One of the most unpleasant arguments to understand in the ‘energy debate’ centres on nuclear power.
The easy argument between the ‘drill and burn’ fossil merchants, conservative, short term and driven by profit on one side, and the wishy-washy let’s take the power of the sun and all live in harmony brigade, rainbow flags and naff slogans on the other.
I’m generally with the wishy-washy and often annoying greenie Clarkson goaders.
But nuclear. Oh Lordy, that’s complicated.
The pro nuclear lobby is impossible to define in terms of crass political jibes.
They’re not redneck drill and burn idiots, they’re not middle class happy clappers with flowers pinned to their bicycle baskets.
They are generally slim white men with degrees in science who can do maths and understand complicated things like cesium, uranium, thorium, plutonium etc.
They no only know the names, they know all the specific numbers that follow the names and where and in what quantity these particles occur in the natural world and which ones are actually dangerous and which ones are incorrectly used by anti-nuclear numpties who do not understand science.
However, no one disagrees that a nuclear power station releases so little CO2 it’s not worth discussing, and so much electricity it’s barely worth measuring.
A pea sized lump of nuclear fuel is energy equivalent to a massive mountain of filthy coal. We know what happens when we burn coal like there’s no tomorrow, but what happens when we’ve ‘burnt’ the energy equivalent pea sized lump of nuclear fuel…. Um… we can ‘reprocess’ it and use it again…. Um, yeah. Okay….. we’ll get back to that.
T he nuclear lobby has no truck with the fossil lobby.
The nuclear lobby is the fossil lobbies greatest enemy, they have a perfectly realistic, plausible and proven ability to replace fossil burning on a massive, global scale.
Visit France for some verification.
Without question we could generate all the electricity we’d ever need using nuclear power.
There are hundreds of obstacles, variables and arguments around being able to generate all the power we need using renewables.
I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, far from it, but it’s a huge task.
The nuclear power industry’s safety record is exemplary, very few people have been killed either directly or indirectly as a result of nuclear power.
The number of people who have been killed by the fossil industry directly or indirectly is at the other end of the scale, it’s monstrous, brutal, ridiculous and overwhelming.
Nuclear power is safe, fossil power is anything but.
However, what nuclear power represents for me is the continuation of large, centralised, corporate owned, mining reliant power generation.
The continuation of the leverage that owning massive power plants gives to a very small minority of very wealthy people is not going to change the way we live.
Instead of being under the influence of King Faisal or Vladimir Putin, it will be a new and as yet unimagined pillock who will restrain our governments and exert undue political influence.
Nuclear power represents the continuation of the status quo, it will maintain the 1% in their impregnable position, controlling power, controlling prices and controlling governments.
Very rich people understand the status quo, they understand power politics which is exquisitely tied to power generation.
I have nothing against nuclear technology, I have plenty of reservations about nuclear politics,
In Europe we have 2 wonderful examples of the routes we can take.
France, who produce abundant near zero CO2 electricity from their 58 nuclear power plants. Electricity is cheaper in France than the UK by about 1p per kWh.
Germany has slightly higher electricity costs than us again by about a penny a kilowatt hour, they are also generating around 50% of their electricity from renewables and the wholesale cost of electricity in Germany has been static for many years. The generating capacity is largely locally owned and operated, it’s complicated and requires expensive infrastructure to run, but it is working.
These two examples from neighbouring countries with opposite approaches are worth watching.
Germany does not have to deal with nuclear waste, they have an avowed intention to become 100% renewable by 2050
France does have to deal with Nuclear waste, actually quite a lot of it.
At the moment about 44,000 cubic meters of fairly nasty stuff, 2,300 cubic meters of which is high-level waste.
This isn’t just fuel but components that have been contaminated, reactor linings, pipes, valves and support structures.
It’s a really expensive business, they are spending many billions dealing with it.
They melt down the really toxic stuff, mix it with glass, shove it in steel barrels and bury it in rock 1,600 feet down near the town of Buré to the East of Paris.
They will leave it there, forever. That’s it. Buried and forgotten.
Until they have another load and they need to find somewhere else to shove it.
Again, I don’t want to give the impression that doing this is unsafe, I’m sure it’s a perfectly reasonable course of action, but is it a sane course of action? That’s questionable.
I would argue it is mildly more sane than the American approach which is to leave all 60,000 tons of their nuclear waste above ground in 121 temporary facilities in 39 states and argue about it indefinitely.
It could also be more sane than our approach of taking nuclear waste from other countries and storing it in the Lake District.
So now when I hear of a slim, white male scientist who is working on grid level batteries, often using toxic chemicals and metals that require mining and energy intensive transportation and refining, I am slightly more hopeful.
Big batteries will change the renewables picture, wind, solar and geo thermal do work, they do produce electricity in abundance with no need to buy or bury unpleasant fuel.
But far more importantly the means of production, the generating capacity can be locally owned, widely distributed and understood by the general population.
That’s us, the numpties, then people who’s opinions are constantly bombarded by ‘facts’ and ‘science’ from a very small minority who I take great pride in not entirely trusting.