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Some perspective


In the first half of this year, 1,175 people died in pits across China, a fall of 18.4% compared with the same period last year, the state administration of coal mine safety said.

That\’s more than have been killed by all nuclear power plant accidents everywhere, everywhen.

Yes, including Chernobyl.


The Government is considering fresh tax breaks for Britain’s nuclear power industry that could smooth the way for the construction of a new generation of UK reactors, The Times has learnt.

Whitehall insiders have told The Times that officials at the Department for Energy and Climate Change have been studying the possibility of an exemption for nuclear electricity from the climate change levy, a tax on industrial energy consumption that was created to boost energy efficiency.

The levy, which was introduced in 2001, raises an estimated £1 billion a year for the Treasury. Suppliers pay the levy on electricity provided to businesses to Customs & Excise and then pass on the costs to customers.

Other low-carbon sources of electricity, such as wind energy, are already exempt from the levy, but it draws no distinction between low nuclear and higher-emitting coal or gas generation.

At last a sensible decision. They\’re going to stop taxing what they shouldn\’t have been taxing in hte first place.

It was always a complete nonsense that nuclear should be paying the climate change levy. Especially since Solar PV doesn\’t pay it but has three times the emissions of nuclear.

Well, yes, of course

Government officials have drawn up secret plans to tax electricity consumers to subsidise the construction of the UK\’s first new nuclear reactors for more than 20 years, the Guardian has learned.

This is hardly surprising.

Solar is subsidised, wind is subsidised….so why not nuclear?

For the point is that fossil fuels are still the cheapest way to generate electricity: but as we know there are external effects associated with that which we\’re not all that keen on. So we need to price in those external effects: in short, subsidise the non-fossil fuel methods.

The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, said: \”Nuclear power has always been a byword for monumental taxpayer handouts. Now the likes of EDF Energy are getting cold feet over the cost of new nuclear stations, it looks like the government is trying to sweeten the deal with public money. This is despite saying categorically that any new reactors will have to survive without subsidy. Without huge financial support, nuclear power doesn\’t make economic sense. Even the big utilities now admit this.\”

Quite John. But this is also true:

The executive director of Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, said: \”Renewable power has always been a byword for monumental taxpayer handouts. Now the likes of EDF Energy are getting cold feet over the cost of new renewable stations, it looks like the government is trying to sweeten the deal with public money. This is despite saying categorically that any new renewables will have to survive without subsidy. Without huge financial support, renewable power doesn\’t make economic sense. Even the big utilities now admit this.\”

I\’ll admit to not being fully up on the details but the question we\’re really interested in is which needs more subsidy? Nuclear or renewables?

Not a surprise

Iran has the know-how to produce a nuclear bomb

This isn\’t rare know-how nor is it tough to get. TGive me enough highly enriched uranium (or, better still, give me half a dozen people you don\’t mind dying and I\’ll tell them what to do from afar with the HEU) and we could get a bomb together in a few days.

It\’s a little more complex than simply dropping one large piece of HEU onto another but not much. Good old black gunpowder would do the trick of getting the plates to hit each other fast enough.

The difficulty is in making the HEU: something we know Iran can indeed do. The others are all about making a bomb small enough, efficient enough, that you can put it on a missile and so on. Those are tough, yes.

But if all you want is a low yield bomb that fits on the back of a truck then if you\’ve enough HEU it\’s pretty trivial.

Bongbong Marcos

So, a question.

The widow of Ferdinand Marcos disclosed last week that she is pushing her son Ferdinand Jr, 51, known as “Bongbong”, to stand for president next year.

He was educated at Worth, a Benedictine boarding school in West Sussex.

I remember, when I was at the prep school there, seeing the limo coming to take him off for a weekend exeat or half term or some such. Whether Ma and Pa were in the back I don\’t know although I was told they were.

Anyway, on to the question.

