26. 07. 2011

Why George Monbiot is completely wrong on nuclear power

Posted in:
Comments (22)

For some time now George Monbiot has astonished his colleagues by becoming a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry. He laid out his reasons for doing so in a Guardian Environment blog on 27th May: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/may/27/why-choose-nuclear-renewable-energy – and I’m afraid I’ve only just found the time to get around to answering the questions that he posed:

Answers to George Monbiot’s Four Questions:

1. What has the Committee on Climate Change got wrong?

A lot.  The principal source for the Committee’s estimates would appear to be DECC’s own figures prepared for them by Mott MacDonald in June 2010 .  The assumptions on which this analysis is based are heroic, to put it mildly. 

As pointed out by Andrew Broadbent (of CES Social and Economic Research ), these figures have been challenged by a wide range of very different cost projections.  Broadbent refers to the authoritative “World Nuclear Status Report”  which suggests that nuclear costs would be much higher, and that it is certainly not “the most cost-effective” low carbon technology:

“Because of implicit and explicit guarantees, the private cost element of nuclear is uncertain and continues to escalate….. and the public subsidy portion is generally missing entirely, so that nuclear cannot be properly compared to alternatives, nor can the potentially enormous cost to taxpayers be properly vetted.”

Mott MacDonald produced a new report in May 2011  which pretty much contradicts its own 2010 report.  As Broadbent points out:

“Its most important conclusion is that the relative costs of different energy-generating technologies actually depend on which technology is given priority by policy makers – ‘pushing deployment can affect the relative costs’, and  ‘it is possible to find cases where offshore wind, CCS and nuclear are each lower cost than the other two’. This means that if renewables are deployed extensively, they may well be cheaper than nuclear – even if using the existing over-optimistic nuclear cost assumption.  Why the Committee came to airbrush this vital conclusion, and choose not to point out that government itself has the responsibility for deciding whether to make renewable energy the most cost-effective option, can only be guessed at.”

This is not the place to go into the voluminous literature on hidden subsidies on nuclear power, but the Committee makes only passing reference to what is widely acknowledged to represent a critical distortion in cost estimates for nuclear.  Perhaps the most egregious distortion relates to the indirect subsidy which the industry receives in the form of insurance liability.

In view of this, it is highly ironic that Vincent de Rivaz (Chief Executive of EDF in the UK) can regularly be heard calling for a ‘level playing field’ for different energy sources, knowing full well that every other electricity supplier carries its own third-party liability costs. I presume you would support Vincent’s calls for a level playing field, George, though presumably with your tongue rather less deeply embedded in your cheek?

And do you (or anyone, for that matter, on the Committee on Climate Change) actually understand the scale of this subsidy?

Recent research by Versicherungsforen Leipzig GmbH , a company that specialises in actuarial calculations, shows that full insurance against nuclear disasters would increase the price of nuclear electricity by a range of values - €0.14 per kWh up to €2.36 per kWh – depending on assumptions made.

A new paper from Zelenicka-Zovko and Pearce (for Queens University in Kingston, Ontario) summarises the full extent of that indirect subsidy – assessed at $33 million (in 2001 $) per reactor per year.  They calculate what the economic value would be if that kind of indirect subsidy was transferred to solar PV in the form of equivalent loan guarantees.  The conclusion is startling:

“By the year 2110, the money now slated for nuclear insurance premiums in the US could produce an additional $5.3 trillion if invested in solar PV loan guarantees.”

By the time you factor in all the hidden subsidies, the Committee on Climate Change’s figure of £96 per mWh has no more validity than any other competing estimate, and it is entirely disingenuous of the Committee to put it in the public domain without making clear just how spurious the figure really is.  Members of the Committee (and yourself) would be well advised to re-visit the SDC’s 2006 Report on Nuclear Power:

“The new evidence we commissioned for this study suggests that it’s going to be very difficult to estimate the total costs for a new programme based on any new reactor design.  All we have to go on are industry estimates, and our evidence clearly demonstrates, on the basis of historical performance, that considerable scepticism is warranted in assessing the reliability of estimates from the industry itself – or indeed from governments that are not acting in a genuinely impartial way.”

The Committee on Climate Change should really know better – as should you.  The economics of nuclear power is a dark art, traditionally based on the industry’s own ludicrously biased projections, which are then massaged by vested interests inside Government to come up with something that sounds vaguely manageable to the general public.  And I’m disturbed to see how easily the Committee on Climate Change has been co-opted into that process.

Predictably, investors know better.  Which is why no reactor ever has been, or ever will be, built without massive public subsidy – a point readily conceded by most industry representatives.

Finally, the Committee’s estimate also makes no allowance for additional, post-Fukushima cost increases.  Every energy economist I know acknowledges unreservedly that the cost of nuclear will continue to go up even as the cost of PV continues to come down. The ‘World Nuclear Status’ report from Schneider, Froggatt & Thompson contrasts the tumbling prices for PV with the annual cost increases of between 5-7% every year for nuclear, referring to the current position in a number of US States:

“Despite the disproportionately lower support historically, some analysts consider solar photovoltaic energy to be competitive with nuclear new-build projects under current real-term prices. The late John O’Blackburn of Duke University calculated a ‘historic cross-over’ of solar and nuclear costs in 2010 in the US State of North Carolina. Whereas ‘commercial-scale solar developers are already offering utilities electricity at 14 cents or less per kWh. Blackburn estimated that a new nuclear plant would deliver power for between 14-18 cents per kWh”.

