If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Monbiot changes his mind on nuclear energy

Crikey, now I've seen everything.
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.
I banged my head on the table falling over at that. He has seen the total lack of an environmental disater at Fukushima, and has concluded that nuclear energy isn't so bad after all. He's not entirely accurate with his facts, mind you:
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.
Nope, an old plant was exposed to an earthquake of many times the power it was designed to withstand, followed an hour later by a tsunami that was greater than anyone could have planned for. The containment for the spent fuel rods was breached for some of the reactors, and the supply of cooling water for those areas failed. Getting electricity to power the water pumps for these areas has been the main focus of activity over the last few days. At no point did the reactors explode or go into meltdown. All that was released was some radioactive steam, which remained radioactive for about half an hour. The disaster exposed, not a 'familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting', but an incredibly robust design which has withstood forces way outside its design parameters and is still more or less intact. Look at those air shots of Fukushima: acres of flattened buildings and debris, and in the middle of it all those reactor units, the only things standing for miles around. That should tell you something. However ...
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.
Spot on, Mr Monbiot. He goes on to talk a lot of sense about how renewables will never be able to supply our energy needs as long as our society remains as advanced as it is, and concludes with:
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.
I'm going to be fair to the guy. He has changed his mind on consideration of events and facts, and for that he must be given credit. It must have been difficult, given that he has become almost a guru for the hard-of-thinking leftie, to abandon one of the main tenets of the religion of which he is such a well-known and trenchant priest.

A closed mind is the most dangerous thing of all.

* Graphic (which repays close analysis) reproduced below, but follow the link above for the original, in case Blogger renders it unreadable. Click for full size.


  1. I've just seen this at DK's and it's amazing...
    Maybe there is some hope, after all?

    Interesting to see the comments at his Grauniad page...

  2. The comments are (almost) more surprising than the article. Perhaps this is a straw in the wind.

  3. The Road to Damascus, via Fukushima!

    As md advises, some Grauniad comments are interesting.

    One commenter:- "Shouldn't we wait a few years before we know for sure that no-one at Fukushima has received a lethal dose of radiation?"

    Even if lethal = fatal, the official death toll from the earthquake and tsunami has risen to more than 9,000, with 12,645 missing, so a sense of perspective is lacking.

  4. I liked the reply:

    "Shouldn't we wait a few years before we know for sure that no-one at Fukushima has received a lethal dose of radiation?"

    "Why? It's directly measureable. You might as well say wait a few years before seeing if someone is actually 6ft tall."

  5. I've written a thorough rebuttal of Monbiot's pieces supporting nuclear power:

  6. Monbiot has recognised what people outside the Green movement have known for a long time: that the dangers of nuclear power have been grossly exaggerated. Bluntly, nuclear power kills people, but it kills for fewer (FAR fewer) than any other form of baseload generation. And if you think that all our energy requirements (even the massively reduced requirements that the Greens would have by sending us all back to the Middle Ages) can be supplied by renewables, then you are either living in cloud cuckoo land, or you are deliberately deceiving your readers. The world desperately needs a massive programme of new nuclear installations, and thank goodness that at least one of you guys has seen the truth of that.

    I don't criticise someone for reviewing the evidence and changing his mind; I respect him for it.


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