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中外对话网站上的关于德国核废料处理设施的参观心得 作者:李波听雨

Nuclear notes from Germany

Meng Si (中文在英文之后)

May 16, 2011

Back from a visit to a derelict nuclear-waste facility in Germany, Chinese environmentalist Li Bo talks to Meng Si about the roles of risk, science and public participation in energy policymaking.

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"Public concern and fears often stem from ignorance. The more the public know, the more rational they will become."


Meng Si: What lessons do you think China can draw from Japan’s nuclear crisis?

Li Bo [director of NGO Friends of Nature]: Chinese media coverage of the tsunami and nuclear crisis has waned as time has passed, and this is very dangerous. Both in the affected area and in Japan as a whole, a deep revaluation of energy generation, energy policymaking, energy security and even the mode of development is quietly taking place. China should watch closely and learn. Facts win out over rhetoric. Japan is a nation of extremely cautious people, and that re-evaluation – and particularly the action that follows – is of more value than any empty preaching.

After the incident in Japan, the Chinese government quickly announced a suspension of approvals for new nuclear-power plants. During my recent visit to Germany, I heard representatives from many nations applaud the quick and high-profile way in which China took this cautious measure.

In April, I visited Germany’s Asse II nuclear-waste repository. Due to poor choice of location and management problems that arose early on, when there was no public oversight, it is now a dangerous and costly mess. If that kind of mistake can happen in a country with ample room for scientific and political debate, what cause do we have to believe that we in China can do better, that we won’t make mistakes?

MS: Tell us more about that nuclear-waste facility.

LB: The Asse nuclear-waste storage facility is a former salt mine, three hours’ journey west of Berlin. When it was built in the 1960s, this area was in West Germany. It’s estimated that over 5,000 barrels of nuclear waste are stored here.

The underground storage space is 800 metres deep and is set up like two large, underground buildings. The nuclear waste is stored 750 metres from the surface. We saw supporting pillars that were badly cracked because they are unable to bear the weight of the ceiling, with water seeping in.

MS: How are those problems going to be fixed?

LB: Workers are pumping out water daily. The water is treated to remove the radiation risk. They’re also constantly bringing in minerals containing salt to fill up tunnels and relieve some of the pressure on the underground spaces in order to delay or prevent cracking and collapse.

Every part of this process is incredibly complex. Large machines have to be broken down into parts and then reassembled 400 metres down the mine shaft.

At the same time, both temporary storage – the casing of many of the barrels is severely damaged – and a permanent home for the nuclear waste has to be found above ground. 

Even optimistic estimates from officials indicate it will take at least eight years to remove all the waste. The project has had annual government funding in the billions of euros ever since the 1970s – it’s a bottomless pit.

MS: Why was this location chosen for nuclear-waste storage?

LB: Because radiation from the waste can spread via water, dry environments are typically chosen for storage. Originally, experts believed that the location was very dry and that there wouldn’t be any water inflow and that the salt deposits would act as a radiation block. So, it was proposed that the nuclear-waste storage facility be built there. It is now believed that the scientists didn’t fully check and examine their findings – a basic error that should not have occurred.

MS: What’s your opinion on the risks of “scientific policy-making”?

LB: Science is a constantly improving system of knowledge. What is currently seen as the peak of understanding will in time be replaced by new peaks. Tetracycline was found to turn teeth yellow, DDT caused unprecedented ecological problems. The inventors of nuclear power didn’t plan to cause disasters, but when we use a technology, we also need to protect ourselves from its potential dangers – to rigorously debate and examine the issues it throws up. Otherwise, problems may appear that we never anticipated. 

But even then, there are risks that cannot be avoided – human risks. Regardless of how powerful our thinking and our technologies are, you cannot completely get rid of human errors. In the example of the Asse repository, the choice of location was such an error.

MS: How is public participation in Asse organised? What do you think about the use of nuclear power and public participation?

LB: Research in Germany has found much higher incidences of childhood leukaemia within a five-kilometre radius of nuclear facilities than in control regions. Science still can’t explain the link, but the facts are clear. So the locals are strongly opposed to the facilities. The authorities were willing to make changes to deal with that conflict and lack of trust, to help the locals understand, so the German environmental and nuclear authorities intervened to change the management and way the plant was run, and since around 2000, it has been open to the public. There are four or five visits a week, with 10 people each time. Anyone can visit. And nearby, staff from the environmental authorities are present to explain the nuclear waste management process to the public.

The public should be involved in deciding whether or not a nation needs nuclear power. That kind of participation lets people see what the costs of the choices are – costs that the whole of society will bear, not just the experts. If public education is done well, then people will understand the government’s choices and be willing to pay for them. When problems arise they will accept that, and together pay the costs of solving the problems. Public concern and fears often stem from ignorance. The more the public know, the more rational they will become.

