tag: Nukes

Jul 2011

16th July 1945: The Manhattan Project

I’ve got a new article up at On This Deity. To be honest, I could easily have written four or five times as much on this subject as it’s something I was obsessed with for quite a while, and it also feeds into my “advanced technology as pathology” thesis. But 12 hundred words is already a lot in these days of abbreviated attention spans.

16th July 1945: The Manhattan Project.

At half past five on the morning of July 16th 1945, The Gadget exploded and the whole world shook. Three square miles of desert sand was melted into glass. A mushroom cloud rose almost 8 miles into the sky and cast a shadow that darkens our world even now. For it was on this day, in the final year of the second world war, that humanity entered the atomic age. A day of infamy. A day to lament. A day on which we should – as a species – collectively reflect on just how far our ingenuity has exceeded our wisdom.

Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.
Albert Einstein

read the rest…

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May 2009

Awww… it's a little nuke

Over at U-Know! someone posted a link to an article in The Guardian from last November (Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes). The article discusses a technology under development by Hyperion Power Generation in Los Alamos, New Mexico. It’s essentially a small nuclear reactor capable of powering tens of thousands of homes and costing a relatively modest $25m.

A quick search on google news reveals an article on Reuters as recently as this week (Hyperion Has a $100M Valuation for Mini Nuclear Power) which includes the paragraph:

Although nuclear power produces radioactive waste, it doesn’t release greenhouse gases and it has vocal supporters in the new administration, including Energy Secretary Steven Chu. So it’s not so far-fetched for investors to see the potential of Hyperion’s nuclear option.

Now those two articles and a reading of Hyperion’s website (mostly marketing bumpf investor relations) are the extent of my knowledge on this subject, so I don’t know enough about the specifics of their solution to offer a considered critique of the actual technology. However there are some generic criticisms of this approach to energy production that I feel are valid and worth highlighting. All the same, I’m flagging this post in advance as a “first thoughts / first impressions” thing. OK?

And on that basis… yikes!

Small enough to be transported on a ship, truck or train, Hyperion power modules are about the size of a “hot tub” — approximately 1.5 meters wide. Out of sight and safe from nefarious threats, Hyperion power modules are buried far underground and guarded by a security detail. Like a power battery, Hyperion modules have no moving parts to wear down, and are delivered factory sealed. They are never opened on site. Even if one were compromised, the material inside would not be appropriate for proliferation purposes. Further, due to the unique, yet proven science upon which this new technology is based, it is impossible for the module to go supercritical, “melt down” or create any type of emergency situation. If opened, the very small amount of fuel that is enclosed would immediately cool. The waste produced after five years of operation is approximately the size of a softball and is a good candidate for fuel recycling.

Perfect for moderately-sized projects, Hyperion produces only 25 MWe — enough to provide electricity for about 20,000 average American sized homes or its industrial equivalent. Ganged or teamed together, the modules can produce even more consistent energy for larger projects.

The Hyperion team is committed to helping make the clean and safe benefits of nuclear power — benefits that could assist in solving the worst of our planet’s problems — available in even the most remote locations. We hope you will enjoy learning about Hyperion through our web site!

“Nefarious threats”? They make it sound like they’re securing the place against attack from Dr. Evil. Or that we live in a world where the worst thing that could happen is Terry-Thomas might show up and attempt to do something dastardly. Poor copywriting aside, I believe that passage from their website, coupled with some of the claims being made in the media, should raise some serious concerns.

Thousands of little nuclear reactors encased in concrete, scattered all over the world, maintained and secured by the lowest-cost local contractors? There’s a whole bunch of things wrong with that.

First of all, this commits us to a heavily industrialised future which I’m not sure is a sensible decision (i.e. one in which uranium mining and processing is done on a scale that rivals the modern oil industry — how this squares with the claim in the Reuters piece that “nuclear power […] doesn’t release greenhouse gases” is anybody’s guess). I’m not suggesting we abandon technology or automation or electrical energy; merely that we need to scale our usage of these things back dramatically if we wish to use them sustainably. Be far smarter and more selective in the technologies we adopt or continue to use.

Secondly, the waste management issues just give me the head-staggers. It’s one thing having a few secure, essentially semi-militarised, locations where the waste is produced and stored. Even that’s problematic in my view. But to handle a massively distributed network (“available in even the most remote locations”) with a reasonable guarantee that none of the stuff ever ends up in the local reservoirs? Significantly increasing the amount of highly toxic waste we produce when there are alternatives? Future history books will view such decisions as criminally negligent… beyond reprehensible and into pure evil. Always assuming there’s going to be history books chronicling our times and crimes.

Thirdly, I’m always worried when the person selling the technology creates a huge straw man regarding security. What’s he trying to distract us from?

‘You could never have a Chernobyl-type event – there are no moving parts,’ said Deal. ‘You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it’s too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.’Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes, The Guardian

I’m not too worried about someone weaponising this stuff. North Korea’s already done that, and depending upon how the next few years go in Pakistan, some seriously hardline Islamists may get their hands on that technology too. Also, I’m not so sure that we can rely upon Israel to pursue a rational, evidence-based foreign policy and even the countries we view as being a relatively safe pair of hands are more than capable of rationalising a pre-emptive strike one of these days. So the “scary people with nukes” cat is very much out of the bag.

What worries me isn’t a nation state getting hold of this stuff and weaponising it, but a less organised bunch of psychos getting hold of it and poisoning wells and water-tables for several generations. See, I’m not sure exactly what part of “stealing a barbecue with your bare hands” would have prevented the September 11th hijackers doing so if it was part of their mission. For me the security risk of these things is a dedicated group of nutters — some of whom, perhaps, work for a local concrete supply company? — who don’t care about getting their hands burnt, metaphorically speaking. Unfortunately it seems there are plenty of people who’d be willing to expose themselves to a lethal dose of radiation as they steal a bunch of uranium “softballs” from one of the more remote clusters of these things.

Even if powdering the stuff and dumping it into a handful of municipal reservoirs was demonstrated to only raise the risk of childhood leukemia by 0.5% in those areas, how soon before you’ve got a bunch of ghost-towns? Ghost-cities? Millions of families won’t make a level-headed and rational assessment of the risks when the headlines scream “Radioactive Reservoir! Al Qaeda dumps uranium in Dallas water supply!”

The whole thing is fraught with the kind of “What Ifs” that just don’t enter the equation when you recommend a combination of renewable energy and a reduction in consumption.

But I’d be interested in having those “What Ifs” answered and I’ll look out for more information on this over the coming months should it start to gain credibility. Maybe this is the magic space dust we’ve been waiting for.

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Nov 2008

Bombs in the Arctic?

I believe this to be complete nonsense. Please understand that.

Repeat: this is almost certainly complete nonsense.

However, I’ve been asked by someone to help publicise it and she’s a close friend who has climbed out on some precarious limbs for me in the past. I told her, though, that I intended to preface it with a massive disclaimer. So again… please take this with a bucket-load of salt.

Anyways, my friend received information from someone she knows (we’re deep into FOAF territory here) claiming that, over the course of two days last week, the US government detonated no less than nine nuclear bombs (each with a yield of approximately 5 megatons) on the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The purposes of these explosions was to punch a whole in the sea bed in order to access a massive deep-level oil field. The dates and co-ordinates she asked me to publish are as follows…

17 Nov 2008 12:55:23 (79.66N -116.86W)

17 Nov 2008 13:16:51 (79.70N -115.78W)

17 Nov 2008 13:40:11 (79.70N -115.36W)

17 Nov 2008 17:17:05 (79.70N -115.78W)

18 Nov 2008 03:59:49 (79.61N -114.76W)

18 Nov 2008 04:10:35 (79.76N -115.70W)

18 Nov 2008 04:52:51 (79.74N -115.32W)

18 Nov 2008 05:37:27 (79.75N -115.33W)

18 Nov 2008 07:05:12 (79.78N -114.69W)

Now, I know a fair amount about petrogeology and this story simply does not scan for me. Perhaps there were explosions but for a different reason? I don’t care to speculate, merely to pass on the information as requested.

UPDATE: I’ve just seen this posted to an energy resources mailing list I subscribe to. The first response began with the line: “This of course is nonsense.” Indeed. I shall be mercilessly taking the piss out of A about this.

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Aug 2008

Nuclear Reaction

Busy busy busy. All the same, I do have a few minutes spare with which to plug Nuclear Reaction. This Greenpeace blog is run by Justin of Chicken Yoghurt fame, which means that as well as exposing the lies, insanity and sheer stupidity that characterise the pro-nuke lobby, it will also be rather well-written.

Check it out.

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May 2008

Return to Lisbon (with a "No!")

Well, it’s been a few weeks since I first posed some questions that had been troubling me regarding the Lisbon Treaty and the forthcoming referendum in Ireland. I’m very grateful to all those who took the time to respond and who discussed the treaty, without acrimony, here on this blog. It’s refreshing to see a discussion of European politics that doesn’t end in a slanging match (or maybe I just spent too long in the UK).

Anyways, despite all that, I was still rather confused by the whole thing. The text of the treaty is — in my view — quite deliberately opaque. You can download the PDF here, but I warn you there’s very little point. You see, huge chunks of the text of the treaty (the majority, in fact) actually don’t state very much at all. Rather, they list amendments to existing treaties which are themselves scattered widely and not always easy to track down and cross-reference. Take this (entirely representative) example…


  1. The articles of the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank, of the Protocol on the Statute of the European Investment Bank, and of the Protocol on the privileges and immunities of the European Union, as they are amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, shall be renumbered in accordance with the tables of equivalences set out in the annex to this Protocol. Cross-references to articles of those protocols which appear therein shall be adapted in accordance with the tables.
  2. References to recitals of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, or to articles of those protocols, including to paragraphs thereof, as renumbered or rearranged by this Protocol, and which references figure in other protocols or acts of primary legislation shall be adapted in accordance with this Protocol. Such adaptations shall, if necessary, also apply in the event that the provision in question has been repealed.
  3. References to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of the protocols set out in point 1 of Article 1, as amended by the provisions of this Protocol and which figure in other instruments or acts, shall be understood as references to recitals and articles, including to paragraphs thereof, of those protocols as renumbered or rearranged in accordance with this Protocol.
Treaty of Lisbon / Protocols / English Language Version / Page 78

From what I can tell, this is a set of instructions for renumbering various paragraphs in several other treaties and protocols. Now, there are clearly plenty of issues on which it is appropriate to consult the people, or vote in parliament. But the paragraph numbering system used within the Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks, as amended by the Treaty of Lisbon, just isn’t one of them.

This becomes problematic when you’re asked to vote on a treaty that contains page after page after page (after page) of this stuff interspersed with genuinely meaningful clauses and protocols. By burying the relevant information beneath a heavy blanket of bureaucratic fluff, one can be forgiven for wondering what exactly is being hidden from the voter.

I mean, it’s worth pointing out that the section quoted above appears to refer to “point 1 of Article 1” of The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank (PDF file) which itself is no more than a reference to yet another treaty…

1.1 The European System of Central Banks (ESCB) and the European Central Bank (ECB) shall be established in accordance with Article 8 of this Treaty; they shall perform their tasks and carry on their activities in accordance with the provisions of this Treaty and of this Statute.

The Protocol on the Statute of the European System of Central Banks and of the European Central Bank

And I am assuming (because it’s not explicitly stated) that “this Treaty” refers to “the Treaty establishing the European Community”. So to properly understand this tiny section of the Lisbon Treaty which appears to refer to something as genuinely insignificant as a paragraph numbering system, a person needs to track down and cross-reference it with at least two other separate treaties (in fact, it’s more than two).

This may seem like an insignificant point. And I’m well aware that such “bureaucratic housekeeping” is required when complex treaties are amended. But when you hear that somewhere within the 294 pages of the Lisbon Treaty is a clause that denies Ireland representation on the European Commission for five out of every fifteen years (one third of the time). And given that the European Commission is tasked with such minor issues as European Tax Harmonisation and European Energy Policy, I think you can be forgiven for becoming suspicious of the motives of those who decided to bury such important details within a blizzard of administrative irrelevance.

But being suspicious of the motives of the authors of the treaty still wouldn’t be enough to make me vote against something I don’t really understand (as opposed to merely abstaining). After all, when it comes to those who have sought and achieved positions of power, my default position is one of suspicion. Don’t get me wrong, it kind of goes without saying that some politicians are better than others. Bertie Ahern for instance — for all his faults… his many, many faults — would still get my vote if he was standing against Joseph Goebbels in an election. But that doesn’t mean I’d trust Bertie to look after my wallet, let alone the nation’s tax revenue.

The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community

Here though, we unearth something I am more than willing to vote against. The first thing to point out is that The Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (link) is an existing treaty which came into effect in 1958. This was prior to Ireland joining the EU, but when we did join (the EEC as it was then) in 1973 we nonetheless technically became signatories to the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community.

