Sunday, April 03, 2011

George Monbiot has lost it - at least his systemic awareness!

George coming out in support of nuclear was I thought the last straw.  It has been hard to take the myriad nuclear apologists who blythly contend that post-Japan it will be business as usual on the pathway to uranium enriched nirvana!  So many folk just do not get it from a systemic perspective - yet others see the systemic implications clearly so why not George?  The reasons we should not proceed are of course multi-faceted and not amenable to systematic (compared to systemic) explication.  But lets try.  Firstly how the issue is framed needs attention and choice.  I find framings that are technological, or economic as a starting point totally inadequate. Let's start by framing nuclear fuel expansion as a social, particularly governance, issue with many of the characteristics Rittel and Webber attributed to 'wicked problems'. Framed in this way a set of systemic issues are readily apparent associated with how risk is perceived and managed, how corporate power is unaccountable in Japan (and elsewhere), how capability to act in the face of surprise and breakdown is inadequate, how slow the national and international response has been and how poorly coordinated it seems, and perhaps worst of all, how the nuclear issue undermines, through loss of attention and resources, the humanitarian  response to the needs of victims of the tsunami.  There is no technological fix for the failure of human institutions and the goverence regimes they support and in all of our planning we should make allowance for this inescapable 'truth'.

These and other thoughts have been my companion as I listen to the BBC, read my paper or talk to colleagues.  What are some of the issues no particular order: (i) investment in nuclear will soak up important capital that is better invested elsewhere; (ii) in chasing a nuclear holy grail we admit to a business as usual energy future, rather then reshaping or transforming our energy future; (iii) uranium mining and nuclear power plants are all heavily dependent on water - thus mines are over exploiting and contaminating groundwater resources and/or requiring investment in energy demanding desalination plants. Generating plants will also have to be located near urban areas as well and near water sources; (iv) the Earth is ulitimately a moving, changing set of materials in process - thus long-term waste storage is ultimately never safe; (v) the total supply of uranium is not that great, etc - see Ian Lowe's Quarterly Essay for further background.

Today at least my breakfast, as I read my Sunday Age, was not accompanied by indigestion and indignation. Thank heavens for John Vidal.  In his article John, who has visited Chernobyl argues that:

"It was grim. We went from hospital to hospital and from one contaminated village to another. We found deformed and genetically mutated babies in the wards; pitifully sick children in the homes; adolescents with stunted growth and dwarf torsos; foetuses without thighs or fingers and villagers who told us every member of their family was sick." 

Vidal's timely and compelling piece highlights what the nuclear apologists fail to acknowledge - that we pursue this technology at our peril because, ultimately, we are not capable of managing it - it will forever surprise us in ways that will continue to undermine the quality of life of all - through the harm we do each other and future generations through accident, war, terror or plain old fear, our impacts on other species and thus, ultimately, what it means to be human.

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