Thursday, February 19, 2009

nuke mark lynas

Mark Lynas is a seriously well informed person. While many of us use broad phrases like 'climate change impact', he has very precise knowledge.

To show that climate change isn't something that's going to happen but is already here, he visited many parts of the world already affected, reporting it in the book High Tide: Notes From A Warming World.

As the global temperature is likely to rise up to six degrees this century, he wrote Six Degrees. Six chapters, each detailing the results of extensive research on what the next degree of warming is likely to cause.

He's also a prolific writer of articles, and has spoken out in favour of radical activists such as the Camp for Climate Action.

So it was surprising when, in May 2005, he came out as a convert to the idea of nuclear power using some questionable lines of thinking.

Even with crash programmes for wind, wave and tidal, with nuclear stations closing we would still have the same greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 as we do today.

New nuclear power stations proposed today will not be onstream until the 2020s. So even with a crash programme for nuclear, it won't affect our 2020 emissions at all.

It's a simple fact that undoes all the stuff about nuclear power helping us towards our 2020 targets, or about it preventing the 'energy gap' when numerous coal power stations are decomissioned in 2015.

People like Derek Simpson, joint leader of the uber-trade union Unite, should be openly ridiculed when they come out with cack like

Nuclear energy can reduce our reliance on foreign gas and oil, and start to reduce household bills by 2015.

In his 2005 nuclear advocacy Lynas qualified his enthusiasm somewhat, though.

It can reduce carbon emissions only as part of a combined dash for renewables and energy efficiency, buying us time while truly clean energy systems are developed.

The builders of nuclear plants will not be investing so much only to shut them down after a few years. They would run for their full lifespan, fifty years or more. This 'time' they buy us doesn't begin until the 2020s, and produces nuclear waste and swallows vast amounts of money until the 2070s and beyond. It is not a stopgap.

There is also something else at work here. Lynas's position is reminiscent of George Monbiot's declaration last year that he 'no longer cared' if nuclear was part of the solution to climate change. Whilst the wording may be carefully balanced, that's not the full story of how language works, as Jonathon Porritt noted.

a communicator as astute and clever as George should (and surely does) know the difference between a 'Yes...If' position and a 'No...Unless' position.

Still, Lynas retracted a little. In January last year he wrote an article entitled Why Britain Doesn't Need Nuclear Power.

He argues that China has cause to build new nuclear power stations as, if they are to generate huge amounts of electricity, it's their only serious alternative to coal. But in Britain, where our offshore wind capacity alone could power all our homes, nuclear is unnecessary.

Nuclear reactors can be built anywhere, and make far more sense in countries where renewables are less freely available than here. Because of our geographical position and shallow continental shelves, we could be the Saudi Arabia of windpower.

Nuclear power shouldn't be built here where there are such readily available alternatives, then.

The last thing we need now is for this momentum to be lost because of a huge diversion of political energy into justifying new nuclear power stations and battling environmentalists.

Apparently that's now not the case after all and we should, in fact, be diverting political energy and gargantuan sums of money into nuclear power.

In August last year he cited Jim Hansen and George Monbiot's ambivalence towards nuclear and, emboldened by their position, said

I would take a stronger position myself: that increased use of nuclear (an outright competitor to coal as a deliverer of baseload power) is essential to combat climate change, but clearly there need to be some significant technical advances in nuclear fission if it is to become acceptable to many in the west.

'Significant technical advances' required.

This idea - 'we need a miracle breakthrough, but let's keep going because I'm sure someone will find it soon' - is the argument being used to justify new coal plants, aviation expansion and every other inexcusable technology. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows it's crooked thinking.

Once again, I cite Jim Bliss' analogy of showering people with anthrax but saying that there might be an antidote discovered before any of them get sick.

As in 2005, Lynas is ignoring the fact that nuclear power plants won't be onstream until the 2020s at the earliest, whilst - the essential point in all this - the climate science demands that emissions start to fall by about 2015.

If a solution is not not on the table - or at least ready and within reach - it's of no use. Pinning our hopes on a technology that doesn't exist and won't within 20 years is ludicrous. Channelling reserves of money and momentum into such things when there are alternatives that work, available here and now, is horrifically irresponsible.

