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Thursday, May 31, 2007


This from a recent set of comments on the online Scotsman. It was part of a fairly standard discussion following some letters but Colin's responses are worth keeping. Incidentally I have noticed that the online debate there is getting very one sided with very few people now coming on to say that windmills beat nuclear. Perhaps the real world will follow:

12. Colin, Glasgow / 7:18pm 29 May 2007 Neil, I'm an advocate of nuclear power, but it is worth looking at the alternative proposals if only to inform the debate. Here are couple that I hope you will consider with an open mind (by which I mean, don't laugh).

Greenpeace has big promotion on decentralised energy at the moment.

The SNP commissioned a "Scottish Energy Review" last year:

It is pretty clear that it is possible to construct figures that support the hypothesis that it is feasible for Scotland to get its energy without using nuclear power. What is apparent though is that it is not easy; it inevitably involves a considerable punt on new technologies that are not yet tested, and also, preferably, a substantial cut in consumption.

It is equally clear that both these proposals start with the assumption that nuclear must absolutely be avoided at all costs. In fact, in the case of the SNP document it seems necessary to descend into a frothing anti-nuclear polemic to make sure people have no doubts. The real question is why? Why make a difficult problem into an almost impossible problem by writing-off nuclear? The SNP's campaign is based on their assessment that nuclear is "dirty and dangerous". This might be a good enough reason if it was true, but it is pretty clear from the track record of nuclear power that it is both clean and astonishingly safe compared to other energy industries.
Compare the historical accident rate:

In contrast, opposition to nuclear power over the last few decades has predictably led to over-dependency on fossil fuel with its associated air pollution resulting in literally millions of deaths. This is of far greater concern to the WHO than nuclear power is. Well done those anti-nuclear protesters.

Incidentally, the Sustainable Development Commission jumps through similar hoops to construct a nuclear-free energy policy for the UK. Amusingly one of the cornerstones of their argument is that nuclear power would give the wrong message in that it might make people think that energy is plentiful and therefore discourage energy saving.

13. Neil, 9% Growth / 5:29pm 30 May 2007 Because it is, or at least can be if we let it.

I think you have your finger on it. It seems counter intuitive that people should willingly choose poverty over wealth but a significant number of people are scared stiff of a world which, though far smarter, more informed, wealthier & freer than what we have now will also be DIFFERENT.

Therefore they want to put our potential back in its box & hide it in the back of the cupboard. To reinvent a, usually pseudo, past with windmills, mock Tudor frontages, Victorian values, Earth mothers & servants to do the work.

On the other hand I want all the stuff that Dan Dare, Bob Heinlein & Mr Spock promised. I want the human race to go for its unlimited potential. I think it is the only possible way to go, because pastoralism won't actually work when you look at arithmetic, but most of all it is what I want.

14. Colin, Glasgow / 7:28pm 30 May 2007 Exactly. There shouldn't be a shortage of energy. World energy consumption amounts to a relatively few tonnes of mass. We just need to get better at converting it.

The SD commission is saying: "don't use a technical fix otherwise people might think there is a technical fix". I'd rather use the technical fix and get on with it.

Fortunately the encouraging message from the SD commission is that their serious anti-nuclear arguments have been whittled down to 5, and they are fairly weak.
1. Long term waste - geological disposal is completely adequate for this - in fact the margin of safety is massively over-the-top
2. Cost - (really they mean financial risk) It's pretty clear that it is possible to run nuclear cost effectively if people get on with it.
3. Inflexibility - it only provides baseload grid electricity. This is a disadvantage? What a hardship. In fact it is possible to do decentralised nuclear electricity with small reactors, but outside of Siberia, Alaska and Antarctica it doesn’t make sense.
4. Undermining energy efficiency - the argument I mentioned above. We shouldn't be happy unless we're feeling guilty, it seems.
5. International Security - as if the rest of the world is going to stop using nuclear because we do?

I find this all encouraging. The serious anti-nuclear voice doesn't even raise health and safety as an issue anymore. They are finally getting over their cold-war radiophobia.

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