Tuesday, March 22, 2011

It warm the cockles of my heart

There are times when George "Moonbat" Monbiot almost engenders my respect: not only was he one of the few journalists to admit that he was "dismayed and deeply shaken" by the Climategate emails showed that maybe he had overstated the certainty of climate change, he has now written a vaguely sensible article about nuclear power.
You will not be surprised to hear that the events in Japan have changed my view of nuclear power. You will be surprised to hear how they have changed it. As a result of the disaster at Fukushima, I am no longer nuclear-neutral. I now support the technology.

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

Some greens have wildly exaggerated the dangers of radioactive pollution. For a clearer view, look at the graphic published by xkcd.com. It shows that the average total dose from the Three Mile Island disaster for someone living within 10 miles of the plant was one 625th of the maximum yearly amount permitted for US radiation workers. This, in turn, is half of the lowest one-year dose clearly linked to an increased cancer risk, which, in its turn, is one 80th of an invariably fatal exposure. I'm not proposing complacency here. I am proposing perspective.

Whoever heard of a loony Green embracing anything so inconvenient as "facts" or advocating anything so radical as "perspective"?

The thing is that Moonbat does not simply endorse nuclear power (with caveats): he actually rips apart the whole concept of powering our economy through "renewable energy".
Like others, I have called for renewable power to be used both to replace the electricity produced by fossil fuel and to expand the total supply, displacing the oil used for transport and the gas used for heating fuel. Are we also to demand that it replaces current nuclear capacity? The more work we expect renewables to do, the greater the impact on the landscape will be, and the tougher the task of public persuasion.

But expanding the grid to connect people and industry to rich, distant sources of ambient energy is also rejected by most of the greens who complained about the blog post I wrote last week in which I argued that nuclear remains safer than coal. What they want, they tell me, is something quite different: we should power down and produce our energy locally. Some have even called for the abandonment of the grid. Their bucolic vision sounds lovely, until you read the small print.

At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient power production is a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a spectacular waste of scarce resources. It's hopelessly inefficient and poorly matched to the pattern of demand. Wind power in populated areas is largely worthless. This is partly because we have built our settlements in sheltered places; partly because turbulence caused by the buildings interferes with the airflow and chews up the mechanism. Micro-hydropower might work for a farmhouse in Wales, but it's not much use in Birmingham.

And how do we drive our textile mills, brick kilns, blast furnaces and electric railways – not to mention advanced industrial processes? Rooftop solar panels? The moment you consider the demands of the whole economy is the moment at which you fall out of love with local energy production. A national (or, better still, international) grid is the essential prerequisite for a largely renewable energy supply.

Some greens go even further: why waste renewable resources by turning them into electricity? Why not use them to provide energy directly? To answer this question, look at what happened in Britain before the industrial revolution.

It's an extraordinary screed; although Moonbat is very far from declaring himself "not a Green", he does at least seem to be considering the facts and evidence. In fact, he remains one of the more interesting journalists simply because, over the years, there has been some development in his views.

Don't get me wrong—the man is still deeply wrong, massively hypocritical and mildly terrifying on questions of private property rights and other civil liberties matters. But it is nice to see that Moonbat can not only actually grasp and assimilate some actual evidence but also modify his views based on said evidence.

If only he could teach Polly to do the same, we might make some progress. And, of course, Polly could stop writing the same column every week...


microdave said...

Moonbat actually wrote that???


Richard Allan said...

The distinction between "nuclear" and "renewable" is silly. Nuclear is renewable - we could perfectly easily stretch out our current supplies of fissile material to last longer than the life of the planet.

Anonymous said...

Richard Allen. Any documentation on that fact? I'd be interested to see that...

Amazing, Moonbat grows a clue. Perhaps he's been near Fukushima and his brain has mutated into something less leftie?


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TheFatBigot said...

What has happened so far at Fukushima and what happened at Three Mile Island are good examples of the need to base policy on observed facts rather than unproven theories.

Perhaps Mr Monbiot will soon be applying the same analysis to the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming. Perhaps he will look at the predictions made over the last twenty-odd years about the problems that will arising by now and tell us whether any of them has come to pass.

john b said...

TFB - the difference (not "the proof you're wrong", but "the thing which makes the two cases different") is that the only people who think nuclear power is turbo-dangerous-evil-stuff are people who don't actually know anything about nuclear power. Out of people who know a fair amount about climate science, there's still a strong view that AGW exists.

Again, I'm not saying that your minority view is wrong, or that the concept of a conspiracy amongst climate scientists is necessarily false - just that the most sensible methodology a layman can apply is to support the science. Which means supporting both nuclear power and action against AGW.

neil craig said...

As part of putting his case he points out that the radiation released at Three mile Island was too minisule to do any damage.

Then he says he still hates the "liars" of the nuclear industry.

So when exactly did he find out that TMI was harmless as the "liars" said. And why has he no words against the liars, such as himself, who have spent the last 32 years pushing that scare story.

I don't think Moonvat is any less corrupt than he ever was it is just that he can see the writing on the wall for this scam.

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