I’m more than willing to cut the voters of 1958 and 1973 some slack with regards to nuclear energy. The issues of sustainability, Climate Change and the overwhelming importance of energy policy weren’t part of popular consciousness back then. The arguments against nuke power, though just as valid then as they are now, were far from well-understood.

This is no longer the case.

The simple fact is that whatever else the Lisbon Treaty may say; whatever good it may do; if given the opportunity, I am compelled to vote against a treaty that explicitly promotes nuclear power as a central pillar of European energy policy. I want Ireland to be at the forefront of renewable energy development. I want us to be vocal advocates of wind and wave and tidal (and solar in southern Europe) and to be at the vanguard of the anti-nuclear tendency. A vote for Lisbon is a vote against this position.

Which means I’m forced into a corner I didn’t really want to be in. But every Irish vote for Lisbon is a vote against a sustainable European energy policy. So I must use my own vote to counteract one of those. I’m voting ‘No’ to Lisbon, and I urge other Irish voters to do the same.

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Feb 2007

Green Party support for BioFuels [updated]

This is a copy of a letter I’ve just emailed to one of my parliamentary representatives, Mr. Paul Gogarty TD. He’s a member of the Irish Green Party and my email was in response to a mail-shot on the subject of energy. Much of the leaflet was sound information on energy efficiency, renewables, grants for installing solar panels and heat pumps, a denunciation of nuclear energy… all good stuff. But the very first item is an article under the headline, “Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”. This piece heralds the worrying news that the EU has apparently set a target of almost 6% of transportation fuel to be sourced from biofuelstock by 2010.

I have a lot of time for The Greens, but am simultaneously irritated by their apparent desire not to rock the boat too much. If society decides to take the issue of Climate Change seriously, and in the face of a peak in oil and gas supply, then it will mean that individuals consume significantly less energy than they currently do. And although this may well provide long-term health and fulfillment benefits, it will be extremely uncomfortable, unpopular and maybe even unpleasant in the short to midterm.

Anyways… the letter…

Dear Paul,

I received your latest mail-out today (entitled €NERGY). With the exception of The Green Party, there is nobody in the political mainstream that comes even close to representing my views. Yet you seem to be doing your level-best to alienate even me, and turn my Green vote into a protest spoilt-ballot.

Your leaflet made some interesting points about energy efficiency, offered a rational dismissal of nuclear power and provided some useful information about renewable energy grants. But it also contained an extremely worrying recommendation of biofuels. You may as well have lauded China’s expansion of coal-power on the front page.

In fact, both your website and this latest mail-out trumpet “Biofuels” as a responsible alternative to fossil fuels. This is itself a wildly irresponsible position. The Chief economist at the UK’s Department for International Development recently estimated that “the grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year”. He may have been ’rounding-up’ the numbers for effect, but it still makes a mockery of biofuels as ‘ethical’ in a world where millions starve.

Even worse, George Monbiot’s excellent article, ‘Worse Than Fossil Fuel’, explains exactly why large scale biofuel projects have traditionally worked out as being even more carbon intensive than burning oil or gas!

We live at a time when global climate change is perhaps the largest issue faced by our civilisation, and at a time when oil and gas supply could well be peaking. Organisations like The Green Party need to be loudly and frequently emphasising the need to dramatically scale back our energy usage as a society.

Yet such calls, where they are made in your literature, are greatly outnumbered and overshadowed by the glowing promise of more jobs (“Biofuels can create new Irish jobs”) and shiny new technology. One of the physical definitions of energy is ‘the ability to do work’. Our economy (the sum total of the work carried out by society) is no less than a giant engine to convert energy into material wealth. By promising more jobs, you are merely promising to accelerate that process.

Anyone who genuinely seeks to reduce carbon emissions needs to accept that the primary method of doing so must be a scaling back of economic activity. To promise such a thing may well seem like political suicide, but it would be honest. And I’ll always vote for the honest man above the good politician.

Yours sincerely,

Jim… (name and address provided)

[UPDATE] A Reasonable Response

Rather to my shock, Paul Gogarty TD responded to my email within a couple of hours of my sending it. More than that, he responded in a reasonable and measured manner which made my initial letter seem a wee bit shouty. I should probably make it a rule in the future not to write letters to politicians immediately having written a blog entry. It’s one thing being a bit strident and righteous when proclaiming to an unseen audience of billions; it’s quite another in a letter to another person.

Paul comes across very well in his response. I was just about to email him and ask if it was OK to post it here, when he posted it himself in the comments below (hi Paul!) which is where I’ll add a few further comments when I’ve worked out exactly what they are.

8 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Sep 2006

George Dubya's "Letters From America"

As has been hinted in the past, here at the Anarcho-Syndicalist Broadcasting Corporation we employ so-called “half-asleep agents” in key positions in many of the world’s mainstream media organisations. Along with our half-asleep agents in various governments and militaries, this allows us to develop a relatively accurate picture of who’s suppressing what and why. As Johann Rissle, co-founder of the ASBC, is fond of saying, “It ain’t worth knowing unless someone’s suppressing it.”

Now, you may recall some months ago the president of Iran (religious mentalist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) sent a letter to the president of America (religious mentalist, George Bush). At the time, I mentioned that there’d been a response from Dubya and that I was hoping to publish it on this blog.

Unfortunately the ASBC agent within the White House was compromised just prior to faxing a copy of the letter to us (in retrospect, the decision to use the Oval Office fax machine probably wasn’t the best one he’s ever made). I believed that was the end of the story and Dubya’s letter would remain a secret. You see, unlike Ahmadinejad, Bush wanted to keep his response out of the public eye. According to a leaked memo from the White House, President Bush was concerned “it might look a bit faggy” for him to be seen writing a letter to another man.

However fortune favours the lucky. A few days ago, thanks to the hard work of our half-asleep agent in the Shoraye Negahban, a copy of the letter has made it from Iran to ASBC HQ. Johann and myself have decided – despite the elapsed time – to leak it via this blog.

Dear Mahmoud,

Thanks for asking after Laura and the girls. Laura is fine. She’s just back from a short break in Costa Rica. I’d love to have gone with her as I hear the fishing is great down there. Unfortunately business kept me in Washington. I tell you Mahmoud, I work six, sometimes seven, hours a day, and even put in a half day some Saturdays, and still I can’t keep up with it all. Who’d have thought being president would be so time-consuming? I guess with Iran being so much smaller, you can probably get away with a three day week. It must be a bit like running a ball team or an oil company I imagine.