You’ve been unsighted on the costs of PV for a long time, even as we move closer and closer to a world in which PV achieves full grid parity with other sources of electricity.  I hope you have now had a chance to read the Ernst & Young Outlook on the UK solar PV industry which points to grid parity for PV here in the UK without any subsidy by 2020?    It will happen well before that in Germany as a direct consequence of the far-sighted decisions they took many years ago.  Ben Cosh, a former Downing Street Advisor, continues to point out the contrast here:

“It’s taken the Germans 10 years to build their industry to employ 133,000 people, and now they have massive purchasing power and control their supply chains.  A typical Germany solar farm construction company locks in Chinese manufacturing capacity worth tens of millions of pounds many years in advance.  This enables them to drive down costs and undercut British construction companies, currently by over 25%.  A typical utility-scale solar farm takes 18 months to plan, and 3 months to build.  Last year alone, the Germans installed 8 GW of solar PV, enough to power 1.4 million homes".

Germany plans to generate 50% of its day-time electricity from solar by 2020 – with installed capacity of 52 GW.  Despite the fact that solar PV has the potential to meet more than 30% of the UK’s day-time electricity by 2040, our target for 2020 is just 2.7 GW – not much more than the 2 GW that Germany installed in one month in June 2010.

It’s still not too late for the UK.  But you’ve become a big part of the problem.  Your inability (or unwillingness) to track solar cost trends has marooned you in a weird contrarian crusade to undermine the solar industry – even as you volunteer your services as a mouthpiece for the nuclear industry. 

And I wonder if you can really still ‘be in love’ with nuclear now that you know rather more about the consequences of Fukushima? You indicated that the principal reason for this emotional spasm was that not a single person had been killed - which is indeed something to be thankful for. But what do you feel now about the 100,000 people evacuated from around Fukushima who are unlikely to return to their homes for many years to come? And don’t you feel just a bit weird falling in love with something that will cost the people of Japan anywhere between $100 billion and $200 billion?

2. Can Nuclear and Renewables Not Co-Exist?
For me, there are four main reasons why co-existence has become a foolish pipedream.

2.1. The Lobbying Position Of The Nuclear Industry Itself

Until the middle of 2009, the nuclear industry’s public position was a “both/and” position – with room for both renewables and nuclear.  Since then, however, nuclear industry leaders have become increasingly vocal in arguing that if the UK Government persists with its target of generating 15% of energy from renewables by 2020 (which means at least 35% of our electricity from renewables), then the nuclear industry will suffer very severely.

Both EDF and E-ON are on the record in making this case with growing stridency.  And I’m sure your sources inside DECC will have told you in no uncertain terms that what you hear in public from these companies is a pale shadow of the virulently anti-renewables lobbying that they’re doing behind the scenes.  How else could EDF hope to recoup the £12 billion it’s already laid out to purchase nuclear sites here in the UK?

2.2. Financial Opportunity Costs

Nuclear power is the most capital-intensive of all supply options.  With estimates ranging from £4 billion to £5.5 billion for a new nuclear reactor, there is a clear risk that other options will be frozen out by this level of capital commitment.

There will also be significant opportunity costs regarding energy efficiency – as well as renewables.  I long ago came to the conclusion that “the market” will never sort out energy efficiency, and the continuing uncertainties regarding the Green Deal would appear to bear that out.  By contrast, I believe that businesses should be regulated into dramatic energy savings in all non-domestic buildings (via the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive), and equally dramatic savings in our domestic housing stock should be secured via direct government subsidy – or investment in our sustainable future, as I prefer to see it.

Every billion that goes back to the nuclear industry, (including the £80 billion-plus that we UK taxpayers will have to find to deal with the legacy effects of our existing reactor programme) is a billion that isn’t going into retro-fitting our hopelessly inefficient housing stock – and simultaneously sorting out the continuing scandal of extraordinarily high levels of fuel poverty here in the UK.

Sometimes you’re so naïve, George.  Do you really think a “both/and” world is available when Treasury is imposing a ruthless cap both on direct payments from tax revenues and on levies taken from consumer bills?  With the economy the way it is, that combined pot will remain totally inadequate for years to come, and there is no doubt that nuclear will win out over renewables, efficiency and even Carbon Capture and Storage.  The £300 million a year that it will get through the Carbon Floor Price (according to estimates by WWF and Greenpeace) is £300 million a year diverted from renewables and efficiency.

2.3. Political Opportunity Costs

The Sustainable Development Commission’s 2006 Report commented specifically on this:

“Were it to be decided to proceed with a new reactor programme (once an “acceptable solution” to the waste issue has been found), there is no doubt that this decision would command a substantial slice of political leadership from whichever party is then in power.  Political attention would shift, and in all likelihood undermine efforts to pursue a strategy based on energy efficiency, renewables and more CHP.”

The market reforms announced last week provide ample evidence to that effect.  Our entire electricity market system is now being rigged to provide a wholly unjustifiable continuing subsidy to the nuclear industry, while doing a lot less than is required to promote renewables and absolutely nothing to put efficiency at the heart of that reform process.

Even Tim Yeo (Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and a keen advocate of nuclear power) has berated his own Government for drawing the wool over people’s eyes in a forlorn attempt to claim that it is sticking to its pledge that there should be no public subsidy for a new generation of nuclear reactors.

“Government must be upfront about the support it’s giving to nuclear, and not hide subsidies in a one-size-fits-all design for long-term energy contracts.  It should not distort the market merely to save political face about the precise meaning of the Coalition Agreement for Government.”

2.4. Constraints In Upgrading The Grid

More and more industry specialists are concerned about what is sometimes called a “system clash” between a generation system based predominantly on a small number of nuclear reactors and large-scale gas or coal-fired power stations, and a system based on multiple renewable generators and more distributed local area networks.  Greenpeace’s report (“The Battle of the Grids”) eloquently highlights just how problematic this already is in Europe, where it has become commonplace in a number of countries to switch off wind turbines during periods of plentiful electricity supply in order to give priority to nuclear and coal-fired plant.

