Friday, March 18, 2011

Spain's Nuclear Lobby Goes Into Meltdown

The nuclear catastrophe following the tsunami in Japan has dealt a severe blow to the hopes of those who have been promoting nuclear power as a significant part of Spain's future energy requirements. In the short term the battle to keep open the ageing Garoña plant in Burgos well beyond its projected life span has received a sharp setback with the revelation that the terribly damaged Fukushima reactors in Japan are very similar to the model used for Garoña. The nuclear lobby has been relying on the possible return to power of a sympathetic Partido Popular to inaugurate a new golden age for the technology in Spain. Despite strong media attacks on critics of nuclear energy from their allied journalists, the PP has suddenly gone very quiet on the issue.

The nuclear industry always relies on a double standard as far as safety is concerned. If a nuclear plant survives some sort of potential hazard then that's proof of how safe the industry is. On the other hand, if things get dangerous then anyone who raises questions about the safety of the technology is accused of taking advantage of the situation. It's also an industry with a long history of being extremely economical with the truth. This applies very much to safety issues, where secrecy tends to be the rule over accidents in nuclear plants. Those of us from the UK just need to think of Windscale/Sellafield. But the problems with the truth also apply to the economics of nuclear power.

Comparisons of generating costs between nuclear and other forms of energy often seem to show a startling advantage for the nuclear option. The question is just how much of the real cost is reflected in those favourable figures. A huge proportion of the economic burden for nuclear energy has been borne by the state, both in terms of research into the technology and also in supporting the huge costs of setting up nuclear power stations. Indeed, there is no legal barrier to the construction of new nuclear power stations in Spain, but the industry waits instead for huge injections of public money. Then there are the considerable security costs associated with this kind of energy, not to mention the storage of all that radioactive waste. 50 years or more of nuclear power and the question of how to deal with its dreadfully dangerous waste products is still not resolved. 

No other form of energy production has the capacity to create such danger, even without the risks of unpredictable natural events such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Nevertheless, the economic interests behind it will just wait a while before attempting to resume with the soothing message of cheap, clean, energy. When Chernobyl went wrong it was because those goddamn Commies just built cheap junk. Now with Japan it's hard to accuse them of being technically incompetent, so the talk is all of the terrible force of the tsunami when the real problem could be anything capable of disabling the cooling mechanisms on the reactors. It can't happen here until it does.


jan said...

Your last sentence says it all. Which is why we, and a lot of others, are against proposed plans to put a nuclear waste dump in Catalunya, just down in the valley from us at Asco!

Tumbit said...

I must say that living 50km away from the Nuclear plant in Valencia, that I would prefer that it wasn't there (or anywhere for that matter), but needs must. After all, Nuclear energy causes problems when things don't go to plan, but Fossil fuels cause problems when it does work as intended

Graeme said...

Yes, but the potential damage when things go wrong with nuclear power can be immense and lasting. There is also that small question of what to do with a growing mountain of nuclear waste?

Tumbit said...

I agree - there is no perfect solution that will keep everybody happy (for the moment at least). I was encouraged by today's news about scientists in Alicante developing a synthetic oil from a reaction betweenn algae, carbon dioxide and photosynthesis. Not only is it providing a sustainable fuel source, but its production in itself is a de-polutant.