[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Eugen Leitl 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:
> http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima
> 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 
> 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.
> 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 
> generated.
> 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 
> meltdown.
> 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.
> sdw
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