Saturday, 26 February 2011

Welcome Christina

[I received a comment to a recent post from Christina Macpherson. To be fair to Ms Macpherson, she is an anti-nuclear campaigner who, among other efforts, published a blog linked here. To extend me the same courtesy, some time ago, I submited detailed comments to several of her posts... not one of which was published, to my knowledge.

This post is my reply to her comment. It's size exceeded Blogger's 4k character limit, but I thought a semi-comprehensive reply was appropriate.]

I would gladly accept a world free of risks from nuclear waste, weapons proliferation, or exposure to man-made, ionizing radiation. But the fact is, the benefits from nuclear technologies—both energy and non-energy related—far, far outweigh these often perversely exaggerated risks.

Let’s take an example—as you predicted, I’ll ‘dig someone up’ and tag him as an “environmentalist”. Actually I’ll go one better, I’ll call him a globally respected “Scientist”. Here’s what Prof. James Hansen [from the USA’s Colombia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies] has to say on nuclear energy’s role in the battle against climate change. From his book Storms of My Grandchildren:

“Germany provides useful empirical evidence about progress in quitting the fossil fuel addiction. Germany is making a major effort to improve energy efficiency. It is also trying hard to promote renewable energy, with large subsidies for wind and solar energies. Wind provides up to 20% of the country’s electric energy in winter, but on annual mean [yearly average] the wind and sun produced only 7.3 precent of Germany’s electricity in 2008. That renewable fraction is still growing, but at a cost—some industries have cited increased electric rates as a reason for relocating outside Germany.

But what is disturbing about the empirical evidence from Germany is that, despite technical prowess and strong efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energies, there are no plans to phase out coal. On the contrary, there are plans to build new coal-fired power plants, which the German government claims will be necessary once the country closes its nuclear power plants. The bottom line seems to be that it is not feasible in the foreseeable future to phase out coal unless nuclear power is included in the energy mix.”

Apparently Germany realised this and made the difficult [and most likely politically costly] decision to recently reverse its nuclear phase-out policy. Meanwhile Australia continues to build coal powered stations despite our politicians and “environmentalists” claiming how ‘blessed’ we are with non-nuclear options.

With respect to your claims [too late, too dirty, too expensive]; the vast majority of climate scientists—held in high regard within the scientific community—project mid-century as the critical date to achieve dramatic decreases in greenhouse gas emissions and the subsequent decreasing trend in atmospheric CO2 concentration. Considering the rate of deployment of nuclear power plants worldwide in the 1970’s, technology advancements since that time and the proven ability to steadily deploy nuclear energy stations in Asia [most notably in Korea and Japan] over the past few decades; there is little reason to doubt that nuclear energy—even in Australia—is well positioned to help phase out fossil fuel use.

Also, lifecycle emissions from nuclear energy—including mining and fuel production—have been independently and repeatedly shown to be among the lowest of available energy generation technologies. [See the Reports linked in the lower right margin of the Blog]

Regarding cost—I can’t speak for anyone else, but all I ask is that Australia make it legal to pursue nuclear energy here and to also put a realistic price on carbon to properly account for its threat to the planet. Utilities can then decide to continue to produce power using expensive and dangerous fossil fuels, transition to renewables, encourage efficiency and conservation, or opt for nuclear energy. [I would also expect the enacting of laws that require utilities to pay into a decommissioning and nuclear waste fund to coincide with other laws permitting utilities to use the technology.]

Considering the extreme weather events of just the past few years, I am surprised by campaigners who continue to see nuclear energy as the great threat of our time. Baseless nuclear scepticism does not add value to efforts to rid the world of dangerous fossil fuels. If you believe the risks from the introduction of nuclear energy are comparable to those from our continued addiction to fossil fuels, please explain your rationale. If you claim nuclear-free options that will permit the phase-out of fossil fuels have been demonstrated, please cite some real world examples.

I’ll give the final word to Hansen:

“Coal is exceedingly dirty stuff. Its mercury, arsenic, sulfates, and other constituents are a major source of global air and water pollution, leading to increased birth defects, impaired intelligence, asthma, and other respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Coal’s effect on air and water pollution is global—nobody escapes its reach. Mercury and other pollutants are deposited on land and in the ocean, infiltrating the food chain and building up in the bodies of long-lived animals and fish.”