The already complex task of integrating a multiplicity of decentralised renewable generators will be made all the more complex if the Government seeks simultaneously to bring on a new generation of nuclear reactors. The high capital costs and the nature of nuclear reactors means you need to run them all the time for both economic and engineering reasons. This is what the proposed ‘contracts for difference’ will do since they will purchase all of the available supply from the new reactors to ensure they are economic. If there are 16 GW of new nuclear, as the Government proposes, preference will clearly be given to purchasing from this source. That will both prevent the letting of contracts for renewables entering into this part of the market, and could easily lead to much cheaper renewables being turned off in order to keep the nuclear reactors running at times of low demand.

Finally, a recent report from the IEA (“Harnessing Variable Renewables: A Guide to the Balancing Challenge”, May 2011) has also shown that there is a much greater potential for grids to balance out intermittent renewable energy output than is usually assumed to be the case.

In conclusion, George, you should know better than to take the nuclear industry’s “both/and” rhetoric at face value.  Indeed, I sometimes wonder if you read your own words as carefully as others do:  “Power corrupts; nuclear power corrupts absolutely….. nuclear operators worldwide have been repeatedly exposed as a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags”. (Guardian, 5/7) .  That’s powerful posturing, George.  It’s as if you’re trying to cover up your own embarrassment at ending up as a pawn of the nuclear industry by being ruder about them (on a personal basis) than any anti-nuclear activist would think of being.  I hope that strategy works for you; it certainly doesn’t for me.

3. Are Renewables Always Better?

I believe the answer to that question, today, is a clear “yes”.  I cannot guess what the situation might be in the future, and as you know, I’ve always supported the continuation of research into new nuclear technologies.  It is indeed conceivable that at some stage in the future new reactor designs could prove to be so superior that we would be mad not to take advantage of such breakthroughs in the supply mix. We should continue to keep that door open.

However, I’ve heard so many promises of “better things to come” from the nuclear industry over the last forty years that I attach very little significance to the current wave of similar promises. As Schneider, Froggatt & Thompson tartly comment:

“When the Generation III+ reactor designs began to emerge, roughly a decade ago, they promised to be simpler and safer – but still cheaper – than previous designs. This is because they were being designed from scratch, and could respond to all the regulatory requirements of the day, rather than being modifications of existing designs. The common assumption was that nuclear plants could be built for $1000 per kW. Current estimates, however, are six times that”. 

Your dewy-eyed references to the prospective wonders of Generation IV nuclear technologies demonstrate to me that you’ve gone soft in the head on this one – especially as you profess not to believe a single word from this particular “bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags”.

And what do these promises really amount to?  Completely unproven assertions about cost and reliability.  Right now (and for at least the next decade I would argue) proven renewable technologies offer a much more secure supply-side strategy.

Unfortunately, you’ve clearly given up the fight on that front, not only by consistently misrepresenting the costs (and benefits) of PV, but by regularly playing the oil industry’s favourite card (“their potential to supply much of our electricity is low”), and even by appearing to sympathise with the ranks of NIMBYIST aesthetes who are so offended by the visual intrusiveness of wind farms.

Here again, the contrast with Germany is telling.  Keith Barnham at Imperial College has shown that Germany has already installed more wind power than the entire UK nuclear capacity, and every year it installs the equivalent of one new nuclear reactor.  Our wind resource, as you know, is at least as good as Germany’s.  Of course this is an expensive option, but no more so than a new nuclear programme would be.

You rarely comment positively on those studies and research programmes that set out to demonstrate how our energy future could be a 100% renewable energy future, achieved over a much shorter period of time than you or other nuclear advocates would have us believe.  Yet you know as well as I do that 100% renewables (and geothermal) is where we need to get to eventually – so why not seek to get there just as soon as possible without yet another disastrous foray into today’s nuclear cul-de-sac?

There are two other reasons for always favouring renewables over nuclear.  The first is one to which you rarely refer.  It seems to me to be all-but-inevitable that there will be some terrorist attack on some nuclear facility somewhere in the world at some stage over the next decade.  Many security experts are astonished that it hasn’t already happened.

The likelihood of this being a cyber-attack of some description has been greatly amplified by the “success” of the Israeli and US governments infiltrating their “Stuxnet worm” into the operating code of Iran’s nuclear power system.

Secondly, and very briefly, we have to address the issue of proliferation.  As Tom Burke has put it, “atoms cannot be made to work for peace without making them available for war”.

4. If you are to exclude nuclear entirely, what should the mix of electricity generation in this country be?

As you’ll be aware, there are a growing number of voices arguing that we can indeed provide almost all the energy we need from renewable resources.  The Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (adopted by 194 governments on 9th May 2011) shows how we could get up to 80% of the energy we need from renewable energy sources.   The latest report from researchers at Stanford University and the University of California-Davis (published recently in Energy Policy) argues that “all new energy generation could be renewable by 2030, and all pre-existing energy production could be converted to renewables by 2050”.

So my “vision” of a sustainable energy future for the UK is relatively simple.  I believe a 100% renewable supply strategy for the UK is feasible by 2050 at the latest, assuming only that we succeed in reducing total energy consumption in the UK by at least 40% by 2030 through a wholly different approach to energy efficiency than any government has ever demonstrated before.

As you will know, Andrew Warren (Chief Executive of the Association for Conservation of Energy) continues to highlight the contrast between the UK (which is anticipating a doubling in electricity demand) and Germany, which has a target to reduce total consumption by at least 30% - in an economy that is already much more energy efficient than ours. As Tom Burke said to me the other day:

“So what do they know that we don’t, and is it the same thing that  makes their economy so much more successful than ours?”.

