River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Nuclear debate continues

October 2009

John replies to previous articles on the subject with some passion!

I'm going to have to put down my copy of "Renegade, the lives and tales of Mark E Smith" and gather myself to make a coherent response to the letters of Peter Bodle and Ron Watts printed in the Pump last month. I wrote a piece critical of Nuclear power the previous month, which has prompted their responses and challenges. I will aim to address their disagreements, but attempt to keep the whole thing coherent for a reader who may have missed the previous exchanges. There maybe some repetition from my previous letter. I will also try to offer references for my information, because there are some good writers and they are worth checking out if you can be bothered.

I would suggest the background to this debate about current and future energy generation and consumption is underpinned by two emerging crises' that are upon us.

  1. Climate Change; Nobel Laureate Henry Kendall, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists said.

"Let there be no doubt about the conclusions of the scientific community that the threat of global warming is very real and action is needed immediately. It is a grave error to believe that we can continue to procrastinate". A compasionate revolution David Edwards

John Grasser, Vice-President of the US National Mining Association and member of the Global Climate Coalition, an organisation set up for the express purpose of combating efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, had this to say: "We think we have raised enough questions among the American public to prevent any numbers, targets or timetables to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions being agreed here.... What we are doing and we think successfully, is buying time for our industries by holding up these talks." A compasionate revolution David Edwards. Ron you suggested I considered energy companies "Evil". Not my choice of words but not far off the truth.

  1. Peak Oil; The point in time when world oil supply peaks and begins to decline, which is about now. Big trouble if we don't adjust. Food production and distribution, Electricity, heating, travel, you name it it's made of, or fuelled by Oil. It's running out and everybody wants it. It will get more expensive and supply will be unreliable. Very soon.

Ron and Peter believe that Nuclear Power is an essential component to fill this void known as "The energy gap". The purpose being to maintain the current levels of demand generated by the "Industrial growth society" in which we all live. Two questions here.

  1. Can we keep the Industrial growth society going.

  2. Is It desirable to keep it going?

I'm going to leave you with question 2 and try to challenge Peter and Ron's belief in Nuclear Power as a possible solution to question1.

I shall use extracts from a paper by Michael Beasly"Eight of the many reasons why nuclear power is not the answer to our future problems:" I hope this will steer us through the key issues.

"1. Length of time to come on stream

Commissioning and building new plants is a time-consuming business (at least twenty years), so they would have little or no impact on cutting emissions over the next twenty years, nor would they build any resilience* in the face of peak oil and climate change."

This would simply be too late. We no longer have the cushion of future generations between us and this looming catastrophe. We need to alter our behaviour much sooner to avoid a mass extinction event.

"2. Insurance

The insurance industry refuses to underwrite nuclear power, a gap it looks like the government will have to fill, resulting in a huge invisible subsidy of nuclear power."

3. Waste

"Nuclear waste is a huge problem. The UK alone has 10,000 tons of nuclear waste, a pile which will increase 25-fold when the existing plants are decommissioned, with no solution in sight other than deep burial. It is often said that nuclear waste has a half-life of 100,000 years"

Peter you suggested last month that "Borosilicate glass encapsulation and deep sealed disposal has probably gone a long way to solve the problem." That is a lot of techno syllables for landfill. The conditions required for deep burial are 1) geologically stable. and 2) No ground water corroding the vessels. May I suggest only the deluded would try to guarantee any part of this planet would maintain such stability for a period in excess of 100,000 years (the half life of this deadly stuff). The US government have recently pulled the plug on a deep burial project in Nevada. So the stuff sits there and grows in volume. AS Peter Bodle says "Besides we are stuck with the stuff regardless." Exactly the reason why we should not create anymore. No wonder the insurance companies won't touch it.

"disposal of nuclear waste requires a great deal of embodied energy, including that in the materials used to maintain the disposal facilities (i.e. concrete and steel)." ie it is oil dependant and adds to greenhouse gas emissions.

There is one method of dealing with Nuclear waste that has flourished over the last twenty years, that is 'weapons of mass destruction' In the first Gulf war 300 tons of depleted Uranium was dumped in Iraq in the form of shells. "These rounds are not coated, they are not tipped;they are solid Uranium." New Rulers of the World John Pilger. Kosovo was also liberally showered with the stuff and the practice continues now (Iraq and Afghanistan). The effect is devastating on the civilian population. There are massive levels of cancer and birth deformities due to this criminal practice.