Of course, as I recently reported Hilary Benn rightly pointing out, 'just because you can’t solve a problem immediately doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set it in motion'.

But, according to the Sustainable Development Commission, even if we replace all the nuclear power stations due to close, then double the capacity, even by the time they’re all on stream around 2034, we’d only make an 8% cut in our carbon emissions.

It wouldn’t ‘solve the problem’ even in 30 years. In the mean time, the money invested in nuclear is money not invested in renewables, and carbon savings from technologies that could be onstream quicker are lost.

Lynas advocates development of 'fourth generation' nuclear reactors. These plants won't generate more waste but instead burn up existing waste stockpiles. And probably solve world hunger, find a cure for cancer and bring you a nice cup of tea just the way you like it at the same time.

Back on planet earth, they don't exist. They burn up plutonium, which means waste has - at great cost - to be enriched, and significant highly radioactive waste remains. Also, the earliest projection is for commercial building to start around 2030. This is being advocated by a man who has previously demonstrated a real understanding of the climate emergency. Go figure.

Buying into a mindset that ignores the existence of renewable energy entirely, Lynas tells us

It is worth remembering the contribution that nuclear power has already made to offsetting global warming

If the future were a choice between fossils and nukes this statement would have some relevance. But as there are now other fossil-displacing options on the table, it means nothing. Again, he displays a desire to put the nuclear option in a cosy light without any substantive point to make.

Lynas cites Professor David Mackay's study, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air. Measuring deaths per gigawatt-year, 'nuclear and wind power are the safest technologies'. That's as maybe, but what if things go wrong? The liability for a wind farm accident is somewhat less daunting than for a nuclear one. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of over 24,000 years. Will today's reactor builders be liable for all damage that comes from their works, whenever it might occur?

MacKay calculates that even if we covered the windiest 10 per cent of the UK with wind turbines, put solar panels on all south-facing roofs, implemented strong energy efficiency measures across the economy, built offshore wind turbines across an area of sea two-thirds the size of Wales, and fully exploited every other conceivable source of renewables (including wave and tidal power), energy production would still not match current consumption.

This is rather different to Britain being the "Saudi Arabia of wind power" as many in the environmental movement are fond of asserting.

I love the slight snidiness in the phrasing of that last line, said as if it wasn't the exact words Lynas himself had used to discredit nuclear power only nine months earlier.

But that's a side-issue. The real key phase is 'match current consumption'. If we scale consumption back, what then? If we have localised energy production with Combined Heat and Power plants so we use all the energy generated (fossil power stations send two-thirds of their energy up the cooling towers as waste heat) and thereby reduce the amount we burn, what then?

Greenpeace cite a report showing that Combined Heat and Power at just nine key industrial sites could generate the same power as eight nuclear power stations, and do it a lot more quickly and cheaply.

In November 2005 Lynas worried

if the energies of climate campaigners are diverted from mobilising popular support on global warming into trying to stop nuclear power, this will be an enormous step backwards.

What if the energies of climate authors are diverted from promoting sustainable technologies into advocating nuclear power? Or, as we remember someone wise saying a year ago, 'the last thing we need now is for this momentum to be lost because of a huge diversion of political energy into justifying new nuclear power stations'.

Lynas' most recent reconversion to nuclear says

it is vital to stress the neither I nor MacKay nor any credible expert suggests a choice between renewables and nuclear

But, as he surely knows, that is precisely what we face. In 2003 the government launched its White Paper on Energy saying it would have been 'foolish' to decide on a new generation of nuclear power stations 'because that would have guaranteed that we would not make the necessary investment and effort in both energy efficiency and in renewables'.

Lobbied by the nuclear industry, the government U-turned to a pro-nuclear position. Like Monbiot, Lynas is smart enough to know that his vociferous pro-nuclear voice is a weapon against renewables. In an either/or political reality where the big money's going to renewables or nuclear, he's helping the push to the latter.