But I readily acknowledge that this combination of renewables and efficiency will take some time to deliver.  There will need to be some “generating bridge” to get us to that 2050 point.  For me, this comes down to a straight choice between your “least worst option”, namely nuclear, and my “least worst option”, gas plus Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).  Both nuclear and CCS are hugely expensive, and CCS is still unproven at scale.  But we’re almost certainly going to need CCS anyway (installed even on biomass plants) given the speed at which greenhouse gases continue to build up in the atmosphere.  And at least gas is relatively cheap, relatively easily available, and relatively easy to build.  Gas-powered stations built over the next five to ten years could be economically retired from 2035 onwards.

If we got on with all that now, instead of frittering away at least another decade in pursuit of some unattainable nuclear dream, then we’d have by far the best chance for providing a secure, fair and genuinely low-carbon energy future for this country.

In conclusion, I’ve answered your four questions, George, even though they’re not necessarily the most important questions.  I’ve not even touched on those issues that matter most to the many people that remain hostile to or sceptical about nuclear power: radiation risk, radioactive waste management, fuel supply and manufacture, decommissioning, coastal siting, water availability, flooding and so on.

And nor have I raised any of the ethical issues associated with our generation opting for another round of nuclear.  High-level nuclear waste remains dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years; nuclear reactors will need to be mothballed for decades whilst decommissioning takes place.  A proportion both of the risks and of the on-going costs associated with this industry will therefore fall on citizens who were not party to these decisions.  For me, there is no way that this can possibly pass the “intergenerational justice” test.

Forgive me going on about this at such length, George.  But I’ve come to the conclusion that your controversialist instincts have blinded you, in this instance, to the inadequacy of your research, the untrustworthiness of your sources and the potentially damaging consequences of your bizarre pro-nuclear advocacy.  You have caused many in the nuclear industry (and in government) to delight in your “Damascene conversion”, an unexpected turn of events that they are already ruthlessly exploiting.  All this might be seen as an acceptable price to pay if you had a solid case to make – which you transparently do not.

References:

Mott MacDonald, “UK Electricity Generation Costs Update”, June 2010
Andrew Broadbent, CES Ltd Social and Economic Research, “Climate Change Committee Censors its Own Study on the Cost of Nuclear Power”, 16/5/11
World Nuclear Status Report 2010-2011, Mycle Schneider, Antony Froggatt and Steve Thomas, World Watch Institute (www.worldwatch.org)
Mott MacDonald “Costs of Low Carbon Generation Technologies”, May 2011
Andrew Broadbent, ibid
  Versicherungsforen Leipzig, http://www.versicherungsforen.net  (The document can be downloaded from http://www.energyfair.org.uk/reports#liabilities )
  Zelenika-Zovko & J.M. Pearce, “Diverting Indirect Subsidies from the Nuclear Industry to the Photovoltaic Industry”, Energy Policy (2011), doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2011.02.031
Sustainable Development Commission, “Is Nuclear the Answer?”, a commentary by Jonathon Porritt
World Nuclear Status Report, ibid
Ernst & Young, UK Solar PV Industry Outlook, June 2011
Ben Cosh, The Green Company, “Utility Scale Solar PV is Competitive with Offshore Wind, www.the-green-company.com
Sustainable Development Commission, ibid
Tim Yeo, as quoted in ENDS report 436, May 2011, p. 49
Greenpeace, “Battle of the Grids: How Europe can go 100% renewable and phase out dirty energy”, June 2011
International Energy Agency, “Harnessing Variable Renewables”, http://www.iea.org/press/pressdetail.asp?PRESS_REL_ID=413
George Monbiot, “The Nuclear Industry Stinks”, Guardian, 5/7/11
World Nuclear Status Report, ibid
  IPCC, Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources (SRREN), May 2011
Jacobson, M. & Delucchi, M.  “100% Renewable Energy Indeed Possible”, http://news.stanford.edu/news/2011/january/jacobson-world-energy-012611.html 
 

 

Add your comment

Comments

19. 08. 2012
Pavan

First, its all a guess but the sun will continue to shine for about anohter 2-4 billion years. So for all practical purposes, its eternal.Solar energy depends on sunshine, one disadvantage is cloudy, overcast, rainy, snow etc. days. No sunshine, no real energy. Another difficulty is converting solar energy, solar panels generate direct current (DC) and this has to be converted to AC current to run appliances, etc. in your house. In order to store solar energy, batteries are required, so the DC current from the solar panels can charge the batteries, and then the DC current must be converted to AC.Solar panels are not cheap but the price is coming down. They also don't last forever and can be damaged by hail, etc.The good news is, solar energy is clean, not pollution except for the manufacture of the panels and for the moment, sunshine is still free.

05. 09. 2011
Christine

Dear Jonathon,
I so enjoyed your response that I blogged about it on our website, http://onestoneadvisors.com/fresh/?p=1091 with the hope that someone might do the same for oil.

I hope we can avoid making a total mess of that special place called the Arctic.
Christine
onestoneadvisors.com/fresh

22. 08. 2011
Byron

George Monbiot unfortunately seems to have developed a bit of a messianic quality. He doesn't seem content anymore with reporting the news now he wants to be it. So he breathlessly jumps the gun on stories before knowing all the facts. We saw this also in his moralizing and lecturing climate scientists immediately following the so-call "climate-gate scandal". Of course it later turned out that they'd done nothing wrong.

Monbiot, is a person I admired previously but who now seems to take himself too seriously.

16. 08. 2011
Peter Winters

Jonathan,

I think both you and George Monbiot deserve great credit for debating this issue. In a nutshell, the main debate seems to be not about nuclear power, but about whether an alternative renewables route is credible without it. I think it probably is possible, but not at all sure.

However, you might be interested that the majority of sustainability professionals do not believe that nuclear is essential to a low-carbon future, according to a Globescan survey released in June this year ...

http://www.globescan.com/findings/?id=22

11. 08. 2011
Pete Roche

Just writing something for no2nuclearpower.org.uk Hope you've seen what Dave Toke says about the CCC
http://realfeed-intariffs.blogspot.com/

10. 08. 2011
BlueRock

Good response, Jonathon.

