The first question then is: Does the world need nuclear to avert global warming and/or replace fossil fuels?
And I’m afraid the answer is an unequivocal Yes. It is pretty much inevitable that as fossil fuels dwindle, we are going to use nuclear more. But we must not make the error of seeing it as a solution to these problems. Debate goes on over how long supplies of uranium and other fissile materials will last, but there is no question that like fossil fuels before them, they are finite. Even if they are safer than hydrocarbons – even if they were perfectly safe – they remain a stopgap measure.
The real technical challenge we face is making these non-renewables hold out until renewable energy systems are sufficiently developed to take their place. We have a destination to reach, if you like, and just one tank to get there on. We do not know how long the journey is. There are no filling stations.
And we need to get there as soon as we can. In part of course because both fossil and fissile are environmentally harmful, but mainly because the more of them we use up, the more expensive they will become. A world that is struggling to find sufficient energy just to keep going is not a world that will be able to take on massive engineering projects. If we do not reach that destination while energy is still relatively cheap, we may find that we cannot afford to get there ever. In which case, we face war and starvation on a barely imaginable scale. Energy is, quite simply, the means to survival.
So what I fear most about nuclear power is not its risks, but that it will give us a sense of energy security where none is justified. We need – and we need right now – to focus on the long-term destination, not on finding new ways to keep the unsustainable going that little bit longer.
An end to global warming? No. Climate is what happens over centuries, this is bad weather. At least people call it that – I happen to like the snow. The chief reason I like the snow is that it is not rain. If something cold must fall from the sky during the winter months, I prefer if it’s the one that brushes off.
And there’s the fact that it’s beautiful too, that helps. I know, a lot of people hate it for solid, practical reasons. It’s dangerous – well yes, but I bet deaths and injuries will be down compared to our usual Christmas carnage. Transport is buggered it is true. A friend of mine is trapped in Paris as we speak, another in San Francisco – I’d really like it if they could make it home for Christmas. Shops are going to be insane of course. If forecasters are to be believed and the snow won’t clear until Christmas Eve, all of Connacht is going to be in town for a last-minute shopping frenzy. I urge you who actually live here to get your shopping done before then, while there are still things left to get. Loved ones are puzzled and rarely pleased by a gift-wrapped supermarket shelf.
It has been inconvenient for me. I’m trying to learn to drive right now, and obviously you can’t really practise anything much in this weather. Apart from skid control. A lot of skid control. And as I was saying the other week, if I’m out of town it’s a mile walk on a Teflon pan to get to the bus. There still seems to be little sign of gritting from the County Council. I don’t say no sign – there is a light scattering of rock bits on the road just outside, at a density of maybe two gravicular particles per square footfall. Looks like they’re trying to make their precious dirt supplies last through the winter, but I’m not entirely sure what good so little actually does. I had to get outdoors early this morning to take delivery of a Christmas present – the house is so well hidden that you have to walk down to the road if you don’t want couriers to get lost. (Note to online retailers: I will buy from the one of you who clearly says “Will deliver by genuine actual post”.) He called for directions at 7.55. I had been asleep less than four hours at that point, so I wasn’t too clear at first about where he was – or indeed, where I was – but it transpired that he was just two miles away. He said he’d call back when he was close. He did. Half an hour later.
But wouldn’t it be good if this became our regular winter weather for a while? Yes I’m serious. It could be lovely – if we actually planned for it. If we could arrange not to need to fly the week before Christmas, if we actually could get our shopping done and supplies in. If the weather enforced on us that break from our hectic and ill-considered lives that we never seem to find time to take. We could have some, you know, Peace. On Earth.