Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The problem with nuclear

I didn't think it was possible for the scenery to get any more beautiful, but today was more spectacular still. It was fairly cool except for those brief periods where the sun emerged from a cloudy sky. The morning had few cars, and yesterday's stunning foliage was giving way today to more and more bare trees. As cars passed, they'd leave behind a whirlwind of coloured leaves, dancing in the sun tens of feet in the air. I found myself skipping down the street looking up at them all.

A number of friends met up with us - Wolfe and his dog Emma, Oskar and Carol. Emma walked with me all the way up to Sharbot Lake, where we had lunch at Maples. Two local reporters and Liberal candidate David Remington also came up to meet with us. The issue in this area is uranium mining. Our group has a long history of supporting the struggle against mining. Mr. Remington was very supportive, and pledged, if elected, to fight any expansion of nuclear power, as well as fighting to quickly expand renewable power.

The heavily subsidized nuclear industry has been heavily promoting the idea to a dubious public that nuclear power is a useful short-term stop-gap measure on the way to a future that will ultimately have to depend on power that's constantly replenished. If I actually believed this fantasy, where nuclear could be relied on immediately while we waited for such difficult things as wind turbines, I would be genuinely conflicted. But "short-term" nuclear is truly a fantasy.

Al Gore has laid down a challenge based on what is demanded by climate science - the elimination of fossil fuels for generation in a single decade. The man is not ideologically opposed to nuclear power, and recognizes it as a low-emissions option. However, he's not foolish enough to suggest that we can reliably build a single reactor in the time required. The average North American reactor takes about 15, and passing the 2-decade mark is not unusual. You can get a wind turbine up and running, even with the most rigourous environmental assessment process, within 6 months.

Pouring huge funds into nuclear prevents us from investing in the cheaper and faster options - above all efficiency and conservation, supplemented by wind and marine power. Even solar, which is a relatively expensive option, looks pretty good when you consider that it delivers power fairly reliably when people most need it. Our Candu reactors aren't capable of increasing output when needed, so they aren't a good solution by themselves anyway.

So there really is no ideological barrier between the people who have worried about climate change for decades and those who are concerned about toxics and radiation. Nuclear and other parasitic industries seeking to benefit from this global tragedy want to distract us from what we need to do and claim there is a controversy which doesn't exist in reality.

We have wasted decades where much progress could have been made by subsidizing ethanol, hydrogen, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, carbon sequestration and other fantasies. The hope was that one or all of these would produce power as cheaply as we're used to. Yet none of these have been able to economically reduce our emissions. We have now well and truly run out of time. We must pour our efforts into things that work and accept the fact that energy will be more expensive. Perhaps we'll be inclined to use less. Considering we use about three times the electricity of Germans, Italians and English, that shouldn't lead to hardship.

We ended the day at the home of Oskar Graf, who makes guitars in his idyllic forest home. Rita and Alex made a full dinner while I collapsed in exhaustion. Wolfe joined us as well.

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