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Published on July 29, 2020

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Questioning nuclear power productively

A group of women authors working in the Egis group's nuclear business line responds to the recent newsletter (May 2020) from the organisation Les Voix du nucléaire, entitled: "Women, the environment and nuclear power: a complex relationship.”

Questionnons efficacement le nucléaire

- Crédits : Boonchai - AdobeStock

Ecofeminism: stereotyping the debate?

[Ninon]

The first lines of this newsletter bring up a concept that is becoming increasingly popular: eco-feminism. I obviously think that women should not sit on the sidelines when faced with such an important issue as climate change. However, I do believe that we must be careful not to stereotype their role as “protectors of the planet", thus drawing a parallel with the place they traditionally occupy in their home. By going down this slippery slope, ecofeminism would inevitably tend to move away from feminism by reducing women to their "nature" at the expense of overcoming gendered role distribution. And yet the growing number of women working in industry (in production or support functions), particularly the nuclear industry, shows that they can take on the same functions as men.

In addition to gender issues, the article presents the social perception of nuclear energy, particularly among environmental activists and sympathizers. It uses the term misinformation, a strong but appropriate word, since it is used in relation to the 69% of French people who believe that this industry is a major contributor to climate change, despite it being the electricity that emits the least carbon dioxide in France.

This proportion is almost twice as high among women as among men. This difference is thought to be due to lower aversion to risk among men. I personally do not believe that fear is innate in women, but rather that they are educated to protect themselves from danger and take care of those around them. This tendency to be cautious, far from being considered a defect, can on the contrary be usefully harnessed by the zero-risk oriented nuclear industry, in designing its installations’ safety devices for example.

More generally, it would be wise for the media to put into perspective the pros and cons of each energy source, comparing, for example, nuclear-related deaths with those caused by coal. Rejecting sensationalism and engaging in objective debate would, for sure, lead to more rational choices and allow citizens to better understand the technical issues.

"Woman and technical jobs don’t go together!" Oh really? What about me, then?

[Hilem]

In general, and at the risk of attracting the wrath of the advocates of "femininities", it is commonly accepted that women are not made for technical jobs, even if there are many fine exceptions to the rule. This perhaps explains the correlation between feminism and environmental protection. Feminism sees nuclear power as an emblematic field of advanced technical knowledge, and therefore a field reserved for men. If this is the case, it is a monumental mistake. In addition to the fact that women occupy significant roles at all levels of this field, I believe that the misinformation on the subject comes from the fact that no other viable response to the needs of humanity is in a position to emerge today. We humans, therefore, leave technology to the technicians who, aware of the problem, are working on the expansion of nuclear power, while at the same time seeking a solution that will alleviate the environmental problems it poses!

Stop the fake news: young people are losing out!

[Ninon]

The dissemination of "fake news" among young people about the carbon impact of nuclear energy gives me particular cause for concern about the future of my generation. Indeed, 86% of 18-34 year olds believe that nuclear power is a major producer of greenhouse gases, compared to 39% of those over 65. Better information for citizens on energy issues in the future seems crucial to better guide future environmental policies. Nevertheless, I think we should not lose hope, since Greta Thunberg, the very young Swedish activist, seems to be more nuanced and discerning about nuclear power than many of her elders.

A problem of nuclear power - or of waste from nuclear power?

[Hilem]

Let's try not to bring up the same old problems about nuclear power - or at least let’s try to approach them from a different angle - to productively scrutinise nuclear power.

First of all, it should be recalled that "the nuclear problem" is a misleading term which actually means "the problem of nuclear waste". For, in all good faith, this is the heart of the controversy. There is therefore no point in discussing another subject. Thus, nuclear power is not a problem in itself, it is its consequences that are cause for disagreement.

The nuclear field is too often seen as the environmental bête noire, probably because its effects, or in reality the storage of its waste, is measured on a very broad time scale. We could respond with two answers:
 - Does mankind have anything else to offer that would provide so much scientific, technological and economic progress? As we have just seen with the health crisis we are experiencing, health is essential but so is the economy in our system. It would therefore be unthinkable to abandon nuclear power in the name of the environment without proposing an effective, prosperous solution that meets our needs as well as nuclear power does in its field.
- Secondly, would it not be more rational to solve our environmental problems in order of priority? Indeed, the impact of nuclear power extends very widely over time, which is used as an argument by the anti-nuclear environmentalists, but I would say that it is rather an advantage. We have much more time ahead of us to solve the problems of nuclear waste than we have to solve our problems of pollution, water resources, household waste and the rest. Recycling or changing our habits is part of the answer but we still have a long way to go.

The urgency of more nuclear education

Within the nuclear industry...

[Ninon]

It is essential that the players in the nuclear industry communicate widely about their role in a world threatened by climate erosion. This task is often difficult, as it means swimming against the tide of the dominant media discourse. It is often necessary to point to some very basic things, such as the difference between the black smoke from burning fossil fuels and the clouds of water vapour above nuclear power plants. However, the mission is very important because it is imperative to properly inform consumers and citizens about what is at stake in the energy transition, in a context where global climate change is increasingly threatening present and future lives.

With this in mind, Egis has used its expertise to draw conclusions on the "world after Covid" by vigorously reaffirming its commitment to a sustainable future via "21 proposals for a low-carbon economic recovery". Among these proposals, those relating to energy consistently reiterate the essential contribution of nuclear power, alongside renewable energies, to the low carbon-emission production of electricity.

...but also, of course, in politics...

[Ninon]

Almost all countries agree within the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) on the crucial role of nuclear energy in helping to limit global warming. We can only welcome the growing popularity of their work among the general public.

[Hilem]

Almost all countries agree within the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) on the crucial role of nuclear energy in helping to limit global warming. We can only welcome the growing popularity of their work among the general public.

 

The authors


Ninon Vandekerchove,

Marketing and Communication trainee, Nuclear activity, Egis group (Sciences Po student, Paris)

 


Hilem Afroune,

Design Engineer, Nuclear activity, Egis group

 

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