Tuesday, April 05, 2011

George Monbiot's nuclear conversion

See here.

Once upon a time I worked for the government on assessing the safety of nuclear power stations, and I was involved at the highest level when a significant decision was made about the future of Sellafield (the THORP plant) - I even received a congratulatory message from John Major about the quality of my briefing for his PM Questions (boast!). One of the take-away facts from then is that most people are incredibly superstitious about radiation. The truth is that we are exposed to radiation all the time and, without it, there would be much less evolution over time. If memory serves, the UK regulatory system was much tougher on the nuclear industry than it was on, eg, the coal and fertiliser industries which also generated significant quantities of radiation - indeed, I remember being told that more radioactivity in the Irish Sea came from a fertiliser plant in Cumbria than actually came from Sellafield!

Which is not to say that nuclear power is the answer to all our problems. The principal case against it is economic, both in the medium term (it needs to be subsidised during operations) and especially in the longer term (what to do with nuclear waste). It also locks us into a centralised structure of power generation, which is much less resilient than a dispersed and localised pattern of power generation which I suspect is our future. I think there are interesting possibilities for some measure of nuclear power - eg the Thorium cycle and pebble-bed reactors - but it is probably too late now, not least because after Fukushima - in many ways an incredible testimony to the SAFETY of nuclear power! - the bar of public opinion is set so much higher.

Monbiot seems to have finally grasped two things - that radiation is nowhere near as dangerous as it is often made out to be (see this excellent graphic by xkcd), and also that much of the advocacy in the green movement is driven by emotion and superstition. I look forward to him seeing the light on SOME aspects of agw...


  1. The thing that's odd with Monbiot is that IIRC he's arguments against Nuclear was never the risk of radiation or disasters. At least in "Heat" he says that that argument is overrated, but bases his stance against nuclear on the connection between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, and on the fact that nuclear energy is to slow and expensive to build in order to address Climate change in any significant way. He has as far as I can see not addressed either of these points since his "conversion".

  2. In the museum in Barnstaple, North Devon, there are some wonderful glazed orange pots, made around the 19th and early 20th century, using a Uranium glaze. They are, of course, radioactive.

    From about the age of ten to my mid twenties I wore a radioactive fluorescent watch, sent to me by an uncle in Canada, which sent the school geiger counter crazy, much to our amusement!

    My hand still hasn't fallen off, they obviously I can't say it had no effect (who knows?).

  3. PS, domestic smoke alarms contain a small radioactive source.

  4. Some links:




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