Published: March 4, 2008
It’s incredibly safe, cheap and it doesn’t stink.
By: David Carte
04 Mar 2008
The energy future is nuclear says Dr Patrick Moore, one of the founders and for nine years president of Greenpeace.
Speaking at Wits University last night, the Canadian environmental scientist said the tide of public opinion has changed as radically as his own.
He was prominent in the Ban the Bomb and the anti-whaling movement in the 1960s and 1970s. Today he confesses: “We made the mistake of lumping nuclear energy together with nuclear weapons as a great evil.”
SA’s big booboo, he said, was to defer its power station construction programme until it was in crisis. Now it is obliged to resort to stinky coal because nuclear stations take longer to build.
As the safety of nuclear energy has been proven conclusively and concern about CO2 emissions has increased, 70% of Americans are now pro-nuclear compared to 35% shortly after the Three Mile Island accident.
“The State of Texas recently cancelled the construction of eight fossil-fuelled power stations and elected to build three nuclear plants instead.
“Finland, which is hyper-sensitive to environmental issues, is building the world’s biggest nuclear plant. Russia, India and China together have plans for 50 new plants.
“Germany has set its face against nuclear plants as well as fossil-fired plants – so the French are building new ones on the German border that will export power to Germany”.
“Nuclear energy is the only non greenhouse gas emitting energy source. It enables new technologies, such as salt water desalination and the production of hydrogen as a fuel.”
“The pebble-bed modular reactor, which has been taken to a high level of development here in SA, is perhaps the safest form of nuclear power. It makes a meltdown of the fuel core completely impossible.”
The Word Health Organsiation has published that the only fatalities after 50 years of nuclear energy and the successful operation of more than 400 plants around the globe were the 36 people killed at a poorly designed Chernobyl. Moore says Chernobyl was a disgrace but compared to Bhopal and other industrial accidents it was quite small.
The meltdown at Three Mile Island caused an anti-nuclear panic in the US for years, yet it was a clear demonstration of the safety of western nuclear plants.
“There was no leak of radio-active material because the concrete core stood the test. Not one person was killed or injured. Today’s plants are all designed to a higher specification. In fact, one third of the cost of a nuclear facility is spent on safety. It’s safer to work in a nuclear plant than in a bank.
“Many people are concerned about nuclear proliferation but if we shut down all of the world’s nuclear reactors, do you think the generals would stop wanting and building nuclear weapons? Remember there were no nuclear power plants to help build the two bombs dropped on Japan.
“Let me just remind you that the biggest weapon of mass destruction is the machete. This useful tool has killed up to a million people a year, yet no-one has called for it to be banned.”
Moore acknowledges that carbon levels in the atmosphere have been rising and temperature trends seem to have also risen. But science, he says, has yet to be persuaded that human activity is causing global warming and by its own very long term standards, the world today is still quite cool. He says this year’s northern winter has been the coldest in years and satellite photos have shown that the polar ice cap has been restored completely.
“There’s so much ice the polar bears can’t get at the seals.”
That said, climate science is in its infancy and we do not know if carbon emissions are a threat to the planet. Slow change is better than rapid change. So he believes we have to reduce carbon emissions as an insurance policy, in case they are deleterious, also for the general health of the populace. In a world in which 86% of energy is carbon-based, people are dying in large numbers of respiratory ailments.
“I used to think that disposal of nuclear waste was an objection but nuclear waste is not a corrosive poisonous fluid. It is solid little pellets. It can be encased in concrete and stored either until it is recycled – it can be re-used up to five times – or until the radiation dissipates harmlessly over decades.”
Moore says wood is renewable and it’s quite okay to use it as an energy source.
He defends hydro-electric dams.
“No one has shown me that the world has too many lakes.”
He is sceptical of the benefits of biofuels. Humans need food as fuel for themselves. He admits that cellulosic ethanol from the cellulose in all plant species holds promise. Hydrogen would make a great fuel but its manufacture and distribution are a problem.
“Ironically, the environmental movement has been one of the main obstacles to CO2 reduction. They oppose nearly every practical solution – coal, gas, oil, hydro, nuclear power, even windfarms. They oppose the genetic enhancement of trees.”
Moore lists the obvious solutions to the world’s energy shortage – renewable energy, nuclear, geothermal energy, trees, energy conservation and efficiency, biotech, hydrogen and improved batteries.
Moore will be giving his talk at all the larger universities of SA. At Wits only one objector had anything to say. He claimed that people had been poisoned near an unnamed uranium mine. Moore replied that large strides had been made in making mining safer.