The Argument For Nuclear Energy 1

Nuclear CartoonIt was not the best day to argue for nuclear energy.

However Philip Walton, emeritus prof of physics at NUIG¹ and son of Irish Nobel laureate Ernest Walton², appeared on national radio last Friday to do just that. News of Japan’s reactor emergency was just coming in at this point, but the appearance was part of a campaign that he and two other physicists had launched at NUIG on Wednesday, so cancelling was really out of the question.

It all seemed a little surreal.

We should not of course let circumstances carry the debate. There are strong arguments in favour of using nuclear fission to generate electricity. Walton is perfectly right to say that all other methods have their risks and their costs too.

The debate is really over how you quantify those costs, and one person’s convincing argument is another’s canard. Walton for instance says that more people are killed mining coal in China every year than in the whole history of the nuclear industry. This may be true – but should we really take greater risks here just because the Chinese have an appalling safety record?

The argument needs to be broken down further:

  • Does the world need nuclear to avert global warming and/or replace fossil fuels?
  • Assuming the answer is yes, do we need to have a nuclear generator here?

The first part is of course enormously controversial right now, and is going to get more so.

I will try to deal with it tomorrow.

  1. The National University of Ireland, Galway. (My own alma mater, as it happens.)
  2. (As in Cockcroft and)

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