Guest Post by Ben Heard. Ben is Director of Adelaide-based advisory firm ThinkClimate Consulting, a Masters graduate of Monash University in Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and a member of the TIA Environmental and Sustainability Action Committee. After several years with major consulting firms, Ben founded ThinkClimate and has since assisted a range of government, private and not-for profit organisations to measure, manage and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and move towards more sustainable operations. Ben publishes regular articles aimed at challenging thinking and perceptions related to climate change at www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au.
(Editorial Note: [Barry Brook]: Ben is a relatively recent, but very welcome friend of mine, who is as passionate as I am about mitigating climate change. I really appreciate publishing his thoughts in this most difficult of times. Now, more than ever, we must stand up for what we believe is right]
Update: This is a revision of an earlier post from ThinkClimate, reflecting the useful contributions of BNC readers, the evolving situation in Japan, and focussing on the broader message regarding our future decision making in energy
On 8th March, I delivered a presentation to around 45 people, describing my journey from a position of nuclear power opponent to that of nuclear power proponent. This journey has taken me around three years. The goal of my presentation was to foster healthy discussion of the potential future role of nuclear power in Australia, a nation with among the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The presentation was very well received and has generated much interest.
Just four days later, I saw those first appalling images of the tsunami hitting Japan, and realised that for the first time since 1986, a nuclear emergency situation was unfolding.
In all cases, I find it most distasteful when individuals or groups push agendas in the face of unfolding tragedy. Let me say at the outset that this is not my intention.
Sadly, many people and groups don’t share this sentiment, including a great many who have wasted no time in making grave and unfounded pronouncements regarding the safety of nuclear power, and how this event should impact Australia’s decision making in energy. This has been aided no end by a media bloc that has reflected the general state of ignorance that exists regarding nuclear power, as well as a preference for headlines ahead of sound information at this critical time. The whole situation has been all too predictable, but still most disappointing. It has reinforced one of the great truisms in understanding how we humans deal with risk: We are outraged and hyper-fearful of that which we do not understand, rather than that which is likely to do us harm. Rarely if ever are they the same thing.
Those who attended my presentation on the 8th March will have seen that I place a high value on two things in forming an opinion and making a decision: Facts and context. Facts without context can be dangerously misleading. In this article therefore, I would like to present some of the basic facts and context of this event, as well as providing links to reliable and up-to-date sources of information to gain a more detailed understanding of the crisis. From there, I only ask that you maintain a critical frame of mind in considering the implications of this event for national and global energy supply.
Firstly, the context. Japan is a densely populated chain of islands. It is the fourth largest economy in the world, and derives around 30% of its electricity from from 55 nuclear reactors at 17 locations around the country. Japan has been using nuclear power for some time. As such some of the reactors are approaching 40 years of age. They are older designs (Generation 2) in comparison with what can be built today (Generation 3+ or Generation 3++).
On 11th March, Japan experienced an earthquake in near Sendai measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale. The Richter Scale is logarithmic, meaning a 9 quake is ten times more powerful than an 8, 100 times more powerful than a 7 and so on. Prior to this event the United States Geological Survey had only 6 recorded earthquakes of 9.0 or greater. While Richter Scale measures total energy of a quake, another other key measure of severity of an earthquake, often more relevant for human impacts, is peak ground acceleration (PGA). In this case it appears the Sendai quake was moderate, with PGA of around 0.5. This compares with the recent Christchurch quake, with a smaller Richter Scale value, but a much higher PGA of 2.2. Taken together, we can safely say that this quake was moderate to severe.
However, just one hour later, a tsunami measuring up to 10 metres struck large parts of the Japanese coast. We have all seen the awesome and terrifying footage of this wave, which laid waste to nearly everything in its path. This gives us a final and tragic element of context, being the greater tragedy unfolding in Japan. This catastrophe is likely to have caused fatalities in the 10,000s, and left great areas of the country in total wreck and ruin.