If elected would he be the first head of state to have been educated at an English Catholic (err, yes, specifying Roman, not the Apostolic etc claim of the CoE) school since the Reformation?

The Tudors and Stuarts weren\’t educated at schools and we\’ve not had a Catholic HoS since then (neatly leaving aside all the arguments about whether Charles I, or II, or James II were in fact Papists). Then there were no Catholic schools in England until what, 1837 and the Emancipation (maybe earlier?)?

I doubt very much if any member of any other Royal Family who has ascended the throne was educated in England which leaves elected Presidents and the like since around 1850 or so.

So, anyone any idea?

Ah, looking it up I see that Ampleforth has already had a Grand Duke of Luxembourg and a King of Lesotho. So how about elected heads of state?

Nuclear nonsense

To produce the 25 tonnes or so of uranium fuel needed to keep your average reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. The conversion plant will generate another 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste.

Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply even a fraction of the power stations the industry expects to be online worldwide in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residues every single year.

These tailings contain uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and emit radon-222. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.


The tailings are of course less radioactive than the ground from which they came. For we\’ve deliberately gone there to get the radioactive elements and take them out.

The above was written by:

David Thorpe is a freelance environmental journalist and a news editor for Defra\’s Energy, Resource, Sustainable and Environmental Management magazine.

Truly the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Greens and nuclear

This poses an interesting question really.

Normally scans to diagnose a new cancer or determine if it has spread would be carried out within one or two days but some patients are being forced to wait up to a month.

Hospital across the country are affected and at some points individual trusts have been working at only 30 per cent capacity.

The problem is due to a shortage of radioactive isotopes as a series of reactors are closed for maintenance or have faced unexpected problems.

Now we know that various Green types are adamantly against nuclear power generation. They say it\’s because of the evils of Teh Radiation and so on.

But what\’s the position on the medical use of isotopes? And, of course, their manufacture in reactors?

Note that it\’s a different sort of reactor, you don\’t just bung some stuff into Dungeness and then treat people. But it is a reactor, you do get radiation from it, you do get both high and low level waste, you do have to enrich the fuel and so on.

So you\’ve got all the same problems as you do with nuclear generation. So, do Greenies abhor this? Do they say that the risks of us all being murdered in our beds by Teh Radiation mean that we shouldn\’t be using these isotopes in medicine? That it is better that such patients die than we be exposed to the risks?

Anyone actually know whether there is consistency here?

Interesting, No?

However, in a statement, EDF Energy said: "As regards prices in France and the UK, the reason that French electricity bills are lower is nuclear power.

"Customers in France benefit from low-carbon electricity which is 80 per cent generated by nuclear power plants. Most of the rest is hydro power. By contrast, Britain is heavily reliant on fossil fuels for its electricity – 75 per cent of electricity generation in the UK is from coal or gas-fired plants.

"So, with nuclear, France is largely insulated from soaring fossil fuel prices for electricity while Britain is hugely exposed.

"As a result, a typical EDF customer in France pays £332.50 per annum for electricity while an EDF Energy customer in UK pays £442.07."

Yes, nuclear does have different costs, decomissioning for a start. It\’s also hugely subject to the rate of interest, given the large upfront costs.

Whether it is in fact cheaper or not is a little more difficult to divine though, given the huge State interventions (on both sides of the Channel).

George Today

So why is Iran being persecuted under the non proliferation treaty while Israel is not?

(Hmm, hmm? Tell me that you bastards who support Israel and demonise Iran, bastards!)

As is pointed out in the comments, because Iran has signed the NPT and Israel has not. There is thus no legal justification for doing anything at all about whether Israel has nuclear weapons or not.

We do want to uphold international law, after all, don\’t we?

Those Nuclear Decommissioning Numbers

Excellent little comment at CiF:

Electricity Generated by Nuclear Power 1970-2006 = 2,080,435,274 MWh

Estimated Decomissioning Cost = 85,000,0000,000

Cost per MWh = 2.5 pence per MWh

Cost per kWh = 0.25 pence per kWh

Sure 85 billion is a big number but we got alot of (carbon free) electricity over the last 40 years.

