“You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power.” So begins eco-warrior George Monbiot’s article from Monday’s Guardian (March 21st). He then continues: “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.”
With two explosions, three reactor meltdowns, fires throughout the compound, and radioactivity now spilling out across wide areas of Japan, we are in the midst of the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. One that we must all hope does not become the biggest environmental disaster ever. But Monbiot takes a different view: “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. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.”
Well I suppose it is easy to be relaxed if you’re lucky enough to be living in mid Wales, and approximately 6,000 miles outside the evacuation zone . But what’s the bit about “poor design and corner-cutting”? Are we being asked to believe that the latent problems at Fukushima were somehow exceptional? I’d always been under the impression that Japan was especially advanced and world-renowned for its technical expertise and excellence. But then perhaps I’m mistaken. Perhaps the reactors in Armenia, Argentina, Bulgaria, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, South Africa, Ukraine, along with those in France, USA and back home really are all designed and built to far higher standards.1
Or is Monbiot simply saying that the reactors being built today will be much safer? For no doubt this is true, with newer technologies in general, making improvements on older designs. But then what do we do with all the unsafe old reactors? And, much more importantly, how safe is safe enough? Because there is no reactor, indeed no technology, that can ever be guaranteed to function without failure. Of course when most of our old technologies fail… well, you know, the lights go out perhaps. Whereas if a nuclear reactor fails, the effects tend to be a little more catastrophic — just ask any of the 50,000 people who once lived in the now abandoned city of Pripyat.
Monbiot rounds his article off saying: “But the energy source to which most economies will revert if they shut down their nuclear plants is not wood, water, wind or sun, but fossil fuel. On every measure (climate change, mining impact, local pollution, industrial injury and death, even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power.” Sorry — did I get that right? Fossil fuels are 100 times worse than nuclear power even when it comes to radioactive discharges! What’s that old saying about lies and damned lies?
The article, entitled “Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power”, plays on Kubrick’s subtitle to his masterpiece of nuclear madness, Dr Strangelove. And I cannot help feeling that Monbiot’s new love is also rather strange.
1For a full list of operating nuclear power plants worldwide click here.