I skimmed Monbiot's response to this before reading it. Monbiot makes a huge song and dance about Porrit's "vicious" and "vitriolic personal remarks". I suggest that anyone who wants to judge Monbiot's civility in this debate should search 'Helen Caldicott Monbiot debate' - there's a YouTube video and also a podcast / audio on the Guardian. Monbiot demonstrates that he is a nasty, disrespectful bully. He deserves no respect in return.

As for the nuclear vs. renewables debate, there are clear arguments to abandon nuclear:

1. the waste that no one knows where to store for 100,000+ years

2. the risk of catastrophic reactor failure in a clearly destabilising and heating world

3. the escalating cost of nuclear in comparison to the falling cost of renewables

4. time to deployment: a decade for each nuke; weeks or months for renewables

5. the fact that a network of massively distributed micro-generators are not compatible with inflexible nuclear reactors - Google 'Renewable Energies and Base Load Power Plants Are Essentially Incompatible' for a paper from the German renewable energy agency

6. the opportunity cost of nuclear power - by not locking up the £5 or £6 or £10 billion each nuke will cost, we could rapidly deploy massive amounts of renewable energy *now*

7. renewables - wind in particular - produces much less CO2 / kWh than nukes for entire lifecycle - wind = 10 g. and nukes = 66 g. (source: Sovacool)

8. job creation - far more jobs are created for renewables per £ spent than nukes - Germany now employs over 300,000 in their clean tech sector

Every significant way this is analysed, renewables are the optimum solution to mitigating climate change.

P.S. Everyone should be aware that Monbiot is being tutored on energy by a nuke propagandist: Malcolm Grimston - who happens to be George's old school chemistry teacher.

28. 05. 2012
Anonymous

Just watched this. George actually comes off rather better I think. Certainly nothing nasty!

05. 08. 2011
Ian Turnbull

Dear Jonathon
George Monbiot came to Findhorn in April of this year and talked to the Community on the benefits of nuclear power. I was away, and only heard second hand accounts, of how he was listened to by a fairly passive audience who were not equipped with ideas and arguments to counter his authoritative statements.

I've read your response to his advocacy, and the comments of the other followers of this discussion, and would in turn like to contribute some insights about the profound nature of nuclear power. I find they open the door to a positive view of the particle world and suggest the potential we have to address the aches and pains of our nuclear work, by which I mean the issue of the radioactive wastes.

My interest in the nuclear subject began with a nodding acquaintance of the physics of the atom. But a combination of my introspective nature, a curiosity about spiritual matters, my experience of family and community life, and of working at Dounreay, have brought me round to a substantial interest in the metaphysics of the atom. To the point that I think all these weighted discussions and arguments about nuclear power, and the anti-nuclear sentiment, take us away from looking into the Atomic World and the processes of nuclear power with the curiosity and wonderment that they deserve.
I would mention that I worked as a geologist in Canada as a young man, involved for a while in a search for uranium. That work acquainted me with the physics of the atom. I remember being especially intrigued by the central axiom of nuclear physics - how "four interactive forces" are sufficient to explain all the behaviour of the particles.
Now, this is where I need to go off on a tangent: to say that I was newly married about that time, and busy with my wife raising our three children. In this situation, influenced I am sure by the inquisitive habit that is a common trait amongst geologists (and part of our normal human nature) I came to see that these same 'four forces' that nuclear physics identifies in the nucleus of every atom, were equally present within our young family, and contributed significantly in creating relationships of harmony and loyalty (and friction) amongst us all.
Science knows the 'four interactive forces' for their physical attributes. But they can be recognised just as well for their domestic or social characteristics. To my mind, three of them are forms of Love, the fourth (Gravity) is like a form of Authority, in the family setting.

I'm seeking to describe how an awareness slowly developed in me - of our Universe being a symmetrical system of energetic systems, with family-like processes going on at every level, more than our scientific method is able to see or comprehend. We have chopped up the Universe into lots of different subject areas, study these separate from each other, and seldom realise that the same energetic forces are at work and play in every level of this whole multi-tiered universal system.
This is hardly a new insight. The principle was known to the ancients by the simple phrase. "As above, so below". In our time, quantum theorists have rediscovered this overarching concept and renamed it as the "holographic nature of our Universe".

In this mood, I would mention a view of our heavens that I only came to see because I was around our kids when they were quite young, and glimpsed what they, in their innocence, were looking at.
Whereas Modern Astronomy shows us the order and physical nature of our planetary system, the children see the beginning outline of the whole field of Light within which we live and have our being. My adult mind recognises it as a field of particle and waveform energy. In other words - a photon.
A symbolic or metaphysical peek upstairs soon sees the whole parental/family nature of our heavenly experience. We are inside an whole field of feminine power, bounded by masculine strength. Which in turn flags up the extended family nature of our planetary system.
I've prepared a web site to show the shape of this photon, and how we can sense it is there. It is an experiential effect, but no less real because of that.

By now I was pretty respectful of the "holographic paradigm". I worked at Dounreay, on a site investigation being carried out by Nirex. There was an idea of developing an underground repository in the vicinity of the reactor, and we were studying the geology and hydrology of the site.
Being curious and nosey, I joined tours to view the reactor, and also went to the laboratory under the reactor hall where used fuel rods were being cut up for metallurgical testing.
I went there on many occasions, because there was a certain mood in that place which made the women in our group very uneasy, and I wanted to know why or what it was. Going there and sitting quietly and feeling the atmosphere, feeling the feelings in that chamber, it felt as though I was sitting in big slow-moving waves of an hot sadness. Sometimes it was more intense than that, with feelings of despair or of being quite frightened. It was clear to me that I was experiencing the emotional content of the energy radiating from the spent fuel rods, even though they were in a sealed space that we looked into through lead glass windows.