MS: With energy demands and the need to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, is nuclear power an inevitable choice?

LB: The energy-demand crisis must not be allowed to hijack our full, open, transparent and scientific policymaking process. There are pressures from energy-saving and emissions-reduction needs, and from energy supply, and we should have effective measures to deal with those pressures. But that is no reason for rashly or hastily getting energy projects under way. We need to examine the real costs and risks of producing energy – including nuclear energy. 

Germany recently closed seven of its nuclear-power stations. The public were told that the closures may result in rolling power cuts in some areas. But according to the German Green Party, the WWF and members of the German public I spoke to, there has been no real energy shortage as a consequence of the closures. Germany has started to exploit its own potential, and to reduce exports of electricity and increase imports.

How much influence do the power companies ultimately have over the amount of electricity a country produces? From Germany’s example, it’s not as much as you might think.

MS: Many experts argue that all renewable-energy sources have failings, and it will be hard for them to replace conventional energy sources.

LB: Many do stress the failings of renewable energy. It’s as if we don’t have the patience for a safer, more sustainable, less socially costly energy structure and energy policy. We just want fast, short-term results, leaving future generations to pay the safety costs.

From the outset, clean energy has issues with grid access, pricing, technology and so on. We always call it alternative, rather than mainstream. When I was in high school, I remember a teacher saying that one day we would do our shopping on the internet – that wasn’t mainstream back then, but it is very common now.

Alternatives don’t stay alternative forever, they can become mainstream. The way a country views alternative energy now reflects its expectations and confidence in the future.

MS: What attitude does Friends of Nature have towards China’s development of nuclear power?

LB: Nuclear power is, for the average member of the Chinese public, an unknown field – the information is either too technical to understand or there aren’t the channels for the public to learn about it. Friends of Nature also has this problem.

But through learning about Japan, Germany and Chernobyl, we’ve seen the importance of public participation and openness of information in this area. We are concerned about nuclear safety, the real costs of nuclear power, and the social and environmental costs of handling nuclear waste. We hope the government will do more research and trials in this field. We also hope public education will improve understanding of the operation of nuclear-power plants and their costs and benefits.

 
Meng Si is managing editor in chinadialogue’s Beijing office.

Homepage image from Dima Konsewitch shows a protest against nuclear-waste storage at Asse II.


孟斯,中外对话北京办公室副主编。

作者介绍 View profile


发展核能:公众参与与科学决策的博弈

孟斯

2011年5月16日

自然之友总干事李波在德国参观了一座废弃的核废料库。在接受“中外对话”的采访中,他告诉了孟斯关于发展核能的决策中,风险,科技和公众参与对其发挥的作用。

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“公众的担心和恐惧常常源于无知。人们了解的信息越多,终会变得更理性。”

日本核事故发生后,中国环境NGO开始关注核电。自然之友总干事李波在德国参观了一座废弃的核废料库。在接受中外对话的采访中,他认为科学并非万能,而公众参与能让人们了解,选择背后的代价是什么。

中外对话:你认为日本核事故对中国的启示是什么?

李波:中国对日本海啸和核电站危机的新闻关注随时间推移,似有萎缩趋势,这很危险。无论是受害地区还是日本全国,正悄然发生着一场深刻的对能源生产,能源 决策,能源安全,甚至对发展模式的反思。中国应近距离观察分析,从中汲取经验和教训。事实胜于雄辩。作为一个社会政治组织、民众的公民素质非常严谨的国 家,日本的反思,特别是后续行动,胜于任何空洞的说教。

日本核事故后,中国政府很快在3月16日颁布“国四条”。在德国我听到很多国家代表赞扬中国迅速高调采取了这种谨慎措施。

我4月参观了德国ASSE核废料库。由于最初选址失误,以及早期管理机构缺乏公众监督时出现管理问题,现在成了一个充满危险、耗资高昂的烂摊子。这种失误能出现在一个科学和政治博弈的空间相对更大的国家,我们有什么理由相信,我们能比他们做得更好?我们不会选错?

中外对话:介绍一下你参观的这座核废料库。

李波:ASSE核废料库从柏林往西3个小时车程,建于六十年代西德时期,原是盐矿。据估计,这里储存有五千多桶核废料。

库的地下空间有近800米深,相当于两栋地下高楼。核废料储藏在底层距地面约750米处。我们看到两栋大楼中间起支撑作用的柱子因不堪重力已严重开裂,库内也已出现渗水。

中外对话:这些问题怎么解决?