So by way of context, what I would like you to do is take an island nation with high population density and extensive coastal geography. Then overlay a high penetration of nuclear energy, with multiple reactors, in multiple locations, including some approaching end of life. Then overlay a two-phase natural catastrophe, with only one hour between each phase. The first phase is moderate to severe, and the second phase is catastrophic.
I am sure those of you who have ever conducted risk assessment exercises will agree that even if the job was to think worst case, it would be difficult to construct a scenario that would pose a more comprehensive and arduous test of the operational safety of nuclear power plants in the world today. That doesn’t mean this was completely unforeseeable, nor that better plans were not possible. But risk assessment means examining the interaction of multiple, relevant criteria. Altering some or all of the factors described above would change the baseline risk. For example, envisage a more severe quake, but in a more thinly populated nation. Depending on the extent to which you alter each factor, the overall risk of human harm could go up, or it could go down.
My assessment is that with all criteria taken together, the events unfolding in Japan represent quite an extraordinarily severe test of the operational safety of global nuclear power in 2011.
Let’s now turn to the response of Japan’s nuclear power plants to this event, sticking at this stage, as best I can, to high level facts that are not in dispute:
- When the earthquakes struck, Japan’s nuclear power stations did as they were designed to do and shut down with the insertion of control rods. This halted the nuclear chain reaction that generates the power. In response the plants rapidly dropped in power to around 5% of normal.
- Other (non-uranium) constituents of the fuel remained “hot” i.e. reacting, which is normal.
- Back up power systems (diesel generators) were introduced to continue to provide cooling to the reactor core. This worked as expected.
- Approximately 1 hour later, two power plants housing seven nuclear reactors were struck by a 7 metre tsunami. The plants in question were Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daini. These are Generation 2 Boiling Water Reactors (BWRs), each have been in operation for around 40 years.
- The tsunami disabled the diesel generators that were in use, and all other back-up generators that were available. It is this second disaster that triggered the problems at these power plants, as the plants began to experience a loss of cooling on the fuel.
- Back-up cooling from batteries was applied, and provided cooling for approximately a further 8 hours
- Other measures have then needed to be implemented as this power source ran out. This has included pumping sea-water into the reactor core. This is not a preferred action as it causes some damage.
There now appears to be a cascade of difficulties as a result of this loss of power. Controlled venting of radioactive gas has led to explosions as hydrogen levels have elevated. These explosions have caused injuries and resulted in further damage to some parts of the reactors, increasing the scale of this emergency. While most of the reactors have been brought to a safe condition, dangers remain. Some spent fuel, that has been used already, but needs to be cooled off for a few years before being moved to dry storage, appears to have becomes exposed. Again, the loss of power has created a concern here, and there are high levels of radioactivity near one of the pools. The impact is a local one; they are solid fuel rods, and the radioactivity is not easily dispersed as it is with a gas. But it is making the job of bringing things under control much harder. The incident has received a severity rating of INES 6. It is clearly very serious. The Three Mile Island Accident was a 5. Chernobyl, however, was a 7 (the highest), and is a very different league
For more detailed and technical information regarding these events, please go straight to www.bravenewclimate.com.au and follow the daily updates and review some of the other excellent, more technical postings
There seems to be some suggestion that “but for the efforts” of the engineers, this situation would be worse. Well, that’s true, but at the same time, misleading. Passive safety is a great thing, be it nuclear power plants or the cars we drive. But at the end of the day, a key control measure in catastrophic events will always be a skilled and well trained work force with the knowledge and ability to respond to a changing situation. That’s as true for the power plants as for the rest of the country, where the army, police and other emergency services will play a vital role in mitigating the damage.
At present, the events at Fukushima have not resulted in any deaths attributable to nuclear power. The eventual impact of the releases of radiation to the environment cannot be known at this time, but most of the dispersed radiation, that has come as a gas, is likely to be very short lived . There has been a major evacuation, which has no doubt been highly distressing for all involved and entails risks of its own. But it was a wise procedure that stayed a step ahead of the difficulties at the power station. Injuries have been minimal in the context of this catastrophe (about a dozen related to the hydrogen explosions). The situation for the workers has certainly become riskier with elevated levels of radiation from the cooling pond and the larger releases of radioactive gas and this situation remains live. 8 — 10 of Japan’s 55 nuclear reactors are known to have varying levels of damage that will impact their ability to provide electricity. The remainder will no doubt require inspection, but would appear to be relatively undamaged.
