James Lovelock

Why are we so afraid of nuclear power?

The climate change summit in Glasgow will have one important part of the discussion missing: the role of nuclear power. It seems the government is in no mood for a discussion with the nuclear industry — every one of its applications to exhibit at the COP26 summit has been rejected. That’s a shame, because there are plenty of myths to be addressed.

We could discuss the lessons from the plant at Fukushima, seriously harmed by a tsunami in March 2011. Sometime later, two of the reactors overheated, burst and released a small quantity of radioactive material into the environment.

At the time of this event, my wife Sandy and I were at our home in St Louis, Missouri. Our daily paper, the Wall Street Journal, had a detailed account of the tsunami. It also carried an editorial expressing the hope that the world’s press would not go overboard and falsely imply that 20,000 people had been killed because of the nuclear accident rather than the tsunami. The editor’s wisdom was ignored. Instead, there remains a deep-rooted fear concerning the safety of nuclear power.

Such power has been with us long enough to prove its safety. A study was recently done by the Journal of Cleaner Production: nuclear power is shown to be safer even than renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. The comparison is measured in terms of deaths and injuries per terawatt hour of power produced. (In the UK, we have produced at least 3,030 terawatt hours of power since nuclear installations were introduced in 1956.) The death rate is at least five times smaller than in the coal and oil industries for comparable power production.

In France, nuclear energy has been used on an even larger scale, generating more than 70 per cent of the country’s electricity compared with our 18 per cent.

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