Survival – Climate Change, Nuclear Power and other “stuff”

Back in the Fold #6

Survival – Climate Change, Nuclear Power and other “stuff”

I just published one blog today so I was not anticipating writing any more so soon,but a headline on a news article caught my attention and set my mind thinking about a whole host of things. All boiling down to the survival of the human race – you know, nothing significant or anything…!! The headline was this…

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

(goo.gl/4NPS6a)

So, first of all, my thoughts concerned the issue of Climate Change and the fact that virtually nothing has appeared in the main news headlines so far during the general election campaign here in the UK about Climate Change. That, in itself, is revealing about the unnatural category of this election – the most important threat we face as humans and it appears not to be an issue in a general election – what are the politicians and newspaper and TV news editors thinking, not to question parties on this threat?

Caroline Lucas and Tim Farron mentioned Climate Change in the “leaders debate” on ITV on Thursday but it took up no more than two minutes in a two hour debate and as far as I can see it has not generated any media attention since. As far as I can tell there is little about the issue in the manifestoes of either the Tories or Labour. You will know from my previous blogging that I think the issue of Europe is important – but even that is neither here nor there if global warming causes  an extinction event for humans sometime in the next century!

Doesn`t matter to me of course as I will probably be dead and recycled as fertiliser for some nicely growing oak trees by then, if my ashes are buried in the little oak copse I have specified. So why should I care? Briefly – as a humanitarian, a member of the human race and a liberal, I just do. Let that suffice for the moment.

In case you didn`t immediately read the article I referred to above, let me summarise it briefly. As part of humanity`s attempts to protect itself against disaster it was decided to create a super-safe (indeed, a “failsafe”) depository for seeds, especially food seeds, in case we need at some time in the future to reset the agrifood industry after some predictable or even unpredictable disaster or catastrophe.

The people who planned this depository decided to choose a place that did not need human intervention and maintenance 24/365. What better than a deep freeze store buried safely in the perma-frost of the Arctic under a mountain?

Well – perhaps somewhere that does not flood when a soaring 7 degree warming event allows the ice to melt and pour into the specially dug entrance to the storage cave!

“It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, from the Norwegian government, which owns the vault.

And this is less than ten years after the “failsafe!” store was opened in 2008.

Second thoughts

And THAT set me thinking about the nuclear power industry. Those of you who know me well will know that for several years I was chair of the Liberal Ecology Group and the founding Chair of the Green Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Party had serious reservations about nuclear power and it was pretty well an article of faith in the Liberal Ecology Group that we opposed Nuclear Power.

It remained an article of faith for the Green Liberal Democrats (although I note that Steve Bolter, Vice Chair {political} of the GLD, has recently argued in Challenge that we do “need” nuclear power.) As an avid reader of science fiction in my youth I will admit to a hankering for “clean” nuclear fusion power, assuming it can be managed appropriately, but that is still a dream for nuclear scientists.

I remain totally opposed, however, to further development of nuclear fission power generation for two prime reasons, one of which you may already have guessed at from the first part of this article (but let me leave you guessing on that one for a couple of minutes, by dealing with the “other” reason first). My “other” reason is nuclear safety – and I simply have to say “Windscale, three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima” for you to know where I am coming from.

Proponents of nuclear power will immediately poo-poo my concerns over nuclear safety. “Those were the old designs”, “We know how to deal with problems now”, “ These can never happen again” – I can hear the litany of comments ringing in my ears from years of being told I worry too much about this issue. Before sticking my fingers in my ears and whistling loudly to avoid hearing this rubbish, let me say just two things. `Cover ups` and `Human failures`.

The problem with nuclear accidents is that they shouldn`t ever happen if things run smoothly, but if and when they inevitably do happen, the sheer scale of the disasters is beyond being coped with.  According to a Guardian article in February of this year the decommissioning of Fukushima may take as long as 40 years and radiation levels are higher than previously acknowledged (goo.gl/9kVHNm) Radiation from the original meltdown has reached the West coast of the USA and will continue to do so for years to come although researchers indicate for the moment that the levels are “harmless”. (goo.gl/YTN0CV)

A scarier scenario has been suggested – talking of starfish losing their limbs around the Pacific Ocean and other morbid dangers (goo.gl/dUJffl) but this article comes with a possible “fake-news” warning, so should be treated with considerable scepticism. Nevertheless the less-scary predictions in the Guardian are bad enough  … and this leads me on to the problem you may have guessed at.