So, combining the extraordinary context with that high level summary of facts, what early conclusion might be drawn about the current and future role of nuclear power, particularly with regard to operational safety? Do we remain open to talking about nuclear power, or shut ourselves from that discussion? What do we do as a globe, riding a warming trajectory that ends in utter catastrophe, yet still hunting down and burning fossil fuels, liquidating lives as we go and polluting our air with soot, sulphur, and greenhouse gas? What do we do when nuclear power frightens us so much but, compared to other energy sources, harms us so little? What do we do in Australia, where we have never trod the nuclear path, remaining steadfastly at the teat of coal, with a clean state to transition to the very best nuclear technology? What about in rapidly developing nations, hungry for energy to bring their people out of poverty and under pressure to reign in greenhouse gas emissions? What about those developed nations with high levels of nuclear already, who could only return to fossil fuels to meet the demand?
It is up to each of you to answer those questions, and I don’t want to push an agenda. If you want my conclusion, read on.
We are witnessing the third severe incident in the 50 year history of the nuclear power industry, an industry which now has over 14,000 reactor years of experience. An extensive nuclear power sector, including some 40 year old reactors, in a densely populated nation has been tested by a catastrophic natural calamity. To date, two power stations of older design have experienced very serious emergencies, but contributed no deaths, minimal injuries in the context of the catastrophe, and environmental impacts that will likely be transitory and local. The nuclear power industry can, must, and will learn crucial lessons to further mitigate against such an emergency. But the history of the industry and the outcomes of this event so far suggest to me that, at their most basic, nuclear power stations must be among the sturdiest and least dangerous infrastructure in the world. And in a world that is quickly cooking itself through climate change, informed discussion on nuclear power must not be allowed to suffer from the hype, headlines and hyperbole that have stemmed from this tragic event.
Fear or facts. I choose facts. I hope you do too.
123 replies on “Think climate when judging nuclear power”
Hey luke Weston: “The fuel transfer pools are underneath the concrete ceilings of the reactor buildings.”
Are you sure… that is not how I’ve read it… I thought the water drop was directly related to getting water in to these transfer pools – or are they different to the spent fuel pools?
If they were under the concrete containment, then you could only get water in by drop if that containment had been removed, which would be a dire situation no? I had the impression these things were prety much exposed to the atmosphere in the buildings that the roof had blown off, and in reactor 4 there are only holes in the roof so it is trickier.
Of course I could be wrong…
When I saw members from the Australian government start declaring that this problem is why we shouldn’t have nuclear power, I was upset that they let the sensationalism from the media guide them like this. Hopefully a couple of politicians read this and learn something. Thanks for the great article!
@BobTheBulider 5:23am 16Mar
In his Mar 8 presentations, Ben was similarly glib about brushing aside safety and storage concerns.
Having said that, I still agree with his general conclusions. I disagree with the voracity of his reasoning and his confidence and trust in the information coming from vested interests.
I disagree that this Tsunami event was unpredictable and I’m confounded that the standard Engineering Safety Factor principle did not apply to the design and construction of the seawall.
The wall was designed and built to withstand an earthquake/Tsunami LESS than the known largest earthquake and resultant Tsunami!
This is unacceptable, particularly in light of the consequences of the wall failing to do the required job for such critical sites!
That the diesel generators were positioned such that they could be drowned is another disastrous planning error…
Are we sure there have been no deaths among the plant workers? I thought at least one had died in one of the hydrogen explosions. That’s not a radiological death, sure, but it’s certainly directly related to the reactor’s failure.
A crane driver was crushed at the Daini complex not Daichi. I haven’t seen a figure yet for the maximum radiation dosage for any worker.
