French President Nicolas Sarkozy is bravely ignoring paranoid alarmists and pushing ahead with clean nuclear energy, even as America's nuclear future stalls.  (Source: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images)

Its easy to blame politicians for lacking the bravery to support nuclear power. But at the end of the day, if the American people keep electing those politicians, that says something about them.  (Source: AP Photo)

Perhaps clean, high energy, low-waste Generation IV reactors won't be on the agenda for the U.S. Perhaps, that honor will be reserved for a more courageous nation -- like France.  (Source: Herve Lenain/Corbis)
European giant shows it's committed to being a tech superpower, in the face of public fear and ignorance

I. France Says Yes to Nuclear

Among some Americans, France is derided and the bunt of jokes.  Such attitudes arose after the Americans helped an occupied France with two World Wars.  However, most of those Americans fail to realize that the American Revolution would likely have failed, had it not been for French intervention.

France has long been a strong independent nation, and it's been showing it of late.  For example, when the U.S. was wavering on whether to launch airstrikes when Libya's dictator was slaughtering civilians, France acted first, sending in fighter jets and bombers to the region and taking matters into their own hands.  (The U.S. would later get fully involved.)

Now France has made perhaps its boldest move yet, throwing its support yet again solidly behind nuclear power

Back in America, President Barack Obama has backed off of plans to promote new nuclear plants in the face of public nuclear paranoia, following the meltdown at Japan's tsunami-struck Fukushima reactors.  

Most members of the public know little about nuclear plants -- they don't know that the Fukushima reactor was negligently designed (surveys reported the area had a 10 percent chance per decade of flooding, yet the generators weren't waterproofed); they don't know that Fukushima's reactors were nearly 40 years old and were being decommissioned; and they don't know that modern reactors cool down much faster and have superior automated safety systems, reducing the possibility of a meltdown substantially.  In short, for all the fear there is little "facts" about nuclear power and what few "facts" there are, are hard to distinguish from for-profit sensationalism.

II. European Nation Refuses to Let Itself Fall Victim to Paranoia, Misinformation

Fortunately while American politicians are too weak and afraid to resoundingly back nuclear power, France's leadership is stepping up to the plate.  The nation announced it would be spending €1B ($1.43B USD) to move forward with plans to design and build cutting edge Generation IV reactor.

Speaking to the press, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted, "There is no alternative to nuclear energy today," he told journalists on Monday. We are going to devote €1B to the nuclear program of the future, particularly fourth-generation technology."

The stand President Sarkozy is taking is brave one, as he's challenging the sentiments of many of his constituents.  Just this month protesters formed a human chain around the nation's oldest nuclear plant in the city of Fessenheim.  Located in the German-bordering province of Alsace, the plant has been open for 34 years.

And President Sarkozy is not only challenging his voters.  He's challenging his colleagues in the European Union as well.

Germany's Prime Minister Angela Merkel announced her intention to cut and run from nuclear power.  The nation's 17 nuclear reactors, which provide 40 percent of its power, would be lost in the retreat.  A defeated Merkel, placated, "We want to end the use of nuclear energy and reach the age of renewable energy as fast as possible."

President Sarkozy say that the difference between France and its peers isn't merely its commitment to nuclear, but the effort it puts in the technology.  He states, "Our power stations are more expensive because they are safer."

In the wake of Fukushima, France has been conducting rigorous audits to confirm that all of its nuclear reactors are up to par and that there's no safety gaps their designs. 

The shift to Generation IV reactors such as thorium molten salt reactors, or pebble bed reactors will greatly increase safety as most Generation IV designs are incapable of melting down.  The new reactors also produce far less waste by recycling byproducts, and produce more clean energy.

III. Where's American Bravery Now?

To be fair others have tried to push the issue of nuclear power in Europe.  Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi tried to push voters to approve his nation's first restart of nuclear power since the 1980s.  The vote failed by a resounding 94 percent.

Back here in America, at least the President hasn't proposed sounding the retreat on nuclear like Germany has.  But nary a word has left his mouth about new plants, even as the nation prepares to retire older reactors and spends massively on more expensive alternative energy sources.

It's easy to blame Barack Obama, blame Congress, or blame someone else for the fact that America lacks the logic and guts to back nuclear power -- the cleanest, cheapest, and safest current energy source if applied correctly.

But at the end of the day you can only put the blame on others for so long.  If the majority of Americans were truly as brave as France's president -- willing to tell the naysayers, "Be damned, we're going to support great engineering" -- then they would vote obstructionist politicians out of office.

If they don't, they can only blame themselves and their countrymen.

American is a nation with a history of innovative engineering, without question.  After all, it was America that essentially invented both the atomic bomb and the nuclear reactor.  

Today, though, the nation is faltering in its leadership role.  Its politicians are silent.  There are no cries for Generation IV reactors.  We're unlikely to see such reactors on American soil anytime soon.  So the next time somebody cracks a joke at the expense of the French, don't laugh -- because the joke's on us (the U.S.).

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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