Wednesday, 7 October 2015

'Saint' George Monbiot

George Monbiot does not impress me and here's why.

Today I read that George Monbiot 'quit' the environment movement. No. He still considers himself part of it. For almost 20 years (upto 2006) Monbiot actively opposed nuclear power. He didn't need any evidence to oppose it. He took anti-nuclear power arguments at face value because he was part of a 'movement'. He only turned pro-nuke after spending much time studying it. I can't get my head around that:- why would he oppose nuclear power just because he was part of a 'movement'? It seems a bit mindless to me - if you're part of a movement you really ought to spend the time understanding it's goals, ideas and arguments. After all, it's what your life is about. You need to be certain about this stuff. Here's his transitional essay from 2006. He calls himself an anti-nuke here but his arguments against are pathetic (and wrong).

The most fundamental environmental principle - one that all children are taught as soon as they are old enough to understand it - is that you don't make a new mess until you have cleared up the old one. To start building a new generation of nuclear power stations before we know what to do with the waste produced by existing plants is grotesquely irresponsible. The government's advisers have determined only that it should be buried. No one yet knows where, how or at what cost.
This is just one of the factors that make a nonsense of the economic projections. How on earth can we say what nuclear power stations will cost if we don't even know what their decommissioning entails? The government will assure us today that there will be no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry.
It has also become clear that we will never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we do not also rid it of nuclear power. Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, South Africa, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq and Iran - has done so by manipulating its nuclear power programme. We cannot deny other states the opportunity to use atomic energy if we do not forswear it ourselves.

Let me spend a minute or two refuting 'Saint' Monbiot

  • Waste: So called high-level nuclear waste is mostly partly used fuel. After storing in wet pools for about 30 years this has 0.1% of the radioactivity is had on leaving the reactor. Comparatively
    • it's a tiny amount,
    • is really not as dangerous as made out,
    • can't be used to make bombs,
    • is stored under armed guard,
    • does not 'leak',
    • doesn't need 'burying' anywhere because it can be economically recycled as fuel for advanced reactors which are about 15/20 years away,
    • and is very difficult for Jill Bloggs to get her mitts on.
  • Decommissioning: The utilities running reactors put a proportion of revenue aside (about 5%) into a decommissioning fund. At the end of the reactor life, this fund will be more than enough to pay the plant decommissioning costs
  • Atomic bomb proliferation: Spent fuel can't be used to make A-bombs because the plutonium of of too low a quality.
  • No subsidies: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will be price competitive with current fossil fuel electricity generation and will blow renewables out of the water (even solar [1]).
  • No guaranteed prices: Advanced nuclear power such as molten salt reactors will provide lower cost electricity than anything else.
  • we do not need it: Not unless we want to live primitive lives enslaved to the vagaries of nature. So who wants that?
  • Every state that has sought to develop a weapons programme over the past 30 years - Israel, ...: Not really. Israel has no nuclear power to speak of. Weapons grade plutonium is best made in single purpose military grade reactors with low plutonium burnups. Not in commercial power reactors. One doesn't even need reactors to make A-bombs; gas centrifuge uranium separation will suffice.

With respect to 'no subsidies and no guaranteed prices for the nuclear industry' - dare we say hypocrite? I'm sure Monbiot is a great believer in massive subsidies and guaranteed prices for renewables (even though Britain has no renewables industry!)

[1] Solar doesn't work at night, so even if the cost of solar panels fell to nothing, the costs of storage or supporting 'baseload' would still render it uneconomic compared to future molten salt reactors.

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