I’d say Christmas has come early for the world gas industry. I think the 2012 carbon tax will go ahead but in near trivial form. Renewables will remain almost irrelevant in real terms but much talked about. GW denial will become very fashionable as an excuse for the status quo. The subject of Australia’s immediate energy policy is probably best left til the Fukushima saga settles down.
If you have time please read the updated version, comments on this thread have been most helpful in fashioning it. @Tom Bond, thank you, you have very clearly understood where I am coming from. @StevoTheDevo, I am certainly dissapointed that you found my discussion of waste to be glib. I hate glib, but I did have limited time. Feel free to provide something constructive on the subject, and I trust you find this updated post more useful, as we apparently agree on the bigger picture. I have corresponded with one other who saw my presentation on the subject of waste.
@Chris Warren, quite how I could “miss the point” of my own post escapes me, nonetheless I feel the updated post re-explains it more clearly, with some consideration of your comments. Perhaps in return, you might skip the slander, and the odd suggestions of my usurping democracy? I am a fully independent consultant, who has to date spent considerable time, energy and more recently stress trying to reconcile the role of nuclear power in a warming world. Spin doctors are paid. My stance as pro-nuclear has earned me not one red cent, taken me away from the activities that do, and challenged a few relationships. So mate, keep it constructive would you?
One final general observation: How quickly many of the comments have morphed to a discussion of non-nuclear alternatives in a warming world. I’m glad to see it. I’ve followed that rabbit hole, and discovered a dead end. Good luck with your own searching.
George Monbiot argues href=”http://www.monbiot.com/2011/03/16/atomised/”>the Fukushima crisis should not spell the end of nuclear power. Best line from the article:
[…] advocate. Ben Heard, a sustainability consultant based in Australia, recently wrote one of the best descriptions I’ve read of what exactly happened at Fukushima’s nuclear plants. Coming from the […]
Hello Ben – I don’t agree with you but its mainly not because of what you have written (for another time) but what you have not written. I will try to be brief…
key issues with nuclear;
fear..despite all ‘rationality’ arguments, this is being covered intensely by the worlds media not because of an anti nuclear agenda by them or the people, but because people are scared….millions and millions of people of varying education level…it does not matter how irrational it is (which is always debatable)..you cannot force me to stop being scared…you have a near hysterical existance proof that the world is not ready for it. The key difference between coal and nuclear is that the latter, on failure, leaves us powerless to act..I cannot see it, measure it, easily move away from it..control over our own destiny is a very strong human imperative esp under stress..I am a professional physicist and used to live near Sizewell, and it was sometimes not a nice experience even with my understanding..try it sometime..
design and operational compromises…due to the stringent cost/benefit fight with fossils..this is not the time to trust in new nuclear technologies..there needs to be significant overhead from much more R&D for faith in overdesign to permeate and for clear safety clearances to exist..I want to know and be confident that there was enough time, money and profit splashing around to do things really properly..the history of nuclear power is actually quite good but those systems came out of massive cost/benefit arguments that included massive government investment and subsidy, no/low competition, quality independent oversight and military imperatives with associated budgets and focus. Commercial suppliers and operators cannot compete with this nurturing phase of nuclear power..
blind faith in new technology..one of the critical things to understand is that any new system/technology, especially in low volume, will have unforseen failure modes that will only reveal themselves unpredicatebly over time..look how long it took to figure out Concorde had a fundamental flaw or the shuttle which was spotted quickly versus fukushima which happened now but which could and would have happen with the same earthquake tsunami combo over the last 40 years..with whats happening in Japan you could almost conclude that having learnt all these lessons this week with BWRs maybe BWRs can now be made so much better (gedanken exp)..DC10s/jumbos etc had very high volume and each time one dropped out of the sky we learnt something and made it better..the Airbus was discovered to have a software error..the odd satelite and rocket is lost often due to silly human errors (feet v metres type stuff) or pushing envelopes..so a large scale world wide growth in nuclear will inevitably result in diversity of systems from different manufactorers fighting out tenders with quickly reducing margins on cost reduced designs and yes they will start to drop more and more regularly from the sky so to speak..and yes we will learn..we will learn about all the new failure modes that we didn’t appreciate
human error…commercial operations inherently do not have the consumer or the environment as the primary focus..its profit..company reputation..etc go watch aircrash invesitgations for the wide mix of unforseen realities that high volume plants will face..the stats are always against you and it only takes one to kill you (ala fukushima / concorde / shuttle
cost..we can fight over this one all day but it is going to be harder and harder and harder as volumes increased with this direction to deal with the risks of nuclear fuel and its associated lifecycle costs..one two – yeh dig a hole somewhere – but in gloabl volume ???
