(AP) — Global warming and rocketing oil prices are making nuclear power fashionable, drawing a once demonized industry out of the shadows of the Chernobyl disaster as a potential shining knight of clean energy.
Britain is the latest to recommit itself to the energy source, with its government announcing support Thursday for the construction of new nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants produce around 20 percent of Britain’s electricity, but all but one are due to close by 2023.
However, some countries hopping on the nuclear bandwagon have abysmal industrial safety records and corrupt ways that give many pause for thought.
China has 11 nuclear plants and plans to bring more than 30 others online by 2020. And a Massachusetts Institute of Technology report projects that it may need to add as many as 200 reactors by 2050.
Of the more than 100 nuclear reactors now being built, planned or on order, about half are in China, India and other developing nations. Argentina, Brazil and South Africa plan to expand existing programs; and Vietnam, Thailand, Egypt and Turkey are among the countries considering building their first reactors.
The concerns are hardly limited to developing countries. Japan’s nuclear power industry has yet to recover from revelations five years ago of dozens of cases of false reporting on the inspections of nuclear reactor cracks.
The Swedish operators of a German reactor came under fire last summer for delays in informing the public about a fire at the plant. And a potentially disastrous partial breakdown of a Bulgarian nuclear plant’s emergency shutdown mechanism in 2006 went unreported for two months until whistle-blowers made it public.
Nuclear transparency will be an even greater problem for countries such as China that have tight government controls on information. Those who mistrust the current nuclear revival are still haunted by the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor and the Soviet Union’s attempts to hide the full extent of the catastrophe. Further back in the collective memory is the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979.
The revival, the International Atomic Energy Agency projects, means that nuclear energy could nearly double within two decades to 691 gigawatts – 13.3 percent of all electricity generated.
“We are facing a nuclear renaissance,” Anne Lauvergeon, CEO of the French nuclear energy firm Areva, told an energy conference. “Nuclear’s not the devil any more. The devil is coal.”
In the mainstream perception, global warming is man-made (an argument for another time). Fossil fuels such as coal is a villain because it is just plain dirty when it is burned. The smoke rises into the upper atmosphere, the CO2 particles mix with the water particles forming hydrogen sulfide acid which is carried by the prevailing winds. When these clouds reach a mountain range they have to go over, voila! Acid rain falls. That’s not so good for plant life, it tends to kill them.
So what do we do in the meantime to maintain our collective lifestyles of consumerism and personal excess? What do the expanding nascent powers India and China use to feed their growing consumerism?
Nuclear power say the big-shots. Nuclear reactors being built now are safer with fewer moving parts they say.
That may be so. But nuclear fission has a problem that will always be a bugaboo. Radioactive waste. More to the point, storage of the stuff. Nobody wants it, nobody needs it and one of the main reasons older reactors are being shut down. They run out of storage space.
Personally, I think the money they plan on using to build nuclear reactors ought to be used to develop cheaper launching systems in order to launch large solar collector satellites. Solar power is cheaper, safer and it doesn’t pose a storage problem. Even the Pentagon thinks solar is the way to go.
Nuclear energy has it’s own unique problems and solutions for the nations that plan to build their reactors. Radiation and storage aren’t the only issues. Politics play into it as well.
Ask the Iranians.