George Monbiot : New Clear

It is a newer, clearer tone that George Monbiot uses in his piece The nuclear industry stinks. But that is not a reason to ditch nuclear power. He seems to have lost his dirty annoyance with filthy anti-nuclear activists and moved onto a higher plane of moral certitude, where the air is cleaner and more refined.

He is pro-technology, but anti-industry. For him, the privately owned enterprises of atomic energy are the central problem that has led to accidents both of a radioactive and an accountancy nature. “Corporate power ?”, he asks, “No thanks.” The trouble is, you can’t really separate the failings of nuclear power from the failings of human power. It’s such a large, complex and dangerous enterprise that inevitably, human power systems compromise the use of the technology, regardless of whether they are publicly or privately owned. For a small amount of evidence, just look at the history of publicly-managed nuclear power in the United Kingdom. Not exactly peachy. And as for those who claimed that a “free” market approach to managing nuclear power would improve matters – how wrong they were. In my view, on the basis of the evidence so far, nobody can claim that nuclear power can be run as an efficient, safe, profit-making venture.

Added to that, even with moves towards privatisation and market liberalisation, though it’s assets were transfered to private ownership, and it’s liabilities left with the citizens, privately-owned nuclear power could never shake off the responsibilities it owed to the state, and it never will. As George says, it’s “far too close to government”. There is an automatic accountability built in to running such an invasive and risky electricity generation system. The UK Government recognises it can never fully devolve responsibility for nuclear power to private operators – it is preparing to take nuclear power companies into state administration if they fail financially – as part of the new Energy Bill and Electricity Market Reform policies.

So that means, that in addition to a raft of stealth and open taxpayer support for new nuclear power, there is, embedded and hinted at in these new regulations, the assurance that if the nuclear power industry continues to fail, it will be re-nationalised, and the private operators will not have to bear the financial losses. Nuclear power investment is being set up to become financially secure, even if it continues to be physically insecure. This deal will be worse than the generous arrangements made under the privatised construction industry – which built piles of energy-poor shoddy public buildings at ongoing extortionate cost.

The lack of transparency about this new nuclear deal, and the inevitable wrangling, is bound to lead to poor outcomes. As George says, “It is through such collusion that accidents happen.” So it’s rather strange that he calls for the guardrail that “new generation of nuclear power stations should be built only with unprecedented scrutiny and transparency”, when all the evidence points to the conclusion that it can never be done. You cannot have nuclear power without the spin, it seems, so George will not win change by “favouring the machines and opposing the machinations”.

We do have to work on the basis of evidence in technology. When I say “technology”, I don’t mean the science – they are entirely different things. Yes, nuclear power designs can be verified by the science of theoretical physics and improved by engineering expertise, but the factual evidence from over 50 years of nuclear power technology is that the industry, as George Monbiot puts it, “a bunch of arm-twisting, corner-cutting scumbags”, invariably misses the safety, productivity and engineering standards that one would hope would be expected from it based on scientific recommendations. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s privately or publicly managed. This suggests it’s not corporate mismanagement that’s always at fault, but rather the human management of the nuclear power technology itself. What we are trying to achieve with nuclear power may be too complex to be stable with humans in charge.

The learning process in nuclear technology has produced some gains, and George Monbiot is confident that, “Today’s technologies are safer still”. The central problem with this hopeful, optimistic, technodream argument is that it will still be Homer Simpson managing the day-to-day operations at nuclear power plants. The other central problem (since it’s a multi-piered core) is that the unexpected keeps happening in nuclear power. But so does the expected. Tritium gas build-up in pressurised water reactors was a known, calculated problem, but how is it that leaks are still occurring ? Have we not mastered this ? Will we ever be able to ?

I do not think we can ever be absolutely sure of nuclear power, regardless of developments. What the people in the management of the industry have said has not been backed up by facts on the ground, nor by the confidential whistleblowing reports of the engineers.

A large nuclear accident would be a catastrophe, but the chances of it occurring are slim, although Fukushima Daiichi proved they’re fatter than we were led to trust. However, the two most certain risks posed by nuclear power are its unreliability and its cost, neither of which have been improved after over half a century of development.

Nuclear has not provided, and Germany has decided it cannot provide. George Monbiot repeats the erroneous logic that because Germany has cancelled its nuclear programme, and is building more fossil fuel plants, that their carbon emissions will rise, “Angela Merkel announced a possible doubling of the capacity of the coal and gas plants Germany will build in the next 10 years”. What he neglects to factor in is that with the rapid rise of renewable energy in Germany, the new coal and gas plants will only be needed for the equivalent of a few weeks each year to back up wind and solar power in inclement weather conditions. He says “The renewable technologies which should have replaced fossil fuels will instead replace nuclear power.” In fact, what will happen is that Germany’s well-funded renewable energy technology deployment programme will replace both – when load balancing is improved and backup for renewable power becomes obselete.

