"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

British PM Blair Moves to Right on Energy Policy, Endorses Nuclear Power

A story that has received all too little attention in recent weeks is the movement of British PM Tony Blair toward the American Right's positions on energy policy, positions that the Bush administration has held rhetorically but only fitfully in terms of action. (Although, for example, Bush has left Kyoto dead as it was when he entered office, and he has said the right things about it and other energy issues, his energy bill was loaded with pork, and he has done little to nothing to forward development of nuclear electric power in the United States.) Blair, by contrast, once supported Kyoto but has in recent months adopted the U.S. position.

(Kyoto would have set severe restrictions on U.S. emissions of chlorofluorocarbons, as well as those of other high-wealth nations, at great economic cost, while refraining from regulating emissions in highly polluting nations such as China and India, in an attempt to decrease global warming by a very small amount. The United States Senate voted down the bill to sign on to Kyoto during the Clinton administration by a margin of 95-0; then-President Clinton supported the bill but could not get a single vote for it in the Senate.)

The following excerpts from a forthcoming article in Environment and Climate News (which this author serves as senior editor) indicate the extent of Blair's change of policy:

In [recent weeks in] an editorial published in a leading British newspaper and in comments at a meeting of environmental ministers from the world’s leading economies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair distanced himself from the Kyoto Protocol and supported the longstanding U.S. position that developing nations must be included in any meaningful global warming treaties. Blair also agreed with the U.S. stance that technological development rather than top-down government mandates must drive carbon dioxide reductions.

“The difficulties with the current climate change debate,” Blair wrote in an October 30 editorial in the London Guardian and Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5321811-102273,00.html) titled “Get Real on Climate Change,” amount to “a reluctance to face up to reality and the practical action needed to tackle problems.”

“We must understand that neither issue [climate change and energy supply] can realistically be dealt with unless the US, the EU, Russia, Japan, China and India work together,” Blair explained. . . .

Blair noted that Kyoto will not do what its advocates claim, even if it had U.S. support:

Kyoto doesn't even stabilize [greenhouse gas emissions]. It won't work as intended, either, unless the U.S. is part of it. It's easy to take frustrations out on the Bush Administration but people forget that the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto when Bill Clinton was in the White House,” Blair observed. “We have to understand as well that, even if the U.S. did sign up to Kyoto, it wouldn't affect the huge growth in energy consumption we will see in India and China. China is building close to a new power station every week.”

“The first Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012,” Blair noted. “The challenge is what will come next. Will it be another round of division or what we need: a sound, rational, science-based unity, which ensures the right legally-binding framework to incentivize sustainable development?” Blair asked.

“None of this is going to happen unless the major developed and emerging nations sit down together and work it out, in a way that allows us all to grow, imposes no competitive disadvantage and enables the transfer of the technology needed for sustainable growth to take place,” Blair concluded.

Blair followed up on his editorial by telling the environmental ministers meeting in Britain, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge. But all economies know that the only sensible, long-term way to develop is to do it on a sustainable basis” http://www.cnsnews.com/news/ViewPrint.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200511\FOR20051102c.html).

Moving from problems to solutions, Blair has embraced the production of electricity through greater use of nuclear power, which his party has long opposed. A week ago, November 22, Blair told the House of Commons liaison committee, "With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions Government has got to take. And in the end it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country. . . . About energy security and supply that will mean issues that are bound to be extremely controversial."

Speaking at a conference today, Blair made his position explicit:

"The issue back on the agenda with a vengeance is energy policy. Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency. I can today announce that we have established a review of the UK’s progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals. The Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, will be in the lead, with the aim of publishing a policy statement on energy in the early summer of 2006. It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations."

The Times of London noted that Blair and his top advisors have already made their decision:

"Although the Government remains officially neutral on the outcome of the review, environment campaigners say that Mr Blair has become convinced that building new nuclear power stations is the only way to secure future energy needs."

This decision led to a comically ineffectual protest by two Greenpeace members at the conference, which infuriated conference attendees despite its lack of effect. One suspects that the protests will increase in the coming weeks as Britain gears up to increase its production of electricity through use of nuclear power.

