Why Nuclear Power Isn't the answer to Global Warming
Calls are going out that we should "Have the debate" about the nuclear industry and have its responsible management and use discussed. So let's get one thing clear; responsibility means having a meaningful response. If one can't respond to something one can't be responsible for it. If you initiate a situation which creates a problem for which you have no solution, no response, you are not behaving responsibly. However you can be held responsible for choosing to create the problem that you couldn't solve! So what is the responsible course of action in the event of nuclear meltdown. Well, the human race doesn't have one! There is no responsible management of the nuclear industry, there is no prospect or possibility of responsible management. It's a mess, it's an ecological mess, an economic mess, a health mess, an ongoing management mess, a political mess, a terrorism mess.
The only realm of responsible behaviour regarding nuclear power is to take every possible precaution against the meltdown happening in the first place, create such surface tension against the event that we hope we will never break though into the hell of it occurring. But nothing's perfect, the system we are then employing is called "hope". Because this is all they've got, nuclear energy advocates end up saying that the disaster cannot happen, their technology and management plan is perfect; but no rational person has been seduced by that line of thought since the Titanic. To use the nuclear industry to combat global warming would mean expanding the nuclear industry several fold. This means that the industry's argument "we have it under control and our experts will make sure a disaster never happens", just gets weaker and weaker. Expertise will be more stretched, more diluted by ill-trained and uninterested staff, the status of the job will be degraded. It will change from a boutique, high-status, tidy, clean industry with layers of redundancy and safe excess margins in high paid staff to maintain the vigilance and surface tension; into an average slob industry of overworked, underpaid, overstressed, skeleton staff slacking off from exhaustion or incapacity as bad or worse than the Simpsons and then a meltdown will happen! The nuclear industry has already shown signs of becoming sloppy in Japan and already is sloppy in the Australian uranium mines. Reason dictates one look at worst case scenarios and management plans and what does one find with the nuclear industry, a mess, a pack of vain frauds throwing up their hands and praying for divine intervention. Nuclear industry and advocacy are the epitome of irresponsibility, they have no response.
INSURANCEIf nuclear power is safe, and meltdowns will never happen, then take out insurance policies to cover liabilities if one does happen. The proponents define what they call responsibility by third party car collision insurance, and maybe having industrial accident insurance, so lets consider insuring against nuclear meltdown. One shouldn't take a idealist view of this; but an actuarial view, use a threat/probability matrix, one axis shows the threat and the other the likelihood. If a meltdown happens someone will probably die, but we should calculate what it will cost in aggregate terms and in its entirety. Meltdowns are rare, only three substantial ones we know of so far, so the values on the probability axis are low, it is increasing as more reactors are built and old reactors break down but it is so low that danger of global scale catastrophe are slight, unless of course a big earthquake sets off Japan's reactors or some of China's. So what sort of threat does it pose locally? Well, it's totally off the scale of anything we've ever managed to deal with, we have to expand the scale about ten times larger than anything we've ever done to accommodate it. All one could say its it's catastrophic and unmanageable; worse than anything ever managed by private wealth, might as well insure a war. Chernobyl remediation measures were much bigger and cost much more than just building the concrete dome over it. They included:
So, even getting an insurance company to accept a policy against a liability of, let's say two hundred billion dollars at today's prices, is an extremely unlikely event; and if one finds a company to accept it is even more unlikely they will pay out on the policy, they would more likely go into liquidation. And if the insurance premiums were set and paid to a company accepting full responsibility for paying out on the policy; would you still be getting power cheaper than wind or solar?
- digging up the top layer of soil from an area the size of Tasmania and burying it in deep holes, and burying all the digging equipment like front end loaders, vehicles like tip trucks used to dig it up. Australia doesn't have as much topsoil as Belarus and the Ukraine (where the Chernobyl meltdown disaster took place in 1986) and so here the land made radioactive would never be farmable again, until new soil was laid there. So unless the reactor is in the desert we'd have to think about losing the equivalent of the agricultural budget of Tasmania, and probably paying the same amount in compensation indefinitely.
- Chernobyl meant digging a hole as deep as the Dniepr River and building an underground wall to divert the underground rivers polluted with radioactivity away from Kiev's drinking reservoirs. The most likely place for fallout to dump in Australia is on the Australian Alps, the Snowy River project dams. Nuclear proponents should contemplate firstly flushing the years water from all the alpine dams and weirs. For the two or 3 years they would take to refill the Murray towns and farms would have to cope however they might, it would mean the biggest land grab in history with all the farmers going broke, maybe some mega-corporation would have deep enough pockets to buy all the land and wait for the river to flow again. They should think about the cost of scraping a few centimetres of slime and soil off all the sides of Lake Eucumbene, or the Hume, Jindabyne reservoirs, and concreting up and diverting all the underground streams for a few decades.
