Damn. Since I last posted here things have gone from bad to worse. Britain is now officially governed by what I think the kids call a ‘flake’. My early impression of Gordon Brown as Labour’s dreadnought, a politically impregnable battleship of prudence and good judgment, has all but evaporated. Who’s writing his script? Yesterday he called Hain’s donor gaffe ‘an incompetence.’
What’s the difference between ‘an incompetence’ and ‘incompetence’? No idea. Although I suspect it’s probably about a mile-and-a-half of choppy political water. Brown could bring himself neither to condemn Hain (‘he was incompetent. He’s history’) nor to get behind him (‘Shut up you bunch of ninnies: he’s done nothing wrong and he’s staying’) so we wound up with the miserable, indecisive non-phrase: ‘an incompetence’. I’m dumbfounded and more than a bit worried. And now a Northern Rock nationalisation: another epic opportunity for indecision. God save us.
Still, at least we’ve got a revival of nuclear power to look forward to. I’m actually in favour. I think that our objections (I was a long-time anti too) are all based on the first- and second-generation kit that’s currently rotting at various out-of-the-way coastal locations – and which, of course, we have to deal with whether or not we decide to build new plants.
Objectors have got a skewed picture of nuclear power’s risks. Even taking into account the half-a-dozen major incidents since the 1950s nuclear has killed hardly anyone. Add up the deaths directly attributable to emissions from even a modern coal-fired plant and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t get me wrong: meltdown and catastrophic contamination are not trivial risks but we must weigh them properly alongside the risks of pursuing existing high-carbon base load sources and of acting too slowly to fill the inevitable power supply gap.
The grim statistical truth is that even the real risk of an occasional major disaster will be dwarfed by the reduced long-term pressure on climate and on vulnerable coastal communities, for instance. Climate change really does change everything.
Current nuclear tech is streets ahead of the Heath Robinson plants of the first wave. Look at this marvelous self-contained, neighbourhood-sized unit from Toshiba (by the way, I love this site map). You could fit one in your garage and it would heat and light hundreds of homes for forty years. It also, according to the experts, presents vastly reduced risk of overheating. While we’ve been at a nuclear standstill the rest of the world has been moving the technology on. It’s time we caught up.
Speaking of climate change, I guess you’ll have seen this terrific risk assessment from Greg on YouTube. I’m no logician but his thesis looks sound to me. Right or wrong, though, I’m terrifically impressed by the video’s author, a high school science teacher, apparently. I think this is a great example of the top end of citizen media: confident, thought-provoking, authoritative. I do hope he’s got himself a proper movie deal or a substantial research grant by now.