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April 2007

Green for Danger

 

THOMAS R. MANLEY DSc FRSC MIMMM, C.Eng.

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently called on Christians to be aware of the consequences of global warming. This is is a hot topic that generates a great deal of hot air. On the one hand, it should be remembered that a significant minority of climate experts, meteorologists and glaciologists are not convinced that the main cause of global warming is man-made greenhouse gases. On the other, the potential damage from global warming, if it were to happen, could be catastrophic, especially in poor countries such as Bangladesh and some of the Pacific Islands.

Ancient and natural

For once, therefore, the much abused precautionary principle makes sense. So it is unfortunate that the Christian Ecology Link (CEL) has published a report "Faith and Power" that suggests that we have a moral duty to eschew the only power station fuel that produces no greenhouse gases, namely uranium. CEL has the peculiar notion that God is offended by nuclear power. In fact God created nuclear reactors millions of years before he created man.

At Oklo in Gabon, West Africa, enough uranium was precipitated from solution to reach critical mass. Nuclear fission reactions went on for hundreds of years. These reactors still exist.[cf. B. Nagy et al., Nature, 1991, pp. 354, 427; Chemistry in Britain, April 1992, p.308]

God also created millions of tons of radioactive rocks containing uranium. Over millions of years the uranium changes into an isotope of lead and radon, a radioactive gas that kills a few people in Cornwall and Scotland. But for the creation of these radioactive rocks the Earth would not have been habitable.

Renewable fantasy

It is universally agreed that we need to promote energy efficiency and restrain consumer demand but the suggestion that renewable sources can fill the gap is ludicrous.

Professor Ian Fells, chairman of the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Blyth, said: "Many politicians hope that green, renewable energy will save the day. This is wishful thinking. It is foolish to set renewables against nuclear power as though they are alternative strategies. We should be embarking on building new power stations now."

The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) report shows that primary energy sources up to the year 2020 were expected to be first of all natural gas, secondly petroleum, thirdly coal that is declining, followed by nuclear and renewables. The tiny amount that is expected from renewables shows why no reputable energy scientist expects renewables to form more than 5% of the total energy source.

CELís "Faith and Power" report quotes the RCEP as saying that if we reduce energy consumption by 47% then nuclear power is not indispensable. Since every professional energy technologist expects energy consumption to rise, this argument against nuclear power is irrelevant. In fact, this non-nuclear scenario is one of four that were postulated by the RCEP. Other scenarios envisage reliance on nuclear power - in one case by quadrupling the amount from nuclear.

The RCEP also expects that fossil fuels will increase up to 2020 and renewables will produce a mere 10GW in a demand approaching 350 GW.

Naive Christians

To quote selectively from RCEP that was produced some years ago and to ignore the recent "How to close the energy gap" report, suggests that the CEL, who are advised by Fr Sean McDonagh, are at best naïve, as the Vatican very charitably calls Father McDonagh.

This cleric went out to the Philippines as a missionary and was appalled by the local deforestation, not surprisingly, since deforestation in that area, particularly around Indonesia, is a major ecological disaster. Unfortunately, Father McDonagh seems to have got support only from political greens and he now is associated with Irish Greenpeace.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has presented authoritative estimates of the cost of generating "base load" electricity using various fuels. Expressed as pence per kilowatt hour, these are – combined-cycle gas turbine 2.2, new build nuclear (including decommissioning costs) 2.3, pulverised coal steam plant 2.5, onshore wind 5.4 , and offshore wind 7.4. The extra transmission costs will raise offshore estimates.

The extra cost of wind power of 5p per kW hr will be paid by the consumer. David Bellamy, the professor of botany turned environmental activist, has pointed out that less CO2 would be produced if instead of a subsidy for wind power the money were used to subsidise low energy light bulbs.

Nuclear imperative

At present we get 20% of our electricity from nuclear power. Nuclear is reliable, cheap, by far the safest method of generating power and is not subject to terrorist interruption. To equal the output of one nuclear station requires 2,400 wind towers 300 feet high and a large fossil fuel station, as for two-thirds of the time wind produces no electricity.

In November 2005, at the Royal Society, a report was presented from a meeting of 150 scientists, economists and sociologists on Britainís energy gap. They pointed out that nuclear fission has well known construction and operating costs and a good safety record. They reported that unless an early decision to build nuclear power stations were taken there is a danger that the world wide demand for clean power might result in a shortage of engineers to construct nuclear stations. This would lead to blackouts in the U.K..

So why is the general public opposed to nuclear power? There are three factors at work here: scaremongering, lazy journalism and fears over nuclear waste and weapons.

Greenpeace scaremongering

The success of Greenpeace scaremongering is shown by the widespread support for wind farms (in areas that are not to be blighted by them!) and the fact that this unaccountable organisation has an income of £100 million pounds per annum.

The Labour peer Lord (Peter) Melchett when he was Director of British Greenpeace, never debated nuclear power in the House of Lords. Instead he sent agitators to the Sizewell nuclear power station with signs saying "Twinned with Chernobyl". Melchett knew that the dangers of the Chernobyl design were pointed out before construction began by Western and indeed Russian scientists. Nuclear power caused casualties at Chernobyl, not because it is inherently unsafe, but because the Stalinist regime put building a cheaper reactor before the safety of Ukrainians. (This is hardly surprising since Stalin killed more Ukrainians - 7 million - than Hitler killed Jews.)