demand – please search New Scientist on proposed effect of intensification of agriculture on the containment of deforestation..same principles apply..your just refueling us along the same terrible path without addressing the fundamental problems of human capacity and demands..we have to cut back and reorganise..stop feeding the monkey
misinformation at multiple levels – distributed solutions to climate change alter the economic model whilst changing fuels in big power plants keep the same model with different components.. the miners and generators have massive potential profits (ala mining tax) to overly influence / corrupt the debate, the underlying R&D, and limit the availability of independent, equally armed people for focussed review..further due to security and safety concerns we are inevitably in a situation where misinformation or no information dominates over acceptable communciations – drive further fear as well as leads to complacency of operation (cause little opportunity for external review)
waste and terrorist threats with growth in volume of available material and waste if we progress on this path for centuries ahead… the world is not getting more peaceful and the wider the net to cover..the more security holes that will appear..and the easier and easier building an effective threat will become as nuclear technology propogates around the world
I could go on..and note that i absolutely understand the baseline arguments so we gotta find something acceptable but it is not nuclear at this time. We might have a significant technology leap (fusion, new physics) or a change in industry structure or we all become so much more relaxed about nuclear in volume before which each new plant is going to have a hell of battle to progress (costs..) and find a home until then…and of course we all become friends and no-one has a bone to pick with anyone else..its the volatility that kills the agument for me in the end..but i have hope in science getting us there and in the interim the earth will protect itself for sure..
@Concerned, thanks for your sincere comments. Please forgive me, I actually must attend to my business today, so this response will be relatively brief.
Paragraph 1: A beautiful illustration of what I see as the major obstacle for nuclear, and it is absolutely fair. I don’t blame people for being scared. I don’t blame media for giving it coverage. I am dissapointed that the level of knowledge in media about this is very low, and does nothing to overcome the fear. A key word is Dread. Nuclear has high Dread factor. Smoking is f-ing lethal, but low Dread factor. I have a feeling these will be challenges I try to address this year.
Para 2: Can’t win your confidence here. New technologies in nuclear are safer. Same as new technolgies in cars. I don’t think it’s as much an experiment as you believe.
Para 3: I see it differently. Plane analogy is great. If we behaved with planes as some want us to with nuclear, there would be no aviation: a lot of people have died along the way. As for future nuclear, the trend is for smaller, simpler, modular designs with passive safety, to bring cost down. The industry has nothing to gain from a proliferation of individual designs, that cost them dearly the last few decades. More plants should mean more accidents I agree, but may not due to better design. The only fair approach is to normalise for the electricity provided, where we find nuclear to be very, very safe.
Para 4: Yep… and I would prefer a multilaterla/nationalised approach to managing nuclear as laid out by Tom Blees in Prescription for the Planet. Despite these bastards, it’s still really safe. That tells me something about the technology.
Para 5: Disagree, we will have to have the fight
para 6: My interpretation is different. We must do both, ASAP. Less energy per unit production, low carbon energy.
Para 7: The infrastructure, esp in Australia, is centralised. That can’t change quickly or cheaply. Solar, gas co-gen and tri-gen, electric vehicles will all aid decentralisation over a few decades. But we are stuck with cetralisation. I would rather put up with the same model but at least fix climate change.
Para 8: This is a black topic, but if I wanted to kill and cause disruption on a wide scale as a terrorist, going to nuclear power plants and waste would be a sure way to get caught, and I can think of a lot of better ways. The waste issue pales in comparison to the volumes of hazardous waste we allready deal with, and has a home in 4th Gen technology. Fix the biggest problem first. The biggest problem is climate change.
