Okay, looks like this evening I veer somewhat into politics by way of futurism, but this is an issue that I can’t avoid posting about. It would appear that Tony Blair and his Labour Inc. cronies have, as expected, given a green light to a new generation of nuclear power plants, to meet the UK’s growing energy needs in the face of spiralling fossil fuel prices and growing demand for electricity. And I have to say that I am, although not surprised, terribly disappointed. I won’t deny we need a reliable and clean source of power for the future – but I will certainly contend that nuclear power is not it.
“Oh, but it’s perfectly safe,” we’re told. But what about those cracked reactor housings? And the huge lack of qualified people in the nuclear industry, an industry that no one seems very keen to start working in? As someone who remembers the horrifying events at Chernobyl occuring in my childhood, I have no wish to see a similar incident here. “Oh, but our nice new reactors are much more advanced, with many safeguards in them, you know.” So, no danger of some idiot hacking in through a poorly defended network then? What a relief.
Maybe I should be focussing on the lack of pollutants, then? Ah, yes, that’s right…nuclear energy is so clean and friendly that you’d hardly notice it’s there. Well, unless you stumble upon one of the stores of waste that we still have no decent long term plans for dealing with, of course. And I wouldn’t be so sure about that whole ‘produces no carbon emissions’ line either; the nuclear process itself might not, but there’s a whole lot more to it than that – think ore processing, transportation…
“Oh, you silly greenies, there’s no way that we could meet our energy needs with renewable resources! Why, they’re just not efficient enough!” Granted, at the moment they’re not. But if the huge amount of money that is about to be plowed into this new nuclear program was instead spent on research, development and subsidy of renewable energy generation methods (solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, any or all), then in the ten or so years (potential timetable screwups an under-budgeting left aside for a moment) that it would take for the first reactor to come ‘online’, I think there’s a very good chance the technology will be adequately up to speed.
The only thing holding these developers back is that no one is keen enough to throw them the big contracts…although there appears to be a slight increase in the investment-capital flow towards ‘green’ technologies in the US at the moment, which is very heartening. There are so many ideas floating about (some simple, some a little more science fiction inspired), so many companies itching to get some cash and roll out a product, that I’d be astounded if solar power alone couldn’t take the brunt of the domestic energy burden in a decade – there’s plenty of scope for competition, for innovation, the driving forces of technological development. Or there would be, if someone was willing to invest in their products.
But the thing is, the government doesn’t seem to want energy technologies that can be deployed at a local level. What most renewable solutions offer, especially solar, is the chance for individual consumers to produce their own power on site. Every house could have solar roof tiling; no need to tap the national grid except at times of increased load. Small isolated communities could club together and buy a larger solution (wind, maybe, or tidal), and collectively own the means of production of their energy. If you’re reading this and starting to think ‘hippy’, lefty’, ‘commie’, ‘marxist’ or whatever, imagine what must be running through the minds of Tony and Company, who have tirelessly demonstrated their love for handing money, power and influence to large industrial concerns. A rhizomatic, internet-like distributed power grid would be no use to them – after all, who could they sell control of it to?
No; New Labour would far rather stick to the nice, convenient ‘trickle-up’ heirarchical energy supply model that petrochemicals have gifted to the world. Only petrochemicals are…well, let’s just say there’s some problems with costs and sourcing with those right now.
So what is needed is a new industry:
- one that relies on sourcing dangerous fuels from poor under-developed countries (who you’ve probably screwed into submission with World Bank loans);
- one that can employ lots and lots of underpaid and rights-restricted foreign employees to perform dangerous and ecologically unsound mining operations;
- one that will require the safe long distance transportation of dangerous fuel products (opening up the risk of terrorist misappropriations of material, if such a thing is a genuine concern and not a puppet for scaring the folks back home with);
- one that will require a lot of your building-industry chums to be supplied with fat open-ended government contracts that they can then embezzle from and spin out indefinitely;
- one that claims to be forward looking, but only looks up to the switch-on date, and refuses to contemplate the situation in a century or so, when our grandchildren (should they still be alive and on this planet) will have to figure out what to do with one of the most toxic and long-lived pollutants known to man;
- one that grants you a convenient supply of materials for making the sorts of weapons that you are adamant that no one (except yourselves) should have access to;
- one that will promise cheaper electricity, with the costs to be met from the private sector, while failing to acknowledge that the private sector will, as always, gouge it back out of the public pocket, and with the government’s blessing.
We do not need more nuclear reactors. We do need common sense, and honest leadership from people willing to look further ahead than the end of their current term in office. At the moment, we have neither. Having the latter is unlikely, but I’d rather we had neither than both.
Yes, you guessed it, it’s another opportunity to email your MP. To speak out invites the risk of being ignored, of course. But to stay silent will only ensure it.