“There are two worlds, the one in which people are convinced they live, and the one that is considerably more dramatic, the one that is real”

Thursday, October 15, 2015


Just who does Greenpeace South Africa think it is? ‘The ANC needs to know that if it does go for the nuclear option as part of the (energy) mix, then they are on a collision course with the broader spectrum of the South African civil society,’ said Greenpeace spokesman Kumi Naidoo recently.[i]

They're not mobilising me. They haven't convinced me nuclear is a bad option. All they’ve done is proved they can call for a march.

Environmentalist George Monbiot declared ‘because atomic energy provides a steady baseload of electricity, it has great potential to balance the output from renewables, aiding the total decarbonisation of the power supply.’[ii]

The italics are mine … it is a huge point often lost in the blind rejection of nuclear energy.

A global catastrophe is rolling towards us at gathering speed in the form of man made and man accelerated climate change that will force a nuke war into second place. For committed environmentalists, opting for nuclear power as humanity’s primary source of low carbon energy was painful, a refined form of madness writes Monbiot, but we are facing a climate emergency.

We could say if it is that bad let’s shut down electricity completely. We’ll stop using our motor cars and walk to work, we’ll keep our cell-phones for three years instead of changing every year or two, and cut our consumption of meat by 80%. That would work, but yeah! There’s a greater chance of the world’s greatest polluter, the American Armed Forces, being shut down before the world agrees to get off its butt and take individual action collectively.

Just as Kings and Queens kissing glass slippers make grand fairy tales so too the renewables are great in theory but in practice, as stand-alone sources, they’re uneconomic. A huge amount of effort is required to produce very little power and it doesn’t always come when it’s required. This is its biggest drawback, with no way to store power, renewables must be augmented by another source. Once storage technology has advanced it will be easier. Well placed renewable sources  that feed into a primary source as an addition is our best bet for now.

The drive into renewables – solar, wind, wave – must continue. We need to invest in more research and push for the use of the results of the research. But to shut down nuclear plants and re-invent coal fired electricity sources as is happening in Germany is suicidal. [iii]  The German decisions are apparently all politically based, vote seeking decisions.

In 1998 the admirable decision was taken to phase out nuclear for renewables, in 2009 the new government cancelled it only to re-introduce the phase out of nuclear in 2011. That’s where Europe’s giant is now – almost half of Germany’s electricity is generated from coal.[iv] Clearly investment into renewables faltered. Why?

It’s all about public opinion, the same public who spend more days worrying about a single dead lion in Africa than the demise of an entire species worldwide. ‘The dangers associated with nuclear power have been wildly exaggerated, all too often with the help of junk science,’ says Monbiot. With the entry of public ignorance into the German debate in the late 80s/middle-90s research and development was stopped and an enormous amount of scientific work was dumped.[v]

The collapse of the Japanese plant at Fukushima Daiichi, a true disaster through negligence, cannot be used as a foundation to shut down nuclear as a source for all of the world. Any school child who has done geography to standard 10 (‘O’ level) would be able to echo the point made by the New Zealand Herald that ‘Japan (has) a "fundamental vulnerability" to major earthquakes’. It was an accident waiting to happen.[vi]

When the desperately poor Chinese agreed to take over the donkey work of America’s manufacturing industry it came at the cost of terrible pollution. While US companies made enormous profits the Chinese just covered the cost of building their own people up while everything extra was channelled into Research and Development. Today the Chinese government and its partially owned but separately managed companies are all heavily into reducing climate change effects. For them it’s a company, provincial and national objective far above the requirement to make profit.

China is into all the renewables of solar, wind, wave and alternate energy storage (often leading the world’s designs), and they’re into nuclear. Recently China added two large hydro projects but still most of mainland China's electricity is produced from fossil fuels, predominantly from coal.[vii] However it’s not a static picture but a video of on-going change. Its 26 nuclear plants are set to more than double in the near future and they are of the latest technology – their own in collaboration with the best the West (Germany!) has to offer.

‘The aim is to break free of the archaic pressurized-water reactors fuelled by uranium -- originally designed for US submarines in the 1950s … The Chinese are running away with thorium energy, sharpening a global race for the prize of clean, cheap, and safe nuclear power’ writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and they’ve ‘140 PhD scientists, working full-time on thorium power at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear and Applied Physics.’[viii]

Being the world’s workshop is a massive problem. China is growing its energy output by nearly 50% but it needs over 60%, meaning a huge import bill and more disastrous continued reliance on coal.[ix]

Britain is deep in the debate to build or not to build the Hinkley C nuclear plant, a replacement for the outdated Hinkley A (shut down) and B plants. Nuclear convert Monbiot argues the replacement shouldn’t happen, but he’s not against nuclear, rather the new design. He argues that the new plant ‘commits us to 20th-century technologies’ when fourth-generation stuff is available or nearly available that ‘could answer three needs at once: for low carbon energy, energy security and the disposal of nuclear waste.’[x]

In announcing his challenge to the South African government Mr Naidoo said, ‘the faith organisations are mobilising ...' I believe he is misguided. Nuclear or no has nix to do with believing, this is science on the march.

Climate breakdown presents the greatest hazard to human life that we have ever had to face. When looking for a fairy-tale ending nuclear energy conscientiously applied is a Christmas present delivered by Santa’s helper, not a new enemy. We’re in a race and nuclear can change it all for all of us. Or we can stop using our cars, eating meat, etc.

[i] http://mg.co.za/article/2015-10-06-anc-must-drop-nuclear-or-face-the-wrath-of-the-people
[ii] http://www.monbiot.com/2015/09/21/power-failure/
[iii] ‘I’m open to debate says Scott Johnston @ http://thenakeddollar.blogspot.my/2010/06/idiots-guide-to-why-renewable-energy-is.html
[iv] http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-G-N/Germany/
[v] ‘The most immediate effect of this change of policy was to terminate R&D on both the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor and the fast breeder reactors after some 30 years of promising work, since much of the work was in North Rhine-Westphalia, which was governed by the SPD. A Christian Democrat (CDU) federal government then maintained support for existing nuclear power generation nationally until defeated in 1998.’ … world-nuclear.org
[vi] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10712451
[vii] http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/China--Nuclear-Power/
[x] Here is the argument for Hinkley … http://www.edfenergy.com/energy/nuclear-new-build-projects/hinkley-point-c