Climate Chaos - 5 December 2009

Thousands of campaigners will descend on London on December 5 to support the Copenhagen conference on climate change. Among the organisations taking part will be Make Poverty History North East, Christian Aid, CAFOD, and Greenpeace.

Commendable action, you may think. What right-thinking person could possibly oppose the fight to control global warming? But, sadly, the campaigners will be fighting the wrong battle. Concerned Christians could reduce global warming more effectively by writing to their MPs and demanding the immediate construction of nuclear power plants. Christians should also be wary of co-operating with Greenpeace.. Because of the irrational opposition of Greenpeace to nuclear power over the last ten years, we are now building coal-fired power stations to avoid blackouts, although there is as yet no proven technique to capture the carbon they produce.

Climate change has been with us from the beginning of the planet's existence. The present coal measures of North England were formed when it was a tropical swamp. In the Middle Ages, the monks in York had vineyards. In the 19th century the Thames froze over in the winter.

Global warming generates a great deal of hot air. A significant minority of climate experts, meteorologists and glaciologists are not convinced that its main cause is man-made greenhouse gases. Professor Ian Plimer in his book "Heaven and earth" gives the evidence for this view However, the potential damage from global warming could be catastrophic and therefore, for once, the much-abused precautionary principle makes sense. The Archbishop of Canterbury has reminded Christians that if serious global warming takes place its effects will be felt mainly in poor countries such as Bangladesh, and some of the Pacific Islands.

For Christians, who have a duty to follow the Ten Commandments, the commandment "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods" or, as modernised by Pope John Paul II, "Avoid consumerism", means that we should not waste fossil fuel. But this should not open the door to uneconomic methods of reducing CO2, such as wind turbines. .

In 2001 the noted scientist James Lovelock, who was the first to detect the widespread presence of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere,(and thus enabled the solution of the problem of the hole in the Ozone layer) pointed out that any intelligent person concerned about emissions of carbon dioxide should press for the immediate construction of nuclear power stations. He was strongly supported by Sir David King, the president of our most prestigious scientific body, the Royal Society.

In a very real sense, nuclear power is "renewable", since, as Professor King pointed out, we have enough stockpiled fuel to produce it for the next 50 years. After that we can use thorium and tritium. By then fusion reactors may give us unlimited cheap power.

The Royal Academy of Engineering has estimated the cost of generating "base load" electricity using various fuels. Expressed as pence per kilowatt hour, these are: combined-cycle gas turbine 2.2; new build nuclear (including decommissioning costs) 2.3; pulverised coal steam plant 2.5; onshore wind 5.4; and offshore wind 7.4. The extra cost of using wind power instead of nuclear will be paid by the consumer.

Environmentalist David Bellamy, has pointed out that less CO2 would be produced if, instead of a subsidy for wind power, the money were used to subsidise low energy light bulbs. The extra transmission lines required and the pumped storage which will be necessary if large amounts of wind are produced means that the cost of offshore wind farms will be over 8p per kilowatt hour, four times as much as nuclear power.

The energy company Centrica said recently that wind power costs three million pounds per megawatt more than nuclear power. To equal the output of one nuclear station requires 2,400 wind towers, each 300 feet high, and the presence of a large fossil fuel station held in reserve, because fluctuating wind patterns mean that for two thirds of the time wind farms produce no electricity.

The figures speak for themselves. So why the opposition to nuclear power? There are four factors at work: scaremongering, lazy journalism, fears over nuclear waste and nuclear weapons.


The success of scaremongering is shown by the widespread support for wind farms (in areas that are not to be blighted by them!). The Labour peer Lord (Peter) Melchett, when he was Director of British Greenpeace, never debated nuclear power in the House of Lords. Instead he sent agitators to the Sizewell nuclear power station with signs saying "Twinned with Chernobyl". Lord Melchett knew that Western and, indeed, Russian scientists had pointed out the dangers of the Chernobyl design before construction began. Nuclear power caused casualties at Chernobyl, not because it is inherently unsafe but because the Stalinist regime put building a cheaper reactor before the safety of the Ukrainian population. (This is hardly surprising since Stalin killed more Ukrainians that Hitler killed Jews.). These figures show that nuclear power is by far the safest method of generating electricity:

Numbers killed in generating electricity with different fuel sources 1970-92.