Containment

A lot of low-level radioactive material is created by nuclear fission power generation and it is said to be a very low risk material hardly above the level of household waste that is buried in landfill sites. Civil low-level waste is also generated by hospitals and so on as well, but for the time being let us consider that to be a minor problem and skate over it. Even intermediate level nuclear waste is said to be a minor problem in terms of quality and quantity, so let us ignore that for the time being too.

Although small in quantity in normal conditions of use, it is the high-level waste (HLW) that provides the worrying scenario here. But we have to add in the waste that will have to be dealt with during the 4-decade long decommissioning of Fukushima, PLUS all the waste from decommissioning many nuclear power plants reaching the ends of their lives around the world.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) says, of high level waste, the following …

High-level wastes can remain highly radioactive for thousands of years. They need to be disposed of deep underground in engineered facilities built in stable geological formations. While no such facilities for high-level wastes (HLW) currently operate, their feasibility has been demonstrated and there are several countries now in the process of designing and constructing them.

(goo.gl/uxCmIg)

My point is simple. If the “failsafe” seed depository is so easily challenged after less than ten years, whatever trust can we put into “feasibility-demonstrated” facilities that will have to last securely for thousands of years. Never mind the “cover ups” and “human failings” I mentioned earlier.

On their “Myths and Realities” page, the WNA tells us that there is a pilot depository in New Mexico already storing HLW and demonstrating how safe it is. And yet … google `New Mexico` and `tectonic plates` and you get an article in Wikipedia telling you that “The youngest eruptions (of volcanoes) in the rift region are in the Valley of Fires, New Mexico and are approximately 5,400 years old”. Make of that what you may.

Probably I am being a bit of a worrit, but I have to say I am by no means convinced of the long-term safety of waste storage. Just saying.

So, what am I going to do about it?

All my life I have wanted to “Change the World”. So far, the impact I have had has been relatively minimal, I have to say, unless you look at the continuing impact of the Green Lib Dems, for which I can perhaps claim a little kudos. They are, however, a minority in what is already a minority party with only nine MPs at the last count and a poll figure that appears not to be shifting much in this unique election.

Barring my hoped-for landslide, discussed in recent blog posts, it may even be the case that Lib Dems stay a tiny minority in the next parliament. But I have rejoined the Party because it seemed to need help. Whether my help can make a difference has yet to be discovered – but I shall try.

I “retired” from Party politics nearly 20 years ago, partly frustrated at banging my head against a brick wall about Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons. Is the brick wall still there(?) – I rather fear that it is, but whether it can be torn down like the Berlin wall was in 1989 remains to be seen. I have rejoined the Green Liberal Democrats as well as the Party itself, but I celebrate my 70th birthday in a few short weeks so I shall not bang my head against this wall for very long. At my age head-banging can be a little wearisome.

If you would like to help me tear it down please get in touch, follow my blog, and spread the word. Together we can change the world.

Yes, we can!

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About expatinbrazil

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536
This entry was posted in Elections, Politics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Survival – Climate Change, Nuclear Power and other “stuff”

  1. Fiona Winfield says:

    Hi Keith

    Not sure if this is the way to contact you?

    Let me know if you receive this…

    Fiona Winfield fmwinfield@aol.com

  2. Pat Chapman says:

    People who say “it’s safe” should remember “The Titanic”!! Good article, Keith.

  3. Robert Good says:

    I am a former Liberal Party Parliamentary Candidate but resigned the Party when David Steel over-ruled long-standing Party policy opposing nuclear weapons. They can only be used in breach of British and international law, so anyone advocating their potential use is advocating that those responsible spend the rest of their lives behind bars – if there are any prisons left!
    In regard to nuclear power I am with you 100%. No nuclear power station can ever be 100% guaranteed safe – I believe they can’t even get insurance for accidents! So it is a mathematical certainty there will be further serious accidents.

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