Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Why not nuclear?

Why not more nuclear power? The economics of more nuclear at Hinkley Point (pictured) are sound aren’t they? Nuclear has failed to keep its promise of providing cheap electricity even though at one point it was claimed it would be too cheap to meter. To make the Hinkley C nuclear deal happen EDF have been guaranteed almost double the current market rate for electricity and UK households look set to pay over the odds bills as a result .Everyone acknowledges the very high capital costs and nobody yet knows for sure what decommissioning costs will finally be because we have insufficient experience of it. Nuclear is a very large drain on both public and private resources that we should be directing into energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, the only sustainable options in any case.

But it’s low carbon and would help fight climate change…It’s very slow and ineffective at this, taking many years to build and even more to pay back the carbon costs of construction, mining and transport. Energy efficiency measures are orders of magnitude faster and more effective – and bring wider benefits such as paying for itself in lower bills. The Government's own [former] advisors at the Sustainable Development Commission produced figures to show that even doubling nuclear capacity would cut the UK's carbon emissions by just 8% and then not until 2035.  
It would make us less dependent on imported energy though wouldn’t it? Well, uranium oxide from which nuclear fuel for power stations is made comes from abroad eg Canada (27.9% of world production) and Australia (22.8%) being the largest producers and Kazakhstan (10.5%), Russia (8.0%), Namibia (7.5%), Niger (7.4%), Uzbekistan (5.5%), the United States (2.5%), Ukraine (1.9%) and China (1.7%).

Nuclear is about having an innovative economy though, built by entrepreneurs right? No, nuclear technology is hardly the kind that can be tinkered with, adapted and developed by small and medium-sized businesses and individuals unlike energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy technologies which are amenable and are rapidly

There are very large amounts of uranium ore in the ground though to make the fuel from. Yes but if nuclear power spreads more uranium ore is mined, the quality of the ore falls and the energy cost of mining it goes up. A mass nuclear power program would rapidly exhaust high quality ores and the uranium being mined would provide far less energy per tonne of rock.

Nuclear is a tried and tested technology though isn’t it? It’s failed the test of time and does not come out well if technical capabilities and limitations, total cost-effectiveness, socio-economic effects such as efficiency of job creation and the ability to keep safe and accurate records of nuclear waste disposal for thousands of yrs, and environmental impacts are all fairly considered. Nuclear certainly does not fit in with building a sustainable society because no-one disputes that it leaves ongoing problems for future generations in the form of nuclear waste (being transported through Bristol by train, below) and the finite nature of its fuel.


We will find solutions to nuclear waste disposal though…There are huge nuclear waste handling, storage, transport and disposal problems and there is no scientific consensus on the best way to do it, for existing waste let alone the extra produced from more nuclear stations. Conservative politician Sir Hugh Rossi once said 'With waste that can be active for thousands of yrs, guaranteeing that the institutions would be stable beyond periods which have so far proved to be whole lifetimes of civilisations would be impossible.'
We’ve learned a lot from our mistakes though haven’t we? Huge mistakes are still being made. There are also a whole range of safety and security issues for nuclear stations: with major accidents like Three Mile Island, USA in 1979, Chernobyl USSR in 1986, Windscale, UK in 1957; and Fukushima, Japan in 2011 (see image below).

It’s highly problematic: predicting and minimising human error in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning process; establishing safe levels of radioactivity; safely transporting nuclear waste by rail and road, including through cities like Bristol (shown in photo of train above), for safe disposal for thousands of yrs; planning what it is best to do in the event of a serious incident/accident; whether we can effectively prevent terrorist attacks eg by flying planes into stations, driving cars/lorries loaded up to be bombs. The consequences of just one very serious incident have the potential to be very large and long-lasting in scale as Fukushima and Chernobyl demonstrate.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Climate change: a matter of human rights

Climate change is a major threat to the realization of human rights as others participating in Blog Action Day (2013 theme human rights) will also say. People living in poverty are feeling the effects soonest and most sharply as the map below showing the distribution of deaths due to climate change in 2000 clearly shows. It’s essential that human rights are on the agenda at all the key meetings aimed at tackling climate change if effective solutions are to be enacted.

The latest IPCC report on the scientific evidence again reconfirmed: shrinking snow, sea ice, glaciers and polar ice caps; rising sea levels; more frequent weather extremes such as excessive temperatures and excessive rainfall and flooding; more drought affected land; more intense tropical cyclones, and more. Fundamental rights to life, health, water, food, and housing are clearly impacted - such as through more frequent and severe wildfires or water shortages or failed or destroyed crops - and are forecast to be impacted even more severely if we don’t tackle climate change. New research by the Overseas Development Institute shows that extreme weather can be the most important cause of poverty.

Actions on climate change need to protect human rights. If not then the effectiveness of preparing for climate change impacts and the effectiveness of attempts at slowing it and cutting the harm it can do is reduced. Rights to information, fairness, participation and accountability are particularly important.

Solutions are much harder to find and implement without free access to information about the nature and extent of the problem and potential and applied actions. Governments and others should therefore provide for and enable the flow and spread of good quality information on climate change, action taken and its impacts. It’s part of the duty of Government to provide and explain information about risks and opportunities, not least in relation to environmental change.

Well informed people are enabled to actively participate in decision making. Governments should be engaging with the public through meaningful consultation, genuinely involving people. Without the participation of civil society in the design of climate change adaptation and mitigation policies their social sustainability may be limited.

Well informed people are enabled to fight discrimination. Climate change is impacting more on those already vulnerable to human rights abuses because of poverty, age, gender, race, ethnicity, disability and more. Climate change policies that unfairly discriminate and don’t aid the fight against discrimination are inconsistent with genuine, coherent approaches to achieving sustainability. Fairness means meeting needs now and into the future, sharing resources over time and across distances, working together, fighting  discrimination, trading fairly, trading sustainably, dealing with risks and costs now and not passing them on to our children and theirs, conserving resources so that they are always available.

Those who disagree with their Government should be able to freely express their views, associate with like-minded people and assemble to peacefully protest. This is a crucial feature of an informed society with decent opportunities to participate. Action or lack of action on climate change needs to be subjected to public debate and pressure. It’s healthy that people seek, receive and spread information and ideas and, far from being suppressed in doing so, are encouraged to do so. Governments should be accountable for their actions or failure to act on climate change and people should have the power to get them to put their mistakes right.
More on: climate change and human rights http://www.ichrp.org/en/projects/136; the Universal Declaration on Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/; British Institute of Human Rights http://www.bihr.org.uk/.