‘Civilian nuclear energy neither solution nor disaster’

Israeli and German experts as well as academics and green leaders discuss the country’s nuclear future.

By
April 7, 2011 04:54
4 minute read.
Ephraim Asculai

Asculai 311. (photo credit: (INSS website))

 
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Civilian nuclear power is neither the ultimate answer to the country’s energy needs nor a disaster, Dr. Ephraim Asculai, a veteran expert on nuclear energy, said on Wednesday at a conference held at Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Social Science titled “Solution or Pollution? Civil Nuclear Reactors For Israel.”

“Globally, I would say that the greenhouse gases is probably in the long run much more disastrous than any nuclear disaster you can think of,” Asculai told The Jerusalem Post following the one-day event.



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The conference was held jointly by the Israel branch of the Heinrich Boell Stiftung – a foundation affiliated with the German Green Party – and Tel Aviv University’s Harold Hartog School of Government and Policy. Representatives from both Israeli and German green societies, universities and government spoke throughout the day, commenting on safety issues and necessary policy surrounding the use of civilian nuclear energy. During the day, the Heinrich Boell Stiftung also launched the Hebrew version of the book Myths of Nuclear Energy, written by Dr. Gerd Rosenkranz of German Environmental Aid Berlin.

Asculai, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies who served for 40 years at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, held what he called a “middle ground” position at the conference – the midpoint between “the technical people” who were predominantly “on the side of nuclear energy in the future” and the “Greenpeace people” whose emotions he said made them vehemently against using nuclear power.

One of the “Greenpeace people,” Sharon Dolev of the Movement of a Nuclear Free Middle East, said that one of the most problematic issues with Israel’s current usage of nuclear reactors was the “ambiguity” associated with the use.

“We don’t ask for neutral radiation checks that are being conducted by the same people who operate the reactor,” Dolev said. “It comes to a point where there is no discourse.

“By allowing the nuclear energy to be so secretive in Israel and stopping any discourse, we are exposing the citizens of the state to danger,” she said.

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The present and future use of nuclear energy was by no means clear-cut, the speakers agreed.

“Originally, nuclear power was an anathema,” said Prof.

Alon Tal, on behalf of Israel’s Green Movement. He is also a faculty member at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research. “There was Three Mile Island [in 1979] and Chernobyl [in 1986] and it just seemed like a bad idea. Then with the rise of global warming, there was all of a sudden an opening to this, and environmental icons said that maybe they made a mistake. So this sent us back to the beginning.

“Right now the Green Movement does not believe that nuclear energy offers a plausible and environmentally friendly alternative,” Tal continued, pointing to the 24,000- year half-life of plutonium as a big issue. “We really have to think if we want to saddle future generations with this kind of burden.”

Advocating using a mixture of energy sources, Asculai said that no matter which types of power a country chooses to use, a combination of sources would ensure that supply is greater than demand, in the cleanest way possible. In Sweden, for example, the government employs a mixture of nuclear and hydroelectric sources, he explained.

“In Israel you don’t have much of the alternative sources,” Asculai told the Post.

“Israel has some constraints when you come to speak about nuclear energy. The first one is economics.”

For a nuclear station to be economical, he explained, it has to be as big as possible – capable of generating 1,300 megawatts of power. However, 1,300 megawatts would equal more than 10 percent of the national demand, and “there is a rule that you can’t have one station supplying more than 10% of the demand,” Asculai said.

He posed the idea of perhaps using smaller modular reactors that are currently being created, but emphasized that this was certainly not a feasible solution today.

Dolev said that nuclear power plants cannot be economical, because “by the time we will finish building 440 new reactors, all of the 442 existing reactors [globally] will have to shut down.

“You put so much money into building the reactors, generate so much pollution from mining uranium – the nuclear cycle is a very polluting cycle,” she said. “We don’t invest even a fraction of a percent on renewables that we do on nuclear.”

Another problem in using nuclear energy for civilian power purposes, Asculai said, is that “at the moment no one is willing to sell to us” because Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

While civilian nuclear energy might not be the most practical electricity source for Israel at the moment, Asculai said that it may be far less dangerous than most other energy generation methods.

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