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NEI; Japan; France; Cars or No Cars?

Tricastin We’ll continue to bring you Japan updates on this page, but you may also want to take a look at NEI’s new site dedicated to Japan and Fukushima Daiichi. Called Nuclear Answers, it contains the updates, some new videos (we played some of them here in March), and – a lot of other material. Despite the nature of NEI – it is the Nuclear Energy Institute, after all – it won a lot of praise for its honest and informed coverage of Fukushima. That will continue on the new site. Well worth a bookmark.

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One thing you can say about the French, they assume an intelligence on the part of other people that can seem rather blunt.

"There is no alternative to nuclear power today." Mr. Sarkozy told a press conference. "Those who ask for a moratorium, I find this curious. It would consist in keeping old plants and abstaining from researching new safer plants."

Mr. Sarkozy is French President Nicolas Sarkozy. And of course, he’s right, though France began its big push for nuclear energy just as the United States and other countries began to ramp down construction and has kept  building new plants since then. (And benefitted from it. Populous France is 17th in carbon emissions production, behind sparsely peopled-Canada and Australia among others – that’s a very good figure reasonably credited to nuclear energy.)

The support for nuclear energy in France has always hovered around 50 percent and has dipped some follow the event at Fukushima Daiichi. That makes it a prime candidate for the, uh, candidates to toss around in the next election.

"This will be the first time that the issue of nuclear power plays a significant role in a French Presidential election," says Pierre-Louis Brenac, an energy consultant at SIA Conseil in France. "It's a big change."

Well, we’ll see how significant. If this the best wedge issue the Socialists have, then the Union for for a Popular Movement (UMP – Sarkozy’s party – the conservative wing of French politics) hasn’t too much to worry about.

Actually, voter exhaustion will weigh more heavily against UMP – it’s been in power 7 years, and Sarkozy, who said he’s running again, has miserable favorability ratings. (He’s directly elected – it’s not a parliamentary election.)

But, UMP or Socialist, it’s hard to imagine France reversing path on nuclear energy – the Green Party is a different story, but it usually is.

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This is what the Europeans are up to:

Cities including Vienna to Munich and Copenhagen have closed vast swaths of streets to car traffic. Barcelona and Paris have had car lanes eroded by popular bike-sharing programs. Drivers in London and Stockholm pay hefty congestion charges just for entering the heart of the city.

There’s more, but you get the idea – make driving cars unappealing so as to push folks onto public transportation. Why?

What is more, European Union countries probably cannot meet a commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions unless they curb driving. The United States never ratified that pact.

I would say that doing this is easier in most European countries because the infrastructure has been built to support it and there is not the entrenched car culture that exists in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Plus, there must be some public buy-in since this would be a politician career killer in countries with a car culture. In these countries, electric cars might find the sweet spot between helping the environment and keeping cars an important part of the transport scene.

There’s nuclear pick-up with electric cars, but not much at all in the European move to limit driving – except more people in electric trains means more need for electricity and nuclear certainly can find a place there.

The Tricastin nuclear facility in Southern France. Italy backed away from nuclear energy but gets about 10 percent of its electricity from nuclear. How? Plants like Tricastin, that’s how.

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