Commissioner, Environment


Rue de la Loi 2000



May 13th, 2000



Subject : environment and nuclear energy


Dear Mrs. Wallström,


It is very kind of you, after your "internet chat", to have taken the time to answer an important mail with appropriate comments, in spite of your on-going busy work.


Having had the opportunity in my active life (construction of chemical and nuclear plants) to be able to compare the different industrial processes and installations from the point of view of safety, environment, efficiency, economics... I wish to make the following comments on your letter March 29, 2000 to me.


The problem of nuclear waste has been grossly put forward by some who unintentionnally did not know the problem, or some who had their reasons to oppose nuclear energy through this bias.


It must be remembered that the amounts of nuclear waste are about 1 % of those of the toxic chemical waste which is largely not degradable, and that only about 1 % of this nuclear waste is long-lived, i.e. will be there after 1 000 years or more.


But what is little known is that the longer the "life", the lower the relative radioactivity. Long-lived nuclear waste is mostly composed of "alpha" emitters like those of uranium, thorium, plutonium, neptunium. An alpha particle is stopped by a sheet of paper or the skin of the hand. Alpha emitters are dangerous by ingestion, just as cadmium, arsenic or mercury are. But it is easier to measure the activity with a counter than to measure the presence of, say, mercury or arsenic compounds in a waste, be it domestic waste.


Hence, when people speak of transmuting long-lived nuclear waste into possibly shorter-lived compounds, I see no reason why the method should not be applied to mercuric or arsenic waste as well.


I feel that today the level of safety applied to a relatively small volume of nuclear waste far outreaches that applied to "conventional" toxic waste where the brunt of R&D should now be applied, to limit volumes, enhance containment, etc... possibly using some of the techniques developed by nuclear scientists.


About acceptability of nuclear power : younger, educated generations will understand better the advantages of nuclear energy, just as they are better used to surfing on the internet.


But in the meantime, it is the Government heads' and the Commission's responsibility to look objectively at the new techniques and not act solely according to the public perception. Public perception is often fabricated by the media people who are themselves uneducated about such new techniques as nuclear energy, genetics, etc...


Faced with a world longing for clean air, clean water, sufficient energy for their daily life and minimum comfort, and knowing the cost and long-term effect of the options in these fields, it is all-important to listen to the real specialists and experts and not rely on biased anti-nuclear groups or public opinion alone.


The "new Commission" seems to tackle these matters with fresh and responsible views if I dare compare with the past years, and I am personally looking forward to a continuation in these improvements.


With all my encouragements and my respectful regards, I remain,