Why are punters so afraid of nuclear technology? Is it the technology? Is it the word nuclear? This is as puzzling to me as modern politics and economics.
It makes no sense. This fear.
We exist in a universe that is constantly creating and destroying. Life is spawned from all this violence, and threatened by it. Life has to combat disease, superstorms, earthquakes, meteor impacts, supernovas, and gamma-ray bursts and that is just the natural world. The human world is even deadlier.
Technology, I thought was the one thing that made the natural world safer. Yet it also gave humans greater efficiency at killing each other.
Therefore, whether climate change is man-made or not is really not the issue. The threat is, nature is trying to kill us again. Conspiring for hundreds of millions of years, setting up its trap, storing billions of tonnes of carbon underground, and waiting for some biological species to come along and step into it.
Winners and Losers
A rise in global temperature simply means that there will be winners and losers. Some fauna and flora will survive, some not. In human terms, the winners will be the Arcticans and the losers, well the Equatorians. Humanity will most probably survive, but I think at a severe cost. Even the Arcticans will have to deal with all the mass migration and conflict that will occur. The mass violence over resources such as food supply will affect everyone on the planet, much like how World War 2 did last century. If that particular clash between two or three spheres of political influence took out fifty million lives, imagine what death toll a future conflagration between five or so economic blocks will incur.
Climate change has the propensity to bring down our human empire. Epochs of civilisation are interspersed with dark ages. How many times in history have sophisticated societies plunged into darkness, lawlessness and anarchy? e.g. Bronze Age collapse (c. 1200 BC), European Middle Ages (5th to 15th centuries AD). Only a fool would believe such an occurrence is impossible to happen again.
Yet here we are.
The Nuclear Scare
As a high school student in the 80’s, we visited the nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights (High Flux Australian Reactor (HIFAR). There I encountered a scientist who guided us through the facility. She seemed so enthusiastic and committed to the technology, that it struck me as weird, almost propagandish. It was the 80’s. Ronald Reagan faced the prospect of losing 150 million U.S. citizens in the event of a nuclear war with the U.S.S.R.
Movies like The Day After, The Terminator and Def-con 4 were scaring the shit out of everybody. And here she was… advocating the technology.
Today, I think I understand her position. Here is a scientist trying to fly the nuclear flag against a tide of Armageddon hysteria. A mass hysteria that persists to this day. How does one convince people of a concept when the majority of humans are divided into two camps?
These folk lack empathy, are generally self-consumed, make no attempt to understand the universe around them, are desensitized to reality, and would rather stick their heads into the sand than deal with any reality, like the frog in a slowly heated pot of water, would never notice their doom until too late. In the end, these are the people who generally cry the loudest and die miserably in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
These are folks who possess too much empathy. They do make an attempt to understand the universe they live in but are too emotionally over-sensitive to comprehend it, tend to dwell in fantasyland because reality scares the shit out of them, and generally cry and die first in a post-apocalyptic scenario.
The Age of Radium
After Chernobyl and Fukushima, this mass paranoia seems to have entrenched itself into the public’s psyche. A far cry from the Radium Age at the dawn of the twentieth century.
Produced by the Home Products Company of Denver, Colorado these radioactive suppositories made men believe that they could be transformed from ‘weak discouraged men’ into strong, heroic males that would ‘bubble over with joyous vitality’. Amazingly this wasn’t all though; soluble radium was added into a cocoa butter base that was in the form of a suppository. This was then supposed to be fitted into the rectum in order to stimulate “the weakened organs that needed its vitalizing aid.’”
Yes, that’s right, they were marketing sticking radioactive substances up your arse.
When people started dying horribly from exposure to these products who did the general public blame? Not the corporations that produced and marketed these products. They blamed nature. When the technology was eventually used to blast the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki into oblivion that was that. Atomics is bad. Nuclear is evil.
People are willing to tolerate unmitigated corruption, ludicrous political policies and countless other poisonous products, (petrochemicals namely – it took over 50 years to get rid of Tetraethyl lead in fuel. How many people died from that stuff?), yet shiver at the thought of taming an extraordinary natural phenomenon.
