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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 41 - May 2004   
 Europeans’ political blues?
 Doubling European research investment
 Showcasing science
 The allergy enigma
 de Gennes – in perpetual motion
 A parliament in search of voters 

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LETTERS Printable version

Nuclear reactions

Cover RTD Info n°40

The dossier on nuclear energy in edition 40 of RTD info (February 2004), prompted a number of reactions. Here are two letters from readers who express reservations on the subject. 


It is stated in your dossier that nuclear power stations do not produce any carbon dioxide molecules and can help meet Europe’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. In this respect, I should like to point out that half-truths invariably conceal full-blown lies. 

It is true that nuclear power plants do not emit any CO2. On the other hand, they all emit krypton-85, a rare radioactive gas with a sufficient life and energy to damage the ozone layer and affect the health of people who inhale it due to a prevailing wind. At the time of the 'Iron Curtain', the Americans were able to assess the nuclear output of eastern Europe solely by taking measurements of the krypton-85 concentration levels in the atmosphere. 

Peter Tschaunin

It is correct that nuclear fission applications – and in particular the reprocessing of fuel – emit krypton-85 into the atmosphere and that this rare radioactive gas, with a half-life of approximately 10 years, is perfectly detectable. While used as a 'spy' in the Cold War, it is also used by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) – which analyses precise concentrations – as an excellent 'tracer' for the study of transport and the global circulation of atmospheric pollutants.

Despite an undeniable increase in concentrations recorded (a doubling in 30 years, between 1970 and 2000), radioprotection studies consider that the levels attained – in particular when compared with concentrations of radioactive elements (such as radon-222) due to natural sources – to date give no cause for concern as regards human health and the environment.   See: Krypton-85 in the Atmosphere: Accumulation, Biological Significance, and Control Technology (NCRP Reports See.: 44, USA).

Don't forget wind power…
I read with interest your dossier on nuclear energy, in which a conclusive statement caused me some concern. Nuclear energy is a controversial subject and should be the subject of much reflection. It is incorrect, however, to present it as a necessary evil to achieve the goals of climate preservation, as your article suggests. 

It is already verging on ignorance to state, in passing and as if self-evident, that renewable energy sources have insufficient potential. Such a statement is quite simply wrong and you will quickly realise this in the course of your own research. This is a prejudice which appears convincing and which serves a political argument, but it remains a prejudice and nothing more. 

Write an article on wind power, for example. Industry and research have progressed enormously in this field over recent decades. Aerodynamics, mechanical construction, control technology, materials knowledge, electrotechnology – researchers have explored unknown scientific terrain in recent years. This could also be an interesting subject for your magazine! One of your many researchers in climatology, none of whom managed to place a single word in your article on nuclear energy, could certainly evaluate the potential of wind power in Europe. 

Ralf Mehr

RDT Info has published many articles on the key importance of renewable energy and it is a subject to which it will return, especially the convincing progress made in the field of wind power. But is it a mistake to state that, faced with a growing demand for electricity, these energy sources will not be sufficient to permit a sufficient decrease in the use of fossil fuels? The Union has set itself the ambitious goal of producing, by 2010, 22% of its electricity from renewable sources, while present trends suggest that it will achieve just 15% by then. Germany is one of the countries that has made a notable effort in this respect, and particularly in developing wind power. However, at the end of 2003, the production potential of German wind power park was 5.6% of the country’s electricity consumption in 2001 (Source: Deutsches Windenergie-Institut).

For recent information on Union research efforts in favour of renewable energy, we refer our readers to the presentation on the subject, in March 2004, which can be found on the prestigious website of the Almeria solar platform (ES)