Para 9: Glad we agree, but that new tech you are hoping for is here, it’s 4th Gen nuclear. As for the earth protecting itself, yeah for sure… its the billions of humans that could die along the way I am worried about.
Let’s all keep talking. Kind regards.
Its a nice debate to have Ben – and I appreciate the effort to respond – maybe a beer sometime with Barry if you can cope with the impact of a foreign element on the taste of your favourite tipple.
I’ll come back to thsi after the weekend with the kids ok – hopefully we will be out of the water (and the pellets back in) by then.
Like Barry, since engaging seriously with the scientific data on climate change when the opportunity arose several years ago, I have come to accept that on net safety and reliability grounds, nuclear power is a plausible climate friendly alternative to fossil fuels – I have a fair understanding to the scientific/engineering and risk assessment grounds. That’s a major concession for someone with a track record of years of campaigning against uranium mining, on Aboriginal land, and the nuclear power and nuclear weapons industries. It was a concession I am prepared to make on the basis of the epiphany of understanding the overwhelming predicament of anthropogenic climate change.
But the presumption in the clean-nuclear-power-to-replace-dirty-coal discourse seems to be that future power requirements must satisfy the capitalist myth that endless growth is possible on a finite planet. The global warming already “in the pipeline”, especially since feedback mechanisms appear to have blindsided us – viz the rapid decline in Arctic ice extent and volume, the commencement of arctic methane release and acidification of the oceans, augurs very badly indeed for a global population peaking potentially at 9 billion, a substantial portion of which aspires to US or European levels of affluence and consumption.
Global population reduction to sustainable levels, or a human “die-off” is not a topic that readily makes its way into dispassionate discussion about either the technical or the moral dimensions of climate change. Dmitry Orlov is probably right – it will happen largely without our notice, even in our own midst, as we confront the stages of economic collapse, or conflict, brought on by the permanent scarcity of fossil fuels, and because much of it will happen elsewhere. We can feel for Japan in its current travails because as an industrialised nation their plight is imaginable – it’s like what ours could possibly be, whereas the plight of 22 million Pakistani villagers and farmers displaced by flooding is unimaginable, even if we can imagine the larger volume of water dumped on Australia last summer.
The problem as I see it is a cultural/behavioral rather than a technical one – how to get whole cultures and nations out of the expectation of endless growth, consumption (and waste), how to achieve sustainable or steady state industrial economies and how to reverse the capitalist transfer of wealth from those who produce to those who do nothing, or, as they are currently doing, racing in an irrational orgy to pillage not just the rest of the world but their own population base (Max Keiser’s “financial terrorists and banker occupation” force), and how in the same process to redress the underdevelopment resulting from centuries of colonial pillage of the rest of the world. Well Copenhagen showed where our leaders stand.
What I’m suggesting is no more than reverse the last 65 years of needless “development” to achieve what my own parents did following the Great Depression”: grow more than 50% of a family’s food requirements on a 1/4 acre suburban block, support a family on a single income, be healthy and fit enough, living in a thermally efficient house, to not require heating or cooling under all but extreme circumstances, and to live in walkable communities: ie, attain about 1/5th to 1/20 of the carbon footprint of the average (Australian or American) urban dweller of today. Or following Greenpeace founder Rex Weyler’s account, even to reverse just the 35 year neoliberal revolution, say to 1970 levels of consumption, may be enough for our species to survive on a habitable planet.
But as climatologist Nate Lewis points out, endless growth, that is Business As Usual on the model of growth economics universally adhered to by the rulers and governors of the industrialised world, will make even uranium a resource whose limits will be reached not very long at all after oil’s (pace breeder reactors).
