AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND — In contrast to its larger French and German neighbors, this small, neat country is becoming increasingly worried about nuclear power. A majority of the general public and parliament resists the prospect of Holland going nuclear. While Premier Dries van Agt, under heavy pressure from France’s President Giscard d’Estaing, seems to be leaning toward the nuclear option, many members of his own Christian Democratic Party have sided with the Labour Party opposition to the electric atom.
The Three Mile Island near-catastrophe is on people’s minds here whenever the subject of energy comes up. Nuclear critics are well aware that Holland is about half the size of Pennsylvania. It is the most densely populated nation (13 million people) in Europe. A radioactive cloud from a serious nuclear plant accident could devastate the country.
Early next year there will be several months of public discussion about nuclear energy. There will be meetings in localities throughout the nation, and Dutch television, which provides formal access to groups that can muster more than 15,000 paid members, will reflect more debates and discussions.
A large demonstration scheduled for June will focus on the dumping in the Atlantic Ocean of nuclear wastes which are trucked through Holland. The selection of this issue reflects the fact that no nuclear plants are under construction in the Netherlands. There are two small reactors — one of 50 megawatts and the other of some 400 megawatts —which account for a tiny fraction of the economy’s energy consumption.
So the anti-nuclear movement in Holland concentrates on keeping any plans for more nukes under wraps and worries about the plants being constructed near the Dutch borders by its more nuclear-minded neighbors.
At a recent European Economic Community meeting in Strasbourg, France, Premier van Agt once again was put under heavy pressure by some other European countries to speed up nuclear development. On his return, the Dutch Parliament demanded that he explain what appeared too many, of the legislators to be a leaning in the direction of proposing three more nuclear plants. He denied that he had changed his position and repeated that any final decision on new plants will be made only when there is satisfactory resolution of the safety and non-proliferation questions.
The Dutch are particularly sensitive to the latter issue after discovery of a theft by foreign interests involving secrets describing the ultra-centrifuge process for enriching uranium.
In the democratic countries of Europe, such as Sweden and Denmark, the opposition to nuclear energy is becoming stronger. One scientist put it this way: “The more public discussion there is, the more the people become convinced that there are less risky ways to obtain energy.”
There is, throughout Europe, a remarkable correlation between the levels of civic freedom and opposition to nuclear energy and, conversely, between the authoritarian or closed administrative systems and acceleration of nuclear energy. In the Soviet Union, for example, the government is aggressively pro-nuclear and intends to build plants directly within cities such as Lenin-, grad.
This is the same Soviet Union which has suffered from the worst nuclear accident in the world to, date — in the Urals two decades ago — and other serious technical failures. Soviet reactors have been built without emergency core cooling systems or other conventional safeguards believed in the United States to be essential. But the Soviet public is given little information and less opportunity for debate on this subject. In the meantime, the Soviets chide America over Harrisburg and its hesitancy to license more atomic energy installations.
In France, the administrative process is not known for its accessibility to farmers, workers, consumers and fishermen — the same groups that have demonstrated in large numbers against nuclear plants. There is a secrecy and authoritarian quality in French government decision-making on nuclear power that drives people into the streets to protest — thus far to little avail. France intends to build some 50 nuclear plants in a territory smaller than California.
Yet there are more and more enlightened voices speaking up in Western Europe. There are increasing numbers of studies showing how energy efficiency, prudent use of fossil fuels and the rapid development of solar energy in its various: forms can prove by comparison that nuclear energy is grossly uneconomic as well as unacceptably unsafe. British energy specialist Amory Lovins recently has brought these studies together into a concise study,’ of his own entitled, Is Nuclear Power Necessary?, published by the Friends of the Earth.
In Holland, blessed by significant supplies of natural gas, attention also is turning to wave power and a modern resurgence of the land’s historic symbol — harnessing the power of the wind.