Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nuclear power is just not an option.

"Chernobyl opened my eyes like nothing else. It showed the horrible consequences of nuclear power, even when used for non-military purposes."
Michael Gorbachev
April 2006.

Australia is set to become the world's leading exporter of uranium to China based on a promise by the Chinese leadership to never, ever use Australian uranium in nuclear weapons (and presumably to never use such a weapon on us or our interests). John Howard has not even ruled out Australia using nuclear power:

"My philosophy is that if it became economically attractive, I would not oppose [nuclear power] any more than I oppose the export of uranium."

While we brace ourselves for a nuclear future, it is worth considering the past. It was 20 years ago that the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melted down, and Russian authorities are still trying to contain the fallout. There is a 30 kilometer security radius around the site. The IAEA believe that radiation exposure will lead to the deaths of 4000 people. There have been 4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mostly in children. Over 350,000 people were displaced.

After more than 50 years we still do not have an answer to the vexing issues of nuclear proliferation, or nuclear waste.

It is also expensive. Those who champion nuclear power as an alternative to fossil-fuel emissions may not know just how much:

On March 30 Britain estimated it will cost $170 billion to clean up its 20 [decomissioned] nuclear sites. In the US, direct subsidies to nuclear energy totalled $115 billion between 1947 and 1999, with a further $145 billion in indirect subsidies. In contrast, subsidies to wind and solar energy combined during the same period totalled only $5.5 billion. Those costs don't include the black hole of nuclear waste - because there is no solution.

There is enough civil plutonium reprocessed worldwide, about 250,000 kilograms, to generate 60,000 nuclear weapons. Clandestine nuclear weapons are easier to make. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA warns about this potential for proliferation, "Our fears of a deadly nuclear detonation...have been reawakened...driven by new realities. The rise in terrorism. The discovery of clandestine nuclear programs. The emergence of a nuclear black market."

Anthony Albanese, the federal Opposition environment spokesman is urging us to consider these realities in holding the nuclear debate. His conclusion is that we should instead be leading the world in the adoption of clean energy, and be part of the $1 trillion industry that is emerging globally in carbon-friendly technologies. ::: [SMH]

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