李波:现在为应对渗水问题,工作人员每天不停向外抽水。这些水经过特殊处理方法,去除放射性威胁。还要不断向里运送含盐的矿物质,填充大量空置的矿洞,直到填满,以减轻地下高楼内不堪重负的压力,延缓和防止开裂和倒坍的时间。

这个过程中每一件事都极复杂。如地下作业的重型机械要先拆解成小块,再通过深井运到400米深处拼装。

同时还要为核废料重选临时地上处置地点(多数核料桶的包装壳已出现严重破损的情况),和永久性存放地。

相关负责人乐观估计,至少需8年才能把这些核废料全运出。这个工程从70年代一直依靠政府每年几十亿欧元投入,像个无底洞。

中外对话:为何选择这样地方做核废料库?

李波:因为核废料的辐射有可能随水挥发出来,所以通常在干燥环境中存放。而且含盐的地质条件,一旦出现渗水,地质条件开始恶化,不利于储存。

起初专家认为这里很干燥,不会渗水,而且盐矿的环境对核辐射物质有阻碍作用,因此建议在此处处置核废料。现在认为当时专家没有全面科学核查和论证,犯了一个专家不该犯的低级错误。

中外对话:你怎么看科学决策的风险?

李波:科学是一种认知方法,在不断上升。现在认识的顶点会被将来更高的顶点取代。比如四环素被发现会使牙齿变黄、DDT造成前所未料的生态问题。核能的发 明也不希望造成灾难。采用某种科学技术时,我们需要有充分的防范意识,规避技术的双刃剑负面影响,充分辩驳论证,否则可能出现认知上始料未及的问题。

另外,即使是科学论证,也无法避免一种风险,即人的风险。不管人的思维和科学技术多强大,都无法完全避免出错。ASSE的例子中,核废料库选址就是一个错误。

中外对话:这个核废料库怎么组织公众参与?你怎么看核能利用与公众参与?

李波:德国有研究发现在核废料设施周边5公里内,儿童出生后幼年时期患白血病发生率远高于参照地区。尽管现在医学还不能解释其因果关系,但事实不可否认。 因此周边居民对核设施非常反感。为了平息和周边社区的冲突和不信任,让居民了解,核废料设施管理部门愿意改善,这个核废料库在德国环境和核能部的直接干预 下改变了管理机构和方法,在2000年左右开始对公众开放,一周4-5次,一次10人,任何人都可以参观。此外,在核废料库附近,有德国环境部下派的人 员,向公众演示核废料管理过程。

一个国家的能源生产是否需要有核能,也应有一定的公众博弈。通过博弈可以让人们看到选择的代价是什么,这个代价不是专家单独承担,而是全社会承担。公众教 育做得好,可以让人们更理解政府的选择,心平气和的为计划买单。计划出现问题时,接受问题,共同为问题的解决买单。公众的担心和恐惧常常源于无知。人们了 解的信息越多,终会变得更理性。

中外对话:在能源需求和温室气体减排压力下,核能是否会成为必然选择?

李波:不能用能源需求的危机来绑架我们充分、公开、透明和科学博弈能源决策的过程。节能减排和能源供应有压力,我们应该有回应压力的有效行动。但压力不是草率和快速上马能源建设项目的理由。我们必须考察能源生产的真实成本和风险,包括核能。

最近德国关停了7座核电站,占核电生产的34%,全国电力总量的9%。公众被告知,关停后部分地区可能被轮流停电。但据德国绿党、世界自然基金会德国同事和参会的德国公众说,关停后并未出现明显的供电紧张,德国开始从内部挖掘潜力,并降低电力出口,加大进口。

我想,究竟一个国家该生产多少电,其中能源集团的利益对决策和分析过程会产生什么影响,从德国的例子看,这里面极可能有水分。

中外对话:很多专家认为可再生能源各有弊端,在能源结构中所占比例很难撼动传统能源。

李波:很多人强调可再生能源有弊端。我们似乎没有耐心经营一个更安全的、更可持续的、社会代价更低的能源结构和能源政策,只要快速短时奏效。安全的代价留给后人解决。

一种清洁能源,刚开始有入网、价格、技术等问题。我们总说它是”替代”能源,不是主流。我读中学时,老师说未来我们可以在网上购物,那时也是非主流,但现在已非常普遍。

可见,并非替代永远是替代,永远不能成主流。现在如何看待替代能源,反映的是一个国家对未来趋势的预测和信心。

中外对话:自然之友对中国发展核能是什么态度?

李波:核能对中国普通百姓来说是非常陌生的领域,这方面的信息要么太技术化,无法为公众知晓,要么尚无使公众知晓的通畅渠道。自然之友也有这个困难。

但通过了解日本、德国和切尔诺贝利核电灾难,我们意识到公众参与和信息公开在核能领域意义重大。我们对核能安全、核的真实成本和核废料处理的社会和环境成本,表示担忧。希望政府在这些方面做更多研究和尝试。也希望通过公众教育让公众了解目前的核电站经营和成本收益等情况。

 
孟斯,中外对话北京办公室副主编。  

图片来自Dima Konsewitch

标识: 发展 能源