Saturday, February 11, 2012

How Anti-Nukes can really save the planet

My previous post entitled Change from 'No Nuclear' to 'Safe Nuclear' was a plea to the anti-nuclear movement to help us all by co-operating to make civilian nuclear power safe.

I was immediately asked 'how'?  Who decides what's safe?

So, here's my view on how the anti-nuclear movement can help make the world a safer place:

1. Accept that nuclear power is here to stay.
Nuclear power is here to stay because it is very reliable, proven and clean.  These are irrefutable scientific facts borne out by the many years of nuclear power plant operation around the world.  No amount of anti-nuclear rhetoric or demonstration can undo this exemplary record.

A nation's prosperity is measured by it's access to energy.  The more reliable that energy source, the richer the nation.  The richer the nation, the more affluent it's citizens.  The more affluent it's citizens, the more it can trade on the world's markets and be competitive.  This is the cornerstone of global civilization.

If you weigh this up in the current context of climate change and air quality, that reliable energy source must also be clean.

Any nation wishing to achieve the above has to consider nuclear power.  I know everyone wants to see renewable energy (i.e., wind, solar, geothermal) fill that gap.  But it simply can't.  How many nations can afford the smart grids necessary to make this work?  How many can afford the huge over-building requirements to cater for regional intermittent outages? What about reliable energy storage options that can last decades?  What about the ongoing maintenance and expansion required to keep pace with energy requirements into the future?  And finally, after all is said and done, there is still no guarantee of reliability.  My view on why renewable energy sources can only fail comes down to the fact that the fuel cannot be controlled.  Simple as that. 

These questions are critical to energy self-sufficiency in every nation on earth, and these are the reasons why the anti-nuclear movement is failing to stop the progress of civilian nuclear energy.

2. Put away the 'No Nuclear' banners and pick up the 'Safe Nuclear' banners.
It is important to understand that there are much safer alternatives to the current LWR and PWR reactors in common use today.  By advocating safer designs, the anti-nuclear movement can preserve it's fundamental goal - maximizing human safety - without compromising it's stand to remove nuclear power stations that are not as safe.

'Safe Nuclear' is a message that resonates with far more people than 'No Nuclear'.  We all want safe, reliable and clean energy.

3. Make the effort to learn about new reactor technologies - and learn it from the scientists, not from the 'religious'.
The nuclear 'debate' (as with most public debate) has it's religious zealots on both sides.  I attended the IThEO Thorium conference in New York in 2011 - my first conference on energy ever.  What struck me most was the accessibility I had to some of the actual researchers charged with the development of the technology.  Being able to chat with them and ask questions and see their passion is worth more than all the anonymous bloggers on the internet combined.  I felt truly empowered by this and gained a level of understanding that cannot be gained by 'Googling it'.

I recommend to all (not just those in the anti-nuclear movement) that you go to conferences in your state or country as often as possible and talk to the scientists.  Hear what they have to say and take an interest.  Scientists and researchers are human beings just as we are, and they strive to provide the safe, reliable energy we all want.  They may not be as articulate as the zealots, but you will be far better informed!

4. Put your energy into removing all fossil fuel energy sources from the planet - pick up the 'No Fossil Fuel' banners.
Fossil fuel is the enemy.  Regardless of the truth on climate change, we should be striving to end the pollution of our air and water.

No one can argue that air and water aren't vital to our survival.  The extent of the pollution provided by fossil fuels is much wider than the air around your car or water around your boat.  There are myriad examples of accidents that pollute huge areas of ocean and sky, that kill millions of living creatures - human and animal.  This is the enemy, and it's all man-made.

We also know that we have viable alternatives to fossil fuels in all aspects of their use (except perhaps aircraft).  We can use electric vehicles.  We have great hydrogen fuel cell technology available for use now.  The list goes on.

Much of the effort going into these alternative technologies is being hampered by vested interests.  These are many of the same companies the anti-nuclear movement has already identified as the bad guys.  So you may not even have to protest at a different location - just change the banner - 'No Fossil Fuels!'

5. Take a balanced view of lessons learned from nuclear energy events.
What the events at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima did for me were to highlight just how safe nuclear reactor designs have become over the years.  The nuclear energy industry has weathered incredible opposition to show that safety can be achieved in a civilian energy context.

The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged Fukushima was undoubtedly one of the most horrific disasters of the last 100 years.  Measure out the 12 square mile exclusion zone around Fukushima, and consider it's size relative to area of the island it contains, and to the area of devastation caused by the natural disaster.  It's tiny.

Now measure the extent of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the loss of life there.  There is no comparison.

Finally, learn the truth about the dangers of radiation and of spent nuclear fuel.
The health affects of radiation have been grossly exaggerated for more than 50 years.  This is as much due to lack of education as it is to the few religious zealots who overstate it to their own ends.  Get educated.  You will find it surprisingly benign when the radioactive substances are handled with the respect and knowledge they demand.

Come on folks.  We are at the cusp of really doing something that will fundamentally improve our relationship with our planet and give our children hope for a better world.