18 Jul 2005, Comments (0)

We’re all f###ed, part 2

Author: Helen


While I was on hiatus just before, I nearly gave up blogging in despair at the gloom abounding. It wasnít just the London bombings and the Liberalsí creeping IR reforms. Even a week off work spent with eight year old boys, wonderful creatures with heads full of pure surrealism, and (sometimes) sweet adolescent girls just on the edge of their Swan Moment doesn’t lift my gloom and pessimism. They only increase it, because I’d feel a lot better sometimes if I was only responsible for myself and didn’t have to worry too much about the happiness of future generations.

The nuclear power “debate”, which we thought had been put to bed pretty much until science and technology comes up with a way for storing the waste, has started up again and we can hear voices enthusiastically touting nuclear power on my favoured talk radio station. Which is supposed to be a commie greenie outfit, so over at 3AW they’re probably eating yellowcake for morning tea already. Storage problem??… What storage problem????…. They seem to have support both from the right and from lefties who usually have more sense.

As well as the usual industry shills. The new line of argument is: well, now that the evidence for climate change is pretty overwhelming, nuclear is the green alternative. Which would be completely true if nuclear power stations sprang up like giant mushrooms without having to be built or decommissioned, and if they ran on ice cream instead of uranium.

Prepare yourself for two general lines of argument:

If youíre against nuclear power, you want us all to freeze in the dark in caves! (classics just never date), and
If youíre against nuclear power, you must support increased use of dirty coal-fired power stations! (the more sophisticated argument growing more popular by the day.)

Doing something about our addiction to consumption and a growth economy is never a serious contender in this “debate”.

The idea that the nuclear industry wordwide could sustain a complex nuclear fuel cycle, including waste storage, with zero errors over a timeframe of hundreds of millennia, just beggars belief. This isn’t the ramblings of a luddite. This is someone who works with and loves technology.

Here’s a rough comparison for you folks. (Disclaimer: these time frames are approximate. The differences are so vast that any nitpicking over, for instance, in which century the Mayan civilisation actually ended, has absolutely no relevance.)

U-235 has a half-life of approximately 700-713 million years
U-238 has a half-life of approximately 4 billion years plus.
Plutonium is relatively benign with a mere 24,000 years.

Compared with:

Roman empire: 5th century BC to 5th century AD: About 1000 years
Byzantine Empire: 4th century AD to 13th century AD: About 900 years
Mayan empire: 4th to 16th century: About 1200 years
Imperial China (from Qin dynasty): 3rd century to 20th century: About 1700 years
Kingdoms of ancient Egypt: (Click here for a breakdown) about 3100 BC to 4th century AD: 3500 years, and as with China, we’re cheating by including multiple periods, kingdoms and dynasties, so these periods, while the longest, are hardly stable.
British empire: Approximately 1700 to 1980s/1990s: A mere 300 years, being generous

Compare and contrast:

Engineered systems which have remained completely error free (including transport accidents, terrorism and sabotage) for at least the span of the British empire (the shortest example above): 0

Usual span of a politician’s concentration: Less than a decade (or two elections, if you’re lucky. The future politicians portrayed in “We’re all f##ed, part 1” would only think as far as the next power grab-and which decisions would further ingratiate them with big business. I guess you understand why I’ve linked these posts.

All I can say is, they better have very, very good manuals for use during the handover between civilisations. (Plutonium storage and Transportation for Dummies!) And I’m very glad I won’t be around.

*Image from here

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