Fuel No. of deaths Deaths per terawatt year of electricity generated
Natural Gas120085
Hydro Electricity4000883

The final column shows the number of deaths suffered for every million megawatts of electricity supplied in a year (one terawatt year). The amount of electricity generated by wind in this period was less than one terawatt year, so a death toll for wind power is not included ,but is expected to be very high, as the construction industry has a high death rate Outside the atheistic Soviet Union there has never been a death caused by failure of a nuclear reactor

Lazy journalists

All thermal power stations use super-heated steam which, if it escapes, is lethal, and kills a few people every year. Yet we never read the headline "Two men killed by steam in coal-fired power station". Recently, however, three men were killed by super-heated steam in a Japanese power station and this was widely reported in every newspaper (the BBC made it their main news item), simply because the power station in question was nuclear-powered. The BBC gives prominence to any Greenpeace scare stories. When the truth appears about a fortnight later, it gets very little publicity.

Nuclear Waste

Greenpeace and others, realising that there are no rational arguments against nuclear power, frighten people by saying that waste will be radioactive for thousands of years and must be carefully controlled.

The reality is that high-energy waste can be recycled (along with, we hope, discarded nuclear weapons) while the heat produced by low-energy waste can be used for horticultural, industrial or domestic heating and thus be profitable.

However, Green propaganda and the cowardice of politicians have resulted in an expensive scheme to bury nuclear waste without getting any economic benefit.

There are no technical problems with nuclear waste. In France, where 85% of electricity is nuclear, and in the USA, no one is concerned. When one considers that there are thousands of tons of rock in Cornwall, Aberdeenshire and other places in the British Isles that produce the radioactive gas Radon from uranium deposited millions of years ago, it is clear that any concerns about nuclear waste are the result of scaremongering. In fact, there is no sensible reason why nuclear waste should not be disposed of in the deep subducting regions of the oceans, where tectonic forces draw all deposits down into the magma

Nuclear Weapons

Concern about nuclear weapons derived from the fact that when CalderHall started in 1955, it had a dual purpose - to produce clean, cheap energy and also plutonium for bombs. The decision of the Atlee government to make bombs 50 years ago has been followed by half a century of peace.

The generation of nuclear power will produce a small amount of plutonium, but the amount of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium can be reduced by converting nuclear residues, through a MOX process. The main threat to modern civilisation is not so much a large bomb as a dirty bomb, where a small amount of fissile material is added to a conventional explosive. Plutonium is readily available in a Moscow bar, as a Times reporter has shown, for a few thousand dollars. President Bush started to buy Russian plutonium in order to reduce this hazard.

Building nuclear power stations now does not rule out developing other technologies for the future among them marine technology, solar cells, carbon capture, hydrogen-fed fuel cells, and even wind turbines. And, of course, we must continue to encourage energy saving.

The concern expressed by the Liberal Democrat party, Greenpeace and others against nuclear electricity is not merely misguided but potentially dangerous.

Since we have the ability to generate electricity from nuclear power, we have a moral obligation to use it to save poorer countries from the effects of global warming. This would also reduce our demand on oil and gas, leaving it to be used by developing nations. So Christians should accept the unanimous opinion of all energy experts, and the heads of all the major engineering institutions in Britain that the most sensible way forward is to start building nuclear power stations.

On the 50th anniversary of the International Atomic Energy Authority, Pope Benedict approved its efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons and encourage "the peaceful and safe use of nuclear technology for authentic development." Nuclear power is the practical answer to our current energy needs. It is also the Christian answer.