“Leading world air-pollution experts at our workshops at the East-West Center in Honolulu agreed that there are at least one million deaths per year from air pollution globally. It is difficult to apportion the deaths among different pollution sources—such as vehicles and power plants—because people are affected simultaneously by all sources. But to get an idea of the numbers, let’s first assign 1 percent to coal-fired power plants. That’s ten thousand deaths per year—every year.

Actually, all experts agree that coal is responsible for far more than 1 percent of the air pollution. In fact, recent data show that more than 1 percent of some air pollutants in the United States comes from Chinese power plants! I point this out to emphasize that pollution and climate change are global problems—we must work together with other countries to solve them. Assigning 10 percent of global air pollution deaths to coal is probably still conservative—that’s a hundred thousand deaths per year, every year.

Yet there are no two-hundred-thousand-person rallies against coal, no nightly “No Coal” concerts. Death by coal is probably not as sexy as death by nuclear accident. Perhaps we have greater fear of nuclear power because it is more mysterious than that familiar black lump of coal—even though we know coal contains remarkably bad stuff.”


  1. It's good of you to go to such trouble to respond to Christina, but I'm not sure you really should have bothered in this case. You say you contributed comments she hasn't posted, but check out an example of a comment she let pass:

    Integrative said...
    Radioactive sand, chemtrails in the air, HAARP activity, etc.
    The recent effect of HAARP is the New Zeeland earthquake which has mooved NZ 30 km closer to Australia.
    The effects on people's minds are: agressiveness, violence, strange behaviour, confusion, depression time, Alzheimer, heart failures, cancers.
    What's the benefit? We seem to keep mooving industries of war with all infrastructure needed, big business and...bread and circus for a break.
    When are we waking up, as many as possible, for a critical mass to be reached and to act for LIFE?!

    July 24, 2009 3:21 AM

    NZ now 30km closer to Australia than it was before the first Christchurch earthquake last year. My word!

    It would seem that she is doing a fine job of discrediting her position without any additional assistance from us.

  2. I was enjoying some rare, discretionary time. I haven't been blogging all that much for more than a year, and even when I was there were not all that many comments; so I grabbed the opportunity to interact when it came along.

    The vast majority of ardent anti-nuclear campaigners in Australia strike me in a similar way; spewing irrationalities strung together without logic or much thought. The few who should know better, simply have different priorities than I—insisting the world is not in an ‘all hands on deck’ mode when it comes to no/low carbon energy options and failing to acknowledge the absolute necessity to phase out fossil fuel use in general and dirty, dangerous coal in particular.

  3. In case you didn't notice, my web page is called "Antinuclear". This should give the clue that it is not an unbiased site. I think there's a kind of honesty here. We don't pretend to be impartial, unlike some other well-funded sites

    Our tiny team at Antinuclear Australia is voluntary. We receive no funds from anywhere.
    I see no reason to give the nuclear lobby a free platform on our site.

  4. Sorry Christina, did I ever accuse you of being unbiased? I am sure your site reflects your honest opinion, which I would never try to deny you.

    But you’re not allowed to have your own facts—one being your accusation that I am in any way compensated for my Blog. It is just not so. My blogging is on my own time. I have never received a cent for this effort.

    If you have a tiny team there, then you’ve got me beat. Nuclear Australia is one person—me. But I would gladly accept some support. Would you care to submit a guest post? Would you like to have your say to the audience of this blog? Fair warning, you may not like what you get served up in return, but I’m willing to give you a go if you’re up for it. One piece of advice, research your facts well.

    Finally, I note you neglected to cite any of the requested examples in the post above. How about a simple question, non-nuclear even: do you support the proposed price on carbon?

  5. I rather think that it is the anti-nuclear movement which is most likely to have access to the bottomless pockets of their corporate sponsors. The fossil fuel interests are the ones with the most to lose from the widespread adoption of nuclear power. I'm sure an examination of the complete donor list (if it could be made) for the major anti-nuclear environmental groups would reveal much of interest in this regard.