The case for nuclear energy is falling apart


by Sunny
24th March, 2011 at 10:00 am    

Nuclear power loses support in new poll, reports the NY Times, rather predictably. No doubt many people will say that this should not detract from the fact that nuclear energy is vital. Bollocks.

Kumi Naidoo explains why:

Nuclear power is inherently unsafe and the list of possible illnesses stemming from exposure to the accompanying radiation is horrifying: genetic mutations, birth defects, cancer, leukemia and disorders of the reproductive, immune, cardiovascular and endocrine systems.

While we have all heard of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the nuclear industry would have us believe these are but isolated events in an otherwise unblemished history. Not so. Over 800 other significant events have been officially reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency — Mayak, Tokaimura, Bohunice, Forsmark to name just a few.

He points out that nuclear technology will always be vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack – and in each case the consequences could be vastly more dire than alternatives.

But is it necessary if we are to wean ourselves off Middle Eastern oil?

Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council have put together a study called “Energy [R]evolution,” which clearly shows that a clean energy pathway is cheaper, healthier and delivers faster results for the climate than any other option. This plan calls for the phase-out of existing reactors around the world and a moratorium on construction of new commercial nuclear reactors.

Furthermore, an energy scenario recently produced by the conservative International Energy Agency highlights the fact that nuclear power is not necessary for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. It shows that even if existing nuclear power capacity could be quadrupled by 2050, the proportion of energy that it provided would still be below 10 percent globally. This would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by less than 4 percent. The same amount of money, invested in clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar could have a much greater impact on lowering global warming.

And yet the government keeps subsidising the nuclear industry.


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  1. Rumbold — on 24th March, 2011 at 10:08 am  

    Sunny:

    So the European Renewable Energy Council, funded by renewable energy companies, says more money should be spent on renewables, supplied by said companies. No conflict of interest there.

    What do you think of George’s view:

    A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

    Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by xkcd.com. It shows that the average total dose from the Three Mile Island disaster for someone living within 10 miles of the plant was one 625th of the maximum yearly amount permitted for US radiation workers. This, in turn, is half of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increased cancer risk, which, in its turn, is one 80th of an invariably fatal exposure. I’m not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective.

    If other forms of energy production caused no damage, these impacts would weigh more heavily. But energy is like medicine: if there are no side-effects, the chances are that it doesn’t work.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima

  2. cjcjc — on 24th March, 2011 at 10:42 am  

    I think we need to know what is meant by a “significant” event.
    800 of them? I suspect not terribly significant.

    Meanwhile I’m sure you can guess which country has reaffirmed its commitment to expanding nuclear?

    Japan, of course.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704050204576218470429152728.html

  3. earwicga — on 24th March, 2011 at 10:44 am  

    I found Monbiot’s argument quite convincing. And then I thought of Bhopal and came to my senses.

    Monbiot also doesn’t mention nuclear waste or uranium mining.

  4. Rumbold — on 24th March, 2011 at 10:58 am  

    That would be the 1984 Bhopal disaster which had nothing to do with nuclear energy?

  5. ukliberty — on 24th March, 2011 at 12:00 pm  

    nuclear technology will always be vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack

    Every means of energy generation is vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack.

    And yet the government keeps subsidising the nuclear industry.

    Which means of energy generation isn’t subsidised? Just out of interest.

    Every means of energy generation has its benefits, costs and risks. No means of energy generation is 100% safe.

    Each should be objectively evaluated and any ‘mix’ of energy production should be weighed against another mix.

  6. Sunny — on 24th March, 2011 at 12:10 pm  

    No conflict of interest there.

    Feel free to pick holes in that report if you like, but that’s not necessarily an argument. The govt has very close links with the nuclear fuels lobby too.

  7. Kismet Hardy — on 24th March, 2011 at 12:34 pm  

    stupid question: if everyone stopped using oil and we all switched to electric cars, wouldn’t we still need nuclear plants to generate the sudden surge of electricity we’ll all need?

  8. ukliberty — on 24th March, 2011 at 1:06 pm  

    Kismet,

    stupid question: if everyone stopped using oil and we all switched to electric cars, wouldn’t we still need nuclear plants to generate the sudden surge of electricity we’ll all need?

    It’s not a stupid question.

    Apparently we could do it without nuclear but everything has its trade-offs, doesn’t it?

  9. earwicga — on 24th March, 2011 at 3:07 pm  

    That’s the one Rumbold. A commercial enterprise regulated by some kind of standards, yet ‘disaster’ struck and an awful lot of poor people were and are fucked over for generations.

  10. ukliberty — on 24th March, 2011 at 6:16 pm  

    earwicga,

    A commercial enterprise regulated by some kind of standards, yet ‘disaster’ struck and an awful lot of poor people were and are fucked over for generations.

    OK, let’s get the state to do it. What, the state screws up too? Then lets never build anything, because of the risks. Oh wait, if we don’t build stuff people will die too (e.g. hospitals and power plants to supply energy to them).

    What a conundrum! See my comment @5.

  11. joe90 — on 24th March, 2011 at 11:24 pm  

    Nuclear power one error due to human error or natural disaster as in japan and whole world is in fear.

    Sadly I think it will take a huge nuclear power station meltdown in the west with thousands of deaths, massive contamination before the stubborn and greedy governments finally start to seriously go for greener alternatives, because then the public opinion will not accept anything less.

