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Thursday, December 08, 2005

The Nuclear Solution

Note: I started writing this two weeks ago and as such it is somewhat outdated.

Tony Blair is throwing his weight behind plans to increase the UK's dependence on nuclear power.

With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions government has got to take. And in the end it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country.

I agree with him on the immediate need for increased nuclear power. My mother is currently spinning in her grave since she was vehemently anti-nuclear power. I do worry about the somewhat dictatorial tone he has been adopting about this issue, but then why should this be different to any other topic for Tony.

I am a great advocate for forms of energy such as wind and wave power and solar power, but at this time I am far from sure that they will provide for all of our energy needs unless some breakthroughs in efficiency are found. Of course more can be done on the savings side: many of us waste water, better insulation can be employed in many buildings and electricity is often over-used.

A major problem with nuclear fuel over here is that it is one campaign that the Greens have been very effective at. Pressure, brought to bear over the years, has put the UK in the state of closing virtually all nuclear power stations within the next couple of decades. This was of course helped by accidents such as Chernobyl; how could anyone advocate for nuclear power in the face of irradiated crops and livestock? And what about the length of time that the waste remains dangerous; what do we do with it? We are coming up with better methods of reprocessing spent fuel, so that it can be reuses - enhancing the efficiency. Plus new techniques for improving the thermal efficiency of the nuclear fuel pellest could lead to much less waste in the future.

The author James Lovelock is also an advocate for nuclear power:

I find it sad and ironic that the UK, which leads the world in the quality of its Earth and climate scientists, rejects their warnings and advice, and prefers to listen to the Greens. But I am a Green and I entreat my friends in the movement to drop their wrongheaded objection to nuclear energy.

Even if they were right about its dangers, and they are not, its worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of intolerable and lethal heat waves and sea levels rising to drown every coastal city of the world. We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear - the one safe, available, energy source - now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet.

Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources. We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation. Nearly one third of us will die of cancer anyway, mainly because we breathe air laden with that all pervasive carcinogen, oxygen.
It comes down to Lovelock's view that the dangers inherent to nuclear power are much smaller than those associated with carrying on as we are. This is just one view, one side in an ongoing debate. Is nuclear power the only solution? Well if we insist on a centralised power generation and distribution network, then it probably is. I think that we need a massive paradigm shift in order to make the option of solar, wind, wave and tide power viable, I just don't think we are capable of making it in time.

So I am a tentative supporter of the nuclear power option, but I am in a position to be swayed either way with persuasive arguments or numbers.


James Aach said...

If you'd like an inside look at how we do nuclear energy over here on the west side of the pond, take a look at It is a techno-thriller about an American nuclear power plant written by an engineer with over twenty years in the industry.

Averroes said...

Nice lovelock quote, and exactly right. This is an area which has been run by the hysterics among us. All part of the change from the "greatest generation" who knew that life was risky to our present generation which depends on the government to make a zero-risk environment.

Speaking of Chernobyl, my landlady at that time was a seventy-five year old anti-nuclear activist, of the old type who simply wanted the earth rid of anything nuclear so that no one wold have a nuclear weapon. She was front page news after having chained herself to the fence of a local nuclear plant in the making in the eighties, perhpas the last one built in the US. I don't think we have let a license since the 70s.

I went to pay my rent the day Chernobyl hit the news, and found her with her TV on, a rarity, watching coverage of the accident. She was beaming, smiling ear to ear. I couldnb't help myself.

"You look very happy, "I chided, "about the accident. i bet you hope millions die horrible deaths."

She tried to cover her smile for a second, saying, "Of course (I'm not happy that people are and will die, but maybe this will convince us to stop building and using nuclear power plants." The beam of a face returned despite her attempts to repress it.

A typicla (American style) liberal. If she were alive today, she would be wishing that we fail in Iraq. And she would wish this with the same lack of concern for those who would suffer.

I will say that our liberals, roughly comparable to your Labours, would not think of being so corageous and realistic as Tony Blair. Our liberals put gr3eat faith in government and its money. they think that enough government money will overdcome physics, and that saome great alternative energy source will resue us from the natural consequences of our lifestyle.

Of course, there is always NIMBY involved, as those who wanted to put some windmills off the Kennedy';s Cape Cod learned. They are getting shot down. I presume that hydrogen plants will get the same treatment.

Unfortunately for England, i think, you don't have vast lands of poor people to put such things on. You are sort of all in it together.

Kav said...

The NIMBY lot are a major pain the arse over here.

Its funny though, if someone was to say 'well, would you want a great big row of wind turbines at the bottom of tour garde?' I would say yes. I think they are beautifully elegant and don't mind the noise they generate.

Averroes said...

What about the birds, man? (Not THOSE birds.)\

the problem wit wind is that it is not a total solution, not a transforming solution. In other words, it has lost the feeling of magic with the faithful that hydrogen, for instance, still enjoys.

And the problem with magical solutions is that we, the people, tend when believing that there is a magical solution down the road (here, we often hear thwqt we need a manhattan project style effort for hydrogen--as if) then we somehow don't like the dirty, roll up your sleeve, partial and incremental work, like using some wind, some solar, etc.

Inj fact, the main argument you hear here against the opening of the ANWR oil fields in Alaska si that the oil there will not solve the WHOLE problem.

I wojnder if people have any idea how one gets hydrogen for use as a fuel.

Kav said...

I wojnder if people have any idea how one gets hydrogen for use as a fuel.

yes, that has always amused me. Now it irritates me when it is talked about like some sort of magic bullet. Especially by those who should know better; promising to look into Hydrogen as an alternative source of fuel is just smoke and mirrors unless part of the equation is how we are creating that hydrogen.

I agree it is a piecemeal effort. No one source can supply our needs. Not many get that, and its partly because a lot of people don't understand the numbers involved or the technology that is needed and employed. Of course, there is no reason for us to - we cannot be experts in everything.