The Evil of Corruption
What is easier? Neglect and ban a technology? Or ban corruption?
Corruption and flawed government policies played a key role in the Chernobyl disaster. Built and operated under strict secrecy under a totalitarian regime this meltdown could have been avoided, if it were managed without ineptness. Corruption is certainly attributed to the Fukushima disaster. Still, what most punters take away from these incidents is ‘Nuclear is Bad’.
“By the time you’ve taken into account the carbon emissions in the energy used to mine and process the uranium, built the reactor, operated the reactor, decommission the reactor and then store and monitor the waste for hundreds of thousands of years, … you find that the whole of life carbon emissions really add up.”
The above quote is the seemingly sane argument offered by the Green Advocates. Obviously, there are numbers and figures to back up these claims.
Building a multi-billion dollar nuclear reactor leaves a larger carbon footprint than building a multi-billion dollar oil refinery?
Mining uranium leaves a bigger carbon footprint than pumping petrochemicals from out of the ground?
It seems the logic here is the only way to stop greenhouse emissions is to stop mining, industry and progress altogether. Billions of people should stop aspiring to live like Americans. We should go back and live in the Stone Age. No, maybe the Bronze Age is a little better and probably still sustainable for all the seven billion alive today. Soft-headed thinking at its best.
Here is one for the Fantasylanders. Why are the rare-earth metals needed to build wind and solar power infrastructure, and the carbon footprint that will leave, is not a factor? How many millions of these units will be needed to supply base-load electricity?
‘Do you want a nuclear waste dump in your neighbourhood that will remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years?’
Neighbourhood? A waste dump, a thousand kilometres away from nowhere, in the middle of some inhospitable desert is not best described as a neighbourhood, and not a place I would frequent, waste dump or not, in the next hundred thousand years.
“Or, ‘How would you feel about hundreds of square kilometres of your district being rendered uninhabitable after a nuclear accident as happened at Fukushima in Japan?’
This is based on a big assumption. What? Are we going to toss everything we have learned about nuclear reactor safety out the window and build reactors the same as we did in the ’50s? That is like saying we can’t build a new Airbus or a Boeing because, shit, a whole bunch of them have fallen out of the sky. Thousands of passengers have been killed in aircraft accidents and we still persevere with that technology.
Check out the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. They even have a Death Rate per Year chart.
|year||deaths||# of accidents|
Air safety has gotten better because of recommendations made by organisations such as the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
What is the argument against treating the Nuclear Power Industry the same way?
And what is the go with Thorium? Why are certain innovations shunned by the energy sector? If there is a way to make reactors safer, and small enough to power an aircraft, why isn’t the investment moving that way?
Oh wait, India is building one, and a totalitarian state like China is stealing this technology IP and building these things while freethinking Westerners are what…? Sticking their heads in the sand. Hard-headed mentality! Make money the easiest way possible. Why go through the entire investment cycle when you can make money developing old World War 2 technology?
At least some money is being thrown at Fusion Reactors. Nuclear fusion is the process that fuels the sun and every other star in the universe. And scientists want to harness this energy.
The universe is violent, hostile and indifferent to humanity, to life, and even to stars. Eventually, all will be destroyed. All we could do is fight it to survive and technology gives us the tools to carry on this struggle.
The Nuclear Endgame
As far as the weaponisation of nuclear technology, that genie’s already out of the bottle. Over five nations, covertly antagonistic to each other, already have them. Only a moron would assume proliferation will end with Iran.
In the minds of most technocrats, miners, politicians, and scientists nuclear is the main solution to the world’s energy needs. It has been for over a century. But the public’s innate fear of technology holds them back. Why not, they still make money peddling old technology. It’s really a crap shoot on when the tipping point arrives and everything goes to hell, and then not even the vast amount of wealth the plutocracy has amassed will protect them.
Or maybe, Lex Luther style, they’ve bought up Arctican real estate and global warming is a plus plus plus.
For the rest of us punters, what is everybody petrified of? Nuclear energy is not going to determine whether we have a nuclear war or not. Our politics and mentality will.