Nuclear question no longer on ice
Published 08/08/2010 | 05:00
The news yesterday that an ice island four times the size of Manhattan broke off from one of Greenland's two main glaciers -- the biggest such event in the Arctic in nearly 50 years -- was a timely reminder that the problem of climate change has not gone away. And the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico tells us, as if we did not know, that the world's supply of oil is running out fast and those who source oil are becoming more and more desperate to salvage the last few barrels available, no matter what the previously prohibitive costs and logistical difficulties.
These major world problems have been put to the back of our minds for some time now as we grapple with the global economic meltdown. But all of these problems are linked. Those countries worst hit by the recession -- and that includes us -- will be hardest hit by a reduction in the supply of oil, which will be accompanied by an increase in price, as their access to credit disimproves. Economies that are heavily oil-dependent will have the greatest difficulties. In this country, we consume 50 per cent more oil for transportation than the European average, and we're the sixth most dependent on oil out of the then 25 European states surveyed in a report carried out four years ago.
Under those circumstances, it would seem logical that our Government would have an energy policy aimed at dealing with the post-oil age. In so far as there is a policy, it seems to depend wholly on wind power and wave power, and actively excludes any consideration of nuclear energy. This is despite the fact that these energy sources cannot on their own create enough supply to replace oil. And it is despite the fact that elsewhere, nuclear energy has been embraced enthusiastically. Today, some 440 nuclear reactors in 30 countries generate 14 per cent of the world's electricity, meeting six per cent of the world's primary energy consumption.