Friday, September 01, 2006
MY PRO-NUCLEAR SPEECH from 2001
I wish to speak specifically against the amendment to this motion. Unlike the motion itself which gives reasons for its case, the amendment simply states as a matter of doctrine that nuclear energy must be disposed of. Since this means the loss of 40% of Scotland's electricity within 10 or, with a certain amount of juggling, 15 years I think we are owed a solid justification. Since the main motion hopes for an increase from 11 to 21% of our wind, water & solar capacity this still leaves an overall reduction of 30% on our current capacity. Assuming that over the next 10 years the economy will grow at 2.5% we will have a shortfall of nearly 60% of current capacity. The only option other than rationing is a massive programme of building coal, gas & oil generators & which would obviously involve tearing up the Koyoto Treaty. For the Scottish Liberal Democrats to vote for such a policy would be, & would be seen to be, grossly irresponsible. The example of California should be a warning. There the richest part of the richest society in the world is suffering regular power blackouts because for the last 20 years political considerations have prevented the building of generating capacity.
At the slight risk of being burned at the stake as a heretic I now intend to speak in favour of nuclear power.It has been calculated by Professor Cohen of Pittsburgh that, even if there were no other source, uranium particles recovered from seawater could keep our present nuclear power industry going for 5 billion years, whereas the sun is expected to explode in five & a half. It must therefore be considered as pretty sustainable. In general terms nuclear energy is competitive with coal & significantly cheaper than oil or gas. The French are currently generating 77% of their power atomically. They are also profitably selling power to all their neighbours, including us.
The basic arguments used against following their example are the risk caused by accidents, waste disposal & leakage of low level radiation. They are all wrong. The worst accident was at Chernobyl in 1986 caused by the Soviet notorious neglect of safety. As a result 10/20,000 deaths were predicted. Despite the most minute tracking of variations in cancer rates the total currently stands at 45. By comparison in another Soviet accident, in 1989, 570 people on a train died in a gas pipeline explosion. The total of deaths in the following 15 years is 2, in Japan. Bearing in mind that we are talking about creating nearly 20% of all humanity's energy for that period this is a safety record not even approached by any other industry in human history. At the same time to mine coal we tolerate the deaths of hundreds of thousands annually worldwide from black lung & an unquantified but large number from emphysema when we burn it. Waste disposal is truly a non-problem. Reactor waste is very nasty stuff but there is no technical difficulty in turning it into glass producing an entire cubic metre per reactor year. This can be stored in a very deep hole where it will be safe for millions of years. This is not even a problem for our remote descendants since a highly radioactive material is, by definition, one with a relatively short half-life. After 10 years reactor waste radioactivity is reduced a thousandfold. After 500 it is less radioactive than the ore originally mined. This is also why decommissioning reactors is normally unnecessary. Just lock the door & leave it. Recent research on radiation has shown it is not the threat we thought. Classically estimates of the danger of low level radiation have been based on the theory that there was a linear progression from say 5000milliSieverts (a level which will kill 50% of people within a month) to zero with no safe limit in between. Purely because it was a very conservative assumption it was proper to use it when we had no better model. We do now. Following the failure of Chernobyl to satisfy the theoretical predictions statistical examinations have been made of victims of the Hiroshima & Nagasaki bombs, people who worked with radium & most importantly hundreds of thousands of tests of radon in homes. The results have consistently shown that at low levels, below 150 milliSvs radiation has no bad effect. Indeed the radon tests have actually shown a negative correlation between radioactivity & cancer. This is not as strange as it seems. Many things are dangerous in large dose but beneficial in small. 1 aspirin may cure you but 1000 will kill. By comparison you & I will normally have a dose of 2mSvs a year, nuclear workers & uranium miners get 2.5 & airline pilots, because they work at high altitude, get about 6.
In conclusion it is clear that the only thing we have to fear from nuclear electricity is fear itself. This is not a good reason to prepare ourselves for blackouts. The human race has an unlimited future if we will only reach out for it.Anyone who wants to check what I have said should surf www.world-nuclear.org or www.formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/ nuclear
This is the speech I made some years ago to the Lib Dems against an Executive amendment dismissing any use of nuclear power. It went over fairly well - the 5 billion year line got a laugh - & despitr Jim Wallace, then leader, saying in his main speech that he didn't see how any Liberal could support nuclear & Ross Finnie being drafted in at the end to do a speech ignoring any technical questions & asking us not to "embarass" the leadership 1/3rd of the members voted my way.
In the intervening years the closure of Torness has been put back a the early 2020s but the facts remain unaltered. Tony Blair, who at the time called nuclear an "unattractive option" may now be considered a follower of me.
This speesch was also in my original page - now part of the November 2004 archive - but I ahve reposted it here to make it more accessible.