Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Nuclear Fallacies and Falsehoods

Fukushima Disaster happened on 3/11/11 - two years and eight months ago. The world watched,  horrified; and the horrors of this disaster are far from over.  Cleaning up task is formidable, and can never be fully successful, since vast amounts of radioactive pollutants have spewed into global winds and continue spilling into the oceans, poisoning them. In an overwhelming demonstration of sanity, many developed nations decided to end their dalliance with this dangerous technology and turned their sights on safe, green technologies to serve their future energy needs. The response from the nuclear lobby was as expected - they vulgarly underplayed the vast damages, to humans and environment, caused by the Fukushima and the predecessor nuclear disasters and continue to chant their nuclear  mantra of necessity, safety, and low cost - without accounting for the already enormous cost of damages to human life and living environment.

The latest bid to reverse a swelling tide of a global anti-nuclear sentiment, are two desperate and flawed efforts [here and here] in form of a letter and a film. In the first instance, four climate change scientists make a naive appeal to our rationale to support safe nuclear energy - not realizing that this is an oxymoron - in order to curb green house gas emissions and abate the threat of climate change.

The dangers of nuclear energy have been demonstrated many times over its history, not just with experiences of large disasters, such as Chernobyl, Three mile island and Fukushima, but also due to the many more smaller incidences that go relatively unnoticed, and whose human and environmental damage are more difficult to quantify, and go unaccounted (see for example the recent San Onfre shutdown). Added to this is the lengthy process of decommissioning and the long term/indefinite risks posed in safe containment of spent fuels;  we continue to witness the unsurmountable dangers from Fukushima's spent fuel rod pools, and the non-tractable leakages at the Hanford site in USA.

That nuclear energy cannot be disassociated from potentially high risks is known only too well by the nuclear business lobbies and the insuring agencies, who refuse to enter into business transactions without a sound safety net of sufficient government protection - as seen with their fuss over India's nuclear liability clause.

The authors contend that expanding energy needs are unavoidable, especially to provide for needs of developing economies and favor nuclear energy, even compared to the green renewable alternatives (like solar and wind) since nuclear is cheaper , and rapidly 'scalable', somehow suggesting wrongly that it takes longer to build solar panels and rig up wind farms compared to setting up a nuclear power plant.  Also, in a post Fukushima world, while the real cost of nuclear energy (including govt subsidies), is rising due to higher insurance costs, the cost of renewables in the global market has been falling sharply.

Thus the favoring of nuclear is based on its contentious low-cost and a  need for rapid energy expansion (in the developing world) - all this while Fukushima and the global community reel under continuation of hazardous contamination from a disaster of 32 months back. Even if accepted at face value, should one really favor 'cheap and fast' versus 'slow and safe' ? This is for the people of the developing nations to decide - for whom the authors are, very considerately, advocating expansion of nuclear energy.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to check out how much greenhouse gas (GHG) producing coal is burnt worldwide. The site also contains many other global energy statistics. Are the developed nations also planning to change their conventional energy sources to nuclear? Or, are they only adept at selling nuclear to developing nations, like India, while making only token efforts at home, to keep their nuclear business, alive, outside?

This brings me to the documentary ' Pandora's Promise' by Robert Stone, aired on CNN recently.  This documentary took 4 years to make with substantial effort to consult nuclear scientists, industry giants and specialists, all funded by the nuclear industry, to arrive at a well researched conclusion, that nuclear technology is 'really safe' . Now, there are two things I don't understand: why sound science of nuclear physics or chemistry, imply a safe working of nuclear technology? Sure, science drives technology, but this does not guarantee its successful functioning.  And, we should all know this by now.  Also, why ask the very beneficiaries of a technology, to vouchsafe for it? Wouldn't this be suspect for conflict of interest? How about asking all scientists 'not-funded or benefited' by the industry for their vote of confidence.

The film again harps on the needs of growing economies like China, India, Brazil to advocate nuclear energy. Either the pro-nuclear lobby has become surprisingly compassionate towards the needs of their poorer brethren or....they are just business savvy and know where their profits lie.

I guess, we are stupid to not be convinced, by their persuasive nuclear fallacies and falsehoods, and would now prefer to be only safe, rather than sorry?

Climate change exists, and must be countered, for survival - of us all. But, this need not be a 'from a frying pan to fire' game. And the choice we make is not between coal versus nuclear; we must instead evolve towards to an energy efficient, green and sustainable future, for all.

No comments:

Post a Comment