- Chernobyl meant a few hundred men died from radiation injuries and a few thousand became permanently incapacitated after the cleanup; it caused a big increase in childhood cancers and a lesser one in adult cancers and radiation related diseases in the surrounding areas and countries. Of course one could save all the money spent on cleanup and instead of just having the aforementioned casualties we could have a casualty rate more like Hiroshima! Perhaps all these newfound advocates could sign a pledge on their lives to join the decontamination battalions in an emergency, and make it hereditary for their children and all their descendants, instead of sentencing someone else's so they can make money!
- The USSR never paid any compensation to western Europe but a year's agricultural production across Europe was virtually unsalable.
THERE NEVER HAS BEEN A PEACEFUL NUCLEUR PROGRAM
The nuclear energy industry was developed as a sideline of nuclear weapons production, the plutonium had to be generated anyway and they found a way of selling it to the civilian population by using the waste heat to promise unlimited cheap energy, and even that promise has never been fulfilled. That's why nuclear technology is more advanced than solar; not because it is a more viable or efficient form of energy production; but because governments have pumped money into it at a rate of more than a thousand to one of solar funding. Even the so called peaceful nuclear industry ended up a weapons industry; take the example of depleted uranium, that is uranium that has already been used up in the reactors. It was just more nuclear waste to put on sites and guard until the German company, Rhinemetall, worked it up into an anti-armour artillery round. It's very hard and low levels of fission combine with the friction heat as it flies through the air so it penetrates armour, when it hits a tank it's so hot that the people in the tank are turned to carbon ash in a fraction of a second and if the tank doesn't blow up soldiers can find them sitting in the positions they were in, crumbing away to ash at a touch. But the worst thing is that the tank remains radioactive for years and any explosion showers radioactive dust all over the place, the Americans use it in a lot of their ordnance; its in some bullets, it tips the warheads of the "bunker buster" bombs so used everywhere they have to bomb concrete buildings, every city they bomb. Basically it's a nuclear fission weapon even though Germany doesn't have nuclear explosion weapons as such. America and Britain refuse to stop using it, they shoot this crap around every time their armed forces engage and so they are leaving places like Afghanistan and Iraq littered with local radioactive waste sites, on most major roads in all towns and cities, to sow disease and probably hatred for generations to come. Peace and Democracy like hell; it's war-mongery of the most despicable order!
That was where Nuclear Power got all it's money for development, from government and weapons development, thousands of billions of weapons dollars were spent to get this technology to the dubious point it is at today. Thousands of billions for something that: makes pollution you cant get rid of; will need be guarded for longer than humanity has been out of the stone age; pollutes the hell out of every environment it touches from mining to using to disposing; tempts its irresponsible creators into new and worse depravities in finding ways to solve the problems it makes, like solving the waste problem by using it in weapons. This industry is going to leave a legacy not only of waste uranium but waste reactors, the power companies won't go to all the trouble of decommissioning and decontaminating old reactors because it costs a fortune and will probably kill a few people. Instead they will wait for the first deaths and use them as the excuse for the behaviour they are already planning to adopt, that of just locking the doors, sending security patrols around every few hours and building another reactor somewhere else! Hundreds of billions to accomplish that load of crap; the nuclear industry is a bloody dud and dead end in it's current incarnation. No rational businessman would have allowed an energy R&D outlay of that scale for results that poor, it was all about government funding and weapons; which gives the lie to all the shrill and instantaneous denials of military purposes from the nuclear lobby; their industry wouldn't even exist now without a military line of credit from the 1940's to today. That's why the USA is so hysterical about preventing countries it doesn't like from getting nuclear power industries; it knows the truth about this so called "power" industry. Research has to continue, nuclear energy is a major trick of the cosmos and will be the only viable form of power for deep space flight, some remote energy starved locations like Sweden or Siberia (even Sweden's trying to do without it) and other places we'll go in the future; it's just that in the here and now we've already got a big reactor a comfortable distance away, the sun, and it's just a matter of learning to use it properly.