I told the site managers of my experience. But they were preoccupied with operating the reactor, and by the physics of fission, and and could not get their head around what I was talking about.

Regarding the alarming - but deeply revealing - process of nuclear fission, I would commend to you a series of photographs that the French military made when they detonated a nuclear device in the South Pacific in the 1970's.
I have prepared another web site. , in which I have placed these photographs, along with a commentary, in a file marked: "Nuclear Fission is Love briefly blooming".

This sequence of photographs provides our metaphysical mind with an unprecedented look at the social and spiritual processes of fission. The two different forms of energy that are released out of matter by fission are clearly masculine and feminine in their characteristics and behaviour.
This is the right way to study what is going on. The right brain way, if you will, when all we have ever done so far is look with our left brain. Instead of, or as well as, seeing what appears ... look for that which transpires behind that which appears.

As soon as we discern the gender of these two energetic 'ghosts' or 'entities' that form themselves from the mess of universal energy released out of the ruptured uranium atoms, we have the ability to recognise the relationship which they instinctively create together.
It takes a while for our puritanical mind to wrap itself around the idea that these archetypal female and male 'ghosts' are engaged in an intense loving relationship, charged with sexual energy. They clearly consummate their relationship, and then the affair comes to an end, and they separate once again.

We have to work to transcend and set aside all the fear and horror that has been grafted onto nuclear fission. We're lost if we cling to that darkened view. There is a greater need to see the spirited behaviour and instinctive intelligence of these expressions of universal energy.
Remember too, that time moves very quickly in the Atomic World. We see the detonation of a nuclear device taking all of twenty seconds: this same time span is like a weekend in the lives of the two 'ghosts' who form themselves from the energy released out of the atoms. Like Romeo and Juliet, enough time for them to meet and fall in love and fall in lust, and consummate their union before they fall out with each other, and the consequence of this 'hasty affair' becomes the painful hurting cloud of particles, the stuff we know as radiation. An expression of the sadness and despair and loss that follows the break up of this or any good intense relationship. It's something like that. A pain that can linger on for ages.

Our knowledge of the physics of this process is laudable. But it is simply not enough. There is so much more we can read into this dramatic process. This is an holographic Universe. "As above,so below". The same formative universal forces, the same kind of relationships, the same emphasis on family life is going on downstairs as we know in our human dimension. The same pain of separation attends the particle world as we experience in similar situations in our own lives.
Radiation is not uniquely theirs. I expect all of us, at some point in our lives, will know this effect, this sense of loss, the deep blues, and radiate it to others.
This feels good to know. Because we have evolved strategies that help us move on from that painful place, and my favourite idea is that we can explore this whole territory and begin to think how we might learn to ameliorate or heal the pain of radiation that is amongst the fissioned particles.

We can do so much better than burying this emotionally-charged material in deep holes in some remote place. We've the wisdom to recognise the distress amongst the fissioned particles, and the skill to develop a collective technology that can communicate love and compassion into their realm, downstairs from where we are in this our shared universal home.
It's a thesis at the moment. But it can be tested quite easily, once we put our minds to it.

***
Well - that is an outline of the homework I've done that gave me sight in the first place of the holographic nature of our Universe. Our heavenly world is a godsend in that we can use it to practice our two different ways of looking at universal phenomena. The physics and the metaphysics, two equally important forms of knowledge. There's different ways to name this holy partnership. Objective knowledge and subjective experience. Left and right brain perceptions. Combine them in one understanding and the wholesome holy nature of our Universe becomes in my experience very evident. Then we are better prepared to see the whole living nature of the particle world, and the crude and cruel things going on inside of our nuclear reactors.

You'll surely hear that I am exploring an understanding that parallels your own. It makes no sense to me that we would continue our nuclear ventures until we see them in a universal context. Our quest for an whole and holistic view is endemic in society these days and years. I think it is the nuclear industry's turn, and their customers !
If we can glimpse, even the once, that we are working in another dimension that is more social and sentient than we have so far dared to consider - then I think we have broken the ice, broken the log jam of our thinking around the subject of nuclear power.
Pop through the hedge and see the holographic nature of our Universe. Look with both eyes. See that we are inside and part of a sensible, symmetrical, well-ordered universal system, rich with family life. Our nuclear work puts us in touch with this deeper reality. It makes absolute sense then to harness and harvest the domestic energy we need from the abundant supply that cascades down to us from above, rather than extracting it by force from the world below.
Even so, I sense we are on course for an whole lot of new adventures within this next level of our universal home. I can hardly imagine what they are, beyond this initial need to develop an healing approach to the radioactive materials. Get ready. Something good is coming !!

Okay. Thanks for the space to comment. I hope this somehow fits your own dreaming. It certainly clears my mind to write it out like this.

With good wishes

Ian Turnbull

05. 08. 2011
Steve Evans

I would add a fifth reason for the poor potential for co-existence, and I believe that it trumps the others. The detail explanation, and associated modelling, are lengthy but I will try to summarise. Many renewables are intermittent, as is demand. To deliver a reneables-dominant grid we have to use greater installed capacity of renewables than the amount required to meet maximum demand (don't worry, it is still cheap). This creates a system where demand & supply can be matched. Nuclear, on the other hand, is cost effective only when fully used (called 'baseload'). If we have mixed supply, then you MUST keep nuclear turned on full (to keep costs down), hence the variation in demand that the renewables has to meet does not change in quantity, and therefore the installed capacity to deal with that variation does not go down either. In CCC terms that would imply a mix of 40% nuclear, 80% renewable, 15%CCS and 10% gas - I know it does not add up to 100% but that is the nature of coping with intermittency. This eventually implies a renewable system that can nearly cope on its own, being turned off to allow nuclear to keep costs down...

