New but not Clear

New but not Clear

If there is one word in the universal language of today that runs the gamut of human feelings it is ‘nuclear’. From shivering fear of catastrophic destruction via medical hope of major cures to the warmth of reliable, secure, affordable energy, nuclear has threats and promises no other human invention has ever offered. First used to destroy two major Japanese cities to expedite the end of WWII, it has developed in power and potential for both good and evil. The major powers agreement to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons in physical war has led to a cold war of threats and counter threats which even Twitter envies as a source of disruption and fake news.

Meanwhile, the climate continues to deteriorate, ridiculous but apparently very necessary war spikes its way from mass graves to – one day – the inevitable peace treaty and mankind reaches for space as voraciously as we sought heaven in the past. At the centre of these anomalies is the all-powerful energy we require to sustain and improve life. In the minds of those with children and grandchildren the scenes of nuclear accidents at Kyshtym, Windscale, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima linger to threaten the further use of this mighty but frightening resource.

We would all prefer green sources of energy. The sun, the wind and the so far rather underdeveloped sea currents all seem sent for us to use. The planet also has other powerful sources of energy we have not been able to tap into on any scale. These ‘natural’ sources are appealing in that they require us to harness rather than dynamite our way to the one thing we are all waiting for – endless, cheap, unpolluting, non-destructive energy. To feed the expected 10Bn people we expect to have in the next thirty years, to cope with the ageing population as life expectancy lengthens over the same time, to provide medical support now universally expected to be free – or heavily subsidised – and to make a life of tolerable pleasure and ease we shall need much more energy than we currently forecast.

The development of humanity has always involved risk. The motor car still extracts a price of slaughter and injury far beyond what any nuclear fallout has demanded. Sources of brain damage still fly past and into us with very little understanding of the cost, either human or financial. Free speech has become so free that teaching nastiness is now as accepted as goodness was a hundred years ago. Moderation has become excess in our reach for wealth. Such failures do not condemn the risks we took but it should make us wary of poorly judged and unnecessary experiments. Energy remains a top priority whichever way we look at it.

Time is not on our side. All the climate indicators now point to certainty that we shall sustain considerable planet damage, however swiftly we respond to the need to alter our behaviour. Our ability today to control mechanics with artificial intelligence rather than human frailty is a major step forward in eliminating the biggest source of errors and failures. To enlist as much effort into making nuclear energy 99.9% safe as we are devoting to natural sources of energy will give us the best chance of human survival and development. It is natural that the word nuclear brings out in us all our tendency to NIMBYism*. New small nuclear plants can be constructed with the minimum of ugliness, the maximum of aesthetic appeal and the greatest possible safety. 

In twenty years time they will ask why we delayed.

What will be your answer?

Good morning

John Bittleston 

  • NIMBY: Not In My Back Yard

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5 December 2022