Now, if only President Bush would take a similarly bold stand on the subject.


14 comments:

Tlaloc said...

Nuclear Fission is a dead end. Limited fuel, large amount of space required per watt generated, uncontainable highly toxic byproducts, and a nightmare as far accidents or terrorism. All around it's the single worst direction we could go in. That being the case I'm totally not shocked that Blair went for it. In case you haven't noticed the guy isn't exactly very good at his job.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What would be really cool is to build a nuclear power plant at ANWR.

Tlaloc said...

Good to see you take the topic seriously.

Kathy Hutchins said...

This move indicates that the British public, and the Labour Party, has finally managed to overcome the intense irrationality about nukes created by the incident at Sellafield. Would that we similarly could someday have, in this country, a reasonable discussion about nuclear power free of all the half-baked myths people still believe about Three Mile Island.

tbmbuzz said...

A nice summary that debunks misconceptions about nuclear energy. Nuclear fission is not a dead end, fuel is not limited, large amounts of space per watt generated are not required, engineering solutions exist to handle the toxic byproducts, the risks from accidents and terrorism are comparable to, and in most cases less than the risks from other energy sources and other industrial operations, and all around it is a pretty good direction to go in, despite the support from a George Bush ally.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary link tbm ... or do I call you buzz?

Tlaloc said...

TBMBUZZ, read it again.

First off it's from a professor of computer science. I'm a physicist. Guess which of us has a tad more experience looking at nuclear reactions. Okay now guess again.

Second off he relies entirely on unproven possible sources of uranium (sea water and coal remnants). Those ideas might pan out but, well, nobody has done anything like that successfully yet. Maybe before we build another 300 plants in the US we should be sure it'd work.

Third, while he's right that a number of long term storage ideas have been propsed he leaves out that every single one of them that has been attempted has failed to contain the material. Every one. Is that in anyway unclear? In every case there has been leakage of radioactive materials outside of the containment, sometimes into groundwater supplies.

fourth he shoots himself in the foot when he discusses Chernobyl for a number of reasons. For instance he says that making 20 square miles of land uninhabitable for any forseeable future is not very important. A sane person just might disagree. He also compares the after incident mortality rate to that of coal mines operating in the soviet union. A sane person might point out that all those deaths came from hundreds if not thousands of mines while chernobyl was a single plant.

Fifth he mentions that the US navy has used nuclear energy safely for years. Sure but then again it isn't the military that will run american nuke plants now is it? No it's provate companies who have an absolutely abyssmal history of security. Trust me I live all too close to the old Trojan Nuke site in Oregon. It was mismanaged from day one and frequently failed security tests.

McCarthy is quite convinced that humans can expand infinitely and is willing to make any leap of judgement required to support his conclusion.

tbmbuzz said...

LOL!

My nickname is Buzz, as my given Slavic name is too much for most rednecks to handle. The 'tbm' in my internet persona involves the work I've been involved in for the past nearly 20 years, although strictly speaking for the past 4 years I've been out of the tactical area and in the strategic area instead. I leave it up to the reader to figure out the acronym TBM.

tbmbuzz said...

Tlaloc, as a physicist myself, I reach the exact opposite conclusions you do.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, as a physicist myself, I reach the exact opposite conclusions you do. "

Then by all means explain your reasoning instead of relying on a Computer Scientist who clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

The quotes by Ehrlich on that site are priceless!

TBM ... hmmm ... The Bomb Maker? :)

tbmbuzz said...

Then by all means explain your reasoning instead of relying on a Computer Scientist who clearly doesn't know what he's talking about.


It will be a trivial matter to do so merely by responding to your points, but let's get your standard modus operandi of resorting to one of the ad hominem fallacies out of the way first: the fact that the author of the article is a computer scientist is irrelevant to the discussion here. Address his points, not his persona. (Thank God he doesn't work at the Cato Institute, eh?)

Second off he relies entirely on unproven possible sources of uranium (sea water and coal remnants).

No, he doesn't. Read his statement #5 again. Uranium from conventional sources is available for hundreds more years, maybe a thousand.

while he's right that a number of long term storage ideas have been proposed he leaves out that every single one of them that has been attempted has failed to contain the material.