= = = = = = =

UPDATE 23 Feb 09: It seems this post was rather timely. Today's Independent has an article featuring four prominent former anti-nuke environmentalists backing nuclear power on grounds of climate change.


Derek Wall said...

Derek Simpson is in an election contest as union leader, the ballot forms are arriving this week, could you plug Jerry Hicks who is the candidate for the post who has come out against nuclear power and Heathrow expansion.

Anonymous said...

Hi Merrick,

I can't speak for Mark, but I think you misrepresent our choices. It's not a straight fight between nuclear and renewables. We need as much renewable energy as we can pack in, but beyond a certain penetration of the grid - 50%?, 60%? no one knows - adding more becomes much harder and more expensive. That's not to say impossible - CAT's zerocarbonbritain report suggests it can be done - but it's very tough. Which means much more money and more time to complete. So using another source - nuclear or thermal with CCS - to supplement the renewables could get us there much faster while making it more achievable in financial terms.

I am, as you know, much more concerned by climate change than by nuclear power. If nukes help to prevent runaway climate breakdown, I would choose them as the lesser of two evils. Though I would choose gas with CCS first.

With best wishes, George Monbiot

merrick said...

Derek, you've done the plugging yourself there, nice one!


I think you misrepresent our choices - I didn't intend to, and nothing in my post or in your Comment makes me think I have. I was careful to put in Mark's qualifications, and careful to refer to your and his positions as plural.

Mark did clearly say several wonky-thinking things that denote some level of deceit going on. I believe in his integrity too much to think he's trying to hoodwink anyone (and in his intelligence too much that he'd choose such obvious crooked thinking even if he were), so I presume it's self-deceit.

It's not a straight fight between nuclear and renewables - Technologically, and ideally, no it's not. But I said that in this political reality it is. Me, you, the Sustainable Development Commission, the CEO of EDF and even the government as quoted at the time of the 2003 Energy Review have all said so.

And, as if to prove the point, the 2006 Energy Review went pro-nuclear and shied away from the massive investment we need to go to a renewables-based grid.

In the present political reality it is that choice, because the question being asked is 'how can we maintain present consumption and projected increases, preferably using grand centralised schemes with established industries?'.

You once wrote about firing sulphates into the stratosphere, saying governments would choose it over carbon cuts; 'if the atmosphere could one day be fixed by some heavy artillery and a few technicians, why bother to impose unpopular policies?'.

It is very perceptive, and exposes one of the central problems we face. Reducing consumption, even maintaining standards of comfort but having some disruption as we reorganise, will make the present population unhappy with the government. If they can find a way to avoid that, they will. If that way happens to pass all the risks, all the maintenance, much of the cost and none of the benefits on to those yet to be born, so be it.

It is a drive at the core of the push for geoengineering, CCS and new nuclear.

Whilst you and Mark may not object to new nuclear if it goes in tandem with a massive shift to renewables, that's not how it'll play out. Unless we utterly insist on the renewables, shutting down the other options, we won't get them. We will be presented with nuclear as a way to maintain present consumption (and profligacy) levels.

A move to ambivalence like yours or positive support like Mark's helps that to happen, it is part of what will prevent that renewable-based grid from happening. This is what Jonathon Porritt meant by the difference between 'yes if' and 'no unless'.

another source - nuclear or thermal with CCS - to supplement the renewables could get us there much faster

The Zero Carbon Britain report suggests we can eliminate fossil fuels, energy imports and nuclear power by 2030. The same time that Mark's hoped-for 4th generation reactors are supposed to be available as the change-over stopgap, and not far behind the optimistic projections for the CCS you advocate for the same reason.

It largely depends what we throw our weight behind. As the inclination is for nuclear, pushing the other way is crucial. It makes me think of the end of the Italian Job with nuclear power as the gold and us as the blokes on the bus.

I am, as you know, much more concerned by climate change than by nuclear power - me too, no question. Climate change is clearly by far the worse threat. But, despite the claims of the nuclear industry, I don't believe it's a choice between the two.

Anonymous said...

Yes, well, I fully acknowledge I haven't been taking a fully consitent position over the years - it's one of the hazards of being a columnist, as George can attest. Private Eye has a good slot where columnists are skewered mercilessly on their own contradictions, and Merrick does almost as good a job.

But... it's a process of greater understanding, I guess. When I first started writing about this in 2005 or so, I had very little knowledge of the energy sector, and of nuclear power in particular. I assumed that the standard green line of 'dirty, dangerous and unnecessary' was correct, so the climate change problem had to be very bad to make nuclear even remotely worth considering.

One of the things that has made me reconsider is the realisation that nuclear isn't so bad as constantly portrayed. I can see no evidence, as Lovelock has said, that nuclear power and radioactive releases - even on the scale of Chernobyl - are a 'threat to the planet' in any sense at all. The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is now a thriving wildlife site, as if to prove the point. No, I'm not advocating spraying nuclear waste all over the place, I'm saying that even in the worst case nuclear accident, the biosphere isn't remotely affected. It's a human health and safety issue, not an environmental one in the usual meaning.

I'm writing a book now looking at the 'planetary boundaries' issue - the quantifiable ecological limits which the planet's finite and interdependent biosphere places on humanity. There are probably ten boundaries, from well-known ones like the climate system, to lesser-known ones like alterations to the nitrogen cycle. Nuclear power doesn't remotely affect any of them. Nor, by and large, do renewables - though they could become problematic at a truly vast scale. Land-use constraints (another boundary) might be an issue (as with biofuels) if solar PV is to be a significant part of the energy mix, for example. Wind is pretty benign though I reckon. I'm not so sure about the Severn barrage - that will have much greater ecological effects than the nearby Hinkley Point nuclear power station ever has. So I'm trying to look at this from a more ecological and less anthropocentric angle, to be honest.

As to the specific complaint - that nuclear will suck away political and financial capital from renewables, this is an argument that is based on assertion: it is not something that is amenable to being proved or disproved either way. The amount spent on bailing out the banks, for instance, would probably enough to entirely decarbonise the UK economy - using nukes and wind primarily - if committed on an annual basis.

I use as a cautionary tale the experience of Germany. That country is aggressively pro-renewables and aggressively anti-nuclear. And it's turning back to coal - because all those hundreds of thousands of PV arrays on German roofs don't generate as much as a tenth of a single large power station. And they have cost billions - far more than ten times as much new nuclear capacity would have. (I think the cost per tonne of carbon abated was once calculated at 600 euros, thanks to the feed in tariffs.) That's the danger of an energy policy based on wishful thinking - that the climatic outcomes will be worse, because of a last-ditch turn to more fossil fuels to stop the lights going out. A renewables-only approach might be attractive to ideological purists, but it also carries climatic risks - of failure.

Are you the same Merrick who wrote Battle for the Trees, by the way? It's still far and away the best roads protest memoir I've ever seen. I found it very moving when I first read it, and I still do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Merrick,

I've posted a longer response here:

Thanks for kicking off the discussion.


Anonymous said...

Mackay does outline potential cuts to current energy consumption, but he assumes that the electricity requirement goes up through moving much of transport and space heating to electric power.
To transfer these power demands to electricity and reduce total electricity demand below current levels would appear to require implausible reductions in energy use.

Blogger said...

Thanks for this blog post Merrick, and for the well-informed discussion between George, Mark and Merrick. This gap between "yes if" and "no unless" positions within the green movement needs to be healed with this kind of well informed debate. I was at the Newbury bypass protests back in the day, and, like Mark, I guess I've drifted slowly to a position where the evidence for the dangers of abjuring nuclear completely seem to greatly outweigh the dangers of adopting it - but I'm neither a scientist nor an engineer, so all I can do is sift through what those I trust most tell me about both sets of dangers. I agree that the political reality is probably that the funding for a massive ramp-up of renewables, and a beefing up of the base-load nuclear generated percentage is an either/or choice, both for funding and "political capital" reasons.However, given that 8 years is a not unrealistic lead time for Nuclear plants if the will is there to get planning through quickly ( I'd say they need to be considered as an option even for shorter term (2020) targets.

merrick said...