George Monbiot makes a poor argument about energy demand reduction. “But even with a massive cut in overall demand, getting the carbon out of transport and heating means increasing electricity supply.” Getting the carbon out of transport requires either (a) massive production of biofuels or (b) rapid conversion of the entire vehicle fleet to electrical power, at massive cost to the public, coupled with a massive rapid increase in low carbon power generation. Can nuclear power provide ?

Personally, I don’t see low carbon biofuel production growing very much. And as for speed in growing renewable power supply, well, that’s pretty much scuppered by low ambition currently, and anti-wind farm sentiment. Nuclear power can never be built at speed, so it rules itself out of the strategy. No, getting carbon out of transport requires rationalisation of transportation – so more re-localisation of food production and service provision. And it also requires the refitting of vehicles currently in use to run on compressed biogas.

And as for George Monbiot’s argument that nuclear power is required to provide heating services, well, the “Centre for Alternative Technology’s radical and optimistic plan” that he cites doesn’t assume nuclear power for that task. The rule is “insulation, insulation, insulation”, and you won’t find nuclear power making up much more than a tiny slice of the CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain projection.

As for George recommending “fourth generation technologies” in nuclear power, I’d like him to point us to a single instance where these technologies have been tried, succeeded and are likely to be rolled out further. Generation Three technologies are not magnificent perfomers, so can we expect better of Generation Four ? Only the nuclear industry public relations firms are sure on that one.

And finally, George Monbiot gives the impression that besides Fukushima Daiichi, all the rest of the Japanese nuclear power plants are safe, tidy and wonderful when he writes, “The best evidence for the safety and resilience of nuclear power plants can be found at Fukushima. Not at Fukushima Dai-ichi, the power station where the meltdowns and explosions took place, but at Fukushima Dai-ni, the plant next door. You’ve never heard of it? There’s a good reason for that. It was run by the same slovenly company. It was hit by the same earthquake and the same tsunami. But it survived. Like every other nuclear plant struck by the wave, it went into automatic cold shutdown.” Massive earthquakes and tsunamis are rare, but ordinary everyday failings are sadly, rather common. In addition, two thirds of those reactors that failed on 11th March 2011, are still not operational again. The closer George Monbiot looks at the nuclear power industry, the more faults he will see.
“Nuclear Power – The Big Debate : George Monbiot : On Thursday 7th July, I’ll be thrashing out the issues with Greenpeace and others. Come along if you can…”

One thought on “George Monbiot : New Clear”

  1. Dear people with strong opinions about nuclear power,
    It is a sticky subject which ever way we look at it. And here I am, seeking to stir into the cooking pot some pretty new and wholesome thoughts about our work with nuclear power. And it begins strangely enough with seeing the whole family nature of our planetary system.

    Whereas we are mainly informed by a scientific knowledge of our heavenly realm, and the same for the particle world below (and inside of us), I find that a much more informative and creative knowledge comes from combining a scientific and spiritual perception of these two areas of interest.

    Astronomy is a key area, because it provides a very accessible example of how to identify and combine spiritual and scientific perceptions. This combined or holistic account then flags up the holographic nature of our Universe, what the ancient wisdom knew as:”As above, so below”. The holographic principle in turn opens a door for us to look down the stairwell of our universal home and into the Atomic World, and see the social and spiritual nature of the processes going on down there in our work with the atoms.
    That’s quite a lot to promise in one sitting, but I think it is do-able.

    Thanks to Modern Astronomy, we are all pretty knowledgeable about the shape and form of our planetary system. I dearly like the subject, like to know what is up and out there.
    And then there was a period in my life when I was married and with my woman raising three children. And being with those children when they were still quite young, I saw our heavens afresh through their eyes.
    They looked with an innocent pre-conceptual vision I had lost. By their example, I saw again our original understanding, how we simply live in a big field of Light that is formed by the partnership of the Moon and the Sun.
    I was like a rogue astronomer and took their simple insight and used it to make a map of the shape and form of our experience of this field of Light during the period of a year. My science training told me that we need to study a system for an whole cycle of its normal activity, in order to know it as a unit.

    This is the crucial learning. Instead of looking at our planetary system from the outside, as we nearly all do, I mapped our experience of being inside the whole heavenly effect we feel every year. The whole shape of our heavenly experience can be seen in either a scientific or spiritual/religious format.

    Our scientific mind sees that we are inside a field of Light created by the apparent movement of the Moon and the Sun: an energetic field made entirely of particle and waveform energy: which is a quantum system known to physics as a ‘photon’. We usually identify the photon at the scale of the atoms. And now it looks like we are inside the very same thing, but of a magnitude entirely appropriate to the scale of our planetary system.
    This insight adds immeasurably to the idea I’ve already mentioned, that we live within an “holographic Universe”.

    Our spiritual, sacred, subjective mind, which thinks and speaks in symbolic terms, observes this same field and sees we are inside a balanced system of masculine strength and feminine power. A unit, in other words, of maternal love and parental authority.
    A corner of this same mind remembers the first-ever astronomical observation, made by the person writing in Genesis1, vs 3, who was trying to name this same original experience of our heavens.

    I’ve created a web site with drawings and images which show the form of the photon and how we might come to see it. It’s fairly obvious and simple, requires us to be introspective astronomers more than external observers.
    The images are a necessary compliment to these comments, and go a long way to explaining the two ways in which we can interpret our heavenly experience.

    If Modern Astronomers would only rest their telescopes for a while, and instead of studying the Sun and the Moon in such detail, look at the whole lighting effect that these two bodies create together, I think they’ll soon see this photon structure. It’s whole life giving properties has implications for where else in the Universe we can look and expect to find other forms of life.

    If our spiritual mind would only rest from scrutinising the ancient texts, and look with its’ social wisdom at our planetary system, I think we’ll soon see the whole family nature of our planetary system. A father Sun in a committed relationship with the Earth’s mother Moon. This is clearly a specially loved planet. With many relationships in our extended planetary family we have yet to fully know.

    The photon is an experiential phenomena. It is entirely invisible to the external observer. But no less real because of that. Every living thing on this planet sees and feels itself at the centre of this whole effect. It forms and informs us. Whereas physics sees the particle/waveform matrix, metaphysics sees we are within this wonderful family effect of parental forces. Look both ways and something like an intellectual fusion takes place. An hologram forms which allows us to see the whole family nature of our planetary system.

    Now I have a better understanding of how the Catholic Church saw the heavenly world up until the ‘Middle Ages’: and why it was so nervous and protective of its’ vulnerable experiential perception in the face of the robust pragmatic reductionist proto-scientific method of inquiry that Copernicus and Galileo brought to the heavenly subject.
    Our religious wonderment at being inside an unfathomable celestial effect melts away with the detailed explanation and pictures with which Modern Astronomy describes our planetary system. Only the very young get to glimpse the ancient original understanding, before our modern education teaches them, like us, to see things mainly from the outside.

    The “sacred and the secular”, working together, at last begin to reveal the whole living nature of our Universe more than either one can see on their own. It is not one or the other. It is both together. An outside view and an internal experience of the same dynamic system. The one describes the physical features of our planetary system, of our human bodies, of the atomic particles. The other sees the social and spiritual effects and processes, the family nature of our planetary system, of ourselves, of the atoms.
    The “spiritual and scientific” combination is wonderfully similar to the simple fact that we all have two eyes. Nature has equipped us to see in depth, see stereographically: that we can judge what is in front of us and navigate the way forward. In this discussion, we are talking about our “inner eyes”: and the two different ways that they instinctively see and gather complimentary data. Combine that data and we begin to see in depth, begin to see holographically, and the way forward.
    This unified approach allows us to recognise the “holographic nature of our Universe”. This is the modern term which is no more or less than the Universe anticipated by Christ when He said: “In my father’s house are many rooms (many dimensions)”.

    This is a symmetrical family-based Universe. Look upstairs and see how our planetary system is an extended family, with its own history and histrionics. Mid-way between the planetary realm and the particle world is our dimension, us humans, with our unquenchable family lives.
    Look with this same combination of spiritual experience and secular discipline into the world of the atomic particles (as small to us as we are small to the Sun and Moon) and be prepared to see the atoms as the family and community structures of the particle population.

    Here is an opportunity for the Christian Community, and indeed – every religion, to look with spiritual acumen and social awareness and compassion into the world of the atomic particles.
    Yes, we are alarmed and appalled by the destructive potential of the nuclear weapons. But instead of wringing our hands and feeling frightened and making disapproving comments from the high ground, we could usefully look over the scientist’s shoulders and see how they are constrained by their own reductionist method of inquiry and can not even recognise the gender nature of the two energies released out of matter by fission. They can not comprehend the loving nature of the forces in the atom, can not feel or identify the emotional nature of the energy that comes pouring out of the particle families broken up by the fissioned process.

    Our religious mind could usefully invest in a spiritual understanding of nuclear power. If we are affected by the painful energy of radiation, there is clearly a connecting corridor between ourselves and the dimension of the particles. The big challenge is for us to work out how we can reach down with compassion into the refugee camps of the Atomic World, where the fissioned particles are incarcerated, and find out if we can ease their suffering, heal their pain.

    I’ve developed another web site which seeks to show the social and spiritual nature of the forces and processes within nuclear power. The insights comes from experience rather than theory, so it is not immediately easy for our scientific mind to follow: but neither is that difficult.
    This insight of our nuclear work rides on the coattails of a unified scientific and spiritual perception of our heavenly system. Our celestial world is such a visible and accessible and familiar place, which makes it an excellent subject area for us to explore the two ways we have of seeing the same thing. It’s enough to get us going along a pretty promising avenue of inquiry and new work, and the many new adventures this will bring.

    I have already shown these ideas to the nuclear industry and astronomers here in the UK – without anyone so far being very interested. Yet I sense we are all seeking to deepen our understanding of our Universe, and of our universal nature, and feel that this holographic account goes in that direction.

    Good wishes.
    Ian Turnbull. Findhorn, Scotland. July 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *