Let’s be clear about nuclear

As a child and young adult I’ve spent most of my life living in fear of everything nuclear.

I clearly remember 26 April 1986. The day reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Russian nuclear power reactor exploded. I was 7 and it petrified me. The news was reporting how the radiation was going to come to the UK and many hundreds of thousands of people would be affected by it. I remember watching the images of the clean up crews and the evacuations and thinking ‘this is bad’.

My childhood was also spent in the shadows of the last years of the cold war and I clearly remember things like the 4 minute warning and wondering what would happen if those sirens actually sounded for real.

I anxiously awaited the nuclear apocalypse. Fortunately it never came.

Since then I’ve educated myself on nuclear and the idea of nuclear fusion as a potentially limitless energy supply fascinates me. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy and learnt more about the underlying theoretical physics as well as the experimental physics of how nuclear fusion works. The great news is that the theoretical physics is sounds and works. The even better news is that experimentally the physics also works. The not so great news is that this technology has pretty much been around since the 1960’s, but because of the way global economics works and the dominance of the fossil fuel industry, very little money is being spent on developing this amazing technology for commercial use.

The oil, gas and coal industry actually actively publicise the dangers of nuclear energy, which I find strange, considering it’s the safest fuel source that we have.

Yep, that’s right. You just read that correctly. Nuclear energy is far, far safer than the traditional oil, gas and coal fossil fuels but it’s also safer than solar, hydro and even wind energy!

Here are some numbers to demonstrate my point from Forbes (other sources are available):

Energy Source | Mortality Rate (deaths / trillion kWhr)

  • Coal | 170,000
  • Oil | 36,000
  • Natural Gas | 4,000
  • Biofuel / Biomass | 24,000
  • Solar (rooftop) | 440
  • Wind | 150
  • Hydro | 1,400
  • Nuclear | 90 (inc. Chernobyl & Fukushima)

Like me you may have thought that after Chernobyl hundreds of square miles of land was left derelict? Actually, even though the population of Chernobyl was evacuated the workers at the nuclear power plant went to work there every day for another 10 years. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant continued to operate it’s remaining three reactors for a further 10 years until the plant was decommissioned in the 1990’s.

Less than 70 people globally have died because of Chernobyl and almost 30 years later the background radiation at Chernobyl is less than ‘normal levels’ of some major cities around the world.

So what are we so worried about?

The reason for this post is because I read a spate of articles a couple of weeks ago about how the radiation from Fukushiuma had now reached the cost of Canada. My initial reaction was probably the same as yours. ‘Oh no, that’s not good’. I already knew that the disaster at Fukushima was not hazardous to human health, so I read the articles to gauge their perspective. Here’s one of the particular articles from from a respected British broadsheet newspaper, the Guardian.

The headline grabs your attention and you think this is serious, but as you read on they explain that these levels are so low that they pose absolutely not threat to human health whatsoever. Here’s a lovely quote from that article:

“The levels the group detected are extremely low. For example, swimming in the Vancouver Island water every day for a year would provide a dose of radiation less than a thousand times smaller than a single dental X-ray, Woods Hole said.”

So why is nuclear always written about in such as negative way?

My only conclusion can be that the powers that be do not want you to give up your dependency on traditional fossil fuels.

Russia wants to keep us dependant on their natural gas and America wants to remain oil dependant. Again, it all comes down to economics.

Here’s another interesting fact. Todays nuclear reactors are based mainly on Light Water Reactor (LWR) technology. This is a pretty poor reactor technology, because it uses about 1% of the fuel, leaving 99% wasted. This is one of the main reasons why anti-nuclear campaigner fear nuclear. However, to date, if you put all the spent nuclear fuel onto a football pitch, you would only have to stack it 3 meters high to fit ALL the spent nuclear fuel onto the pitch. That is such a small amount it is absolutely insane, compared to how much coal is burnt in just a single day!

The good news is that there is an alternative type of nuclear reactor called the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR) which can actually use the 99% spent fuel from the Light Water Reactor as fuel for it’s reactor.

There is also Thorium based reactor technology.

Huh…

Seems a little silly then doesn’t it that we’re not investing our futures into clean, efficient, safe and abundant Nuclear energy.

When I first started looking into this I couldn’t believe it either.

The reason these Light Water Reactors are used today is because the by product of them is weapons grade plutonium, which was needed to fuel the cold war. America actually made Fast Breeder Reactors illegal during the 1970’s under the Nixon administration and they had to close down their working prototypes.

The best thing of all about Fast Breeder Reactors is that in the event of a failure within the system, all you have to do is turn everything off and the reaction will stop of its own accord. This is unlike Light Water Reactors where you are constantly trying to prevent a meltdown.

So if the current nuclear reactors are by far the safest form of energy production that we have, surely a reactor that technically cannot meltdown or explode is going to be even safer?

Hmmm…

The information is out there, you just have to go looking for it.

Question everything people because sometimes what you believe to be true is only what they want you to believe.

Don’t just take my word for it. Bill Gates is on board with this too:

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