Then what is the federal plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain all about? Show proof of this absurd claim. The engineering solutions exist; the only remaining problems are political.

he shoots himself in the foot when he discusses Chernobyl for a number of reasons. For instance he says that making 20 square miles of land uninhabitable for any forseeable future is not very important. A sane person just might disagree. He also compares the after incident mortality rate to that of coal mines operating in the soviet union. A sane person might point out that all those deaths came from hundreds if not thousands of mines while chernobyl was a single plant.

Chernobyl is a red herring in this argument because modern Western nuclear plants are designed completely differently. A sane person could also easily argue that the extremely (virtually) unlikely event of a catastrophic meltdown is a perfectly acceptable risk compared to the reward. And you have missed completely the point of the risk analysis of the coal industry vs the nuclear. Far more deaths occur over a given period of time as a result of using coal as an energy source. True, a nuclear incident is likely to be more damaging than any one coal incident but the point is that there are thousands of coal incidents (as well as a continuing cumulative effect from coal pollution) for every one nuclear incident. Your argument is the same as saying that air travel is less safe than travel by automobile because more people die in an airplane crash than a car crash.

he mentions that the US navy has used nuclear energy safely for years. Sure but then again it isn't the military that will run american nuke plants now is it? No it's provate companies who have an absolutely abyssmal history of security.


How many incidents with death and destruction have occurred over the past half century as a result of this "absolutely abyssmal history of security"? To put it mildly, history belies your assertion, not to mention your questionable anecdotal evidence. Nuclear plants post-9/11, in fact, are more aware than ever of security concerns. Besides, government regulations mandate security procedures. Your objection is a non-starter.

tbmbuzz said...

TBM ... hmmm ... The Bomb Maker? :)

Good one, real good! As close as you can get, in fact. The acronym actually stands for 'tactical ballistic missile'. :)

Tlaloc said...

"It will be a trivial matter to do so merely by responding to your points, but let's get your standard modus operandi of resorting to one of the ad hominem fallacies out of the way first: the fact that the author of the article is a computer scientist is irrelevant to the discussion here. Address his points, not his persona. (Thank God he doesn't work at the Cato Institute, eh?)"

I did address his points but strangely when looking for an expert on a field you are best going to, well, an expert in the field not someone trained in an entirely different subject. Just FYI.



"No, he doesn't. Read his statement #5 again. Uranium from conventional sources is available for hundreds more years, maybe a thousand."

Did you bother to read the second half of point number five? It explains that the "billions" of years argument relies on *tada* uranium from seawater or coal residue. Hence when I said that "he relies entirely on unproven possible sources of uranium (sea water and coal remnants)" I was, you know, right.



"Then what is the federal plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain all about?"

It was exactly the same as previous storage attempts.


"Show proof of this absurd claim. The engineering solutions exist; the only remaining problems are political."

"Like any geologic formation, Yucca Mountain is criss-crossed by cracks and fissures. Some of these cracks extend from the planned storage area all the way to the water table 1000 feet (300 m) below. It is feared by some that these cracks may provide a route for radioactive waste after the predicted containment failure of the waste containers several hundred years from now."

Key words "predicted containment failure." In other words it is known that the waste cannot be contained indefinitely. It eats through any storage set up for it.

"According to Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects, "since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within [an 80km] radius of Yucca Mountain." The largest of these earthquakes was in 1992, with a magnitude of 5.6. There are 33 faults in, or near, the repository site."

Source for both quotes


"Attention was drawn to these developments at the International
Conference on the Safety of Radioactive Waste Management, held in Córdoba,
Spain, in March 2000. A conclusion of the conference was that perpetual storage
of radioactive waste is not a sustainable practice and offers no solution for
the future...

Storage is a necessary phase in safely managing most types of radioactive
waste. During the storage phase, for example, the radiation levels and heat generation
intensities may decrease to more manageable levels.Also, storage is a
necessary part of waste treatment and conditioning programmes. Storage has
been carried out safely within the past few decades, and there is a high degree
of confidence that it can be continued safely for limited periods of time."

IAEA

Note "limited periods of time."


