Currently nuclear power is in the news because of an incident in a Japanese nuclear power station that was subject to earthquake forces that were many times what it was designed for. So far only very minimal harm has been caused to the wider environment. But, in a stupid Pavlovian reaction, the world’s media has switched into anti nuclear mode with politicians following closely behind, as usual.
Currently the world gets most of its energy requirements from fossil fuels. These have the following problems:
- They are finite. One day we will run out. This is totally inevitable so we should prepare for that day and/or institute policies that substantially delay it.
- Lots of the world’s fossil fuels lies under the soil of some of the world’s unsavoury dictatorships. This means that these nasty people can hold the West to ransom. It also means that they have lots of money that they can use to propagate their views on other countries. Just look at the actions of Iran and Russia for example.
- They cause, in their use, huge environmental harm and pollution, from climate change to LA smog. All of which impacts enormously and harmfully on the lives of many millions of people.
- Physically extracting the stuff is very dangerous. Deepwater Horizon, Piper Alpha, Ixtoc I, Lakeview Gusher Number One, lots of other drilling disasters and countless mining disasters prove this.
- Physically transporting the stuff is very dangerous. Atlantic Empress, Exxon Valdez, Amoco Cadiz, Odyssey and lots of other tankers have foundered at sea with disastrous subsequent pollution. There have also been very many pipeline accidents.
- Physically storing and refining the stuff is very dangerous. Tesoro, Texas City, Buncefield and Greenpoint are merely the most famous of a huge number of such accidents.
Given the above it is amazing that we still use the stuff, but we are addicted. And there is no non nuclear alternative. There are some so called renewable energy sources. These are geothermal, wind, tide, hydro, wave, biomass and solar energy. Each of these has some potential but each has severe limitations and current biomass extraction using corn sugar cane, and palm oil is plain stupid in a world where so many go to sleep every night hungry.
The answer, of course is nuclear. We have the experience and technology to make vast quantities of easily transportable energy in a manner that has zero environmental impact and that is cheap to make. Against ill informed opposition and the need for a substantial technology base, nuclear still manages to provide 14% of the world’s electricity. The world would be a far better place if it was much, much more than this.
People point to the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, but this was caused by people doing extremely silly things with very primitive technology. Three Mile Island was the second worst accident, a combination of human and mechanical factors in a reactor built 40 years ago. Much was learned from this and nobody was harmed by it. Compared with carbon fuels the nuclear industry has been a paragon of safety.
The real big danger of nuclear energy is that much of the technology is dual use which leads to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. These spread from America, UK, France, China and Russia to (in some cases allegedly) South Africa, Israel, Taiwan, North Korea, India and Pakistan with Iran looking like it wants to be next. Several other countries have (in some cases allegedly) had and some may still have nuclear weapons programmes in place including Syria, Libya, Egypt, Myanmar and Iraq. We have not been politically strong enough in preventing this, so now these terrible weapons are in the hands of some people you really wouldn’t choose to have them. We really need to get to grip with anti-proliferation measures before the inevitable huge growth in the nuclear power industry that is imminent.
So ignore the misinformed feeding frenzy over Fukushima and instead pay attention to nuclear weapons proliferation. It is a far bigger real danger.