Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nuclear Power: The Energy of Protest. The Future could be Renewable

With an increasing global population, many wonder just how future energy needs can be met. While wind, tidal and solar energy are posited as being cleaner and sustainable when compared with fossil fuels, certain countries have opted for nuclear power as the solution to their energy needs.
Fukushima has however raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power and has served to place the nuclear industry on the back foot. Moreover, when government costs, the impact of uranium mining and the issue of long-term nuclear waste storage are factored in, the industry isn’t as cheap, energy efficient, sustainable, environmentally friendly or as safe as is often claimed.
Of course, there is also thorny issue of the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Any number of Chernobyls or Fukushimas pale into insignificance when placed alongside the potential danger of nuclear terrorism or arms proliferation.
The late French environmentalist Jacques Cousteau once said that human society is too diverse, national passion too strong and human aggressiveness too deep seated for the peaceful atom and the warlike atom to stay divorced for too long. Countries with nuclear technology and know-how all have the potential to embark on a weapons development programme. At present, there are 21 countries using nuclear energy.
A major challenge to nuclear proliferation controls has been the spread of uranium enrichment technology. The question arises as to whether it is possible to adequately oversee a civil nuclear energy programme in order to prevent the diversion of plutonium to nuclear weapons.
Article Two of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Agency shall seek to enlarge its contribution to peace throughout the world and that it shall ensure that assistance is provided by it to prevent atomic energy from being used for military purpose. Article Four of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) reaffirms the inalienable right to develop the peaceful use of nuclear technology and pledges to facilitate trade with this in mind. Both bodies seek to promote the development of peaceful nuclear power, while at the same time trying to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Nuclear weapons parties to the NPT — US, Britain, France, Russia and China — are prohibited from transferring nuclear weapons or associated technology to non-nuclear states, but can provide technologies for civilian nuclear activities. In return, the non-nuclear states agree not to seek nuclear weapons and to accept ‘safeguards’ on their civilian nuclear materials.