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Like Climate Change the coronavirus has threatened all nations. We have learnt
how global answers need to be applied everywhere for everybody. While the
scientific development of several vaccines has been fast and effective, we have
seen how that is just the first step. The mass production of vaccine and its
availability in all countries have met barriers of local jurisdiction, intellectual
property and price that have obstructed the common interest. So too has the
right of anti-vaxxers to opt out. In the resolution of global problems, rights and
intellectual property get suspended in the common interest.
The effect of Climate Change will persist for centuries. The best that science
can offer is mitigation, the opportunity to ensure conditions become no worse
than they might. The revaluation that Climate Change brings will be significant
and long lasting.
Net Zero means new sources of energy, not just in some countries, but in all.
Natural science is unambiguous the physics of energy offers only three types
available in quantity on Earth: those refreshed intermittently by daily sunshine;
those fossilised and laid down over geological time; and nuclear energy whose
origin predates the formation of the Solar System. Their energy concentrations
are vastly different, in the ratios of one, to a thousand, to a billion.
Mankind gave up the weakest, the unreliable weather-related renewables, in
favour of fossil fuels at the time of the Industrial Revolution. As a result, life
expectancy doubled, the population quadrupled, and the human race prospered,
adopting many previously unattainable human rights in the process.
If the use of carbon fuels is now to end, 250 years of progress is at risk. A
reversion to renewables is a backward step. Their unreliability has not
improved. Today their huge “farms” and reservoirs invade the natural
environment, while being at the mercy of a shifting climate and extreme
weather events, as illustrated recently in Texas and California. Nevertheless,
vested interests in fossil fuels use their declining influence to speak in support
of renewables. Standing ready for the failure of wind and solar is now their only
chance to monetise their buried reserves reserves that would be better left
buried and their value written off. Such revaluation hurts.
Since 1945 nuclear technology has acquired a fearsome reputation that lacks
hard evidence. The death toll at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, though terrible, was
similar to that at Tokyo from conventional bombing. In both cases blast and fire
killed many people, but radiation added less than 1% to the death toll. Yet
during the Cold War, fear of radiation was an important weapon, and oil
interests were content to accept the demonisation of nuclear energy that
threatened them, even then. Meanwhile, following the work of Marie Curie high
levels of radiation have been used to cure cancer in clinics worldwide for over a
century, and people are pleased to welcome that.
Nonetheless, an aversion to civil nuclear was institutionalised, and protection
against radiation was supposedly assured by draconian regulations approved by
the UN. As a result, the deployment of nuclear power has been weighed down
with caution and overdesign that have made such plants unreasonably expensive
and slow to construct. In fact, the record of the past fifty year shows nuclear to
be the safest of any source of power. At Fukushima the death toll was zero and
at Chernobyl less than fifty, though the media, always searching for a source of
putative excitement, have scripted otherwise as with murder mysteries and
other thrillers.
Although the anti-nukes, the “antivaxxers” of nuclear, established their creed
long ago, in recent years some studied the science and admitted to changing
their minds, as they explained in a full-length video, “Pandora’s Promise”.
However, others lack the intellectual courage to reconsider and see their
It may seem strange that a source of energy as powerful as nuclear with its
radiation should be so safe. But science explains why this is so. Physics ensures
that nuclei “self-distance” – so thoroughly that not one in a million has changed
since the Earth was formed. Also, when life began, radiation in the environment
from rocks and space was more intense than today, so that biology had to evolve
protection against it to survive. Our existence here today is evidence of its
If the basis of the “vaccine” for Net Zero is nuclear, which reactor design is the
right choice? Existing older plants can still contribute, but the new versatile
modular reactors are smaller and cheaper because they can be factory built.
There are many realistic contenders that also offer district heating, hydrogen
production, desalination and vertical farming. In the next ten years we will have
a good idea which will best serve a midsized community. But then there is the
roll out.
The production of one to two reactors every week for thirty years is the gift the
human race needs. But the world’s values have become too unequally spread for
many to pay their share. The stress of fulfilling the common interest will be
immense, locally and internationally. The Industrial Revolution brought tough
new value alignments, and so will this – but there is no viable alternative and it
will be painful.
A world initiative in technical training is needed if nuclear power is to be
assimilated. To make inroads on public opinion, better science education in
schools should reassure the next generation. That will take thirty years, too.
Though many may question the need for this programme now, an era of
frequent blackouts and extreme weather events may expose the true worth of
this altruistic solution. And the cost? Less, and of greater value, than any
suppose today.
Details and references:
1. Nature Energy and Society
2. Marie Curie and Nuclear Power
3. Radiation and Life – the evidence
4. Radiation and Reason
5. Nuclear is for Life
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