Nuclear panic adds fuel to energy efficiency

Posted:  April 28th, 2011 by:  The Environment Site comments:  0

The ongoing drama unfolding at the Fukushima reactor in Japan should actually strengthen the argument of those proposing an expansion of the world’s nuclear energy programmes. The fact that it has had the opposite effect defies logic.

An outdated plant, built in the early 60s, almost survived a direct hit from an earthquake thousands of times more powerful than anything experienced ever in most parts of the world and the subsequent loss of power caused by a tsunami. All the modern plants did survive unscathed and Fukushima did not go into total meltdown – the situation is bad there, but it could have been very considerably worse.

The worldwide panic that ensued is nuts. Germany shut down ALL of its nuclear reactors – why? It even led to a new word permeating websites: “Angst-lust”, which captures the sense of panic beautifully. Are they expecting an earthquake and tsunami? Also, we no longer build nuclear reactors like those of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

If this isolated and exceptional incident delays or cancels planned nuclear energy developments – what is the likely outcome? China will abandon its nuclear programme and build more coal-fired power stations instead. There is plenty of coal around, it is just very bad for the environment and 3,000 Chinese coal miners die every year – that makes it a lot more dangerous than nuclear.

How do we weigh these risks? Thousands of dead miners; catastrophic global warming and/or the lights going out – against continued nuclear expansion. How about a third way: A truly global programme of energy efficiency? Governments must go further and faster to tackle our energy waste as that is the only option that is technologically easy, risk free and cheap. It also means a key role for the building services engineering industry and HVCA members in particular.

Fukushima might create the right strategy for the wrong reasons. It is almost impossible for the general public to judge just how risky nuclear is – we don’t have the facts and we don’t live in an earthquake zone. We do know, however, how astonishingly expensive nuclear power is. We probably can justify nuclear on safety grounds, but that probably means we can’t justify it on cost – the only alternative is a massive programme of energy efficiency. It is the only thing that we can start now and afford to finish.

David Frise is head of sustainability at the HVCA whose members are committed to delivering high quality, responsible and sustainable building services solutions.


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