28 February 2009

Going nuclear – Iran, and us

By Rupert Read

Iran this week opened up its own very first nuclear power plant to public view. This plant is expected to be operational before the year is out.

There has been a big international debate over the past few years as to whether Iran should be allowed to 'go nuclear'. Israel (anxious to preserve its position as the only Middle Eastern power possessing nuclear weapons of mass destruction), backed by Britain and the USA, has said that it should not. While Iran has insisted that all it wants is a nuclear power plant, to generate electricity from.

OK then; taking that at face-value: isn't there an even more important question, underlying but ignored by the debate over whether Iran should be 'allowed' to build a nuclear power plant? Namely: Is it a good idea for Iran to be building a nuclear power plant, at all? It clearly makes sense for a country like Iran to be diversifying out of oil, which is running out, and the burning of which is meanwhile horribly damaging our planetary climate. But, leaving aside the question of nuclear weapons, does it actually make any sense for Iran to invest in nuclear power?

Let me add to those questions that I've raised so far some further questions:
  1. Can nuclear power be produced in a way that does not bring with it increased risks of nuclear terrorism or nuclear-bomb-making?

  2. Can nuclear plants be made in such a way that they are invulnerable to the risk of meltdown?
And, most crucially of all:
  1. Do we have any solution to the problem of what to do with nuclear waste?
The answer to all these questions, sadly, is no.

And now one final question:
  1. Does Iran have good renewable energy resources easily available to it?
To this question, the answer is, of course, yes. Iran has wind, wave, tidal – and, most obviously, solar power, just waiting to be harnessed. If Iran were to put serious money into the very exciting new technology of Concentrated Solar Power (which generates heat and electricity by concentrating the sun's rays on one point through mirrors), it could make nuclear power seem oh-so-20th-century by comparison. For scientists calculate that an enormous country like Iran could provide in perpetuity all the energy it needs for itself, by covering with concentrating-solar-panels a desert area about the size of Suffolk.

In a week which has seen some of the media in a bit of a tizzy about a tiny handful of British green-leaning thinkers who are thinking about nuclear, these questions are salutary. These British greens are thinking about nuclear out of despair about how dreadfully slowly - disgracefully slowly - our government is going green.

But surely the response to that has to be to push harder for us to go green, faster. And let's bear in mind that a renewables revolution would hugely benefit East Anglia, with the tremendous resources of tidal and wave power – as well as wind, of course – that we are fortunate enough to have, here.

It would be a cynical and stupid manoeuvre for us in Britain to start full-bloodedly going nuclear once again. It would make it impossible for us to tell countries like Iran, while keeping a straight face, the truth: that nuclear power just isn't a very clever idea…

In conclusion then: if we want to counsel Iran not to go nuclear, then we must first start moves in earnest to rid ourselves of nuclear weapons – and we must resist our government's ridiculous idea of a new generation of nuclear power plants. It's time instead to go renewable; to go green…

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Rupert

    A couple of years ago, I worked out (on the back of an envelope) that if the world gave each and every Iranian one square metre of PV panel (and the wherewithal to link it to the Grid), they would produce as much as their nuclear power project.

    However, I did not take it any further, because the obvious critique of the plan would be that the fiendish Iranians would break the panels up, and use the sharp edges to attack us all in our beds...

    Ah well.