  12. earwicga — on 24th March, 2011 at 11:49 pm  

    Those thousands of deaths won’t matter joe90 – look at where the power stations are in the UK for example.

  13. douglas clark — on 25th March, 2011 at 12:37 am  

    earwicga,

    I agree that all nuclear power stations should be built right next to the Houses of Parliament. I’d like to tie up their Trident Submarines to the fatter MP’s. Seems like a plan?

  14. anon — on 25th March, 2011 at 1:20 am  

    “12. earwicga — on 24th March, 2011 at 11:49 pm
    Those thousands of deaths won’t matter joe90 – look at where the power stations are in the UK for example.”

    Kent, County Durham, Lancashire, Somerset, Gloucestershire and Suffolk. Can you explain your point?

  15. Rumbold — on 25th March, 2011 at 9:00 am  

    As ukliberty says.

  16. Kits — on 25th March, 2011 at 11:10 am  

    There is no such thing as safe energy production. Take for example the gas explosion in the Pakistan coal mine that occured on Monday – 43 people dead. That is far more people than what has occured as a result of Fukushima despite it being hit by mag 9 earthquake and a 400 mph plus tsunami. I think a couple of engineers died as a result of the gas explosions. The other engineers working at the plant run an elevated risk of health problems and may die early. But it will immensely difficult to isolate effects of the plant from other environmental effects.

  17. Trofim — on 25th March, 2011 at 2:12 pm  

    Note these two assertions:

    Nuclear power loses support in new poll.

    The case for nuclear energy is falling apart.

    These are different things. I presume that Sunny is positing a causal relationship, such that “nuclear power loses support, therefore, the case for nuclear power is falling apart”. This line of thinking can be generalised thus: if X is unpopular with the public, it follows that the case for X is falling apart.
    Multiculturalism and mass immigration have long been very unpopular with the British public. Anyone noticed Sunny maintaining that the case for multiculturalism and mass immigration is falling apart? No. It’s known as inconsistency.

    I spent a few weeks in Gomel, Belarus, some time ago. Being 80 kilometres downwind of Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst ever nuclear accident, it is moderately contaminated with radioactive fallout. It is a fully functioning city of half a million people with heavy industry, the second largest city of Belarus. Unless you were told it was contaminated, you would not guess. It’s just a big city, albeit much greener and more spacious than a British one. You can see it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sb_fvHYgIZQ&feature=related

    Foreign office advice stipulated that we should not eat dairy products. The residents of Gomel laughed out loud at this. Dairy products are one of their main sources of protein. The inhabitants of the first world are simply risk-averse. There is no such thing as a risk-free life. I would be quite happy to live next to a nuclear power station.
    If you think renewables are sufficient in themselves take note of this: A 10 megawatt tidal power station in the Hebrides, is being proposed – enough to power 10,000 homes! To supply London with its customary level of energy, you would need around 750 of these! You would need another six thousand or so such power stations, to supply the UK.

  18. Shamit — on 26th March, 2011 at 10:07 am  

    Interesting – a lot of rhetoric and private sector bashing from the usual suspects aided by very little evidence and understanding of energy policies. Lot of politics but no grasp of policies and reality – kinda like Ed Miliband.

    25% of the electricity in the United Kingdom comes from nuclear energy and some of these power stations are going to be de-commissioned by 2020. So where are we going to get the energy from?

    second, those who do not know the United Kingdom is a leader in renewables – we generate more wind energy from our seas than anyone else in the world and we are investing heavily in building more renewable facilities. And there is political consensus on this.

    The last government started it and this government is continuing with the North sea – baltic – irish sea network and so that we can not only use the energy generated from the UK to support out energy needs but also sell it to others – it is becoming a EU wide network.

    And there is more being done for small communities to generate power and feed in to the main system – this is all great and rightly supported. And no other energy production is as subsidised by the public purse than renewables – that’s a fact.

    This is no doubt the right policy approach – but unfortunately, the renewables industry with all its subsidies is not in the position to replace conventional forms of energy in terms of output and scale.

    Therefore, whether we like it or not we need to have an energy mix – we could go for coal powered stations but our carbon capture and storage infrastructure is still at an exploratory stage.

    So if we want some kind of energy security and cheaper energy we do need to have nuclear energy as part of the mix. But safety is paramount and that is why the Energy secretary has asked the chief nuclear officer to do a thorough review of the safety of our nuclear facilities and the report is due in early summer – can we at least wait for the report to come out before this stupid scaremongering.

    George Monbiot is someone I do not agree with much if at all but on this ocassion I must say he is not too far off.

  19. Elli Davis — on 27th March, 2011 at 10:40 am  

    Discussing nuclear energy is never easy as there are clear pros and cons of its usage, but since there are heaps of money involved, I am afraid the dialogue will always be in favour of keeping the nuclear power – the nuclear lobby will make sure the main agenda remains unchanged. Even though I find it hard to formulate my own opinion, this is kind of a sad thing.

  20. damon — on 27th March, 2011 at 12:11 pm  

    Who knows what is the right thing here? We need energy and lots of it, so it’s got to come from somewhere.
    What always turned me off the anti-nuclear view wasn’t the science or the pros and cons of any argument, but the anti-nuclear protesters themselves.
    And their rather smug ”Nuclear Power? – No thanks” stickers.
    http://www.bilderbook.org/atomkraft_nein_danke.gif

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