El enigma nuclear frente al desafío climático

24-03-2011. The Guardian. Jeremy Leggett responde a otro renombrado articulista de The Guardian, George Monbiot: “œGeorge Monbiot está equivocado. La energía nuclear no es el camino para luchar contra el cambio climático”. El contundente titular se completa con una entradilla en la que el periodista sostiene que las energías renovables son una fuente segura y limpia y que serán económicamente accesibles si “œinvertimos” en ellas. En su artículo “œPor qué Fukushima me hizo dejar de temer y empezar a amar la energía nuclear” del 21 de marzo, Monbiot (un conocido activista ambiental) arguye que la ausencia de alternativas menos dañinas lo ha “œconvertido a la causa”(atómica). El imperativo climático, dice Legget, es una razón de peso para tomar algunos riesgos; sin embargo, disiente en lo referido a la inviabilidad económica de las energías renovables y desgrana sus razones y los hechos en los que se apoya”¦George Monbiot argues of nuclear energy that the absence of less harmful alternatives has “converted me to the cause” (Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power, 21 March). He says he is driven to his new love by the imperative of battling climate change, and what he sees as the inability of renewable energy to run viable economies.

On the climate imperative, I agree. On the other assertions, I profoundly differ. I speak as someone who founded a renewable energy company because of my fears about climate change and the downsides of dependency on conventional energy. Since I did so, I have watched renewables industries become some of the fastest growing in the world. In 2008 and 2009 more renewables came onstream in both Europe and America than did all fossil fuels and nuclear combined. In Europe in 2009, wind and solar PV alone provided more than half all new generation.

“Energy is like medicine,” Monbiot writes, “if there are no side-effects, the chances are that it doesn’t work.” Were he to visit the renewables frontlines, he would discover many views to the contrary. German government and companies have run a scaled national experiment showing that the modern economy could be powered by renewables. A sophisticated American modelling exercise has shown the same for the global economy. All it requires is systematic mobilisation, and the imagination to believe what Silicon Valley believes.

Ultimately we should be able to provide power far less expensively than new nuclear. As we grow, our costs fall. We do not need to hand open cheques for currently unknowable billions to the taxpayer for things like waste transportation, waste disposal, decommissioning, security at sites, or accident clear-up.

But like Spitfires and Lancasters in 1939, we need to be mobilised fast, along with our even more important sister industries in energy-efficiency. And herein lies the main reason why Monbiot contradicts his own objective to counter climate change. The nuclear industry does not want renewable energy to succeed. Indeed, they lobby to kill our chances.

The chief executives of EDF and E.ON are both on record as saying that renewables would spoil the chances for nuclear, and only a minor renewables contribution can be tolerated if ministers want a “nuclear renaissance”.

“I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry,” Monbiot writes. But he now confesses that Fukushima has made him love their technology. He falls in love with the false calculation that it is needed, that it can work economically, and that it can solve its horrific waste, decommissioning and proliferation-security pitfalls.

And then there are the safety, health and indeed human psychology issues. “The impact on people [of the current disaster] has been small,” Monbiot asserts. My, how I would love him to have to face a roomful of Fukushima citizens with that argument. Or put on a suit and pick up a hosepipe at the plant itself.

 

APP:Nuclear risks and the renewable alternatives

The Guardian,     Wednesday 16 March 2011
Article history
The assessment in your editorial (15 March) that “the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear [power] in a month’s time” is not just premature but ignores a number of important factors. Most worryingly, terrorists will have seen the devastation, disruption and fear that can be caused by an attack on a reactor’s cooling system, which presents a much easier target for them than the containment vessel surrounding the core.

Secondly, your claim that the renewable alternatives are “illusions” is at variance with the facts. Germany has installed more wind power capacity than the entire current UK nuclear capacity, and is adding to it at a rate equivalent to more than one new reactor a year. Furthermore, in 2009 alone Germany installed solar photovoltaic systems with capacity equivalent to approximately four nuclear reactors, and it looks like the 2010 figures will be much higher.

The coalition should reverse Labour’s dangerous decision to go for new nuclear build and use the money saved, firstly to strengthen our current nuclear facilities against terrorist attack, secondly to solve the long-term nuclear waste problem and thirdly to support renewables.

Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

“¢”ˆYou say offshore wind “remains so costly that market forces would simply push pollution overseas if it were taken up in a big way”. Not so. As the Offshore Valuation report pointed out last year, the UK has enough offshore wind potential to become a net electricity exporter, and gain from the jobs, intellectual property and energy generated. A clean energy future lies not in nuclear, shale gas or oil imports from repressive regimes, but in developing North Sea wind. If it is to seize the winds of change, the government needs to unlock this potential by creating a strong green investment bank in next week’s budget.

Guy Shrubsole

Director, Public Interest Research Centre

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