31. 07. 2011
Steve Anstice

My observations are based around looking at the environmental impacts of the technologies we wish to use for future electricity generation, especially those that once built are intended to be contributors for many decades. Clearly there are some major environmental impacts with the new 'old' technology nuclear power stations, except for the CO2 element, which is relatively low.

If, as it seems the case, there are currently other technologies available to us that provide lower environmental impacts, including CO2, we should be focussing on them. If the 'new' nuclear technologies coming through prove themselves to have lower overall impacts, then they should be developed accordingly.

An issue that I feel is not addressed in the new 'old' technology nuclear debate is the inability to use the valuable waste heat emitted directly into the environment from such large stations. My understanding is that the new 'old' technology nuclear stations will be at the very best circa 60% efficient. So, for a 4,000MW total thermal boiler output station the best it can do is to generate 2,400MW of electricity, leaving 1,600MW of waste heat either emitted direct to atmosphere or discharged into the water courses / sea. In other words, 40% of all the major environmental impacts associated with nuclear energy are being created just to add waste heat the environment we are trying to control.

It therefore seems to me that one of the advantages of multiple, relatively small scale distributed electricity generation is, for those technologies that produce waste heat, there is an ability to utilise this valuable heat energy to achieve much higher overall efficiencies, i.e. CHP, which can achieve efficiencies over 90% with the right application.

My main observation therefore is that we should be scientifically assessing, comparing and debating ALL the significant environmental impacts of EACH technology - especially long-term ones such as new 'old' technology nuclear - and rating them accordingly. This will provide us with our priority and mix for the long-term development of a sustainable development based electricity generation plan. As new technoloies come along and are proven, they can be assessed and the priorities adjusted accordingly.

29. 07. 2011
freewilly

I attended a lecture by Monbiot shortly after his volte face on nuclear.
His explanation went as follows:
We have a banking system that demands never ending growth through fractional reserve banking.
We can't change the banking system so....
We must have an energy system that can supply never ending growth.........nuclear.
I kid you not. That was his argument.
When I asked Monbiot why not tackle the route cause - reform the banking system - he replied that he did not know enough about the banking system to tackle the issue. So we have to have nuclear.
I was gobsmacked.
Whether you believe nuclear is an option or not Monbiot's reasoning is akin to someone saying at the time of the slave trade:we can't remove this awful system so let's feed them better to improve their productivity.
Overnight Monbiot went from being a hero to an ass for me and I don't think I'm being harsh.

12. 08. 2011
BlueRock

> We must have an energy system that can supply never ending growth.........nuclear.

This comes as no surprise. Monbiot is now openly citing the Breakthrough Institute to try and shore up his nuke apologetics.

It is a US wingnut 'think' tank that basically advocates that all of our problems can be solved by consuming more.

> Overnight Monbiot went from being a hero to an ass for me and I don't think I'm being harsh.

Judging by comments at the Guardian, there are many people who feel the same. He has no credibility on any subject for me any more. His output on energy has been consistently clueless. He he has all the characteristics of someone in denial over reality in order to protect a *belief*.

Monbiot joins Mark Lynas, Patrick Moore, Lovelace and Stewart Brand - wealthy / posh ageing environmentalists who have effectively given up and embraced the magical techno-solutions sold to them by the corporations that are some of the most responsible for the parlous state the planet is now in.

10. 08. 2011
Shaheer

Actually, there are many more reasons to go nuclear. It seems like you are focusing on that one superficial reason.

There are many pro-nuclear environmentalists and scientists...

Paul Hawkens, Tim Flannery, Jared Diamond, James Lovelock, James Hansen, Steward Brand, Steven Chu, John Holdren, Jesse Ausubel, Peter Ward, Steven Tisdale, Rev. Hugh Montefiore, Al Gore (hush-hush), Bill McKibben (hush-hush..perhaps he has changed his mind after Fukushima), Patrick Moore (appears to play both sides on GW issue, depending on audience)

29. 07. 2011
Mike Ferrigan

I can't claim to understand the complexity of this issue and I don't feel I have to, to be completely anti-nuclear .I don't know how friendly you and George are but the tone of some of your comments towards him seem a tad insulting and are thus likely to be counterproductive.
Much better to treat him with the great respect he deserves and gently persuade him to get back on board?
I find this comment slightly disturbing and contradictory." I’ve always supported the continuation of research into new nuclear technologies. It is indeed conceivable that at some stage in the future new reactor designs could prove to be so superior that we would be mad not to take advantage of such breakthroughs in the supply mix."
For me there are major problems with the proliferation of the "energy needs" line of thought.
Consumption is the primary issue, energy efficiency secondary and renewables third in line, in terms of priority.
Regardless of the IPCC figures,I find it totally inconceivable that the increasing population of the entire planet can be provided with renewable energy for ever to meet their energy "needs".
This is not sustainable due to resource limitations even if these "needs" were to reduce substantially.
There is no indication that all those who aspire to infinite economic growth and the novelty culture around the world wish to limit these aspirations.
So these energy "needs" are likely to increase to maintain the flawed infinite economic growth system.This is a no brainer.
We must also depart from this description of jobs in the renewable sector as being "green" .
Renewables are a grand scale technofix delusion and distraction from the real issue of consumption of unnecessary energy to power unnecessary manufacturing of unnecessary items.
Vast ongoing investment is needed in real green jobs which creat community capacity and cohesion around climate change and sustainability.
The curriculum in our educational establishments needs a complete overhaul to provide our children with the practical education they need to survive the impending impacts of climate change and the skills to develop a new simple quality of life that is truly sustainable.
If we can achieve this on these islands and it replication elsewhere then we have hope for the future.
I can't see this happening,sadly (my daughter left the fridge door open all last night!),but I think this is the path we must put all our energies into following.