As for the kids… well Jenna and Barbara are a bit of a handful to be honest. They seem to have stayed out of trouble with the law recently, but I’m not sure how much of that’s down to the Secret Service hushing things up. Nobody tells me anything around here.

You know, I’ve often said that despite being evil and everything, you guys do have some good ideas. When I think of the trouble the twins have caused, I really believe we could learn a bit about treating womenfolk from you. Don’t mention I said that if you’re talking to Condi though. When I suggested it at a cabinet meeting a few weeks ago, she threw a right strop and stormed out. But as Rummy said later, she was probably having her period.

But look here Mahmoud, as nice as it is shooting the breeze with you and all, let’s get down to brass tacks. The United States of America has a sacred mission to safeguard truth, justice and democracy throughout the world. We shoulder this mission willingly, even though it is not without its burdens. At times many around the world (and at home) disagree with the methods we use to safeguard truth, justice and democracy. We become an object of distrust… even hatred. But we know our mission is vital to the future of the world, and we will continue to safeguard democracy no matter how many people disagree. We will continue until we have accomplished this mission.

For if not us, then who? The Russkis? I know you get on fairly well with them but come on Mahmoud! That place is on the verge of collapse. If they can’t get their own house in order, how can they be expected to safeguard democracy around the world? Their military is falling to pieces; nuclear subs sinking and the entire Red Navy unable to do anything about the stranded sailors; the naval base in Murmansk having the electricity cut off for non-payment of bills; and missile silos regularly left unguarded over the weekend. Their economy has been passed from one gangster to the next and now Putin is going all commie with nationalisation and what have you. And you can’t get a decent slice of pecan pie in the whole damn country.

The Chinese? Well, I think we can both agree that the world would be in a bad way if it was relying on China to safeguard truth and justice. They’re friends with North Korea; a place even more evil than your country (which is saying something). They have a human rights record that makes Gitmo – heck, even Abu Ghraib! – look tame. There was that Tiananmen Square thing. And we’re frankly rather unhappy with the way they’re driving up oil prices. Although I guess that’s one area you and me will have to agree to differ.

So you see Mahmoud, it really is up to us – the US – to be the world’s policeman, umpire and guardian. And I have to say that you folks in Iran are making that job far more difficult than it needs to be. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “But what are we going to do about Iran, Mr. President?” I’d be slightly richer than I already am (which is also saying something). It’s no secret that the people I was elected to serve want to see decisive action. In fact they told me that in no uncertain terms last time I met with them. “Mr. President”, they said, “we at the Halliburton Corporation want to see decisive action”.

And it’d be damned undemocratic of me to go against the wishes of my constituents, though I guess you wouldn’t understand that over in Iran. Nevertheless Mahmoud, as a Christian I’ve a duty to seek a peaceful solution to a problem before sending in the 5th Fleet. So here it is. Me, Rummy and Dick spent almost a full hour coming up with this list of demands. If you agree to implement them, I can almost guarantee that I won’t launch a series of devastating land, sea and air strikes against your major population centres and national infrastructure. Not only that, but I’ll try to talk the Israelis out of wiping you off the map with their nukes.

Here at the White House we feel these demands are more than fair (heck, you should hear some of Dick’s ideas that we ruled out). Firstly, it goes without saying that you cease all further nuclear research. It’s unacceptable for that technology to fall into the hands of evil Islamic fundamentalists. Secondly, your High Council of clerics must be disbanded. Political power needs to rest in the hands of those who have been elected, freely and fairly. I couldn’t honestly call myself a guardian of democracy if I didn’t insist on that one. Thirdly, you need to step down and allow exactly those free and fair elections I’m talking about to occur. Rummy has drawn up a shortlist of pro-democracy Iranian-Americans who will be glad to return to Iran, get elected, and take responsibility for the future of their homeland.

Once these three demands have been met it’ll be a cinch for the new, sensible, pro-democracy government of Iran to implement demands 4 through 62.

I hope you’ll agree that this plan is in the best interests of the people of Iran. After all, it does them no good at all to be a member of the Axis of Evil.

You take care of yourself, Mahmoud, and I look forward to your response.

All the best, George W. Bush (President).

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Jun 2006

Are We Changing Planet Earth?

The first target of my freshly loaded scatter-gun is, I’m sorry to say, David Attenborough. Or rather, the second programme in his latest series; Are We Changing Planet Earth?

I should point out that I’m a big fan of David Attenborough. The Blue Planet ranks high amongst the best things ever to grace a television screen, and over the years Attenborough has probably done as much for conservation and environmentalism as any individual. After all, it’s only by making the public aware of what they stand to lose that they will ever be motivated to change their ways.

His latest programme, Are We Changing Planet Earth? is a two-parter dealing with the issue of climate change, and specifically human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change. In part one, Attenborough revealed that he’d long been sceptical of the claims being made about anthropogenic climate change but that eventually the evidence provided by climatologists had become – to his eyes – utterly compelling. He presented that evidence in an easily-digestible format and by the end of the first episode had done a fine job of demonstrating that anthropogenic climate change is in fact occurring.

Episode one ended with a question; “What can we do about it?”; and the promise that episode two would answer that question.

But it didn’t. Or rather, it provided the wrong answer. Wrong by quite a margin.

I don’t know how much of the second episode was intended as sugar-coating; an attempt to get the ball moving by taking a resolutely optimistic stance and preaching business-as-(almost)-usual. Did Attenborough make an editorial decision “not to be depressing”? In a world where half of us seem to be on anti-deps, perhaps that’s unsurprising. But it’s also dishonest.

Let’s get something straight… there’s a lot of depressing shit going on right now. We can decide to hide behind denial and prozac, but that doesn’t make the shit go away. Indeed it tends to reinforce it and encourage it to multiply.

Attenborough presented a seven-point plan which aimed at ensuring that carbon emissions remain static between now and 2050. Right now, here in 2006, emissions are the highest they have ever been. Having spent an episode and a quarter revealing the damage already done and underway as a result of anthropogenic climate change, it was mind-boggling that he then chose to imply that 2006 emission levels were hunky dory.

Even worse, the seven-point plan didn’t make any sense. There was a recommendation to increase the amount of electricity generated by nuclear power by a factor of three. As I’ve pointed out before, estimates of remaining uranium reserves talk about another 50 or so years at current rates of consumption. Trebling that rate would – presumably – reduce the lifespan of nuclear power to roughly 17 years. Even if we double the known reserves (i.e. discover as much uranium ore between now and 2050 as we know currently exists), we still only get to 2040 before our reserves are depleted. What then?

