Fukushima, the best ad for atomic power

The accident at the Fukushima power station has exposed the limits of nuclear power, while showing that it's not quite as dangerous as we think. In the absence of credible alernatives, nuclear remains remains the most viable energy source. Such is the surprising opinion of leading environmentalist author, George Monbiot.

Published on 22 March 2011 at 15:10

You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by xkcd.com. It shows that the average total dose from the Three Mile Island disaster for someone living within 10 miles of the plant was one 625th of the maximum yearly amount permitted for US radiation workers. This, in turn, is half of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increased cancer risk, which, in its turn, is one 80th of an invariably fatal exposure. I'm not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective.

If other forms of energy production caused no damage, these impacts would weigh more heavily. But energy is like medicine: if there are no side-effects, the chances are that it doesn't work.

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Like most greens, I favour a major expansion of renewables. I can also sympathise with the complaints of their opponents. It's not just the onshore windfarms that bother people, but also the new grid connections (pylons and power lines). As the proportion of renewable electricity on the grid rises, more pumped storage will be needed to keep the lights on. That means reservoirs on mountains: they aren't popular, either. Read full article in Guardian...


Better Russian gas than nuclear power in Europe?

“The EU is short on alternatives for its energy supply,” writes Belgian economist Koen Schoors in De Morgen. Nuclear power is like a “lottery in reverse”, he writes: it ensures a stable supply, yet despite any possible technological advances will always run the risk, howsoever tiny, of bringing on a very expensive disaster. As for oil, it is becoming too expensive, and green energy remains for now a “grand plan” that has a long way to go. That leaves gas and the “other fossil fuels.” And “Russia is sticking its nose in” in both cases. Indeed, “it is already by far the largest supplier of energy to the EU” and has “spectacular gas reserves.” As things stand, writes Schoors, “one might wonder if the energy dependency on Russia is not a danger”, as the country “has exploited its leverage over supply with a number of neighbouring countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states)”, and the EU has been the victim.

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