I got irritated. In fact I got annoyed. This post is partly the result of protest I spotted in Cambridge city centre. A t-shirt reading: “Think nuclear is the future? ask Japan!” Or something along those lines. This struck me as downright stupid, a rather moronic case of entirely-missing-the-point. Just after the Japanese earthquake I read Gia Milinovich’s post on the safety of nuclear power – initially suspicious of nuclear power, her reading lead her to a change of heart. Earlier today George Monbiot had this piece in the Guardian. Much more compelling, and also a lot more worrying.
Monbiot describes how the anti-nuclear lobby have been scare-mongering with barely a shred of data, in a way that means those in the vanguard in finding alternatives to fossil fuels are almost dogmatically opposed to nuclear energy. The alternatives that have been pushed are solar and wind power – these have their own issues which I’ll not go into here – namely, can they reliably meet our energy needs?
If you search “a history of nuclear disasters” in google you get this in The Torygraph and this in Wikipedia . It goes without saying that the most catastrophic nuclear disaster is Chernobyl. The precise death toll is disputed, but UNSCEAR put the current death toll at 64 people. Remember – the accident at Chernobyl occurred under what were, frankly, criminally poor standards of safety. The experiment that caused the accident, had it been properly planned out, would not had led to an incident. The numbers of people supposedly affected long-term by the incident are highly disputed. The rather helpful greenfacts.org website discusses this:
In 1986, 134 emergency workers who received high doses of radiation were diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome (ARS) and 28 of them died from it during the first months after the accident. However, the general populationexposed to the Chernobyl fallout did not suffer from ARS, as the radiation doses received were relatively low.
On future deaths:
…among the 600 000 persons receiving more significant exposures (liquidators working in 1986–1987, evacuees, and residents of the most ‘ contaminated’ areas), the possible increase in cancer mortality due to this radiation exposure might be up to a few per cent, which might eventually represent up to four thousand fatal cancers.
It’s not brilliant, I’ll admit, but consider one third of us will develop cancer of some kind in our lives. So it’s upping the percentage from 33-odd % to 35 %.
Fukushima – 3 weeks ago. 11th March, Japan is hit by one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded. While the deaths resulting from the quake were mercifully few – a testament to Japan’s investment in earthquake-proofing – the Tsunami wiped out Sendai in the north east of the island of Honshu. The death toll is still rising, almost a month later. Because Japan is prone to earthquakes, the nuclear power plants shut off automatically. They still require cooling, for which they have diesel generators. In the case of the Fukushima plant, the Tsunami damaged the diesel generator, the facility overheated causing an explosion. Leakage from this facility is what everyone is freaking out about now.
Bear in mind the following when you try and use Fukushima as an argument against the UK building more nuclear power plants:
1. These Japanese power plants were designed and constructed in the 1970s. That’s 40 years.
2. Really REALLY bad luck. The nuclear power plant survived the largest earthquake ever recorded in Japan, before the huge tsunami damaged a back-up. Japan sits on the meeting point of three tectonic plates. On the other hand, the UK is basically covered in an upturned tupperware container – i.e. nothing bloody happens here. Clearly, we shouldn’t build a power plant on a flood plain, but aside from that.
There’s a nice xkcd thingy on radiation dosages here.
If you’re going to make an argument against nuclear power, you’re going to have to do better than that.
Can I point you instead to France. 78.8 % of their energy comes from nuclear sources, they are not beholden to oil prices, and it export 18 % of the energy it produces, some of this to the UK. Their energy prices are amongst the lowest in Europe. Think about that. And while, yes, there have been accidents, there hasn’t been a Chernobyl. And it’s not like oil never caused an incident – Buncefield fire at Hemel Hempsted in 2005, The Deepwater Horizon explosion leading to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year. Then of course the numerous collapses and explosions in coal mines.