I sometimes notice myself being blinkered. I think I’ve seen a solution to one of the worlds many big problems and I disregard everything else, creating bigger and better arguments to support my opinions.
Luckily, I have an inner ear that sometimes listens to me waffling on about some new solution and I stop and question myself brutally.
For example, electric cars. I went through a period where I was utterly convinced they were the solution to, to just about everything. I have gently re-calibrated my arguments, they certainly are a solution to many of the problems facing us, but they are still cars, they still use up resources, they will still create traffic jams, albeit quiet, non smelly ones.
So while I am still a keen advocate of the battery electric automotive solution, I try and keep it in context.
I have never been sure about nuclear power, I’m not sure now and I wasn’t sure before the terrible disaster at Fukushima.
However I am hearing from people all the time, and if you read the comments to my previous post about this you will see that there are plenty of people who have created bigger and better arguments which support the use of nuclear fission as a way of generating power.
In some cases they go further, it’s ‘the only way’ of generating power. There is no alternative, this is it, accept it, ‘don’t fall for the scaremongering’ they demand. They admonish me for even suggesting that non fuel burning, sustainable, renewable methods of generating the amount of power we currently use is ‘utterly ridiculous’ and ‘a pipe dream’ at best, and an evil conspiracy for governments to fleece the put upon populace in their endless quest for power and control at worst.
Apart from the safety aspect which I fully accept is mainly based on ignorance, and apart from my argument that IF a nuclear power plant goes wibbly wobbly things get a bit shitty rather quickly, apart from that, they still do burn stuff.
That, above all other emotional arguments about nuclear winters, billions dying of cancer etc, that argument is the one I can’t get around.
We may have enough fissile material to run a million nuclear power stations for a hundred years, but that doesn’t answer the question. In truth of course we don’t have very much Uranium and that could become a problem.
However, the stuff still has to be dug out of the ground and shipped around the world, processed, stored, shipped, burnt, and the resulting waste has to be dealt with.
I am aware that there are new technologies that make the fuel last longer, for example 1 kilogram of Uranium-235 can theoretically produce the same amount of electricity as 3,000 tons of coal so it’s a no comparison advantage as far as coal goes.
I know there are new technologies being developed that allow us to re-process it, allow us to re-use it but we still end up with a waste product that is to put it mildly, a bit of a headache.
One of my carpool guests, Paul Lavelle, a big proponent of electric cars and nuclear power, made the observation that in their lifetime, a human being living in a nuclear powered world will consume electricity which will result in a golf ball sized lump of nuclear waste. That is very impressive, compare that to coal slag, the ash and carbon crap we scrape out of a coal fired power plant. It’s nothing, it’s diddly squit.
But there are 60 million of us in the UK. 60 million golf balls is a lot of golf balls. Where are we going to put them? There are many billions of us on earth, will we end up with billions of slowly decaying radioactive golf balls. Yes, we can bury them in ‘safe’ places, but it’s a bit of a crappy solution.
While it is true that in the history of nuclear power generation, very few people have died directly as a result of accidents, the collapse of a hydro electric damn was cited as proof of how ‘safe’ nuclear power is.
But what is happening an Japan right now is a disaster for nuclear power, it will be incredibly difficult for governments to convince their populations that this technology is safe. The longer the disaster goes on, the more massive, non nuclear explosions there are, the worse it gets.
The radiation levels, we are told again and again, are ‘within safe limits.’ Not quite safe enough for an American aircraft carrier to stay near the coast, they’ve had to move well away.
Accidents happen, human beings make mistakes, especially when they are under enormous pressure like the few brave souls trying to deal with the Fukushima disaster. What a hideous job it must be dealing with that nightmare.
The other argument often used for nuclear and against renewables is cost, and this one is without doubt the result of very blinkered thinking.
We pay for nuclear power not through our electricity bill, but through our taxes. The nuclear industry is subsidized to a level that takes your breath away. Building one nuclear power station within the regulations which make them safe, and by God do we love those particular regulations, costs many, many billions.
If the UK spent £100 billion creating a renewable, sustainable electricity generating and smart grid infrastructure, we would never again need to buy shit we burn from places far away. That, I still believe, is something worth striving for.
In the meantime, I’m in support of building new nuclear power stations now, I’m grumpy about it, I may sit in the corner with my arms folded, sulking and refusing to join in. But if it means we don’t burn any more coal, oil or natural gas, it’s a step in the nearly right direction.
Oh yeah, and all the nonsense Clarksonian arguments about CO2 outputs of electric cars would have to be quietly dropped too.