Ministers at Westminster have
“highlighted the 'urgent need' to generate nuclear electricity to
meet climate change objectives” (Cheryl Latham). But what bigger
problems will this 'solution' create for the future?
|Illustration by Hendrik Tammen (Enricopedia ⇄) |
[CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
More than 60 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, the mountains of highly dangerous by-products have not been dealt with. In the UK, “we now have enough radioactive waste to fill the Albert Hall five times over”. (Louise Gray)The UK's current plan for nuclear waste is to solidify it, coat it with concrete or clay, and bury it 3,000 feet underground. Elsewhere in the world, the thinking is similar: Sweden and Finland have chosen sites and started digging, while the US is looking to store its nuclear waste in salt mines.
Local objections to being used as a dumping-ground are, of course, the most immediate problem in this 'solution'. However, there are significant long-term risks, especially as the locations of the waste will become forgotten: geological changes, natural disasters, terrorist action, or human mistakes could expose unsuspecting future generations to the material.
Sadly, the continuing aftermath of the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl has meant the dangers of radioactive materials are well-known. Nuclear fallout exacts a huge humanitarian toll, not only in deaths, but in terms of chronic diseases. These include cancers, cataracts, cardiovascular-, respiratory-, digestive-, and immune-system diseases, and premature aging. There are also severe developmental and reproductive effects: near Chernobyl, the number of children has fallen by more than 27% since 2000, despite an increasing birth rate.
Why is our government so keen to add to this dangerous, permanent, and very expensive problem? One reason may be that the scale of the potential harm has been down-played.
After the Chernobyl nuclear reactor melt-down, the total confirmed deaths from the fallout, as of 2008, were stated in a UN report to total only 64. Contrast this with a Russian study published just one year later which concluded that nearly a million deaths from the Chernobyl radiation had occurred worldwide between 1986 and 2004. Various intermediate estimates for eventual death-toll and cancer incidence have been put forward.
As the Institute of Science in Society explains, such extreme differences in the figures can easily be achieved by moving the goal-posts. For example, the exposure level considered to be 'harmful' can be shifted up or down by altering which symptoms are included or excluded, or, by ignoring internal radiation, or, by averaging figures drawn from areas where there was high, low or even no exposure, or, by using a confusing variety of different units of measurement, or by altering the legally permissible exposure level, or by careful selection of the time-point at which the 'normal' background level is defined. All of these tactics seem to have been used to cloud the perception of danger from Chernobyl's radioactive fallout.
Of course, Chernobyl hasn't been the only lesson our government has at its disposal, but the official reaction to the more recent Fukushima disaster wasn't dissimilar to the Soviet one. In Japan, a PR machine was cranked up, and statistics on radiation levels were concealed or trivialised to minimise the area of evacuation needed, and to protect its overseas markets.
Other reasons for the apparent blindness to the problem include the difficulty in estimating the radiation dose actually absorbed by individuals, the complexity of the harmful material (fission products are unpredictable and highly heterogeneous), a lack of local facilities to measure the presence of radioactivity in the human body, and, last but not least, blind faith clinging to the idea that unless a technology is safe it will never go ahead.
A further biassing of the debate has come, ironically, from the World Health Organisation (WHO). This UN agency was set up to deal with international health matters but has no department for nuclear health and no experts in the field to advise it. The Organisation, instead, has relinquished all responsibility to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a body whose mission is to promote nuclear energy.
Is Westminster so oblivious to all these problems that it really sees nuclear power as the saviour of a world suffocating in its own carbon emissions? Or, is it something to do with the expected “Investment from energy companies (which) would open up new export markets ... and an annual economic gain of £5.1 billion”?
The problems with nuclear power, in particular its unsustainable accumulation of harmful waste, the long-term planning failure, willful ignorance about the scale and complexity of the problem, manipulation of the data, PR and silence in place of protective and precautionary action, and a legacy which will damage humanity worldwide now and in millennia to come, are all equally applicable to GM foods.
One fundamental difference however is that rogue DNA is designed to re-create itself and evolve: it will never be encased in concrete and buried underground.
And there's another very sinister connection between radiation-induced disease and DNA which could easily make GM very harmful indeed. Check out DNA INDUCED DISEASE? - June 2012
- Louise Gray, Comment & Features, Daily Telegraph, 18.05.12
- Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Chernobyl Deaths Top a Million Based on Real Evidence, Institute of Science in Society Report, 24.05.12
- Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Truth about Fukushima, Institute of Science in Society Report, 5.06.12
- Cheryl Latham, Next-gen nuclear 'could power-up economy by £5bn', Metro 26.06.12
- Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Prof. Peter Saunders, Nuclear Shutdown, Institute of Science in Society Report, 25.06.12