The debate about biomass and bioenergy versus nuclear is particularly acute in France, as the country has a long tradition and is the world leader in nuclear energy (80% of its electricity comes from atomic energy, and it also exports it accross Europe). For years, France and Germany have been cooperating on developing the world's most advanced type of reactor, the so-called European Pressurized water Reactor (EPR). A major lobbying-effort is underway on getting as many countries, including China and India, to adopt the new technology.
But French citizens feel too much money is spent on the EPR (€3 billion in France alone), money that could be spent on safer energy technologies that don't pose a waste problem. The bioenergy versus nuclear debate is often full of clichés and highly emotional, though.
That's why a comprehensive study by the anti-nuclear network "Sortir du nucléaire" (Getting out of Nuclear) must be welcomed. It analyses in a very concrete manner what a region like Basse-Normandie (where the first EPR will be built) would do with 3 billion €uros if it were to spend it on non-nuclear, green technologies. How would it spend such a massive budget? And how many jobs could be created with it?
The answer is surprising.
Obviously, the answer is devastating for the nuclear lobby. The study -- supported by 275 organisations from 47 countries, and presented to the public during a grand event in Cherbourg, which attracted 30,000 people -- suggests several posts to be included in the virtual budget, and the picture for better energy security and lots of jobs looks promising:
The green budget
1. 10% of the budget would go towards decentralisation of energy agencencies and management. France's centralistic tradition must be abandoned for a more dynamic approach. This decentralisation would bring in 400 jobs.
2. 33 % of it is spent on energy efficiency management, with campaigns, policies and distribution of small-scale technologies to change citizens' and industry's wasteful behavior. From giving incentives to citizens to switch to bio-airco in homes, to supporting low-energy housing construction and replacement of inefficient technologies in heavy industries, - the list of small, easily implementable measures is long. This should save the region 7TWh.
3. 22% of the €3bn would be spend on biomass and solar heating. Wood energy and solar water heating will save 4TWh and bring 4800 jobs.
The means: introducing and supporting modern pellet-boilers for households and SME's, creating a network for local biomass energy traders, creation of a credit scheme to support people buying solar heaters; and support for communal and collective purchases of these technologies in order to lower their cost.
4. 25% of the budget will go to producing renewable electricity - 11 TWh of it. Number of jobs created: 5500. The means:
-promoting biogas; the region has large agricultural waste-streams, especially from the dairy and poultry industry, that are not being used today as biofuel.
-use of biogas in co-generation plants that will produce electricity and heat at the same time. This type of "disctric heating" is highly efficient.
-the study shows there's enough left in the budget to finance 30% of these technologies in advance.
-encouraging micro-generation: classic heating systems in homes will be replaced with bio-stirling engines for the efficient production of heat and electricity (stirling co-generation).
-even though the region has a large wind energy potential, little effort to exploit it exist. This will be changed. The green budget has room for feasibility studies and to finance the first phases for the valorization of wind energy.
5. Finally, 10% of the massive budget will go to R&D into new, promising energy technologies; advanced photovoltaics, wave and tidal energy, (ethanol) fuel cells, and so on.
Results and conclusions
The study shows that with the same amount of money that would otherwise be spent on the European Pressurised water Reactor, two times more energy can be produced using renewables only, meeting the region's energy needs easily.
The number of jobs generated would be more than 10,000, which is many times more than would be generated by the EPR. The EPR would bring in 2300 jobs in the construction phase, and then trend downwards to 600 jobs, while counting a mere 250 to 300 permanent employees. By contrast, the 10,000 green jobs are fulltime, permanent, and stable jobs.
In short, this study gives us new perspective on the debate about green energy versus nuclear. Biomass, biofuels, and bioenergy are competitive with nuclear, generate far more jobs, and are much safer, no matter what the nuclear lobby says. Precisely because this study offers such a conrete and detailed case-study, it will be difficult for the nuclear lobby to circumvent it.
The study can be found here, at the website of Sortir de Nucléaire (English version here.)
For a quick introduction to the study, on which the above text was based: Biofrais.