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'We could do perfectly well without nuclear power stations'
A nuclear power station in Doel, Belgium. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Nuclear energy is making a comeback. After TV presenter Arjen Lubach argued for nuclear power stations, the VVD jumped on the bandwagon. Prof. Kornelis Blok was incredulous.

Lees in het Nederlands

Nuclear energy has support in the Netherlands. The IPCC, the United Nations’ climate panel, recently concluded in a report that the world should be using nuclear energy if we want to limit the temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius in 2050 from 2010 levels. Lubach covered it and the next day VVD Party Chairman Klaas Dijkhoff said on TV that as far as his party is concerned, the Netherlands should build nuclear power stations fast. And a 1Vandaag (television show) opinion poll shows that 53% of the Dutch population are pro nuclear energy. TU Delft energy expert Kornelis Blok (TPM faculty) is watching the debate incredulously.

Blok: 'An entertainer says something on TV and that the VVD jumps right in'. (Photo: Ecofys)
Blok: "An entertainer says something on TV and that the VVD jumps right in." (Photo: Ecofys)

So why would the VVD now, about a month after the publishing of the IPCC report, start campaigning for nuclear energy?
“What surprises me is that an entertainer says something on TV and that the VVD jumps right in. I have always viewed nuclear energy as one of the many options to limit CO2 emissions. It may have disadvantages, but it also has advantages. I am neither strongly in favour of it nor against it. However, when people say that we cannot do without it, they are wrong. We can do without it. A couple of months ago I co-authored an article with five colleagues from South Africa, Finland, Germany and Denmark that was published in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews on how this could be done. Our review was a response to a researcher’s article in the same journal the year before that explained why he believed that nuclear energy was essential. I don’t say that solutions are simple. We know that wind and solar energy are variable, but you can deal with this in all sorts of ways. You could always extend the energy networks so that you can cover energy shortfalls with surplus energy from elsewhere on the continent. People must be encouraged to use more energy, for example to charge vehicles, when it’s windy or sunny. And you need storage facilities. You need a back-up that runs on fuel, such as hydrogen, which you can generate from wind and solar energy. The best would be a combination of technologies that varies between countries.”
 

What would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy?
“The first advantage is, of course, that there are no CO2 emissions. The disadvantages are two-fold: one, the implications of the radioactive waste material, especially should an incident occur, small as the chance of an incident occurring may be; and two, the chance that the radioactive material or the nuclear technology are used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Nuclear power stations are becoming safer. Nuclear units can reuse the nuclear waste, thus reducing the problem of radioactive waste material. The thorium-based reactor which people are working on in Delft is an example of a completely different type of reactor that has far fewer problems. But it will be years before this technology is ready for use.”

Nevertheless, people are now saying “bring on those nuclear power stations” – at least if 1Vandaag’s opinion poll is to be believed.
“It could be that many people are positive about nuclear power stations, but ask those very same people if they would be happy if a nuclear power station was built a few kilometres from their homes and their enthusiasm suddenly wanes. The climate agreement categorically states that by 2030, 70% of our electricity must be generated from sustainable sources such as sun and wind. Now what you’re hearing in certain quarters is “Don’t be difficult and just build nuclear power stations instead of wind turbines”. But you will see that at least six or seven large nuclear power stations will need to be built. I can tell you now that that’ll be very difficult in a densely populated country like the Netherlands. Not to mention that it is hardly even technically possible in the short term.”

And is it feasible to build enough wind turbines and solar energy farms?
“If we want to achieve the goal of 70% of the power being generated by renewables by 2030, if we take just wind turbines alone, from 2022 onwards we will have to generate 1 gigawatt of wind energy per year extra. That equates to 100 large turbines built each year. This isn’t that difficult to achieve at sea.”

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