I fully acknowledge I haven't been taking a fully consistent position over the years

I don't have a problem with that. As Blake said, 'the man who never alters his opinion is like standing water, & breeds reptiles of the mind'. If you can demonstrate why new understanding undoes and defenestrates the old, then changing your position is the only sensible thing to do.

But you've not only failed to explain why all your previous anti-nuclear sentiments no longer hold true, you've swiped at such positions using snide language and - most tellingly - supported nuclear with spurious arguments ('the contribution it has already made', 'crash programmes by 2020' etc). It's those contradictions to your previous points that should be derided.

I can see no evidence, as Lovelock has said, that nuclear power and radioactive releases - even on the scale of Chernobyl

Firstly, there are numerous mutations from radioactivity in all kinds of organisms; it's not just about humans. Secondly, Chernobyl was by no means a worst-case scenario. Thirdly, that land is off-limits to humans for centuries to come - the idea that such possibilities, along with the inevitable nuclear waste threat for centuries, are acceptable is repugnant. We have no right to inflict all the cost and none of the benefits on people yet to come unless we have absolutely no other choice. And - this is my key point - it appears that we still do.

the specific complaint - that nuclear will suck away political and financial capital from renewables, this is an argument that is based on assertion

Oh come on. We can't spend the same pound twice. Check the government's Energy Reviews of 2003 and 2006. Check what the CEO of EDF said. Whilst we *can* invest in both with renewables as the front-runner, we both know that's not how government works. There is clear lobbying from a vast industry to go nuclear. If the government can build nukes instead of renewables, it will.

There is also something of an irony in someone placing all faith in the unproven, decades away technology of hypothetical 4th generation nuclear reactors saying my position's not amenable to proof here and now.

I use as a cautionary tale the experience of Germany.

I hope it was clear in my post that I think your argument about China building nukes holds some water, but I agreed with your sentiment then that in a country surrounded by some of the best tidal resources on earth, we can do better. Same thing applies comparing us to Germany.

A renewables-only approach might be attractive to ideological purists, but it also carries climatic risks

I think the point you and George raise is extremely important, that we need to acknowledge that the maps have been redrawn and that climate change poses a far greater threat, with greater likelihood, than nuclear power. I also agree that there are certain emotional desires we have that need to be unpicked from our thinking, most commonly that environmentalists really really *want* renewables and efficiency to be enough on their own.

You do a great service in highlighting that thought. However, several things you said are founded on such woolly thinking that they denote the same sort of desire, but to show nuclear power is a key part of the solution.

If it came to nuclear vs climate change, I can't see how anyone could choose the latter. But surely we can also agree that nuclear should be a technology of last resort.

So it's no good deriding the renewables-only gang as pie-in-the-sky for thinking stuff like Zero Carbon Britain's ideas can work, especially when you pin your hopes on unproven and comparatively time-distant technology. You have to explain conclusively why that report and the others like it are wrong.

This should have appeared obvious to you before writing your articles that I quoted. It should certainly have appeared obvious from my post above. Yet still you've failed to do it, or to retract the bits of your piece that are demonstrably bollocks.

I am, as I made clear in my reply to George, open to nuclear power if it essential to tackle climate change. I'm just not convinced it is, and you've done nothing to shift that belief.

merrick said...

Mark, Are you the same Merrick who wrote Battle for the Trees, by the way?

Yes, I am. I'm glad you liked it. Personally, whilst I think it still has great merit as a real document from the inside of the protest (as opposed to the deathly dull dry academic stuff that came out) there are aspects I'm really not happy with any more. Appropriately enough, considering why we're both on this webpage, I find that my politics has evolved in the light of subsequent understanding, and the book seems a bit wet behind the ears to me.

It's still far and away the best roads protest memoir I've ever seen.

Then I presume you haven't come across Copse by Kate Evans! That's the real masterpiece, the one the movement deserved. A personal tale, but with real overview too, backed up with dozens of interviews with people who'd never have written their own story, all illustrated with magnificent photos and Kate's wonderful cartoons.

merrick said...