It is customary for those who still believe industrial civilization as presently constituted will or must survive, and continue to grow, to characterise or stereotype the view I have put here as pessimistic or “doomer”. It’s not at all – we know already we will have many centuries, if not millennia, to ponder the errors of the civilizational experiment that ended the Holocene. Indigenous people lived as best we know sustainably with nature for many more millennia, and characteristically take conscious, behavioral responsibility for the nature that sustains them “to the 7th generation” of their descendants. There is no reason to deprecate the many communities across the industrialised world who accept this outlook because they seek to construct a new humanity and a new culture attuned to the impoverished planet their descendants will inherit, nor they those who in the shorter term seek technical solutions to ameliorate, for some at least, the next stage in the collapse and demise of an unsustainable way of life. My view is we need each other to pacify the madness of those placed to wreak the most damage to our only home.
Interesting discussion here.
This site is largely technical in focus, so a discussion of values, as opposed to technology, is probably slightly out of place, but I welcome it anyway.
Although energy supply technology fascinates me, some years ago I made a deliberate decision to refrain from stridently advocating any supply-side technology – this including solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear – despite any attributes they may have. This decision stemmed from the same conclusion that concerned (above) has arrived at, namely that although the supply-side debate excites a lot of passionate interest amongst its various devotees, the debate itself feeds a societal obsession that energy demand must be satiated at all costs.
I use the term ‘obsession’ very deliberately because we are dealing with a pervasive mental pathology or meme: Definition: “an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.”
Colloquially this has become better known as ignoring the elephant in the room. We ignore the big picture, at our peril.
BNC has done a wonderful job in educating the public to the possibilities for safe nuclear energy being deployed, but just like the renewables crowd, there is an inherent underpinning belief that a switch of technology is what is mainly needed to restore equilibrium to our planet.
I suspect that the energy supply imperative (although necessary and important) represent about ten percent of the overall change that needs to take place. On their own supply technologies will count for nothing, unless coupled to deep cultural changes that pull us away from our non-sustainable trajectory. Technology has a tendency to lock in values, including negative values like rampant consumerism, rather than allow us to make the cultural breaks that may be desperately needed at this juncture in history.
It could well be that BNC folk agree with this wider context, but choose to relegate their own contribution to advocating a particular energy supply technology, and that’s fine. But I would like to see more articles on this site that bring in higher level related fields such as the psychology of denial and the limits to growth and the point of building power stations galore in order to satiate our lust for bigger and bigger TVs and such. There are many social scientist out there who would make valuable contributions.
Advancing nuclear power needs to be put into the wider picture of what the hell are we are doing it for. If we choose to turn a blind eye to these latter subjects we risk just building a bigger and bigger hole for ourselves.
What would the majority of people say if they could have just the good bits that Nuclear promises without the scary bad bits?
Research Thorium Furnaces – LFTR for now and a little further down the track ADSR.
[…] perspectives. I agree with three of them! One was written by Ben Heard, who recently wrote Think climate when judging nuclear power for BNC. Below is his piece — click on this link for the other perspectives. Until recently I […]
[…] A cascade of difficulties followed. This very serious and ongoing incident has required major efforts to stabilise. At the time of writing, the focus was on a 20-centimetre crack in a concrete pit that is the likely source of a radiation leak to the ocean. While the biggest risk period seems to have passed, the overall stabilisation task is expected to take months. […]
[…] first, Think climate when judging nuclear power, was a guest post on Brave New Climate during the height of the crisis. It was well received and […]
[…] Ben Heard – Ben is Director of Adelaide-based advisory firm ThinkClimate Consulting, a Masters graduate of Monash University in Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and a member of the TIA Environmental and Sustainability Action Committee. He is the founder of Decarbonise SA. His recent BNC post was Think climate when judging nuclear power. […]
[…] Ben Heard – Ben is Director of Adelaide-based advisory firm ThinkClimate Consulting, a Masters graduate of Monash University in Corporate Environmental Sustainability, and a member of the TIA Environmental and Sustainability Action Committee. He is the founder of Decarbonise SA. His recent post was Think climate when judging nuclear power. […]
[…] were stricken. It was a test of my revised stance to say the very least, and it took effort to prepare my initial article calling for rationality in the response. This happened on our watch, in an OECD nuclear nation. […]