An article published by Wade Allison in the New Statesman.
Finding sufficient energy is essential to all life. Humans have excelled at this, notably when they studied and overcame their innate fear of fire some 600,000 years ago. Until the Industrial Revolution they made do with energy derived, directly or indirectly, from the daily sunshine that drives waterpower, the wind and other manifestations including the production of vegetation and food. But, although better than for other creatures, human life was short and miserable for the population at large. The causes were the anaemic strength of the Sun’s rays, averaging 340 watts per square metre, and its random interruption by unpredicted weather.
With fossil fuels the available energy increased, anywhere at any time. Life expectancy doubled and the world population quadrupled. For 200 years whoever had access to fossil fuels had world power. However, at the 2015 Paris Conference nations agreed that the emission of carbon posed an existential threat and that, sooner rather than later, this should cease.
Technology may be challenging and exciting, but it cannot deliver energy where none exists, today as in pre-industrial times. Writing in 1867, Karl Marx1 dismissed wind power as “too inconstant and uncontrollable”. He saw waterpower as better, but “as the predominant source of power [it] was beset with difficulties”. Today, the vast size of hydro, wind and solar plants reflects their weakness and destructive impact on flora and fauna – a point curiously ignored by environmentalists.
If renewables are simply inadequate and fossil fuel emissions only accelerate climate change further, what abundant primary energy source might permit political and economic stability for the next 200 years? Natural science can say without doubt the only answer is nuclear.2
In 1931 Winston Churchill wrote3
The coal a man can get in a day can easily do 500 times as much work as the man himself. Nuclear energy is at least one million times more powerful still… There is no question among scientists that this gigantic source of energy exists. What is lacking is the match to set the bonfire alight… The discovery and control of such sources of power would cause changes in human affairs incomparably greater than those produced by the steam-engine four generations ago.
He was right, but that requires adequate public education. However, in recovering from WWII and its aftermath the world lost confidence and demonised nuclear energy. This denial of an exceptional benefit to society has persisted for 70 years supported by bogus science and oil interests.4 Yet, aside from the blast of a nuclear explosion, nuclear energy and its radiation are safer than fire, as confirmed by evidence from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.5 Furthermore, applications in medicine pioneered by Marie Curie have been widely appreciated for 120 years.
Fully informed, everybody should welcome the security of small mass-produced cheap local nuclear energy plants dedicated to serving modest-sized communities for 80 years with on-demand electricity, off-peak hydrogen, fertiliser, industrial heat, and seasonless farming. The only real expenses are knowledgeable effort and public confidence – with regulations and financing matched to actual risks.
Karl Marx, Das Capital Vol 1, Part 4, Chapter 15, Section1, p263. ↩
www.researchgate.net/publication/339629356/ Nature_Energy_and_Society_ A_scientific_study_of_the_options_ facing_civilisation_today with extensive references. More simply and briefly: www.researchgate.net/publication/360369986_ The_only_source_of_energy_ sufficient_on_its_own ↩
A forensic study of the history of the Linear No-Threshold Model published by the Health Physics Society (2022). Introduction https://hps.org/hpspublications/historylnt/ and links to episodes https://hps.org/hpspublications/historylnt/episodeguide.html ↩
Wade Allison, We Should Stop Running Away from Radiation, Philosophy and Technology (Springer) 24(2011)193 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12860842 Wade Allison, Life and Nuclear Radiation: Chernobyl and Fukushima in Perspective, European Journal of Risk Regulation 2(2011)373. https://www.jstor.org/stable/24323099 ↩