NUCLEAR BACKYARD April 24, 2008Posted by wmmbb in Humankind/Planet Earth, Natural Environment.
The activities of human beings have reached the point some time ago when they threatened the life support systems of the earth. To quote Dr Michael Molitor, via Deltoid:
In order to stabilise concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at safe levels by 2050 we will need to avoid more than 600 billion tonnes in expected carbon emissions over the next 42 years. There is both a massive potential cost and opportunity associated with achieving this ambitious global target.
The ambitious nature of this goal can be appreciated that coal-fired power stations are still being built in Europe not to mention India and China. The New York Times in reporting the developments in Europe also identified the technical problems of carbon capture from burning coal.
Almost three years ago now, the then Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, when facing the decision to build new coal fired power stations suggested that the option of nuclear energy should be considered. Then the objection of the problems related to disposal of nuclear waste was raised. In my post at the time, “The Nuclear Power Option”, I endeavoured to give discuss some of the related issues. Out of that post, recently Lex Weston, who also blogs at Physical Insights, put up comments, which I thought appropriate to bring forward. It is not as if the problem is not more pressing now than it was then.
Luke begins by commenting on what I had said:
1. Luke Weston – April 20, 2008[Edit]
“It is somewhat alarming there are problems with storing the comparitively small amounts of nuclear waste produced by medical research.”
There aren’t any scientific or technological problems – there are problems of politics, fear, rhetoric, scientific ignorance and NIMBYism.
2. wmmbb – April 20, 2008[Edit]
Thanks for the comment Luke. You may be right – and whom am I to say – but I am interested in your list that includes scientific ignorance and fear. They are problems.
. . .
3. Luke Weston – April 21, 2008[Edit]
Thanks for your comment on my comment
I must admit, I’m certainly a “nuclear power booster” – but I’m not employed by or connected to any kind of political lobby, industry or commercial group. I just happen to believe in it as a safe, clean and proven, reliable alternative to coal and fossil fuels, and I believe that all the science I’ve seen on the subject backs up that position.
The ongoing controversy in Australia over a “radioactive waste dump” is interesting, and there are legitimate arguments on both sides.
We can not and will not do away with the use of radioactivity in science and medicine – which is where this radioactive waste is coming from. So we’ve got to be realistic, and say, OK, we’ve got this radioactive waste, what do we do with it that is sensible and safe?
(At the moment, a lot of the long-lived stuff, in moderately small amounts, just sits around in basements of hospitals, universities, and medical or scientific institutions in our major cities.)
Sure – the political concern, and the need to educate people, and the need to get consensus, and so forth are certainly problems.
But I think that many people think – mistakenly think – that there’s some big problem with storing radioactive waste, in terms of science, and actually doing it, which there isn’t.
But do we really need to ship it all the way out to the middle of the NT, if most of it is being produced, say, in Melbourne or Sydney or other major centers?
Can’t it be stored safely close to where it’s generated? Yes, it probably can. But I think politicians like the idea of putting it well out in the remote parts of Australia for political reasons.
It’s like that debate we had a few years ago in Victoria about a “dump” for industrial “toxic waste”. It could have been put at a suburban site in the Western suburbs, but they wanted to push this idea of putting it in northwestern rural Victoria – with all that extra transport, extra cost and extra potential for ecological impact. Why?
Because there’s less voters in its backyard there, that’s why.
Anyway, back to your main topic, which was nuclear energy in Sweden. I think their “nuclear phase-out” referendum was pretty dodgy – if you look at the actual text of the referendum, it was basically three different flavors of “no to nuclear power”.
However, today, in Sweden, most citizens are supportive of the continued operation of their current nuclear generators – and really, in practice, it seems doubtful that there’s any interest at all in closing them down any time soon.
Coincidently, on the not in my backyard theme, the Science Show on ABC National will be literally about this very issue and the wider implications of feral nuclear supplies. In due course, the program should appear here. The program summary notes:
A German man found several containers of uranium in his garden. Police would not take his alarm seriously – so he wrote to the Chancellor.Eventually a team of forensic nuclear scientists arrived. It took them four days to crack the mystery. How big are the feral nuclear stakes? And how are they being monitored?
In relation to the nuclear power in Sweden, it turns out that wikipedia has that subject covered by name.
This year will mark the 60th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. When it was shown to Gandhi for his approval, he is reported to have said, ignoring the development of human rights in Western history, show me a declaration of human responsibilities. We each have to respond to the danger that the life support systems of planet Earth are confronted, which is to say we have to be responsible, to do otherwise would be negligent, but I expect that we will have to respond collectively at the various levels defined by different available technologies. We will in doing so have to go beyond, Barack Obama mantram of “Yes We Can” take steps to restore and protect the health of planet Earth. Now it becomes: “Yes We Must”.