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Global warming-v- nuclear power: a "green" nightmare?

Friday 04 February 2005

After a week dominated by doom and gloom over global warning, our countryside commentator John Sheard thinks the unthinkable: is nuclear power the answer?

IT HAS been a funny week for countryside lovers - and not funny at all in the "hah hah" sense. But just how can you link the British ladybird, the golden plovers of the Yorkshire Dales, and nuclear energy? The answer, sadly, is a global warming.

At a Government-backed international conference of this torrid subject staged in Exeter this week, scientists forecast the doom of a whole tranche of species, ranging from the polar bear to the English ladybird (see News).

As we reported yesterday, Britain's biggest conservation body, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, then forecast a similar fate for rare moorland birds like the golden plover and others (see News also).

In the meantime, huge controversy was being created in areas to the northwest and the southeast of the Yorkshire Dales over plans to build huge windfarms at Whinash in Cumbria and near Thorne in South Yorkshire, both conservation areas.

Doomed by global warming?
Doomed by global warming?

Now this is of grave importance to Dales folk because, by their very nature, wind farms work best in hilly regions and that makes our area a juicy target for windfarm developers. They are creeping every closer, with developments near Keighley and in other parts of Cumbria, and there is already a small site at Draughton, Skipton.

Not being a scientist, and having no particular axe to grind, I am not sure if global warming is being caused by exhaust gases from fossil fuels or by natural fluctuations in the Earth's climate. I am pretty sure, however, that coal and oil fired power stations don't make things better.

They also produce acid rain, which has ruined thousands of acres of forest and damaged the natural balance of hundreds of waterways. But I am also aware of the fact that windfarms cannot possibly replace the electricity at present being produced by nuclear energy, some 20% of the national supply.

In this, the present Government is acting with its own particularly brand of hypocrisy. It is running down our atomic power stations to please its politically correct supporters but at the same time going back on promises to build huge windfarms offshore to make use of both wind and wave power. These were announced with a great flourish two years ago - and not a thing has been done about it since.

Instead, land-based farms are being proposed throughout the country with not a word of protest from Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment. This may not be surprising because Mrs Beckett has now been exposed as using aeroplanes of the Queen's Flight or RAF Transport Command for more overseas junkets than any other minister - and jet travel is known to be a major cause of global warming.

I was digesting all this yesterday when I read that the Government's very own Chief Scientist, Sir David King, was recommending further study of a new type of small nuclear power station, already in use in China and South Africa, which produces minute quantities of radioactive waste compared to present, almost obsolete, facilities.

My bet is that the "greens" - most of whom, in my experience, are urban based and are not threatened with a windfarm in their backyards - would put up such a howl of protest that these systems will never be approved by the present administration.

And this despite the fact that the Swedes, of all people, found totally safe ways of disposing with such waste years ago by "freezing it" deep underground in huge blocks of armoured glass which are waterproof, airproof, and earthquake-proof.

So in 20 years time, if other scientists are to be believed, Britain will virtually run out of electricity. It will have to be rationed for a few hours a day and will be very, very expensive. So see how our townie greens will howl then.

Country folk, however, will survive. As a child, I regularly stayed on farms which had no electricity. Water was pumped from a well, lighting came from oil lamps, and cookers ran on solid fuel. They were very happy times because, for our entertainment, we talked - or read books.

So long as I have electricity long enough to charge the batteries in my laptop (to play DVDs as well as work) I could get by. Television I would miss not a jot and some clever bloke has invented a clockwork radio. So the future could be green after all. Dream on...

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