[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power
eugen at leitl.org
Wed Mar 23 00:56:19 PDT 2011
On Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 04:15:39PM -0700, Stephen Williams wrote:
> Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power
> Japan's disaster would weigh more heavily if there were less harmful alternatives. Atomic power is part of the mix
Meanwhile, in Germany...
last year photovoltaics has doubled to 2% of total, and is
delivering up to 17 GW peak (of about 85 GW total
peak), and is outperforming all nuclear plants.
and is resulting in such nice-to-have problems
Monbiot has always been nuke-friendly, so this is no
> George Monbiot
> guardian.co.uk, Monday 21 March 2011 19.43 GMT
> Daniel Pudles/Comment 21/03/2011 Illustration: Daniel Pudles
> 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
> 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.
> 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.
> The impacts and costs of renewables rise with the proportion of power
> they supply, as the need for storage and redundancy increases. It may
> well be the case (I have yet to see a comparative study) that up to a
> certain grid penetration – 50% or 70%, perhaps? – renewables have smaller
> carbon impacts than nuclear, while beyond that point, nuclear has smaller
> impacts than renewables.
> Like others, I have called for renewable power to be used both to replace
> the electricity produced by fossil fuel and to expand the total supply,
> displacing the oil used for transport and the gas used for heating fuel.
> Are we also to demand that it replaces current nuclear capacity? The more
> work we expect renewables to do, the greater the impact on the landscape
> will be, and the tougher the task of public persuasion.
> But expanding the grid to connect people and industry to rich, distant
> sources of ambient energy is also rejected by most of the greens who
> complained about the blog post I wrote last week in which I argued that
> nuclear remains safer than coal. What they want, they tell me, is
> something quite different: we should power down and produce our energy
> locally. Some have even called for the abandonment of the grid. Their
> bucolic vision sounds lovely, until you read the small print.
> At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient power production is
> a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a spectacular
> waste of scarce resources. It's hopelessly inefficient and poorly matched
> to the pattern of demand. Wind power in populated areas is largely
> worthless. This is partly because we have built our settlements in
> sheltered places; partly because turbulence caused by the buildings
> interferes with the airflow and chews up the mechanism. Micro-hydropower
> might work for a farmhouse in Wales, but it's not much use in Birmingham.
> And how do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and
> electric railways – not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop
> solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is
> the moment at which you fall out of love with local energy production. A
> national (or, better still, international) grid is the essential
> prerequisite for a largely renewable energy supply.
> Some greens go even further: why waste renewable resources by turning
> them into electricity? Why not use them to provide energy directly? To
> answer this question, look at what happened in Britain before the
> industrial revolution.
> The damming and weiring of British rivers for watermills was small-scale,
> renewable, picturesque and devastating. By blocking the rivers and
> silting up the spawning beds, they helped bring to an end the gigantic
> runs of migratory fish that were once among our great natural spectacles
> and which fed much of Britain – wiping out sturgeon, lampreys and shad,
> as well as most sea trout and salmon.
> Traction was intimately linked with starvation. The more land that was
> set aside for feeding draft animals for industry and transport, the less
> was available for feeding humans. It was the 17th-century equivalent of
> today's biofuels crisis. The same applied to heating fuel. As EA Wrigley
> points out in his book Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, the
> 11m tonnes of coal mined in England in 1800 produced as much energy as
> 11m acres of woodland (one third of the land surface) would have
> Before coal became widely available, wood was used not just for heating
> homes but also for industrial processes: if half the land surface of
> Britain had been covered with woodland, Wrigley shows, we could have made
> 1.25m tonnes of bar iron a year (a fraction of current consumption) and
> nothing else. Even with a much lower population than today's,
> manufactured goods in the land-based economy were the preserve of the
> elite. Deep green energy production – decentralised, based on the
> products of the land – is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear
> But the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut
> down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil
> fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution,
> industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100
> times worse than nuclear power. Thanks to the expansion of shale gas
> production, the impacts of natural gas are catching up fast.
> Yes, I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry. Yes, I would
> prefer to see the entire sector shut down, if there were harmless
> alternatives. But there are no ideal solutions. Every energy technology
> carries a cost; so does the absence of energy technologies. Atomic energy
> has just been subjected to one of the harshest of possible tests, and the
> impact on people and the planet has been small. The crisis at Fukushima
> has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.
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