Political Greens claim that nuclear power is unsafe. The figures however, tell a different story:

FUEL NUMBER OF DEATHS DEATHS PER TERAWATT
YEAR OF ELECTRICITY*
Coal 6400 342
Natural Gas 1200 85
Hydro Electricity 4000 883
Nuclear 33 8

*The final column shows the number of deaths suffered for every million megawatts of electricity supplied in a year (one terawatt year). The amount of electricity generated by wind in this period was less than one terawatt year, so a death toll for wind power is not included. However, this is estimated to be relatively very high.

Lazy scribes

All thermal power stations use super-heated steam which, if it escapes, is lethal, and kills a few men every year. Yet we never read: "Two men killed by steam in Chilean power station." Recently, however, three men were killed in a Japanese power station by super heated steam and this was widely reported in every newspaper: the BBC made it their main news item, simply because the station in question was nuclear powered. We can always rely on the BBC to give prominence to any Greenpeace scare stories. When the truth appears about a fortnight later, it gets very little publicity because, they would say, a report that is 14 days old is not of any interest.

Nuclear Waste

There are no technical problems with nuclear waste. Unfortunately, the Political Greens persuaded former Tory MP John Gummer to reject a perfectly adequate disposal scheme devised by NIREX. In France, where 85% of electricity is nuclear, and in the USA, no one is concerned. When George Bush announced that nuclear waste would be stored in the Nevada desert, Greenpeace protested but the wind was taken out of their sails by residents of Utah who said "We will take it." They realised that the dangers of nuclear waste are easily contained and that the nuclear storage site would bring in money and jobs.

The Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard, has offered to take all Britainís nuclear waste and store it safely in the Australian outback, miles from human habitation or water. The total amount of high energy nuclear waste produced since 1954 could be stored on one acre of land with, for extra protection, a six foot brick wall around it. This, of course, would be radioactive for thousands of years but provided one does not go within 10 feet of it, no one will be damaged.

When one considers that there are thousands of tons of rock in Cornwall, Aberdeenshire and other places in the British Isles that produce the radioactive gas Radon from the uranium that God made millions of years ago, it is clear that any concerns about nuclear waste is the result of scaremongering.

The concern expressed about radioactivity by Christian Ecology Link merely illustrates their ignorance. Most of the radioactivity to which we are exposed is from natural causes such as cosmic rays and gamma rays from buildings and the earth. A significant amount comes from medical use, where it is considered that the benefits outweigh the undoubted ill effects. The biggest source of radioactivity is the gas radon. This kills a few people each year, but the problem is generally reckoned to be controlled.

The amount of radioactivity from nuclear discharge is less than 0.1% of our exposure. In fact, more radioactivity is emitted from a coal powered station than from one using uranium.

Actually, there is no sensible reason why nuclear waste should not be disposed of in the deep subducting regions of the oceans where tectonic forces draw all deposits down into the magma.

Nuclear Weapons

The decision by the Atlee government in 1954 to build Calder Hall to produce both electricity and plutonium was thought by many to be the main factor in contributing to 50 years without a world war. CHRISTIAN ORDER, APRIL 2007 70

Today, however, many if not most Christians feel that nuclear weapons should be banned entirely. The interesting point is that many of the anti-nuclear demonstrators do not realise that the best way of disposing of the plutonium that pollutes the world is most sensibly dealt with by conversion through a MOX plant into electricity.

The most pressing danger at the present time is the stockpile of plutonium in Russia. The economic chaos that followed the collapse of State Socialism has seen this material poorly protected. Bin Laden would have little difficulty in bribing the guards to obtain enough plutonium to blow up London. The commonsense solution would be for the West to buy up this plutonium and use it, via the MOX plant, to produce green electricity.

Gateway to hydrogen economy

The possibility that we will have blackouts in the United Kingdom is a real one. To close the energy gap will require contributions from energy saving, marine technology, solar cells and even domestic wind turbines. Clearly, our energy problems would be solved if work on carbon dioxide sequestration was successful as this would enable restrictions on coal-fired power stations to be removed. Again, the direct hydrogenation of CO2 to methanol would bring an energy utopia.

At present, however, the only realistic alternative to the fossil fuel used in transport (apart from more electric trains) is a hydrogen fed fuel cell. The only practical way of producing hydrogen is by electrolysis. It is possible in the laboratory to produce hydrogen by the action of sunlight on water using a titania catalyst but large scale production is unlikely before 2030.

The only realistic way to the hydrogen economy requires the immediate building of nuclear power stations.

Moral obligation

The opposition of certain Christians to the Uranium economy is puzzling when one considers that there could be no life at all on Planet Earth but for the fact that the top 3,000 feet of the earthís crust contains 1012 tonnes of Uranium. The heat from the radioactive decay of this Uranium makes Earth habitable.

As his premiership comes to a close, Tony Blair has come to realise that the only sensible course is to start building nuclear.

Unfortunately, he impaled himself on a hook by his cynical disregard of the national interest in promoting wind farms.

We may disagree with his cataclysmic prophesies, but even James Lovelock FRS, who produced the Gaia theory, and was made a Companion of Honour for his environmental work, wrote:

[W]e need nuclear power if we are to avoid the loss of civilisation in a greenhouse catastrophe. Greens should regard nuclear power as a temporary bandage to be used until the harm of fossil fuel has been remedied. [Daily Telegraph, 15/8/01]

Any Christian should realise that since we have the power to generate electricity from nuclear power we have a moral obligation to use it and thus reduce our demand on oil and gas that may be used by developing nations. It is the unanimous opinion of all energy experts, the heads of all engineering institutions in the country, that the most sensible way forward is to start building nuclear stations immediately.

© Thomas R. Manley.

Accurate information on the environment may be found on www.greenfocus.co.uk

 

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