Nuclear Generation of Electricity; Response to GC71
In Green Christian 72 there is a summary of a letter from John Smith in answer to the following letter from Mell Harrison (GC71). Here is his reply in full.
download in word format: Response to Nuclear Generation
Green Christian 71 (May 2011)
Nuclear power- Not needed.
I am part of a network of people campaigning against nuclear power and new nuclear build. I’ve come across your organisation and am not clear of where you stand on this form of energy production. I think now more than ever – in the light of Fukushima and ongoing protests all over the world- we should be discussing if the risks outweigh need for nuclear.
The risks as, as far as I can see, outwiegh the benefits. Why? Future generations are the most important thing; our children and all the living things that share the planet with them.If we had no other option than nuclear I may rethink my views but as there is no need for nuclear I am definitely against it.
What we need to do is look at the way our energy is produced, distributed and used. Using localised distribution networks, combined heat and power and renewable energy we can bridge the so called energy gap, create more jobs, cut down on CO2 and energy waste.
A very clear example is Woking Borough Council who are demonstrating that it works and is viable. Visit http://www.woking.gov.uk/planning/sevice/energy
So why is the government looking to take the risk of future cancers and birth defects? Power! excuse the pun… why else would they shy away from the real solutions. Woking has managed over 80% CO2 emissions reduction by decentralising their energy system and yet the government only needs to reach 34% by 2020. So what’s stopping them? Big business?
We know all about the issue of nuclear waste disposal – uranium mining and now more than ever the risks of an accident. It’s not if, its when an accident happens.
We need to work together on sustainable energy solutions- but first we need to decide on the ways forward. So where does Christian Ecology Link stand on nuclear power, and what do you think the solutions to our energy needs are?
Green Christian 72
In June 2011 John Smith replied to Mell Harrison’s letter. A very short summary is included in GC72. This is the full text.
Following Mell Harrison’s letter in our last issue, may I present the following arguments in the important debate over nuclear generation.
The Nuclear Generation of Electricity.
For many years I have debated individually and in groups the difficult and controversial question of using nuclear power to generate electricity and have swung from agnostic, pro to anti to uncertain. There are certain advantages in nuclear generation; minimal carbon, an energy resource for at least a thousand years and source of energy with minimal waste, in quantity compared with mining and burning coal and oil.
However there are disadvantages in nuclear such as the radioactivity of the source, the problems associated with the risks using uranium as dangerous fuel, which if not controlled can cause accidents of global contamination such as Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Calder Hall and most recently Fukushima. There is also the direct and indirect association with nuclear weapons. Radioactivity is dangerous.
There is obviously a debate to be had at a time of climate change where humanity needs to sustain the electricity supply, or as experts put it’ we need to keep the lights on’. There is a debate to be had about good electricity generation, not the benign (renewables) and the potentially dangerous (nuclear) and the destructive ( coal)
There are also two other problems; the nuclear waste already in storage and nuclear warheads, already being reduced under current international agreements. Already 6% of the nuclear fuel used in the USA is disarmed Russian warheads. There are many more to be properly destroyed.
James Hansen, head of NASA in his book Storms of My Grandchildren writes ‘Fast (modern) reactors burn about 99% of the uranium that is mined compared with 1% of light water reactors…. More important the radioactivity becomes inconsequential in a few hundred years, rather than ten thousand’ and ‘ we have already enough fuel stockpiled in nuclear waste and by products for nuclear weapons production to supply all our fuel needs for about a thousand years.’ One of the arguments presented is the limit of uranium supply and the energy needed to mine it. Given the development of fourth generation reactors the debate disappears. Also fast reactors make it possible to extract uranium from sea water; fuel for several billion years.’
The above does not discount the need to seek new more benign generating technologies such as fusion using thorium, lithium, deuterium or other less risky sources of generating electricity.
Increasingly electricity is seen as the energy source for the future and humanity will need more rather than less carbon free generating power to run home heating, increased home appliances and electric motor cars and other transport, the essentials of our civilisation. One of the difficulties of electricity is storage, yet thousands of electric vehicles, re-charging batteries overnight, could store and use wisely the energy we need to drive our civilisations, given the following scenario.
First the conservation of energy. It is expensive and should not be wasted. The primary investment should be in home insulation, conservation projects and energy efficiency, especially transport. The second is the development of renewable sources, hydroelectric, wind, wave, sun and geothermal. The huge potential of sea barrages such as the Severn (6% of UK energy) and Islay/Jura should not be discounted. Finally there is need for a reliable back up and the only economical carbon free source we have at present is nuclear. Coal and oil should be left in the ground as dirty and dangerous. Carbon Capture and Storage is as yet an unproven technology and free poisonous liquid CO2 is more dangerous than radioactive waste. Accidents in storage can happen and geology can be leaky as has already been shown in Cameroon.
As far as radioactive waste and nuclear weapons are concerned I would wish to be rid of the accumulation of these dangerous materials. There are three options it seems. The first is to use it as weapons and bombs. This as a peace lover I do not recommend. The second is to dig deep long term storage for thousands of years as in Finland and elsewhere. The third is to burn the stuff in reactors leaving a residue with a relatively short half life of hundreds of years which will force not impossible long term thinking for half a millennia on our politics. This I hope is not impossible.
Our civilisations depend on technologies, none of which are risk free. However human ingenuity and foresight can minimise those risks. Already nuclear generation, given the thousands of reactors in operation, has proved itself to be one of the safest sources of energy on the planet. Future not yet invented technologies will certainly hold the prospect of cheaper, more benign sources of energy but for the moment carbon free nuclear generation technology is an economic source of energy which we should use, not least because it is the only way of disposing safely the residue of nuclear weapons which still threaten our world and nuclear waste which still proves a problem.
The prospects of accidents and lack of proper foresight, such as Fukushima, does not disallow the opportunities provided by nuclear power as a carbon free source of energy. We do not live on a risk free planet, but we do live in a civilisation that needs peace, a carbon free lifestyle and electricity. Nuclear power can support that ambition and at the same time make the world a safer place.
These are the reasons why, after much reading and thought I have returned to my earlier conclusion that we need to use nuclear in our energy mix. We should be cautious, refuse to use that most dangerous of fuels coal, eliminate as far a possible the use of oil and seek a future for all that is benign as possible in our impact on the planet that we humans are called to serve. Nuclear technology for the next century is an important source of essential electricity by which our society can change, as it needs to, for the common good of all creation.
Fells, Ian and Whitmill, Candida. A Pragmatic Energy Policy for the UK. William Cook Holdings, 2008.
MacKay, David JC. Sustainable Energy- Without Hot Air, UIT, 2009.