Because nuclear power is still worth defending.

It comes as a surprise to many — though it shouldn’t — that someone who is pro-environment is also pro-nuclear. And unlike most green-minded people, I know my shit. I have written several papers on the subject, and remain as well-informed as I can on the trends in alternative power sources. While there are options, they are not as feasible as everyone likes to think. Solar panels are too expensive and too fragile. Wind farms require vast, vast amounts of space and concrete. Biofuel is driving up the cost of food, and as long as the planet consumes as much meat as it does, biofuel will be too expensive as long as we have to feed cows/pigs/sheep as well as people. Wave power is slowly gaining popularity, but it is still very expensive and difficult to implement along coasts as most of the coastline already belongs to shipping lanes.

With people braying about Japan being the next Chernobyl, I would like inform people as to the real causes and issues, and how what is happening in Japan should not be seen as a crushing defeat for nuclear power.  With stupid, uninformed activists already retarding South Africa’s nuclear progress, I will not stand and let people fill the feeds with panic and idiocy.

What caused the meltdown at Chernobyl on the 26th of April 1986? Sheer, unadulterated human error.

As in the previously released report INSAG-1, close attention is paid in report INSAG-7 to the inadequate (at the moment of the accident) “culture of safety” at all levels. Deficiency in the safety culture was inherent not only at the operational stage but also, and to no lesser extent, during activities at other stages in the lifetime of nuclear power plants (including design, engineering, construction, manufacture and regulation). The poor quality of operating procedures and instructions, and their conflicting character, put a heavy burden on the operating crew, including the Chief Engineer. “The accident can be said to have flowed from a deficient safety culture, not only at the Chernobyl plant, but throughout the Soviet design, operating and regulatory organizations for nuclear power that existed at that time.” [11]:24 – Wikipedia, “Chernobyl”.

Bad construction, poor maintenance and worse responses are the causes of Chernobyl. What is happening in Japan? Japan got hit by a sister-fucker of a tsunami after being skullfucked by an earthquake of earth-shattering intensity. Of course this would do some damage to a nuclear reactor. But again, we’re seeing the problems of human error, which is not a problem that is specific to nuclear power. The fear of human error has never been enough to prevent human enterprise. After all, aeroplane crashes are often due to mechanical wear and tear caused by sheer bloody-minded laziness, or pilots who get too confused by conflicting sounds. AeroPeru Flight 603 was downed by a piece of duct tape left over a static port by ground maintenance, the best technology thwarted by human idiocy. Yet planes continue to take off every second of the day.

(On a sidenote, I obsessively watch Mayday and Seconds From Disaster.)

So why the fear around nuclear power? Because it can go so horribly wrong? Well, not really.

Let’s put this in perspective. France has 59 power plants. There are 439 nuclear plants in the world. To date, 3 have failed. (The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 is the one no one remembers. Like Michael Collins.)  The total deaths number less than 150. When we consider the vast number of people that must be working in these plants, and how wrong things have had to go for them to blow up, the fear of nuclear meltdown seems pretty ridiculous. (But, of course, everyone likes to be afraid of shit they don’t understand, and most people think Simpsons when they think nuke plants.)

Nuclear power’s only real problem is that the initial set-up is expensive. In South Africa, we also lack the skilled staff to run it, with most of our scientists having been poached. But it produces so little waste in comparison to coal, it creates no emissions, does not require vast tracts of land, is powerful and reliable and pretty much the best answer to our fuel-heavy lifestyles, it is patently absurd for people to harp on about wind farms. In South Africa, the size of a windfarm to generate enough electricty would span kilometres, and I don’t see Cape Townians that willing to use their wind at the expense of their beautiful land. We could put solar panels in the Karoo, but that would mess with the environment and all it takes is some rocks or stray animals and the panels are broken.

The resistance to nuclear power usually follows these paths:

– It’s too expensive.

Yes, but it works out much cheaper in the long run to maintain and supply than coal. After all, you wouldn’t need trains and trains just to carry coal, but a truck with uranium in it.

– It’s too dangerous.

Its more dangerous to let coal emissions fill the atmosphere. I’ll take my high chances of safety with nuclear power than the coast being under water in a few decades.

– But the waste!

Has anyone driven past a landfill recently? Seen nuclear waste glowing there? It is carefully and safely stored underground in researched containers and monitored.

There are ways to use solar and wind; getting houses off the grid is one of them. But we have a growing industry and nuclear power would go a long way to lessening our reliance on coal. It is also much, much cheaper.

So, nuclear is really the abused child of the power family, the prodigal genius with no support. I hope to help raise awareness for it, and that it is a hugely complex issue that offers a great number of positive outcomes. And also because I’m tired of fake hippies making the rest of us look bad.

3 thoughts on “Because nuclear power is still worth defending.

  1. Thomas says:

    The amount of radiation one gets from standing atop a large granite outcrop (such as Paarl Mountain, a not particularly large mountain, a hill really) is three times that which is permissable in the non-reactor spaces of a nuclear power plant. The amount of failsafes and redundancies built into the powerplants borders on the manic-obsessive and for good reason – the potential fallout problem is an immense one – but guess what? The scientists thought of that.

    Chernobyl was known to be a ticking time bomb and independent inspectors wrote a document based on their inspection which ran into hundreds of pages worth of security faults, old equipment, and poor training. This was ignored, and definitely contributed to the meltdown.

    As horrific as the situation in Japan is, another serious problem – pushing back nuclear power development and research because of uniformed panic – could affect the world’s power potential in a devastating fashion. Uranium-derived power offers a long-term solution to the international power crisis that sustainable power sources can’t yet compete with.

    So awesomely done Zoe, raisin’ dat awareness yo!

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