And what about the carbon emitted by the construction of almost a thousand new reactors? And the threefold increase in uranium mining, processing and transportation? Are these numbers factored into the total “saving”? One number that isn’t factored in, of course, is what level of carbon emissions will be generated by the systems used to deal with the waste during the next 10 millennia. Perhaps it’s minimal… but we simply don’t know; so any claim that nuclear energy provides a net reduction in carbon emissions over the longterm is plainly dishonest.

The programme made much of the disintegration of Antarctic ice-shelves and the melting of the Greenland pack ice and Patagonian glaciers… processes that are still accelerating as a result of carbon emissions from the past couple of decades. Any plan, therefore, to stabilise emissions at current – historically high – levels is surely, by definition, too little too late.

Another of the seven points presented by Attenborough was the switch to fuel-efficient cars, along with a 50% reduction in our use of those cars. If we had a couple of generations in which to wean people off their cars, then this might be a sensible idea. But it’s just too damn late for mollycoddling motorists – the despoilers of our planet. Almost 50% of the carbon emissions produced by any private car (fuel-efficient or not) occur prior to the tank being filled for the first time. That’s right; half the carbon produced by your new car was produced before you bought it.

So you’ll understand why I balk at the idea of massively increasing demand for new cars. It’s music to the ears of the auto industry of course, but it just sounds like noise to me. Had Attenborough’s programme made all the same points (even the nuclear nonsense) but simply included a couple of lines about the basic unsustainability of the private car then this article would never have been written. But instead we have a programme that talks about purchasing new cars that get 60 miles to the gallon, and using them less. All in order to keep our carbon emissions at levels already causing significant shifts in our climate.

It makes no sense.

Of course, Attenborough should be praised for further raising the profile of this important issue. And most of his seven points were eminently sensible suggestions… greater energy efficiency in our homes (10% of our electricity is wasted by TVs and stereos left on standby)… a major expansion of wind power… a reduction in air travel. All good ideas whose time is already long overdue. But I am increasingly frustrated by those who suggest that a few minor tweaks to our absurdly energy-intensive lifestyle will solve the problem of anthropogenic climate change. That’s just not good enough.

So, off the top of my head, here’s my own 7-point plan to combat climate change:

  1. Halt all investment in both nuclear and fossil-fuel powered electricity generation (China is planning on building 50 new coal-fired power stations every year for the next two decades. Scary, huh?)
  2. Massively increase investment in wind and tide power generation. Allow individuals to offset the increase in electricity costs by all the efficiency measures discussed by Attenborough in his programme.
  3. Announce a tenfold increase in car tax, road tax, road tolls and petrol tax. The increases will occur 3 months after the announcement to allow people to plan for a drastic reduction in car use. Announce that these taxes will be increased by a similar rate year-on-year. Implement a similar tax on jet fuel.
  4. Invest heavily in public transport, but also in localisation strategies so that people don’t need to travel as far.
  5. Legislate so that all new homes are built to the Passivhaus standard.
  6. Legislate so that no electronic equipment may be manufactured with a standby mode.
  7. Pass laws which stipulate that a percentage of all produce stocked in a store must be sourced from within 50 miles of that store. This percentage to increase year-on-year.

Remember, these are off the top of my head, but I nonetheless guarantee that they’d make genuine inroads into dealing with the problem of anthropogenic climate change. Unlike Attenborough’s seven points. Which – at best – will keep things static… a non-solution.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

May 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "Letters From Iran"

I’m fascinated by the news that the Iranian president (religious mentalist, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) has sent an 18-page letter to the American president (religious mentalist, George Bush). As yet the letter hasn’t been published publicly, but the leaks make it sound just as weird as I could have imagined. Of course all the leaks are coming from the US end of things, but in these days of internets and whatnot, it’ll be easy enough for the Iranians to disseminate an accurate copy should fabrications begin to appear…

I got hold of what Reuters are calling “an abridged version”. Make of it what you will:

Dear George (or may I call you “Dubya”),

America has been a force for evil in the world. For years you have blundered about the globe meddling in the affairs of everyone else. In 1979 we decided to have nothing more to do with you and have had no official contact since then. Sadly that is no longer possible now that you have flattened and invaded half our neighbours, called us part of “the axis of evil” and your administration has begun pointedly denying that an invasion is planned every time they’re asked about bombing Iran. This has us all a bit worried here in Tehran.

Frankly we think it’s about time you pissed off out of the middle east and central asia. No seriously. You’ve no business being here, and we think it’s about time you left. Your unwavering support for unelected dictatorships and royal families in the name of democracy whilst you napalm villages in the name of peace was embarrassing to watch while you were doing it to other countries. Now that you seem to be looking at us with those war-room eyes, I felt it was time to contact you directly and ask whether you’ve completely taken leave of your senses?

Look, so long as you’re willing to pay the market price (in euros), we here in the middle east don’t mind sending shipfuls of our oil across the oceans to be burnt in American cars. We’ll sell as long as you can afford to buy. We just don’t like the idea of you stealing the stuff by setting up client governments all over the place.

So in the interests of stability – something you seem to value so much – we feel it’d be a good idea to get rid of the majority of the weapons and bombs currently in the region. We’ve done a lot of consultation, focus groups and research and discovered that everyone would feel a lot less twitchy around here if you, therefore, took all your soldiers and tanks and guns and planes home to America. Or go save the Sudanese maybe? We honestly don’t care just as long as you’re moving in a direction that is “away” from us. And they do seem to genuinely need assistance.

Oh another thing… and I know this is a bit of a touchy subject, but this being our first chance to chat in 27 years, I’d be a fool if I didn’t take the opportunity… would you mind taking Israel back home with you? Yes, yes, I know all that stuff about them being the chosen people and God giving them that piece of land. But here’s the thing… we don’t actually believe that, and there’s no hard evidence to support it. So from where we stand, it looks like – far from being God-given – the modern state of Israel was actually created by a bunch of colonial powers stealing Palestinian land under pressure from Zionist terrorism in order to assuage their feelings of guilt about the holocaust.

Frankly – despite the bad press I get over in the West – I don’t have a problem with a homeland for the jewish people. But we in Iran do have to wonder why the Palestinians should pay for the atrocities of the Germans. Would it not make more sense to give, say, Bavaria to the jewish people? Or if you Americans are really that concerned, well you’ve got plenty of land. Give them North Dakota. Who’d notice?

I know, that’s probably a bit much to expect. But honestly, it’s difficult to see how better to improve stability than by removing US and Israeli influence from the region.

