EDF has finally bought out British Energy, laying the foundations for the construction of a next generation of nuclear power plants. I think this is excellent news both for Britain’s future prosperity and in the battle against global warming. We had a big debate about this in an earlier thread, but given that the consensus on the progressive left seems to be against nuclear power, I think its important that I lay out my reasons for supporting nuclear power.
Tackling Global Warming
If you believe that global warming is one of the, if not the most important issue that the world faces than you need to be able to come up with alternative sources of energy. Right now renewables are either extremely expensive or unreliable and not sufficient to power entire economies. It is important to continue research and development in renewables but there is no guarantee of success.
Sustaining Economic Development
One argument against trying to meet our energy needs is that we need to curb our consumption. This is a good point and I think that one of the positive side-effects of the current high oil and gas prices is that people are thinking more about how they use energy. However for the majority of people in the developing world, in order to get out of poverty they will need to use a lot more energy then they are doing right now. Without alternative sources of fuel, they will end up using fossil fuels. Even if we actually do have a lot of oil and gas left, the environmental effects will be disastrous.
What about the Safety of Nuclear Power Plants
A lot is made of this, but I don’t think that it is that much of an issue. Firstly, the amount of nuclear accidents has been remarkably small. Most of France for instance is run on nuclear power without anything severe having happened. Also, nuclear plants built with new technology are going to be a lot safer. Compare that to the number of people killed each year in coal mines or of oil rigs and its clear that the reason people worry about this is that when something happens at a nuclear station it is deemed more newsworthy and frightening.
What to do with Nuclear Waste?
This is probably the strongest argument against nuclear power. There are legitimate concerns as to how we will dispose of the waste. A couple of points need to made against this though. Firstly, we have already been disposing of waste without anything disastrous having happened. Secondly, there may well be a possibility in the future that scientists come up with a way of treating nuclear waste so that they aren’t as harmful.
I’ll finish by reminding people that although nuclear power may seem frightening, we always have to make tradeoffs when dealing with public policy issues and a world in which we have constant climate catastrophes is both more dangerous and more likely. Lovelock says it best;
One of the striking things about places heavily contaminated by radioactive nuclides is the richness of their wildlife. This is true of the land around Chernobyl, the bomb test sites of the Pacific, and areas near the United Statesâ€™ Savannah River nuclear weapons plant of the Second World War. Wild plants and animals do not perceive radiation as dangerous, and any slight reduction it may cause in their lifespans is far less a hazard than is the presence of people and their petsâ€¦ I find it sad, but all too human, that there are vast bureaucracies concerned about nuclear waste, huge organisations devoted to decommissioning power stations, but nothing comparable to deal with that truly malign waste, carbon dioxide.â€
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Current affairs