France and the United Kingdom are already on track to build new nuclear reactors using EPR technology, which are expected to generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity while using 15 percent less uranium and producing 30 percent less waste.
Meanwhile, other nations, including the United States, are studying the technology and may decide to construct EPR nuclear reactors. U.S. President Barack Obama has said he believes the United States will need to continue, and probably expand, its use of nuclear power to meet its energy and climate goals, but not until there is a safe and effective way to manage nuclear waste and to minimize the national security risks posed by nuclear power.
Safety features built into EPR reactors would make a nuclear accident less likely than ever before, but one study suggests that an EPR reactor or waste accident could kill nearly twice as many people as an accident at one of the atomic reactors they are designed to replace.
The study, conducted by independent nuclear consultant John Large, compared the consequences of an accident at the new EPR reactor being constructed in Normandy with one at an existing reactor in the same area. Large concluded that, in the worst case, the number of deaths would increase from 16,000 to more than 28,000.
EPR reactors are designed to burn nuclear fuel almost twice as thoroughly as atomic reactors, but that process also increases the toxicity of the nuclear waste EPR reactors produce. Various industry documents show that, compared to atomic reactors, EPR nuclear reactors would produce:
- Four times more radioactive bromine, rubidium, iodine and caesium, according to a report by EDF, the French company that is planning to build four EPR reactors in the UK;
- Seven times as much iodine 129, according to Posiva Oy, a nuclear waste company owned by two Finnish companies that build nuclear reactors; and
- Eleven times as much caesium 135 and 137, according to the Swiss National Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste.
However large or small the risks, the people assuming those risks have a right to know exactly what they are.