And of course those numbers include the research and development costs of the nuclear industry as well: they\’re vastly higher than the costs of a new generation of plants.

French Uranium Leak

Yes, our Gallic cousins have allowed some uranium to leak into a couple of rivers. On the scale of disasters, this really isn\’t high. Depending upon who you believe there\’s 350 kg to 75 kg of uranium been released into the environment. Yes, no doubt this will be used as an argument against nuclear power.

Worth getting it in proportion though. Given that it was in liquid form (ie, a suspension I think) and that it went into rivers, it\’ll soon be diluted down to something very close to background levels. In fact, I really wouldn\’t be surprised to find that within a week or so levels in those rivers will be lower than background in say, Cornwall or Aberdeen (both of which are high comparatively because of the uranium content of the local rock).

Also worth noting that this is not enriched: it\’s natural uranium, with the normal isotope distribution.

Yes, it\’s a blitheringly stupid thing for the plant to allow to happen, but not a danger to life or limb.

Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner, Aslihan Tumer, said: "Given the restrictions on the consumption and use of water in the area, it is clear that the leak poses a risk to the local population and to the environment."

Erm, no. That people take precautions does not show that there is danger: with matters nuclear in fact, we usually take too many precautions because we\’ve got people wibbling about how dangerous this all is.

To put this into some sort of context:

A 1,000 MW coal-burning power plant could release as much as 5.2 tons/year of uranium (containing 74 pounds of uranium-235) and 12.8 tons/year of thorium.

That is, when this plant screwed up they released into the environment some 7% of what a coal fired power station will release in a year of normal operation.

Scary, hunh?

Umm, Depleted Uranium is, Umm, Depleted, You Know?

Via, we get this.

Absolutely stunning stuff.

Now if 64 kg of uranium can poison seventy thousand people. How many people will two thousand tons kill? The numbers are staggering, that’s more than twenty eight thousand Hiroshima’s. Forty percent of the Gulf War veterans are on “Gulf War Syndrome” disability from uranium poisoning. Seventy Three thousand of them have already died.

Every time that U.S troops (and “coalition soldiers) fires depleted uranium against “enemy targets” in Iraq, they are also being exposed to radiation poisoning that is much more intense than the radioactive by-products associated with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima to end World War II in the Pacific.


Depleted uranium is depleted, twit.


Colombia\’s government has claimed that Leftist rebels were plotting to make a "dirty" radiological bomb after security agents seized 60 lb of low-grade depleted uranium.

Maybe they were plotting to do that: but it wouldn\’t work very well. Depleted uranium is chemically, but not radiologically, dangerous.

Then again, it would set off  a screaming panic which is rather the point of terrorist activities.

Nuclear Shipping

Well, maybe this isn\’t all that bright an idea.

An ageing car ferry will ship hundreds of pounds of bomb-grade plutonium from Britain to France this week with just a handful of armed guards to protect it from terrorists.

The ship, a former roll-on-roll-off ferry which has not been identified for security reasons, will take the cargo of plutonium oxide down the west coast and across to a company in France.

There\’s nothing really very wrong with that bit. As long as the material isn\’t stolen it\’s a safe enough way for it to travel.

Dr Frank Barnaby, an expert on nuclear terrorism and a former atom bomb tester, said the plutonium was ideal for manufacturing \’\’dirty bombs".

He said: "A reasonably resourced terrorist group would have no problem making a bomb out of this material. This is madness – totally irresponsible."

The vessel has been minimally converted to carry the toxic load from Sellafield, in Cumbria, to France and is expected to set sail this week, it was reported yesterday.

Campaigners called for the shipment to be stopped.

Martin Forwood, of Core, which monitors nuclear shipments, said: "Ministers should step in and stop this in the light of the terrorist threat."

Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman and MP for Northavon, near Bristol, said: "This is a risk to our national security."

The best way for it not to be stolen is for no one to know when it is sailing, of course. You know, loose lips sink ships, that sort of stuff? That\’s the, err, threat to national security here.

Polly Discovers Economics!

The most serious objection is not safety but "nuclear blight", the probability that government and energy firms\’ cash, engineers and project management capacity is swept up in this great nuclear South Sea bubble and nothing is left for other renewables.

Halleluljah! Polly has actually managed to grasp an economic concept. And she\’s even grasped the correct end of the stick!

This is opportunity cost. If we decide to go down one path then we cannot use these same resources to go down another.

Of course, this applies to everything, not just nuclear: if we go down the renewables path then we face exactly the same problem. The things that we use to do that cannot be used to go down any other paths. Which means that it\’s not quite the killer argument she thinks it is. It becomes, instead, which is the best use of those resources….and I would argue that nuclear is it.

You can of course disagree with my conclusion, that\’s not a problem. As long as you\’re willing to agree that any path taken leads to exactly the same result, that we can only do one thing with the resources we have available, at least we\’ll be having the discussion about which is the best.

Most Absurd Anti-Nuclear Argument of the Day

Step forward David Thorpe:

The ore is crushed and then stacked on a heap leach pad with a capacity of 30m tonnes, 2.2 square kilometres in area, where it is leached with a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate solution. This leachate will be able to spread into the environment. After leaching, the spent ore is placed on unprotected waste dumps and/or back in the pits, and fresh ore is placed on the heap leach pad.

This leachate: for those who don\’t quite get mining, the leachate is the liquid after it has passed through the pile opf rock and ore. What you\’re trying to do is to get the metals that you want dissolved into said liquid, which you then collect. Then you cart it off to a refinery and you take out the metal that you want (almost certainly via ion exchange). So while it is indeed possible that said leachate will spread into the environment, the actual point of what you\’re doing is to stop it doing so. It\’s the product that you\’re trying to collect, after all, the thing that you\’ve dug up that 30 million tonnes for in the first place. Your incentive is to not allow it to spread, as it\’s the very thing you\’re spending all that money to get.

Further, think about what the actual complaint is even if it does leak. There used to be lots of uranium in the ground here. Now some of it has gone back into the ground. Scary, eh?

Finally, that dumping of the spent material back into the mine. Think again of what is happening. We nice people are coming along, digging out the nasty radioactive (and chemically poisonous) metal and then putting the earth back, having taken out all the nasty stuff that can kill you. Quelle Horreur!

That Uranium Seizure

You what?

Tests proved the powder-like substance to be 98.6 per cent uranium 235, a highly fissile isotope, indicating that it was highly processed and intended for use in a bomb.

That\’s a bit of a surprise. I wasn\’t aware that anyone ever processed material up to that isotopic purity. I would guess (and it is very much a guess) that this didn\’t in fact come from a bomb plant at all. 80% HEU is more normal for that. I would think this came from a scientific institute instead, from people actually studying the isotope.

As fo this bit:

Smugglers arrested in Slovakia this week had enough weapons-grade uranium on them to make a "dirty" bomb.

The half-kilo of material taken in raids near the Ukrainian border on Tuesday was a processed form of uranium used in nuclear weapons.

"It was enriched enough to be used in various ways for terrorist attacks," said Michal Kopcik, the vice-head of Slovak police.

Well, yes, but you don\’t actually need enriched uranium to make a dirty bomb. You don\’t need uranium at all in fact, plenty of other more easily available radioactive isotopes would do. But take a few pounds of regular uranium, not even the metal, just yellowcake, blow it up with gunpowder and you\’ll create all of the panic and concern that any other dirty bomb would create. Because that is of course what a dirty bomb would do: create panic, not in fact be directly life threatening other than the explosion itself.