4. Cost

"A new programme of nuclear power would be staggeringly expensive. Amory Lovins has calculated that 10 cents invested in nuclear energy could generate 1kw of nuclear energy, 1.2-1.7kwh windpower, 22-6.5kwh small cogeneration, or 10kwh of energy efficiency. Also having sufficient money to invest so unwisely assumes an economy which is still growing, an increasingly unlikely prospect." The government agrees a set maximum price for waste disposal and decommissioning when it gives approval for the station. Any overruns in cost (and when has the nuclear industry not delivered those?) will be paid for by the taxpayer.

5. Peak Uranium

"At the moment, there are about 60 years' worth of uranium left. However, if electricity generation from nuclear grows steadily, this figure will fall, to the point where if all the world's electricity were generated with nuclear, we'd have around 3 years supply left." This is worse than I suggested last month. Ron has suggested Uranium can be extracted from the Oceans. Maybe it is possible, we already have a marine system in a state of collapse with unprecedented levels of species extinction (Another alarm bell for us should we wish to take notice) This kind of proposal simply disregards the destructive impact of such activities.

6. Carbon Emission

"Nuclear is often said to be a carbon-free way of generating electricity. While that may be true for the actual generation, it is not when the entire process is looked at. The mining, processing, enrichment, treatment and disposal all have significant impacts, equivalent to around one-third those of a conventional-sized gas-fired generating plant."

7. Safety

"There is increasing recognition of the fundamental flaws and limitation of the international nuclear safeguards system. While there is much that can be done to improve this system, fundamental flaws and pervasive interconnections between civil and military applications of nuclear technologies and materials mean that the most responsible position is to phase out uranium mining and export of uranium, and globally wind down involvement in the nuclear industry."

8. Mining

"More uranium means increased destruction to the environment from mining. As uranium stocks from current mines are depleted we will eventually see more and more of our precious land and ecosystems destroyed from establishment of new sites. Like the Jabiluka mine, this cannot and should not ever go ahead."

"Joe Shirley Jr., the navajo tribal president, has referred to uranium mining as genocide. 'Soil Not Oil' Vandana Shiva.

Good news for Australian Aboriginal's, they have won the right of veto over Uranium mining in their lands. However if we all go down the nuclear route the pressure will be on as commercial interests engage their almighty powers of leverage over governments.

Albert Einstein said. "You cannot solve the problem with the same kind of thinking that created it"

I have printed this large because I think it is very wise and challenging to us.

So deluded are we by our cleverness are we that we fail to see our connection to the oncoming storm of storms. The fuels we use to oil our lifestyle are on the wane. So we wage war to get at what is left, we invent more clever tweaks to get more out of less and we even re brand dirty pollutants clean at the blink of a marketing executives eye. We find more clever ways to dump our voluminous waste but we create even more. Like addicts we are in denial, we need to change something deeply but we are desperate to keep the party going. But the Biosphere can't take it. Life systems are collapsing all around. Nuclear would be more fuel to the fire.

I thank Peter and Ron for entering this discussion, as I believe we are going to need to become more reliant on the knowledge and experience that is available locally. I do not see it as Peter put it "The green debate". It is much bigger than that, it is about our existence.

"Everybody knows the boat is leaking, everybody knows the captain lied". Leonard Cohen,

We are held in the thrall of a debate conducted over our heads by "Experts" from the scientific, business and political fields. conducted by a media that is sponsored and owned by the same corporate interests that will be harmed by having to adjust to the demands of climate change and peak oil as a combined problem.

Ever since the industrial revolution began writers, scientists, artists and activists have been expressing their horror as the mechanisms of industry and business. Serve to divorce humanity from that which supports our existence. We have in our arrogance compromised the earths ability to regenerate it's living systems in our greed for material wealth and in the process denied the earths abundance to future generations.

We are at the end of the first half of the "Oil Age" and we have a choice. do we want to go up in smoke or do something different?

I do not see any future for the industrial growth society. It's activities have bought living systems on this planet to the point of collapse through relentless exploitation. Nor has it generated wealth for all. the gap between rich and poor is wider than ever. And we are no more happy.

A localised low carbon society, with local food production and distribution is possible. Richard Heinberg calls it De industrialisation. "The general outline of what I mean by de-industrialisation is simple enough: this would imply a radical reduction of fossil fuel inputs to agriculture, accompanied by an increase in labour inputs and a reduction in transport, with production being devoted primarily for local consumption. Fossil fuel depletion almost ensures this will happen. But at the same time it is fairly obvious that if we don't plan for de-industrialisation, the result would be catastrophe." Richard Heinberg The party's over.

This transformation I think could bring about a society that has more time and respect for each other and the earths natural systems.

To continue with business as usual, which is where our nuclear power argument comes in, is much like a serpent devouring it's own tail.

See Transition Towns website for some different thinking to solve the problems.

John Prestin

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