Oh and listen up George. You going around calling yourself a “Man of God” is starting to give us genuine “Men of God” a bad name. Either shape up, or ship out. Hear what I’m saying? America’s “separation of church and state” tells us all we need to know about how much a Man of God you are. Right? And let that be a warning to you by the way. Saddam Hussein was a secular dictator. Of course God chose your side in that war. But if you try to take us on, well… you’ll be cruisin’ for a bruisin’ and no mistake.

This is a religious state for crying out loud! We’ve got clerics who can kick me out of office if they want. That’s proper “Man of God” stuff let me tell you. Whose side do you think God would be on if it came to a straight choice between you and me? Eh? Seriously George, I’d think twice before pissing off Allah The Most Merciful. He can be a right ruthless bastid when He gets going.

Anyways, I’ve got more to say but I’ve just noticed the time and Buffy is on in 10 minutes and I want to catch the last post before it comes on (they’re repeating Season 5 on satellite. Glory is a fantastic ‘Big Bad’, but I still think I like The Mayor best). I hope I hear back from you soon; particularly re: the whole pulling your military out of the region thing that I mentioned. Love to Laura and the kids.


Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

PS: That whole nuke issue? We’ve decided to continue enrichment. Bye now.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Apr 2006

Nukes in Ireland

Ireland, like everywhere else on the planet, is staring down the barrel of an energy crisis. Petrol prices at the pumps hit an all-time high in Dublin this week. Adjusted for inflation, there were brief periods during the political instability of the 1970s when they spiked higher, but there seems little doubt that crude oil will be trading at above $80 per barrel before long, which outstrips even those earlier spikes.

Dr. Colin Campbell, of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), speculated on Irish radio a couple of weeks ago that we could easily witness a fivefold increase on current prices by the end of the decade. When I mentioned this to someone, they told me it was impossible.

“That would mean I’d be paying €400 to fill my car. I can’t afford that.”

I pointed out that didn’t make it impossible. Merely extremely inconvenient for them. But consumerism has somehow – bizarrely – conflated those two distinct ideas in the minds of millions. Which is more than a little unsettling.

I’ve remarked on this many times, but it’s difficult not to find it remarkable. You see, watching “peak oil” develop from being a prediction shared by myself and a few hundred other people into one of the four greatest problems our civilisation will face (the others being climate change, nuclear weapons and Barry Manilow), has just been a remarkable experience. This conspiracy theory possessed by the lunatic fringe – the very premise of which was openly mocked by authorities and experts – has evolved so quickly and dramatically.

If you dig around the various political and corporate websites of the world, you can begin to see references to ‘peak oil’ emerging. But I believe the statement from Irish Green Party energy spokesman Eamon Ryan TD is the first time I’ve heard the phrase uttered in public by an Irish politician…

The only answer to the rising price spiral was to consume less, he said.

“Oil prices may spike above $100 a barrel within the year, but calls for a cut in taxes instead of moving to reduce our oil dependency were missing the point.”

“Prices may fall in the short term, before soaring when the long-term problems with peak oil really start to kick in.”

OK, so it is only the Greens. But it’s a start. And I’m delighted to see the words “consume less” appearing. People should get used to the idea of consuming less, before they have to get used to having less to consume.

What, I guess, sets Ireland a little apart from other nations is the fact that the government (Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment) have commissioned a report into the issue of Ireland’s dependence on oil. The Forfás report will be remembered as the Buzz Aldrin of peak oil studies. The second official document (after the US Department of Energy’s Hirsch Report – download PDF) to highlight the approaching crisis.

The key findings of the Forfás report are as follows:

  • There is growing evidence to suggest that the era of a plentiful supply of conventional oil is approaching an end. Various experts and groups have developed projections for when peak oil will occur. While there is a wide variation of estimates about the likely timing, most expert commentators believe that 10-15 years from now, conventional oil supply will no longer be capable of satisfying world demand at current prices. While this subject is clouded by a low level of quality data, there is near global consensus that the potential consequences of peak oil for governments, economies, businesses and indeed individual consumers should be considered now as it will take at least ten years to prepare for its onset.
  • Ireland consumed nine million tonnes of oil in 2004, an amount that has doubled since 1990. In 2002, Ireland ranked 3rd highest among the EU-25 countries in terms of oil consumed per capita.
  • Electricity generation and transportation are the two main factors for Ireland’s high oil dependence. Ireland has relied considerably more on oil for electricity generation than most other EU countries and, as of 2002, had the 6th most oil dependent electricity generation system of the EU-25 countries. The amount of oil used for transportation in Ireland tripled between 1972 and 2002, leaving Ireland consuming at least 50 per cent more per capita than the average of the EU-25 by the end of the period.
  • Taking into account the Irish economy’s relative dependence on imported oil and the relative share of oil in total Irish energy consumption, Ireland is among the most sensitive to rising oil prices and therefore among the most vulnerable to a peak oil scenario.

And the key recommendations are as follows:

  • Ireland should undertake a number of initiatives to reduce the usage of oil in transportation, for example, by bringing about the replacement over time of the existing stock of vehicles with more fuel-efficient vehicles and the provision of alternative modes of transport, particularly public transport, that run on electricity rather than petroleum related fuels (e.g. electrified trams, trains and buses). The potential of using biofuels for transportation should also be investigated.
  • Ireland should assess options to address security of supply concerns that may arise in the context of peak oil. Options should include expanding domestic oil storage capabilities and contracting bilaterally with oil-producing countries that continue to have a surplus of production relative to their domestic requirements. Accelerating plans to develop more East-West electricity interconnection with the UK would also provide a significant degree of energy security, subject to the UK resolving its own security of energy supply problems.
  • Ireland should consider increasing the use of renewable energy sources for electricity generation (such as wind, wave, tidal energy etc), maintaining the continued operation of Moneypoint (Ireland’s only coal fired power station). Although not economically feasible in the short to medium term, Ireland should consider the possibility of developing nuclear energy as a more long-term solution.
  • Ireland should adopt a proactive approach to energy efficiency, seeking to place Ireland at the leading edge of energy efficiency practices. The EU Energy Performance Building Directive (EPBD), which came into effect in January 2006 will provide a basis for assessing and improving energy usage in commercial and residential buildings that is intended to result in a more efficient use of electrical energy.
  • Ireland should accelerate the implementation of the National Spatial Strategy in preparation for peak oil. Current spatial patterns in Ireland militate against the development of an efficient and effective public transport system. The development of regional gateways and hubs will play a key part in enabling urban communities to respond to the challenges of peak oil. Those communities that are adequately resourced in terms of public transport infrastructure will have greater choice in relation to how they respond.