"A leak of highly radioactive nuclear fuel dissolved in concentrated nitric acid, enough to half fill an Olympic-size swimming pool, has forced the closure of Sellafield's Thorp reprocessing plant."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/nuclear/article/0,2763,1479527,00.html


"Radiation control authorities have detected increased levels of radiation in the bay outside Zvezda naval yard in Bolshoi Kamen, 35 km east of Vladivostok, in the Russian Far East. The source of the contamination is underground tanks for liquid radioactive waste from the Pacific Fleets' nuclear submarines."

http://www.bellona.no/en/international/russia/navy/pacific/incidents/7652.html


"Radioactive water is leaking from the nuclear waste store in Forsmark, Sweden. The content of radioactive caesium in sampled water is ten times the normal value. Statens strålskyddsinstitut (SSI, the Swedish Radiation Protection Authority) believes that the leakage originates from waste barrels that have corroded, since the radioactive water is leaking out from the waste disposal area of the Forsmark power plant. The radiation is, however, still within the allowed limits according to SSI. The waste is low and intermediate level waste. No high level waste has been reported. A new roof is to be constructed for the chamber containing the barrels."

http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Radioactive_leakage_at_Swedish_nuclear_waste_store


"1983
The Department of Energy confirmed that 1,200 tons of mercury had been released over the years from the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Components Plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the U.S.'s earliest nuclear weapons production plant. In 1987, the DOE also reported that PCBs, heavy metals, and radioactive substances were all present in the groundwater beneath Y-12. Y-12 and the nearby K-25 and X-10 plants were found to have contaminated the atmosphere, soil and streams in the area.

December 1984
The Fernald Uranium Plant, a 1,050-acre uranium fuel production complex 20 miles northwest of Cincinnati, Ohio, was temporarily shut down after the Department of Energy disclosed that excessive amounts of radioactive materials had been released through ventilating systems. Subsequent reports revealed that 230 tons of radioactive material had leaked into the Greater Miami River valley during the previous thirty years, 39 tons of uranium dust had been released into the atmosphere, 83 tons had been discharged into surface water, and 5,500 tons of radioactive and other hazardous substances had been released into pits and swamps where they seeped into the groundwater. In addition, 337 tons of uranium hexafluoride was found to be missing, its whereabouts completely unknown. In 1988 nearby residents sued and were granted a $73 million settlement by the government. The plant was not permanently shut down until 1989.

1986
After almost 40 years of cover-ups, the U.S. Government released 19,000 pages of previously classified documents which revealed that the Hanford Engineer Works was responsible for the release of significant amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere and the adjacent Columbia River. Between 1944 and 1966, the eight reactors, a source of plutonium production for atomic weapons, discharged billions of gallons of liquids and billions of cubic meters of gases containing plutonium and other radioactive contaminants into the Columbia River, and the soil and air of the Columbia Basin. Although detrimental effects were noticed as early as 1948, all reports critical of the facilities remained classified. By the summer of 1987, the cost of cleaning up Hanford was estimated to be $48.5 billion. The Technical Steering Panel of the government-sponsored Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project released the following statistics in July 1990: Of the 270,000 people living in the affected area, most received low doses of radiation from Iodine, but about 13,500 received a total dose some 1,300 times the annual amount of airborne radiation considered safe for civilians by the Department of Energy. Approximately 1,200 children received doses far in excess of this number, and many more received additional doses from contaminants other than Iodine. [See also May 1997 and July 2000.]

1987
The Idaho Falls Post Register reported that plutonium had been found in sediments hundreds of feet below the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, an experimental reactor testing station and nuclear waste storage site.

1988
The National Research Council panel released a report listing 30 "significant unreported incidents" at the Savannah River production plants over the previous 30 years. As at Hanford (see 1986), ground water contamination resulted from pushing production of radioactive materials past safe limits at this weapons complex. In January 1989, scientists discovered a fault running under the entire site through which contaminants reached the underground aquifer, a major source of drinking water for the southeast. Turtles in nearby ponds were found to contain radioactive strontium of up to 1,000 times the normal background level.