SOLAR TOWERS USE ARID LAND, CREATE PEAK LOAD POWER, AND STORE POWER The only real solution is Solar technology; in particular solar thermal technology in a global warming world. The amount the Australian Government has invested in the new nuclear "research" reactor could have seen R&D completed and installation begun on the Solar Tower project that is currently being kept alive by Enviromission co. on small private investments. Let me declare an interest, I own shares in this company and am bloody proud of it; looks like pride is all it will yield me as it's still very under capitalized for the task it has to achieve, so it will probably go broke or at best get taken over and shelved by BP or some other multinational energy corporation. A small fraction of the total amount spent on the nuclear industry being spent upon solar technology would supply all terrestrial fixed power needs in Australia and anywhere else with power line access to a hot desert; which includes the whole Earth except for eastern China, some islands, Antarctica, and Subarctic regions. This is true green technology, using the least living surfaces of the earth instead of building over green fields or polluting or threatening waterways, this kind of thing makes a positive movement of humanity, and gives us back a future instead of further threatening it, expanding instead of destroying the living area of the planet; solar towers also serve to contain humidity and make the deserts, if not green, at least capable of growing a few food crops and would be ideal in the Australian interior where some use has to be made of the vast expanses where we have to stretch infrastructure anyway.
ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN OR VENALITY?All this manufactured "reality" of lies like "we haven't had the debate about nuclear energy" is all to keep the focus off solar and renewable industries. Genuine desire to address global warming might be motivating a few people; but most members of the pro nuclear lobby and most of the lobby's motives boil down to pure venality (that means bribability, the willingness to say or do, think or believe anything for the most money). This is what is happening now, the money has kicked in to bribe some and derange others in the federal government, and as well the entire venal side of the Labor state governments and federal opposition, so now nuclear is the buzzword amongst all those so called "hard men" claiming to be "realistic" who become so amorphous and malleable whenever enough money is around (a different age would have called them sellouts) and those ever so humane "intellectuals" most of whom are just too soft headed, too hypocritical to become conscious of their own venality, who can't even lie honestly; and this includes almost all the public intellectuals, left and right. They have started appealing for us to "examine the issue", not even "reexamine"! Not even "reopen" the debate! As if everyone were as superficial and reflexively venal as they are, as if everyone dismissed nuclear option out of hand because they sensed the wind of fashion, or sniffed a payoff if they fanatically inflamed public reaction against it; as if everyone were as superficial and vapid in their judgements as this mob are. Well those of us who aren't available as fanatics for the highest bidder have already "examined the issue", already "had the debate"; some of us didn't just reject nuclear power out of hand because we were scared of mysterious radiation, nor did we just say whatever would get us in good with a current fashion or hysteria of the time! I and many others have looked closely at nuclear power as a solution to global energy needs and to global warming, have studied it in desperation to find something to save us from global warming, and have rejected it as irresponsible. The only responsible courses of action is energy efficiency, demand management solar energy and other renewables. If these big wheel small minds have never had the debate then let them go off quietly and educate themselves but why make out we are all as big ignoramuses as they are? Nuclear energy should remain a boutique niche industry; to choose to expand it as a standard form of energy for the world is either culpable venality or yielding to a counsel of despair, and anyone countenancing it should be removed from power as the problems are already over their heads.
DONT BUY THE NUCLEAR REACTOR INDUSTRY The best reason for Australia staying out of uranium sales wasn't idealistic, it was so that we didn't form relationships with more powerful trading nations like America, France or Japan where they developed a self interest in selling us nuclear reactors. But now this has happened, we sell France and Japan uranium and they have to pay us cash for it; but they want to trade for it with nuclear technology and expertise instead as this would be cheaper for them. So this is where this "debate" is really designed to take us, into nuclear colonialism where we receive really nothing but more foreign control from the uranium industry. Solar R & D. now is the only path to a viable biosphere and future Australian economy, that is where all Commonwealth Energy Research money should go.
© Justin Moore, Plympton South Australia, 2006 Aug 30 Wed
minor revision 2013-02-11
ADDENDUM POST FUKUSHIMA 2011
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster I just have to ad an addendum; The only change I had to make was from "two substantial meltdowns" to "three substantial meltdowns" in my argument above, the disaster played out as I presaged, very expensive, very unprepared, very inadequate response. The Nuclear lobby quibbled that "it wasn't the earthquake that did the damage; it was the tsunami" but that helps prove the point about the Titanic, they can take action against known dangers but can't think of everything in nature's bag of tricks, and pushing the margin into places you know are unstable is irresponsible. Even though they survived this earthquake I still don't believe that Japanese or American reactors are proof against serious earthquakes; which is the wisdom driving California's apparently ongoing dedication to renewable energy sources. The Nuclear Free Pacific movement should apply to preventing or closing nuclear reactors on the ring of fire even more than to nuclear weapons.
Basically the only thing that justifies an absolute risk of life is the prospect of absolute loss of life, is desperation, and desperation to make money to make someone already well off richer doesn't cut it. Not all of us agree to have our lives endangered and be dictated to by "get rich or die trying" psychopaths. This applies to all things in consumerism's attack on life itself in ecological destruction but continues to apply to nuclear reactors.