Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Isn't it time that John Howard shut up?

I particularly like this link to the ABC story as it covers his face.
I was going about my business this morning when John Howard came on the radio and I nearly choked on my breakfast.
Enraged, I spat a mouthful across my tent and bespattered the screen of my TV with flakes of cereal.
And it was the subject matter that incensed me to the nth degree and beyond.
He was propounding the case for nuclear power.
I don't know what it takes to get people like John Howard to understand that nuclear power is not a viable, scratch that, not an option period.
And this speech by the former PM is in the aftermath of Fukushima, where the incidence of thymus cancer is rocketing according to the Guardian newspaper of Britain:

Corbett Report: Thyroid cancers skyrocketing right now in Fukushima — Guardian: “The issue is bound to escalate further” (VIDEO)

So I'll just add my microscopic voice to the debate.
And I might add, I am a scientist, unlike John Howard, who is, how did you know I was going to say this, a lawyer.
Now I am the first to admit that my marks at uni were hardly distinguished, but I still claim to know more about nuclear power than John Howard.
So here we go.
Nuclear power is not an option because it's ultimate premise is that it only can function if you believe in the perfect machine.
None is, my constant references to paying for car repairs is testament to this, so nuclear power is only an option of we believe that no power station will ever go wrong.
The various engineers involved told us after Chernobyl that the type of reactor built in the Ukraine will no longer be used.
New reactors with a much higher safety margin will be now used, and the engineers therefore claimed there will never be another Chernobyl.
And so these new, "safer" reactors were built around the world.
One of those places was Fukushima.
In the truest sense of the word, the engineers are right, the new reactors are safer than the one at Chernobyl, but the problem with Fukushima was that it wasn't the reactor itself that had the problem, it was the place it was built, AKA, in Japan, on the shores of the pacific, in one of the most geologically active areas of the planet.
Tokyo itself is built on the junction of three tectonic plates, in comparison California, earthquake central, is "only" on two.
Since Fukushima there have been endless stories about the wisdom(!) of building a nuclear power station there, and the responses from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) who built it were a constant succession of "we considered all the risks involved".
I don't think you did.
One would think that a Tsunami would have been something considered in Japan, for any building construction, let alone a nuke power station.
So then one might say, "well can we build a new safer reactor in a geologic dead zone, where there is no danger of earthquake or Tsunami?"
The best known geologic dead zone on Earth is Australia, so is it safe to build a reactor here?
Well, perhaps one should ask the residents of Newcastle who lived through the quake that rocked that city in a "geologic dead zone".
One building after the Newcastle quake,
would a nuke station survive in better shape?
The inherent nature of the shifting Earth is such that even today with all our much-vaunted equipment, there is still no way to accurately predict an earthquake.
So the answer is 'NO', there is nowhere on Earth where you can build a nuclear power station and 'know' it is safe from earthquake.
In closing the Fukushima section I will say that since that horrendous day I have been scanning the news waiting for the Japanese government to announce that they are decommissioning all their other reactors, but they are not doing it.
Seems that the risk in money and death of their citizens is worth it.
Moving on, earthquakes are only one of the potential threats.
Simple faulty equipment is another.
Is John Howard seriously saying that every pipe, every duct, every piece of shielding, every fan, every pump, every brick, every tile, every power supply source is 100% fail proof?
If he is, I'd like to live in a house built by those materials.
That kind of reminds me of the piece done by a stand up comic, I think Sienfeld, who said, "Since the black box always survives every aircrash, why don't they build the whole plane out of the material that they make the black box out of?"
Too expensive I'd warrant.
Which leads me neatly to price of nuclear power.
John Howard this morning was going on with some hopelessly, convoluted gobbledegook about nuclear being cheaper than renewables.
Rubbish, John.
That is serious, serious, tauro-scatology.
TEPCO are decidedly cagey about saying what it cost to build Fukushima, but a new plant in Flamanville, France, of the same design as Fukushima, cost $8 billion Euros, or $A11.5 billion.
How many solar panels, and wind turbines could Australia buy with $11.5 bill?
A lot.
Of course all of the above figures do not take into account the cost of the Fukushima cleanup.
This is of course a wildly varying figure, but the same page that told me of Flamanville estimates $A82 billion.
And this of course doesn't, and can't, count the ongoing costs of health treatment and most importantly, the human cost of death, which is unquantifiable.
The Economonitor lists Chernobyl as costing $975 million to clean up, and took 14 years, but again this figure is unable to fully cost health issues which may go on for years.
So next time you here someone say nuclear power costs 'x' per kilowatt of power produced, ask if they have factored in the costs of cleaning up Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Which then leads me to a point well made by my colleague at Greenpeace in Vancouver, James Pratt, who is anything but his surname.
James pointed out that everytime you here someone saying that a nuclear power station will produce power at 'x' cents per kilowatt, they invariably fail to add in the eventual cost of decommissioning the thing.
This is always infinitely more than it cost to build, since it involves safe(!) storage of radioactive materials for decades, if not centuries.
My colleague at my current work, Scott, played Devil's Advocate, a term stunningly accurate when arguing for nuclear power, and said, "but isn't global warming worse? Wouldn't it be better to have a few nuclear power stations, so the risk is concentrated in a few places, rather than the all-encompassing global warming threat from burning coal?"
Well, that's wrong too.
You can' t escape physics, and the heat inside a nuclear reactor is intense.
This heat has to be dissipated, usually by seawater, and this obviates any supposed global warming reducing effect of not releasing Carbon Dioxide.
I cannot find any source to tell me how much heat is added to global warming by nuclear power stations, but I can assure you that all over the world where reactors are cooled by seawater, the area around the plant shows thermal plumes.
We better hope that Polar
Bears can jump puddles.
Pack ice reduction - are nukes a factor?

So any gains in the global warming issue are minimal.
I might add the area where this is most grossly demonstrated is the arctic, where recently it was reported that the pack ice had reduced from 180 million square kilometres, down to four, an approx forty fold decrease.
Where does the warm water that is doing this come from?
Europe and North America, where a large number of nuclear power stations are situated.
Again, as Scott accurately points out, can we be sure that the heat emitted by a nuke is a significant factor?
No, we can't, and once again that is a huge part of the problem, things un-, or inaccurately accounted for.
So there you have it, no nukes, they solve nothing, they certainly don't help reduce global warming.
And finally, John Howard, not only did your government get voted out, but you got voted out of your own seat.
Even the staunchly liberal voters of Sydney's lower north shore couldn't stomach you for a second longer.
So, fair's fair, democracy has spoken, retire gracefully, and shut up.

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