The inspiration to write this blog post emerged after attending a gathering aimed at publicising the ecological campaign ‘No Dash For Gas’. 21 activists scaled a chimney at a new gas powered power station during a period of its testing; an action that provoked its temporary closure. Unfortunately these heroes were being forced into a corporate battle where a large sum of money was being demanded as compensation. Whilst I wholeheartedly admire the group, and believe they should be branded with knighthoods not criminal records, I departed the evening feeling somewhat isolated and frustrated. The source of my anger was from the voices of a separate campaign group who was persuading the audience against nuclear power. As noises of sympathy and concur reverberated around the room, my head was filled with confusion and disillusion. I am therefore offering my views of opposition to those who care about our environment but are opposed to nuclear power.
Nuclear power as a low carbon energy source. I feel tremendously passionate about the wellbeing of the environment and agreed with the very articulate report from the ‘No Dash For Gas’ campaigner on the seriousness of climate change and the urgency of CO2 emission reduction. However, these are precisely the same reasons that I am passionately pro-nuclear and struggle to understand the views taken by environmentalists who label themselves as ‘anti-nuclear’. There should be no debate that nuclear energy is a low carbon power source, whose net CO2 output is roughly comparable to renewable forms of energy production. Of course, there are processes involved (construction, mining, enrichment and waste management) that are not CO2 free, but it is presently impossible to completely avoid carbon in all methods of energy production.
For example, consider an off-shore wind farm: many artificial little islands are constructed in the middle of the sea with concrete (that is an extremely CO2 intensive material), before the blades and turbines are shipped over, which create energy only when its windy and is returned to the mainland under the sea where no-one can see it. This highly inefficient process is what many regard as the key to our future. In fact, I am not impartial to this belief because I believe society has to proceed with all the renewable projects available to us in order to fulfil our emission targets. Equally we are under an obligation to make our homes and work places more heat-efficient and reduce our demand for energy by adapting our life-style to fit the modern energy crisis. Nonetheless, the only practical way the world’s ever expanding thirst for energy can be satisfied is to combine nuclear power into this mix. The urgency to move away from fossil fuels, such as gas, is too great to wait for renewables to fill the gap of nuclear.
The power of uranium. Mother Nature has provided the human race with uranium: a natural resource of incredible energy density. To ignore it, is not only naive, but catastrophic to our efforts at slowing climate change. One only has to remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki to comprehend how much energy is trapped in the element. However, nuclear reactors easily control the output and render it impossible for runaway chain reactions to occur by employing neutron absorbers and a low reactive isotope (235U) enrichment. Although nuclear disasters may be fresh in the minds of many, the new designs of reactor (European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) for Hinkley point C) make any repeats impossible. I would be more concerned about the designs of those already built, but the lack of any real disaster in this country confirms that a high level of competence and safety strategy is in place. The operational procedures have been tried and tested for over 50 years, a thought that gave me confidence when it was reported by the anti-nuclear campaigners that a train with nuclear waste wastransported through Bristol every single week. It was proclaimed to be part of the argument against nuclear power, but this completely supports my case because no harm has ever been caused by the practise.
The price of nuclear and its waste. Many consider nuclear power expensive but forget that climate change will be more expensive. Preventative costs are always cheaper than treatment costs in all walks of life, and besides, an increase in our electricity bills will naturally encourage greater efficiency in our use of it. It is also common to be worried about nuclear waste. What many do not appreciate is that radiation is natural and that we are being subjected to it every single day. Undoubtedly, the levels are demonstrably higher in waste, but containment technologies are proficient and local environmental testing is thorough. The number of scientists currently working on the problem inevitably means that a long term storage solution will come, which will also lower the costs of future waste management. We were told at the evening that 50 cases of thyroid cancer in children had been reported in Fukushima. Whilst I regarded this premature figure with caution, I grappled again with the confusion regarding the disparity of numbers associated with those killed through the effects of climate change - latest figures predict 20 million climate change refugees in Bangladesh alone by 2030. Perhaps philosophically the wrong comparison to make, but I still believe that locally focussed opposition to nuclear power is the wrong way to tackle the global problem of climate change.
Nuclear in the media. It is sad that the media machines of our country, and around the world, have capitalised on the ineptness of scientists to communicate effectively. By feeding off our emotive tendencies and interest in irrationality, the news corporations have scared people away from nuclear to make stories and sell newspapers. I believe the absence of understanding about nuclear science and technology is completely responsible for the degree of fear present within our society. Opposition groups tend to fuel their repertoire of evidence based on the emotive statements written by journalists who are reporting on scientific issues. Surely this disparity is obvious?
I want to finally stress that I realise the fear of the unknown can be powerful, but ask not to allow a lack of understanding as a barrier to accept. The environmental situation is so serious that it is our moral obligation to future generations of our planet to responsibly employ nuclear technologies.
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