George, My position is not, as the title of your response has it, 'a kneejerk rejection of nuclear power'. It's a failure to be convinced that the non-nuclear climate solutions aren't enough.

You say nuclear could get us there much faster while making it more achievable in financial terms

The industry is saying it'll pay for new reactors, but they're fiddling the deals so there are thresholds at which our money kicks in. They will contribute to a decommissioning fund, but payments are small, and anyway beyond decommissioning who pays for the centuries of maintenance and monitoring? Who is liable for accidents a century or three hence?

Your position sounds like 'yes if' because it uses vague terms like 'who' will pay. My 'no unless' position says the company building must pay such costs and be liable. Of course, just like insisting that new coal power stations must have CCS by 2020, this'll be enough to make them withdraw their bids. So, therefore, we know they're expecting public funds to pay.

I'm struggling to think of any industry (outside of the military) that rivals it for cost over-runs. No British nuclear power station has ever been built on time, or on budget, or delivered the power they promised. When they over-run, they *really* over-run. The new Finnish station, a mere two and a half years into construction, was two years behind schedule and a billion Euros beyond cost.

By and large, with renewables what we'd get is closer to what we ordered. We need to factor these likely cost increases and time over-runs in our ideas.

Nuclear power, for centuries to come, inflicts great risk and cost on to those who get none of the benefit. It commits us to a militarised state for that duration. For these reasons, it should be an absolute last resort.

Just as geoengineers say 'humanity will burn all the fossils it can get its hands on, so the future must focus on mitigation' and in doing so undermine efforts to prevent us leaving fossils in the ground, so declaring that renewables and efficiency aren't enough and we need nukes means we ensure the push for renewables doesn't happen.

Whilst there are seemingly rigorously researched solutions like Pöyry Energy's CHP report or Zero Carbon Britain's vision that avoid the need for nukes, we surely shouldn't be adding weight to the nuclear call.

Tom Blees said...


It's evident from all you write, in both your blog post and comments, that you're unfamiliar with the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) technology that convinced Mark Lynas and James Hansen to take a new look at nuclear power. Almost every argument you make here doesn't apply. May I humbly suggest that you read my book, Prescription for the Planet. You would learn a lot and be able to engage in an informed discussion about it. If you go to my website ( you can get a feel for it by reading the first chapter online.

Your contention that nuclear is both prohibitively expensive and unable to be built soon or quickly is belied by the experiences of the Japanese, who built the first two ABWR nuclear power plants ever constructed in four years from start to power production, at a cost of about $1.4 billion USD/GW. And this, mind you, in a country where almost all building materials are imported and labor costs are high. Why should nuclear cost more than that in the UK? If it does, it's because of flaws in the political/corporate system, not anything inherently flawed about nuclear power. Better to estimate real costs from the most recent experiences of power plant construction than speculate with nothing but assertions.

merrick said...

Tom, I haven't read your book and, as you surmised, am not familiar with much of what it appears to raise. I will certainly be reading it. thanks for the pointer.

However, this still leaves two things rankling with me. Firstly, Mark Lynas' peculiar spurious defences of nuclear.

But much more importantly, even if new nukes are everything you and Lynas say, it misses a key point. Leaving nuclear waste around even for 'only' a thousand years isn't something we should jump at. Nuclear should be a technology of last resort.

When there are credible voices that say we can do it without nuclear, we shouldn't be advocating nuclear.

I agree with George Monbiot that, in light of the climate crisis, 'a kneejerk rejection of nuclear is not an option'. But a non-kneejerk rejection is seemingly still a valid and therefore preferable path.

giordano bruno said...

One claim seen: Chernobyl cost more $ than the value of _all_ the electricity produced by all nuclear reactors in CCCP up to that point

Another claim:
the radiation released will cause 180,000 excess cancers in E&W Europe, which will not be noted in the 4 million or so "natural" cancers over the same period.

Hard headed to the max: Insurance companies wont cover nukes.

Defence: reactors are planned to resist 6 attackers with AK47s, not 20 attackers armed with mortars and rpgs.

Time magazine claimed that a knowledgable invader could turn switches in a control room to cause a meltdown in 20 minutes.