Amazingly enough, this is all pretty sensible stuff for a government report. The clear emphasis is on energy efficiency, demand-reduction and replacing private car use with public transport. And for those who haven’t read it, that is in fact the general view taken by the report. I’m not selectively quoting, those are the conclusions in full. Which is why I’m so incredibly pissed off at the Irish Green Party’s response, and any respect I had for Eamon Ryan TD (their energy spokesman who made the “peak oil” remark) has been taken out back and given a good kicking.

You’re aware, of course, why the Greens responded with such mindless aggression (and believe me, “mindless” was a word chosen very very carefully). It was the word “nuclear” that did it.

No Nukes

Green Party response to the report
Back when I was a teenage conspiracy theorist and UFO crashes were being covered up at a rate of knots, I would have been convinced that Big Business had paid off the Irish Green Party to rubbish the first sensible policy document to emerge in decades.

My mind is no longer clouded by the excitablity of youth. Now I just figure they’re a bunch of fricking idiots.

Let’s be clear about one thing… building a nuclear power station in Ireland would be deeply idiotic. Relative to our size, we probably have better access to renewable energy resources for electricity generation than almost anywhere else on the planet. The decision to use a non-renewable, horrendously expensive and deeply unpopular alternative could only be taken by the quality of moron that even mainstream politics would reject (hard though it may be to believe).

The nuclear debate is actually a very simple one. Far less complicated than the pro-nuclear side would have you believe and, I suspect, far simpler than they’re aware. According to the Australian government – who possess the world’s largest reserves of uranium ore – we have less than fifty years of the stuff remaining at current consumption rates. This fact will become more apparent as consumption increases when – inevitably – some countries do use nukes to mitigate oil and gas depletion.

I also have grave concerns regarding the safety of nuclear reactors and the waste they generate. However, I have no interest in discussing those as objections to a nuclear power policy. The sustainability issue speaks for itself and until that can be adequately addressed I don’t see the need to complicate the debate (note: In the comments, I’m willing to discuss the logistics of “uranium from seawater” and will even speculate on currently unproven technologies like fast-breeder reactors and nuclear fusion… but the last time I had those debates I came away convinced that they don’t – as of now – make nuclear energy sustainable). And replacing one source of energy with another experiencing identical supply constraints is not a sane policy.

People’s Front of Judea

Is it the mindlessness of the mob that leads institutions (such as the Green Party of Ireland) to shoot themselves in the foot so effectively? Or is it something to do with being a pressure group “in opposition” for so long, so that when someone finally starts to agree with them, they launch a fullscale attack?

And the sheer dishonesty of elements of that attack leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

In particular I want to address Eamon Ryan’s response. As the party spokesman on energy, I would expect him to be best informed on both his own party policies in the area, as well as on the issues involved. So I can’t make up my mind whether he failed to read the report he’s responding to, failed to understand it, or has a vested interest in misrepresenting it.

Ignorance, stupidity or dishonesty? Frankly I find none of them to be attractive qualities in a member of parliament.

We welcome the debate on nuclear power and are confident that a proper economic and scientific analysis of the option will show nuclear is not the right solution for Ireland. We regret that the Forfás report on oil dependency turned in the end into a call for nuclear power. Remarkably there was no economic or scientific analysis in the report to back up such a call.

First of all, they clearly don’t “welcome” the debate. The report they line up to “challenge”… the one the energy spokesman “regrets” simply calls for nuclear power to be “considered” as one of a number of options. That’s the word that’s used. It’s one paragraph in the report. It reads…

Another option for Ireland to secure its long run energy security, especially in relation to electricity generation, will be to consider developing the use of nuclear energy. Although this is explicitly not part of Ireland’s policy preferences at present, the revived interest in redeveloping a nuclear electricity sector in the UK will provide an important context for Ireland’s electricity options in the next 5-15 years. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) suggest that, due to the large size of nuclear plant and the small size of the Irish electricity system, a nuclear facility would require so much back-up conventional plant as to substantially raise its overall costs, reducing any potential attraction for investors. The economically feasible scale of a nuclear power station would exceed the capacity of the Irish market to absorb its output. Therefore, Ireland is currently not an attractive location for building a nuclear power station. However, if smaller scale power stations were to come on stream and Ireland’s level of interconnection with the UK market was significantly increased, nuclear energy could become a more realistic energy option for Ireland.

Y’know, in the dictionary, under “equivocal” it says “See that one paragraph about Irish nuclear power potential in the Forfás oil dependency report”. Seriously, if that’s not a call for a debate, then what the hell is it?

Here you have a potentially influential report emerging from within government channels (also with potential for international significance… Dr. Robert Hirsch was a consultant on the report, so you can be sure it’s getting picked up by researchers googling for info); a report filled to the brim with sensible energy policy ideas; and yet the Greens seize on the one ambiguous paragraph that may, in a certain light, give them pause for thought. They’re not just throwing the baby out with the bathwater by painting this report as “a call for nuclear power”, they’re throwing a big sack of handgrenades out after it.

I don’t know what upsets me more… the diabolical nature of capitalism or the incompetence of those we elect to keep it in check. The most plausible explanation that I’ve come up with for Eamon Ryan TD’s response is that he heard an interview or had a discussion with one of the authors of the report. The author was pro-nuclear (i.e. someone on the opposite side of the debate to me and the Greens) and put forward a pro-nuke argument in the context of the report. Ryan didn’t read the report; merely presumed it reflected the opinions of the person he heard talking. Because except for one other mention (non-policy related) nuclear power is not mentioned anywhere else in the report. If you have read this whole article, you have read every relevant word it had to say on the subject.

If the Green Party are rejecting an important set of policy recommendations, and putting their weight behind discrediting them, based upon Eamon Ryan TD’s interpretation of some hearsay, then he needs to resign his brief.

We are now challenging Forfás to present their analysis. The authors of the report argue that we need nuclear power to provide for new electric transport systems. However, only 0.1 per cent of our current electricity goes to power electrified rail lines such as the Dart and the Luas. We could provide a hundred new Dart systems and still have little problem in meeting the increase in electricity demand through the use of renewable resources.

This also pisses me off. Notice the screengrab above, and lovely juxtaposition between the image promoting their biofuels policy and the line: “Remarkably there was no economic or scientific analysis in the report to back up such a call.” It’s pots and kettles all over the place. Except it’s not. Here it’s the pot calling something that’s not black, black.