6 June 1988
Radiation Sterilizers, Incorporated reported that a leak of Cesium-137 had occurred at their Decatur, Georgia facility. Seventy thousand medical supply containers and milk cartons were recalled as they had been exposed to radiation. Ten employees were also exposed, three of whom "had enough on them that they contaminated other surfaces" including materials in their homes and cars, according to Jim Setser at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

October 1988
The Rocky Flats, Colorado plutonium bomb manufacturing site was partially closed after two employees and a Department of Energy inspector inhaled radioactive particles. Subsequent investigations revealed safety violations (including uncalibrated monitors and insufficient fire-response equipment) and leaching of radioactive contaminants into the local groundwater.

24 November 1992
The Sequoyah Fuels Corp. uranium processing factory in Gore, Oklahoma closed after repeated citations by the Government for violations of nuclear safety and environmental rules. It's record during 22 years of operation included an accident in 1986 that killed one worker and injured dozens of others and the contamination of the Arkansas River and groundwater. The Sequoyah Fuels plant, one of two privately-owned American factories that fabricated fuel rods and armor-piercing bullet shells, had been shut down a week before by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission when an accident resulted in the release of toxic gas. Thirty-four people sought medical attention as a result of the accident. The plant had also been shut down the year before when unusually high concentrations of uranium were detected in water in a nearby construction pit. [Also see 6 January 1986 for details of an additional incident.] A Government investigation revealed that the company had known for years that uranium was leaking into the ground at levels 35,000 times higher than Federal law allows; Carol Couch, the plant's environmental manager, was cited by the Government for obstructing the investigation and knowingly giving Federal agents false information.

May 1997
A 40 gallon tank of toxic chemicals, stored illegally at the U.S. Government's Hanford Engineer works exploded, causing the release of 20,000-30,000 gallons of plutonium-contaminated water. A cover-up ensued, involving the contractors doing clean-up and the Department of Energy, who denied the release of radioactive materials. They also told eight plant workers that tests indicated that they hadn't been exposed to plutonium even though no such tests actually were conducted (later testing revealed that in fact they had not been exposed). Fluor Daniel Hanford Inc., operator of the Hanford Site, was cited for violations of the Department of Energy's nuclear safety rules and fined $140,625. Violations associated with the explosion included the contractor's failure to assure that breathing devices operated effectively, failure to make timely notifications of the emergency, and failure to conduct proper radiological surveys of workers. Other violations cited by the DOE included a number of events between November 1996 and June 1997 involving Fluor Daniel Hanford's failure to assure adherence to PFP "criticality" safety procedures. ("Criticality" features are defined as those features used "to assure safe handling of fissile materials and prevention of...an unplanned and uncontrolled chain reaction that can release large amounts of radiation.") [See also 1986 and July 2000.]"

http://www.lutins.org/nukes.html


getting the point yet? Containment fails because there is literqlly nothing you can put these materials into that they do not eventually destroy. At best you can delay the leakage for a considerable time, which is certainly a step in the right direction and what we should be doing with the nuclear waste we have, but it's an iron clad argument against producing more.



"Chernobyl is a red herring in this argument because modern Western nuclear plants are designed completely differently."

While it's true that the specific design is different and the possibility of an identical crisis is very small its not a red herring for the simple reason that the same slip shod cheapest possible engineering is used in modern nuke plants (as evidenced by their abyssmal safety record).



"True, a nuclear incident is likely to be more damaging than any one coal incident but the point is that there are thousands of coal incidents (as well as a continuing cumulative effect from coal pollution) for every one nuclear incident."

Yes but why is that? Because we use nuclear very sparingly. In other words if we expand nuclear dramatically to reduce coal usage we'll see a corresponding increase in those incredibly devastating nuclear accidents.



"Your argument is the same as saying that air travel is less safe than travel by automobile because more people die in an airplane crash than a car crash."

And if we decided to replace cars with airplanes would total fatalities go up or down? Up.



"How many incidents with death and destruction have occurred over the past half century as a result of this "absolutely abyssmal history of security"?"

Are you joking? Read the list above and then realize that I omitted everything before 1980 and eveything that wasn't connected to waste storage. And those are just from in the United States. Are you really trying to pretend that the nuclear industry has a good safety record?