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Friday, February 03, 2006


This was a response to the very long letter in the Herald which claimed that we are going to run out of uranium in 15 years.
I believe that one should be willing to defend one's views robustly, indeed I have on occasion been accused of it myself, so I have some cheerful appreciation of David McEwan ('Nuclear power is the greatest idiocy" ever - letter Monday). On the other hand he does seem to have achieved a uniquely high ratio of things that just ain't so. Surprising in a letter so long.

He starts by conjuring up the vision of spaceships going to the Moon to find uranium ore. Attractive, & relatively feasible as a return to the Moon may be it is hardly the only, let alone best place to look for uranium.

He then correctly says that all a reactor does is to bile a lot of water, which I suppose is true in the same way that all George Bush does is to throw a lot of sticks at people.

However the main error, on which he dwells at considerable length is that we are going to run out of uranium real soon - he says 15 years. This is nonsense, rubbish & claptrap, not necessarily in that order. Uranium is not going to run out in 15 years or fifty, or five hundred, or 5,000 or even 5 million. Uranium is, even on the Earth's surface, relatively common. The point is that you don't need uranium in large quantities. There is enough uranium dust in a spadeful of coal to produce more power than would be produced by that spadeful of coal. It is much more common in rock, particularly granite, which is why you are exposed to considerably more radioactivity in Aberdeen Cathedral than in Hunterston. It is vastly more common in ore - that is why it is called "ore". As a purely theoretical exercise Professor Bernard Cohen of Pittsburgh has calculated that by extracting the radioactive impurities in ordinary seawater we could keep our current nuclear industry going for 4.5 billion years. This is not the upper limit since, being a relatively heavy material it tends to be more abundant in ore underground. It is what keeps the Earth's core molten. The Sun is expected to explode in a mere 5 billion years. This is a more urgent problem than running out of nuclear power.

Except that we are currently on track to run out of it if 2023 when our last reactor shuts down.

Boiling the seas is not the most practical way to go, unless, of course, the alternative is windfarms or other "alternatives". Alternatives are called "alternative" for good economic reasons. There is no difficulty in mining. We could even afford to mine more expensive ores since the actual cost of our fuel works out at about 2 hundredths of a penny per kilowatt hour. Currently uranium prices are at an all time low which does not imply shortage.

Just as his fears of our imminently running out of uranium, which is rather like running out of rock, are unfounded the idea that we will have "hundreds of thousands of tons of waste" lasting over "thousands" of years is inaccurate. Reactor waste, the only sort that didn't come out of the soil in the first place comes in very small quantities, about a cubic metre per reactor year, but precisely because it is highly radioactive it has a short half life & will be down to safe levels in about 50 years. Our descendants 4 billion years from now need not worry.

We, five years from now, should. He is wrong to say that this is a problem only for England about whose difficulties we Scots may happily chortle. The opposite is true. So long as France is willing to make nuclear electricity at 1.5p a unit & sell to the south of England for 4 they are comfortable, & I suspect the French will not become unwilling to do so. We on the other hand are to far away & with the closure of Hunterson & Torness & some coal stations, are shortly going to lose 2/3rds of our electricity. It is grossly irresponsible of politicians to ignore this, presumably in the expectation that their careers will already be over then. 2,500 pensioners a year currently die in Scotland annually from fuel poverty but that will be dwarfed by what is coming if we choose not to replace & expand our current reactors.

Amusing though Mr McEwan's letter is the way in which such scare stories are preventing us, by which I mean the human race as well as Scots, achieving our potential is the great tragedy of our civilisation. There is no reason why we should not all be much wealthier, more comfortable, healthier & less worried than we are now. Yes, & have the Moon & Mars & points beyond as well. We only have to stop nursing our problems to keep them warm. Look at them honestly, admit that most of them are smoke & mirrors & solve the others. We are descended from people who did more with less. We should live up to our potential.
[/quote] More on Professor Cohen's article & on nuclear generally is on[/
To maintain the East West balance here is one not published by the Scotsman. They have since published replies from Councillor Niall Walker (Lib Dem) & Steuart Campbell (former Lib Dem who quit over the party's head in the sands attitude) who both said something similar to mine.

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