The reason the Forfás report doesn’t present the “analysis” Eamon Ryan demands, is that it readily admits that the analysis has not been done. In fact, the report is very much a call for precisely that kind of analysis to be done. It urgently calls for assessment of all possible energy resources. This report was an investigation into oil dependency (the title gives it away: A Baseline Assessment of Ireland’s Oil Dependence). What it discovered was that there’s a big problem approaching. In response it calls for research into the best way of solving that problem. Yet the Greens jump up and try to discredit it.

This report calls for an open and honest assessment of our options. Furthermore, it lists several serious difficulties with the nuclear option – highlighting more cons than pros – while doing nothing of the sort when discussing renewables or demand reduction. Taken at face value, this report appears vaguely biased against nuclear power in Ireland. However, if some of the people who compiled it wish to argue in favour of nukes then they’re more than entitled to do so… that’s the nature of the debate that the Greens claim to welcome.

And in case it’s unclear as to why I found such irony in the juxtaposition of that challenge “to present analysis” with the ‘Biofuels’ image, let me direct you to my previous article (Biofuels – The fuel of the future) where I question the rationale behind viewing biofuels as a substitute for fossil fuels. It is my contention that by putting their modest weight behind Biofuels, the Greens are guilty of exactly the failure to provide analysis they wrongly accuse the Forfás report of.

Biofuels, if viewed as a serious contender to plug our liquid fuel shortfall, will result in catastrophic ecological destruction. George Monbiot – in his article, Worse Than Fossil Fuel – states that “Biodiesel enthusiasts have accidentally invented the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth”. He’s not wrong. HT Odum’s quip that ‘modern agriculture is merely an inefficient method of converting fossil fuel into food’ can be equally applied to biofuels. And quite aside from the energy inefficiency involved, the effects on biodiversity would inevitably be disastrous.

Is the Green Party of Ireland suggesting that arable land currently devoted to food production be switched to biofuel production? Or do they suggest we appropriate land from currently untouched ecologies? Either way, have they examined the effects that such an expansion of largescale monoculture policy would have on the environment they’ve selected to grow the fuel stock? My back of the napkin calculation suggested that Ireland would need to devote its entire arable land surface area to growing high-yield fuel crops, while still importing almost half its liquid fuel needs, just to drive the current private automobile fleet (i.e. not addressing freight, power generation, aviation, heating, etc.)

Let me make the same challenge to Eamon Ryan TD… present the analysis which suggests that biofuel is the fuel of the future. And that doesn’t mean a photoshoot next to a van running on used cooking oil.

The authors’ proposal that we contract for a lifetime extension of the Wylfa nuclear plant in North Wales, to feed nuclear power back across an Irish sea interconnector also makes little sense. The reality is that the British Government is never going to agree to this. They themselves are running short of generating power and having a heated debate about whether they should build new nuclear plants. There is no way they will not give up options such as extending existing plant lifetimes which could meet their own needs.

I have no idea whether the authors of the report recommend importing more electricity generated at the Wyfla plant in North Wales. Perhaps they do, but they don’t do it in the report. Unless the search facility in my copy of Adobe Reader isn’t working; neither the word “Wyfla” nor the word “Wales” appear in the text of “A Baseline Assessment of Ireland’s Oil Dependence”.

The report does indeed recommend a greater integration of the UK and Irish electricity grids. This is a staggeringly obvious recommendation, and anyone seriously examining energy security in Ireland would make it. I suspect that Eamon Ryan TD is correct when he suggests that the British government, when examining its own energy security needs, will refuse to increase exports to Ireland.

But that’s no reason not to examine the option and perhaps put out feelers… with a major investment in Irish windpower, it could well be beneficial to both the UK and Ireland to increase transmission capacity between the countries; with the British grid taking advantage of Irish spare capacity during periods of peak wind power and Ireland drawing on British spare capacity on calm days. I’m not suggesting it would work, but I fail to see why the Greens are challenging a call to examine the possibility.

There are many environmental reasons why nuclear power makes no sense but it will be ruled out here first and foremost on simple economic and energy policy grounds. The large size of nuclear plants within a small electricity grid such as our own means the cost of reserve power to cover plant breakdowns, makes it prohibitively expensive.

As I mentioned earlier, my objection to nuclear power rests on its unsustainable nature. And when I speak of “sustainability”, I’m speaking of physical systems sustainability; environmental sustainability. I see all matters of policy through that particular prism. Economics is never a consideration, and I despair when the Greens of all people place it “first and foremost”. My fundamental question is this: “Given a baseline requirement for a 100% sustainable civilisation, how can humanity organise itself and its available resources in such a way as to achieve this with the least suffering?”

Of course some of those terms need defining, but that can wait for another day. One thing that should be recognised, though, is that my insistence on “sustainability” is a philosophical / ethical / moral stance. And one I’m willing to discuss. I believe that through the use of military force and the ruthless exploitation of the remaining resources of the planet, we in the West could probably sustain our way of life for a while longer. However I consider that a morally repugnant option. We have a moral responsibility to those who are physically weaker than us, not to use our superior might to take advantage of that disparity. And we have a moral responsibility to future generations to provide them with a world that is at least no worse than the one we inherited.

Modern western civilisation is failing in both those moral duties. The Forfás report, by placing so much emphasis on demand reduction and energy efficiency, is proposing policies which will – indirectly – begin to redress that. I’m still confounded by the Greens failure to embrace the “all-but-one” paragraphs of the report that don’t mention nukes.

The Green Party is already putting in place real measures to solve the energy crisis we face far more effectively. In Fingal and Dun Laoghaire Councils we have put new energy efficient building standards into local area development plans which will cut in half the power used in our buildings, saving householders thousands of euro each year.

Excellent stuff. This is precisely the kind of activity recommended by the Forfás report.

Switching our car fleet to fuel efficient engines would save as much energy as a nuclear power plant would provide. Switching off our televisions and radios from standby could save the equivalent power produced by two of our peat fired power stations.

Both statements may well be true even though they sound so trite… where’s the analysis Eamon? Eh? But it’s the language of “business as usual”. And guess what…?

All these measures save the Irish public hard cash with no loss of the services energy provides.

See it? The “vote for me” line? The Forfás report implies that the future may well require sacrifice. That it won’t be business as usual. That our society faces significant problems.

The Green message – from the mouth of their energy spokesman – is that a vote for him will save you money, let you buy a shiny new space car and require no greater change in your lifestyle than switching off your telly before you go to bed.

Sleep tight.

13 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion