The Energy Conundrum and the EU

The EU went down the path of a single common currency with the hope of progressing to full political and economic integration. The resulting financial crisis has occupied the minds and energies of the great and good for the better part of three years and has undoubtedly overshadowed much of the rest of the EU's routine. In times of such overwhelming crisis, it is often the case that issues deserving of greater attention are hastily dealt with or set aside altogether. One of the greatest problems facing all EU countries at present is the availablity and cost of energy and the proposed solutons are almost as many and as varied as the member countries themselves. We have solar energy via roof top panels and regimented arrays of mirrors in the desert. We have wind farms across the countryside and out at sea. We have tidal power at the coast and estuaries. And all of those require vast investment in new power lines to carry the harvest to the points of consumption, but none of them are adequate for the task either singly or in combination. So we still require gas and coal and oil and nuclear; all four of which are in process of being expanded in various parts of the EU. Most of the investment in renewable energy has been driven by the eventual recognition and acceptance of global warming and the requirement to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. The decision of the German government to close down all their nuclear power stations was completely divorced from the global warming aspects, it was strictly political and stemmed directly from the Fukushima incident on 11 March 2011 and as such was not only hasty but totally unecessary.

Nuclear is safe
Governments responded very quckly to the media publicity and international anti-nuclear panic that followed the Fukushima incident, but nobody seemed to note the truly significant lessons that should have been learned from the nearby Onagawa nuclear power plants. Onagawa is less than half the distance from the epicentre of the earthquake of 11 March and is sited on a peninsula which suffered a larger tsunami than Fukushima.
Onagawa has four reactors that were built in 1984-2002, the reactors at Fukushima were built in 1967-73. There was no damage at Onagawa and the brief radiation alert that they had that day was attributed to raidioactivity from Fukushima. The defences at Fukushima were totally inadequate for what has been recognised as Japans greatest ever tsunami, but the residents from damaged houses at Onagawa actually took shelter within the nuclear power station. They benefited from the safety provided by the more advanced design and construction.

Closing down modern reactors because of the failure of an old one is very debateable even before one considers the enormous financial implications of dismantling and the knock on effects for energy requirements. Onagawa, which is much closer than Fukushima, withstood the greatest ever earthquake and tsunami without any problems, so the decision to close nuclear plants in Germany appears to stem from prejudice or political manoeuvering. However, it looks very much as though it could be overtaken by events that will make all the renewables redundant.

Thorium Powered Reactors
A northern university in England has successfully constructed a compact and relatively cheap particle accelorator that has the capability to 'kick start' a nuclear reaction in Thorium. That is a mineral which is four times more plentiful than Uranium and is easier and cheaper to mine. It produces very little plutonium, which can be safely burned as waste. It will provide far longer periods of reactive energy than Uranium, four months compared with 4 weeks, and is both safe and clean. There is no harmful radiation.
India is already in process of designing and constructing a thorium powered reactor which they anticipate will be the first of many and provide them with an abundance of cheap. clean, electricity. (See BBC World Service, Horizons, Episode 20)
The German scientific community must be aware of this development yet we have heard nothing of it amidst all the publicity concerning renewables and new power cable networks. Hopefully the media will be able to convince Angela Merkel to review the situation in respect of nuclear energy.


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