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29.11.2011: INES 20th Anniversary

4. May 2012

INES Statement on Nuclear Energy

At the INES Council meeting on April 28th, 2012 in Vienna, the following statement was adopted by the INES Council members*.

The first nuclear bomb in 1945 changed the world – and many physicists were shocked and felt guilty in the aftermath of the use of nuclear weapons on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Science was no longer innocent (if it ever had been). This was one reason why, in the 1950s/1960s, the scientific community was amongst the main promoters of nuclear power, of “atoms for peace”.

The promise of the time was that nuclear energy would be abundant, even unlimited, safe and “too cheap to meter”, a means of peaceful development for all countries on Earth. Almost free energy was to overcome hunger and poverty for all humans on Earth.

After more than 50 years, the reality is far different and the picture is a bleak one: none of the key promises has been kept. Instead of contributing to a peaceful development worldwide, nuclear power is suspected as a source of proliferation of new nuclear weapons, as it has been (South Africa, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea); could have been (Argentina and Brazil); and still could be (e.g. Iran).

Nuclear reactors are under the threat of military attacks as well as terrorist assaults, making them a permanent danger zone. And it is so-called “depleted uranium” from the nuclear industry that is used in non-nuclear weapons but still contaminates the environment and causes major health concerns.

In addition, uranium turns out not to be abundant but scarce, and a large-scale nuclear industry development would depend on breeder reactors and recycling facilities, the kind of facilities directly producing weapons-grade fissile material for military use. With breeders all over the world, non-proliferation would turn from very difficult to almost impossible.

Nuclear energy is also not cheap; in much of the world nuclear reactors could only be built with massive government subsidies (the two new ones under construction in Europe, in Finland and France, being examples par excellence). In the USA, even the subsidies offered by Bush and Obama have been so far insufficient to revitalise the nuclear industry. On the other hand, if the money invested in nuclear power had been spent on renewable energies, the world would not only be a safer place, but also one with far less problems related to climate change. Keeping the “nuclear option” open requires grids based on centralised electricity distribution and is prohibitive for the infrastructure changes that renewable energies need to be competitive.

Furthermore, nuclear power is not safe. The mining operations put the livelihoods of indigenous people in countries such as Australia, Mongolia or Niger at risk. The “normal” running of reactors releases radioactive exhaust gases causing increased cancer risks for children living nearby. Transport and final disposal cause unsolved safety problems (how long must a deposit be guarded to avoid unauthorised access?). These safety problems are the legacy of our generation for the centuries, if not millennia, to come.

Finally, the series of accidents (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, and many others) illustrate what can happen if safety procedures fail – and fail they do, as human beings are never failure proof. The hundreds of “near-catastrophes” in all nuclear nations testify to that.

Given the inevitable link to nuclear weapons, the risks involved and the obstacle that nuclear energy proves to be for renewable energy systems, we consider nuclear power incompatible with peaceful, just and lasting, i.e. sustainable development. Thus we demand:

  • much greater expansion of research spending on renewable energy systems, redirecting current funding of nuclear energy research to this end
  • for the remaining nuclear research (for safety in operation, dismantlement and disposal), make independent reviews and public debate mandatory
  • enter a transition period of phase out and dismantlement of nuclear plants and development of renewable energy systems and technologies,
  • initiate and hold debates with civil society, developing concepts and recommendations, for research and policies improving efficiency and enhancing reductions in energy consumption

Unanimously adopted by the INES Council, Vienna, April 28th, 2012

* 25 participants from Austria, Egypt, England, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Russia, Serbia, Turkey and USA.