Note:  please see also my Feb 24 post, which clarifies this article a bit more.

“Years of unchecked pollution in France’s Rhone River have taken their toll with the recent discovery of PCB levels 10-12 times the safe limit in the river’s fish.” The World Wildlife fund has called this the “French Chernobyl”. Please read the comments for important clarification.

Given the recent comment about French responses to power and energy needs (with nuclear power) by a reader on this site, and my sense that French policy has been carried out without regard for the environment in some cases, I thought I would add this to the picture of an industrial situation that is seriously dangerous in France. Industrial chemicals used in generators and other electrical equipment have been leaking toxic PCB chemicals into the Rhone river for a long time. The fish are unsafe to eat.

We have plenty of problems with the environment in the USA, resulting from our own companies and from government choices (or abdication of responsibility). I am simply not in favor of energy policies that make environmental problems worse, which is why I do not see nuclear power as a viable answer to our energy needs.

The first version of my blog entry on this story had some inaccuracies, for which I apologize.

© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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Clarification from my response to the comment by rengler:

As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

…Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.

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  1. reengler

    While I respect your opinion about nuclear energy, I disagree with your reasoning. Nuclear power and PCBs are independent problems.

    PCBs in the Rhone may be from a variety of sources including power plants of all varieties and power distribution infrastructure, not just nuclear generators. In addition, there are viable alternatives, including some excellent green chemistry alternatives.

    Nuclear energy does present some significant problems, most significantly the intractable radioactive waste for which we still do not have a plan to deal with, but PCBs are not a necessary part of nuclear power generation/transmission.

    Furthermore, calling polluting the Rhone and Chernobyl I think overstates the damage to the Rhone and understates the impact of Chernobyl. I do not doubt that the PCB pollution in the Rhone is a major environmental disaster. It’s a critical waterway for France and may remain polluted for years, decades or centuries (if they don’t undertake remediation), but you can still live near it, even if you can’t eat from it.

    My opinions are my own and do not reflect anybody else’s, including my employer.

  2. Dear rengler: I didn’t do a good job of writing this clearly. I should have spent more time on making this post clear, so I can understand your objections. I agree with your points.

    As I mentioned, the term “French Cherbonyl” came from the WWF, and I was merely reporting this.

    My point in the first place was to respond with more information to a previous comment by a reader, where a laundry list of countries that handle energy in supposedly better ways than we do in the US was presented. One example was how the French use nuclear power. I objected that these countries are often ruining their own environments with these approaches. I also mentioned that the French have to use the army to force construction of nuclear plants and transportation of waste through their own country.

    The article cited in this post was meant to be an example of how French environmental policy is not necessarily something to hold up as a shining example, while at the same time trying to point out that this can be said for US practices and policies (which aren’t necessarily in agreement, as my reports of the need to sue the Federal government to obey Federal law and Federal court rulings indicate, for example in the case of pesticide use affecting Northwest salmon).

    The use of PCBs is not linked to nuclear power, as you state: it is linked in a nonessential way to a wide range of cooling and insulating applications in electrical transformers, capacitors and other industrial electrical equipment, as you well know. People who want to read more on the subject can look at this summary sheet: http://www.fisherenvironmental.com/faq_pcb.html

    I certainly agree that the term “French Chernobyl” is hyperbole, for the reasons you state. This in itself underscores the insidious dangers of nuclear power, dangers which can’t be equaled by even the worst industrial disasters from other industries.

    I really wrote this whole article too quickly and the result was unclear. I had too many points in mind and didn’t link them well. Thanks for helping to clarify things so effectively.




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