29. 07. 2011
Stephen Tindale

Good article. I don't agree with your conclusion though, for reasons I've tried to explain in a post on my Climate Answers website (www.climateanswers.info). We need energy efficiency, renewables, CCS and nuclear.

Stephen

04. 08. 2011
decarbonize

Stephen
Jonathan's article is well researched and argued. It justifiably trashes Monbiot's ridiculous volte-face towards the nuclear industry.
Even though on scientific principles - I speak as a scientist who tries to believe in the possibility of sustainable development - neither Nuclear nor CCS are the way to go, both may provide short term fixes for those who are wrongly fixated on the constancy of energy supply argutment..
Think far more radically, and you see electric cars providing energy storage cells interacting with a "smart grid" that enables renewable energy to be generated and used with suplly and demand.
Thank you again, Jonathon, for a brilliant piece!
Belinda Howell, MD of Decarbonize

29. 07. 2011
Tom Keen

" I believe a 100% renewable supply strategy for the UK is feasible by 2050 at the latest, assuming only that we succeed in reducing total energy consumption in the UK by at least 40% by 2030 through a wholly different approach to energy efficiency than any government has ever demonstrated before."

Yeah it's totally feasible...as long as the UK uses 40 % less energy. That's an arguable claim as it is, but more importantly, there's not a snowball's chance in hell of that happening. And let's face it, electricity demand will likely increase, and increase immensely if electric vehicles are the vehicles of the future. There's a snowball's chance in hell of renewables providing 100 % of the UK's energy.

The only energy technologies which have ever had a serious impact on fossil fuel consumption are nuclear power and hydro power. Hydro power is very limited in how much it can be expanded. This gives the world one proven option for replacing fossil fuels on a large scale. Visionary renewable technologies haven't cut it and aren't cutting it.

08. 08. 2011
Rebecca

Not so impossible to reduce energy consumption by 40%; It will happen anyway and quite soon. A price rise will do it. already people drive less because of petrol prices. I certainly use less electricity in the home because of the cost. If you dont have the money you cant have it. We'll all adapt and pretty quick too.

01. 08. 2011
Andrew Warren

Tom Keen writes there is not a snowball's chance in hell of the UK using less energy than today - indeed electricity demand will "increase immensely if electric vehicles are the vehicles of the future".

Strange therefore that the German government has very specific plans in place to ensure that its citizens are using far less electricity - let alone energy - in future than today.

On its past record of delivering its industrial objectives, do you think Germany hasn't a snowball chance in hell of achieving this? And if they can, why can't we?

10. 08. 2011
Shaheer

One thing that confuses me is that Germany is King of Renewables, yet they are shutting down their 17 GW of nuclear and replacing it with up to 20 GW of new fossil fuel plants. This is coming from money specifically meant to reduce GHGs. Now why in the world would they build more fossil fuel plants, if renewables were so great? Why not take that money and instead devote it to efficiency + 20 GW of renewables, and just keep those nuclear plants online. They're already built..that's a huge waste of concrete and space. It's also replacing a low emission energy source that's online now, for high-emission plants that will exist for 50 years.
I suspect that this is a short term decision and that Germany will ultimately come back to nuclear. All we need is a mass die off so that people awaken to the reality of climate change. People don't realize that Lovelock, Hansen, and Jared Diamond's vision of the future is more correct than the IPCCs mild scenario that doesn't include positive feedbacks or tipping points.

Perhaps it is because they have vast quantities of coal and expect some sort of climate breakdown. The sulfur emissions from their coal plants could cool down the planet temporarily.

28. 07. 2011
Richard Lawson

Hi Jonathon

I'm delighted to see you flag up the point that nuclear power stations, unlike Joe Public's motor car, are let out on the road without fully comp insurance.

Greenpeace did a study on nuclear insurance many years ago, but they never ran with it.

The nuclear power debate is mind-bogglingly complicated, but even a the densest TV interviewer can be made to understand that nuclear power should be insured in the 30 seconds of allotted time available. the insurance point encapsulates nuclear power's safety and economic weakness in a single sound bite.

At present the nukes' liability is capped at £140 million, and later this year the Paris convention that governs this figure will be advised. We have an opportunity to lobby for a fully comp insurance system that is (a) fair and will (b) demonstrate the uneconomic nature of nuclear power.

Incidentally, I asked George Monbiot if he would campaign for nuclear to carry full insurance, and he replied that he would.

So all is not lost. Maybe the prodigal George can be enticed back into the fold.

28. 07. 2011
Rich Heathcote

Two points:
First.
the Green Alliance report of a few years ago on this topic made very a very valid point. If the 10s of £Bns which have been, and still are being spent on nuclear research and build, could have been spent on renewable research and build, just how far could renewables have got? i.e we need a real public/private partnership on really seeing where renewables can go. Currently micro-renewables are too inefficient to play a part, but what if they could - every house/factory providing its own energy! And so little real research investment to date. I really do not think this a pipedream. There are lots of new techs emerging to help this (superconductivity, ceramics, new aerodynamics etc.)
Second.
Please NOT a Severn Barrage, but a collection of carefully placed, upgradeable tidal streams. Not as efficient (at the moment) but SO much less damaging. I have previously requested that tidal stream is considered a part of the official feasibilty studies, and am pleased it now is. Until we have an accepted and robust way of measuring ecosystem service we cannot compromise an estuary as globally unique as the Severn. The barrage schemes I read in the consultation were too much about commercial interest paybacks and not the long term consqequences beyond that. Not acceptable. I was a student of Prof Ron Jones of Cardiff Uni, sadly now deceased, in the 70s and he was both passionate and knowledgeable in this area, and was against a barrage then. Twaite Shads are important, we just don't currently know why.
regards, Rich.

Add a comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.

We appreciate your comments.