Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Say yes to nuclear power - it's what we need.

I came across this article in the online edition of the New Statesman about nuclear power. Look it's easy to understand - the current setup of burning oil, coal, and gas produces nasty greenhouse gases; nuclear doesn't produce any so we should turn to that instead. A good old latch onto the green agenda to push something that certainly isn't policy

As a bonus the waste that is produced can be used as a fertiliser for crops with the added benefits that the glow from the fields will reduce acccidents on unlit streets (and reduce the need for street lighting) and reduce the need for pesticides as crops mutate to defend themselves. On the downside it will put crop-picker on the list of high-risk jobs.

Okay joking aside why the push for nuclear over solar/wind/water power? Well the first argument is power, that's wattage not political or business (ha!), one station can produce more power then the equivalent non-nuclear alternatives for less apparent cost. The downside to being able to produce so much power is that you can produce that much power; fine if spread out over a day, not so good if released in one second.

Oh but that won't happen; we'll have all sorts of safeguards, procedures, and lucky heather sprinkled all over the place. Sorry, but when it comes down to it you're dealing with people and we make mistakes; even the programs that control the system are written by people and are susceptible to the same situation. After all who'd have thought that if you ran the system in test mode and then had a real emergency you couldn't do anything until the simulation was complete; who'd have guessed that if this pipe was open at the same as the system doing that it would spill the coolant; who'd have predicted that a burnt out warning light combined with a bit of shoddy (undercutting builders) containment work would cause so much damage... all hypothetical situations, but you get the point.

You're dealing with something that can go bang and produces toxic waste even when it's working correctly, and you want to build more of them?

Second argument is a little more sophisticated - research. If we build more nuclear plants not only can we experiment in terms of efficiency, but perhaps hit upon that holy grail of fusion. Okay give me a reason why we should look to make nuclear plants more efficient that excludes building solar/wind/water plants... nope. Okay show me the connection between fission plants and fusion plants... hmm nope. Bye-bye.

Third argument is power output, yes I know that's the first argument, but go with me here. We can produce more power now with nuclear then we can with the 'other' sustainable sources that's without the efficiency gains we might achieve. Sure in 20-50 years time with backing we might get the equivalent out of the same cost of a solar/wind/water plant, but we need to build now to accommodate future energy needs.

Okay future energy needs, what's that going to be then? Take a look at the world at the moment the push isn't to increase our energy usage it's to decrease it. Partly down to cost, but mostly convenience. Who wants their mobile phone to conk out in the middle of a call, or their laptop to shutdown while you're writing that important document. Battery life and power have increased enormously, but that's little use if what they're powering drains them all in a matter of seconds.

For the mobile power market every tiny scrap of energy use is measured and evaluated, is it necessary? Can it be reduced? In the beginning this technology came at a premium, but it's filtering down into the non-mobile market too. Why make different circuit boards for laptops and desktops, are they performing different functions? Don't static sites want to reduce energy costs too?

All this may suggest that instead of an increase in usage in the future we may actually use less power then we do now despite having more gadgets.

Let's look at this clearly. If given the choice how many people would choose a nuclear reactor over a wind-farm? Look at a map of this country in full, what do you see - an island. Coastal waters and tides, coastal winds we could surround our island in these generators, sure one nuclear generator produces more power then one wind farm, but more then ten; more then a hundred? The efficiencies that could be learned as they were being built, the strain they would take off our need for oil and gas.

No no silly me let's go the nuclear course, much better for us all really.