Thankfully the collapse of the economy has rendered this debate moot

merrick said...

giordano bruno,

One claim seen: Have you got a source for this? The nuclear issue, more than most, has people making exaggerated claims. We can't afford to take them at face value if we want to think clearly on the issue.

Another claim: Ditto. And I'm very sceptical about this one; a 5% spike is a big statistical anomaly. If your source can put so precise a figure on it, why can't those who study cancers? If we can put a figure on something as vague as the deaths caused by passive smoking, a figure as high as the claim you mention should stand out clearly.

Insurance companies wont cover nukes. This touches on one of the key issues, that the operators clearly won't be liable for all the risks. How would Eon pay out for a major incident with nuclear waste in 300 years time? Nuclear would be underwritten by the public, which is blatantly unfair and potentially very expensive indeed.

reactors are planned to resist 6 attackers with AK47s, not 20 attackers armed with mortars and rpgs

This is simply untrue. The Sustainable Development Commission - hardly a nuclear lobby body - say:

"modern reactor designs have substantial containment buildings which are considered unlikely to be breached even by a crashing airliner, and the reactor fuel is protected against impact and fire by other structures".

Time magazine claimed that a knowledgable invader could turn switches

What were they basing this claim on?

The designers of new generation reactors are obviously well aware of possible sabotage, and systems are esigned to shut down in case of any fault. Certainly, another Chernobyl appears impossible.

However, you're right that the utilisation of such phenomenally dangerous material in highly complex systems runs the risk of someone finding a way to circumvent the safety stuff.

Thankfully the collapse of the economy has rendered this debate moot

I'm not sure I follow you. Are you really saying no new nuclear power stations will be built anywhere on earth? And that all the existing ones will shut down immediately? Or am I misunderstanding you?

GRLCowan said...

Bruno can't answer because he was burned as a necromancer about 600 years ago.

I think the following considerations may be relevant.

A cc of uranium dioxide costs $1 but replaces natural gas whose market price is about $20. Royalties included in that price, and special natgas taxes on top of it, mean that governments lose more than a dollar, more than the whole cost of uranium, when they let that cubic centimetre do its work.

That means two constituencies have a financial reason to hate nuclear energy: fossil fuel interests, and pogey recipients. Well, OK, not just pogey recipients but everyone in whose life a regular government payment is important.

Nuclear energy prevents money from becoming oil and gas money, and thus slightly reduces governments' income. Petrodollar enthusiasts sometimes acknowledge this truth by converting it to a characteristic lie, the lie that nuclear power plants don't pay their own way. But the money they deprive government of, they don't get; it stays in the people's pockets.

Bruno's apparent ease with existing nuclear energy, and thankfulness for factors that he thinks will prevent its advance, seems to me to illustrate the maxim that it's easier to get forgiveness than permission.

It's as true for forgiveness of fossil fuel revenue prevention as for forgiveness of actual wrongdoing ...

(How fire can be domesticated)

giordano bruno said...

I dont have sources for the first 2 comments, so they may well be wrong.
The "180,000": deaths was a FOE estimate in 1986, the estimate of actual cancer deaths is mine, most certainly inaccurate. Over what timespan? is ann appropriate response (FOE didnt say). Sakharov used to quote huge figures for Bomb test cancers, but I suppose in a couple of hundred years we may have good cancer cures.
Just things I have seen "claimed". I have also seen a claim that the Ukraine Govt has decreed that a small (?) amount of radiation is good for you, and if you deny this they may arrest you.
I have also seen claims that PIUS reactor's graphite balls could be ignited by tipping a barrel of jetfuel over them.
The Assault on a reactor claim comes from Dr. Helen Caldicott, who is an emotional woman perhaps, but maybe she stopped Aus & NZ from coughing up %5B ($10B?) to GE for reactors.
I dont suppose any attackers would come through the containment, they might come in the door. Like those armed guys did a few years ago in the South African reactor - fortunately they didnt have an apocalyptic agenda (their actual agenda was never revealed)
I dislike fission plants chiefly because they require an extreme security state.
re Economy: Right now, could you borrow $5B?