Thoughts in the atmosphere

Things of the world, and out of it.

Nuclear energy – do we need it?

Posted by desicontrarian on June 6, 2009

Extracts from “The Turning point” by Fritjof Capra.
Begin extract.
—————
1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.
2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.
3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.
5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plu ionium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?
————-
End of extract.
Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination”. 
I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

I used to read a lot of counter-culture books as a student.  Of course,  mostly Anglo-American. A high-impact book was  “The Turning point”  by Fritjof Capra.  After that, I became an ardent anti-nuclearist! This was nearly 25 years ago. I still think it is a profound book, better than his cult best-seller “The Tao of Physics”.

Here he is on nuclear energy in chapter 8 –  “The dark side of growth” .

1. Only ten to twenty pounds of plutonium are required lo make a bomb, and each nuclear reactor produces four hundred to five hundred pounds of plutonium annually, enough for twenty to fifty atomic bombs. Through plutonium, reactor technology and weapons technology have become inseparably linked.

2. Politicians in Third World countries often welcome nuclear technology, however, because it gives them a chance to use it for building nuclear weapons. By the end of the century dozens of countries will possess enough nuclear material to manufacture bombs of their own, and we can expect those countries to copy the American patterns of behavior and use their nuclear power to make aggressive threats.

3. The health hazards of nuclear power are of an ecological nature and operate on an extremely large scale, both in space and in time. Nuclear power plants, and military facilities release radioactive substances that contaminate the environment, thus affecting all living organisms, including humans. The effects are not immediate but gradual, and they are accumulating to more dangerous levels all the time. In the human organism these substances contaminate the internal environment with many medium- and long term consequences, Cancer tends to develop after ten to forty years, and genetic diseases can appear in future generations. 4. In the process of producing energy from nuclear power, both the workers in the nuclear industry and the whole natural environment are contaminated with radioactive substances at every step of the ‘fuel cycle.’ This cycle begins with the mining, milling, and enrichment of uranium, continues with the fabrication of fuel rods and the operation and maintenance of the reactor, and ends with the handling and storage or reprocessing of nuclear waste. The radioactive substances that escape into the environment at every stage of this process emit particles – alpha particles,(Alpha particles are compounds of two protons and two neutrons. ) electrons, or protons – that can be highly energetic, penetrating the skin and damaging body cells. Radioactive substances can also be ingested with contaminated food or water and will then do their damage from within.

5. Another major problem of nuclear power is the disposal of nuclear waste. Each reactor annually produces tons of radioactive waste that remains toxic for thousands of vears. Plutonium, the most dangerous of the radioactive byproducts, is also the most long-lived; it remains poisonous for at least 500,000 years. (The half-life of plutonium (Pu-239) – the time after which one-half of a given quantity has decayed – is 24,400 years. This means chat if one gram of plutonium is released into the environment, about one-millionth of a gram will be left after 500,000 years, a quantity which is minute but still toxic.) It is difficult to grasp the enormous length of this time span, which far exceeds the length of time we are used to contemplating within our individual lifetimes, or within the lifetime of a society, nation, or civilization. Half million years is more than one hundred times longer than all of recorded history. It is a time span fifty times longer than that from the end of the Ice Age to the present day, and more than ten times longer than our entire existence as humans with our present physical characteristics.(The ancestors of the European races are usually identified with the Cro-Magnon race, which appeared about 30,000 years ago and possessed all modern skeletal characteristics, including the large brain.) This is the length of time that plutonium must be isolated from the environment. What moral right do we have to leave such a deadly legacy to thousands and thousands of generations?

Arundhati Roy also wrote eloquently about this in “The End of Imagination“.

However, I was against nuclear energy earlier, but now I am not so sure. James Lovelock, the leading scientist and father of the Gaia movement, now prefers nuclear energy to fossil fuels. The main problem seems to be the human demand for unsustainable amounts of energy.

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