4. The French Energy black-out due to the potential development of photovoltaic. Michelle Bellon, the chairman of the national electrician executive board (ERDF, the manager of the distribution network), has announced the 22nd June, 2010, that the proliferation of photovoltaic panels was running a risk of black-out because of over-power (7). In 2009, 45,000 small photovoltaic installations, with governmental subsidies, were linked to the network and the forecasts were presenting the costs for the operator, not the prevision of energy’s input in the network. What we should know about networks is that even difficult to operate for maintaining an instant equilibrium between demand and supplies, a less demand whatever could be the origin lead to cut a running power plant.
5. French budget cuts: 2 billions savings in stopping subsidies in housing, Ecology and Renewable energies. JL Borloo, the Minister in charge of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable development, Transportation, Housing and Sea, has announced the 9th July, 2010, a 2 billions saving plan. The main measure is aimed to cut by half subsidies given for the installation of photovoltaic panels, an 800 million euros measure (8). According to political opponents, the green economy is buried, like the carbon tax which is indefinitely postponed. It is not a real surprise for the carbon tax as it was too complicated and end consumers were bearing the weight of the tax, not the carbon emitters.
6. The climate-scepticism and its consequences. From a phenomenal mistake from the GIEC, in charge of modelling the climate and surveying the temperatures worldwide, has emerged a climate-scepticism which has been embraced by scientists, lobbies and governments, followed by those who prefer to conserve their innocent way of life, or simply those who have had such information without being able to moderate it. The ‘mistake’ is concerning the cooling of our earth subtly widespread with the emerging idea that our planet was not suffering at all a global warming. The mistake is just corresponding to the timing: the cooling would arise three centuries later… The global cooling –which could be a reality following a huge change due to global warming- has emerged so quickly around the world that even GIEC scientists with their apologize for the errors –months later- won’t change the actual Global Ambiance.
What can we conclude?
1- N. Sarkozy is a politician and such can easily change his mind. To give his words in politics worth nothing as a new law can undo a previous one. More, to give his words for any matter does not correspond to a commitment especially when it is something which embarrassed. The green way was a dressing for the oubliette, as Sarkozy is the first rep for nuclear power with technology to sell. Even if nuclear power is among solutions called green, uncertainty on real costs and waste management should be taken into account for making decisions when other solutions are available. To call green solutions (photovoltaic, windmills, hydrogen) into question as it appears in France and elsewhere may be conceivable as a mistake –maybe at the same scale like that one of the GIEC- and, at least, an economic uncertainty. Presenting the Nuclear solution as the only way lead to question some countries where it has been banned (Germany), not accepted (Spain), not anymore developed (England) or included among other solutions (USA, China).
2- The climate-scepticism has emerged due to complex models for computing the temperature changes. It is quite impossible to get good prospective data and I personally doubt on the method to estimate CO2 in the stratosphere. Therefore, I would say that we always have an expert debate whatever could be the reality. That reality shows us the melting of Arctic in Canada as it has been observed by scientist, and the Siberian permafrost too but without studies. The reality shows us more devastating hurricanes and typhoons, more devastating floods, more dry lands, more water problems worldwide. Even if the human effect can’t be proven on global warming, the facts are there. But the climate scepticism gain support and is relayed by some newspapers. I was reading the Stars last Friday and saw an article written by a German economist told to be known as a green man. He was explaining that we had to build in 50 years hundreds of nuclear power plants, thousands of gas plants (and coal ones if the clean technology emerges) and dozens of dams, like the huge one in China, in order to just maintain the temperatures. It seems to be too late, the fight against global warming is over, and climate change is inevitable… like the hunger in the world, the water issues. Then, do we have lost the fight for the triptych of 'clean Energy’/’Water’ /’Hunger’ issues in the world? It’d better be not the case because global warming will emphasizes these problems.
(1) ONRAS/NIRAS information center: http://www.nirond.be/engels/6.4_classificatie_eng.html
(2) Wikipedia : Uranium depletion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uranium_depletion
(3) World Nuclear Association: Supply of uranium http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf75.html (4) Citizen.com: How much will new nuclear plant costs. http://scitizen.com/future-energies/how-much-will-new-nuclear-power-plants-cost-_a-14-2287.html
(5) Rue89: Les impostures du Grenelle de l’environnement (Rue89: The masquarades of Grenelle on Environment ) – a report on legislature advances since the environmental agreement stated by legal specialists. 06/04/2010. http://www.rue89.com/planete89/2010/04/06/grenelle-de-lenvironnement-apres-les-postures-le-temps-des-impostures-146163
(6) La Tribune.fr: Le projet de Grenelle 2 menace certianes filieres (Grenelle 2 project threats some networks) – 04/05/2010. http://www.latribune.fr/green-business/l-actualite/412612/-le-projet-de-grenelle-2-menace-certaines-filieres-.html
(7) Figaro.fr: ERDF face aux professionnels du photovoltaique (http://blog.lefigaro.fr/green-business/2010/07/erdf-face-aux-professionnels-du-photovoltaique-les-points-de-vue-saffrontent.html)
(8) leJDD.fr : Borloo rabote les aides vertes (Borloo ‘plains’ green subisides) (http://www.lejdd.fr/Ecologie/Actualite/Borloo-rabote-les-aides-vertes-206171/)
nb: article published on FB the 18th July, 2010