Monday, June 26, 2006

Nuclear Power and Techno-Progressive Ideology

I think I ought to clarify my position regarding “ideologies”. As I’ve said many times before I personally subscribe to a liberal philosophy, with progressive, democratic, semi-libertarian (in that I’m for civil liberties but not entirely against the existence of the state), transhumanist, humanist, secular, techno-progressive, enlightened, and utilitarian ideology with simple-man’s karma (a la My Name is Earl), common-sense, good humour, and the meme of enlightened self-interest thrown in for good measure. However. I do not believe that ideology should get in the way of politics. The best sort of politician in my opinion is one who will judge all cases on their particular merits (in the context of legislation) and make a decision based on their personal feelings and rational conclusions.

The problem (at least in the past) was that politicians and statesmen would make decisions on purely ideological grounds regardless of the fact that ideology had no place in the debate. But that’s the problem with ideology; it seeps insidiously into every corner of life until it utterly consumes you in every conceivable way.

Let’s take the example of nuclear power. There is currently a debate (well no, actually, TB has decided [somewhat pre-emptively] that new nuclear reactors Are A Good Thing) as to whether a new generation of nuclear reactors should be built in this country to help us reach our climate-change-stopping targets.

As I mentioned before, as a techno-progressive, you’d expect me to be enthusiastic over a renewal of interest in nuclear fission generation, but from a purely economic viewpoint, the numbers just don’t make sense: you build a nuclear reactor, plus infrastructure, and you have to spend in the region of two billion pounds. To build a hi-tech, high temperature, coal-fired energy-generator would require only about 200 million pounds. So what about the greenhouse gases? Well, if we just pump the CO2 underground (carbon sequestration) then we won’t have to worry about the carbon emissions. And in the case of nuclear we’ll still end up with waste (although there are methods to speed up the half life of by-products, rendering them safer much sooner than before, and the possibility of using thorium as a fuel, these still have the drawback of having to store and process waste and the infrastructure being more expensive) and nuclear remains an order of magnitude more expensive.

My point about ideology is that I shouldn’t let my techno-progressive ideology blind me to the fact that in our particular case, on the British Isles, we have huge reserves of coal remaining and the space (for example in the former gas and oil deposits under the North Sea) for carbon sequestration, and as such it would be foolish to go blundering into a nuclear quagmire. Another point worth mentioning is that nuclear is not renewable. We’ll run out of uranium some day, just as we’re running out of fossil fuels, and all our energy-plans will be stop-gap solutions until we develop miraculous solar power or fusion reactors. Another point worth concentrating on is saving energy, and generally being more efficient in our use of energy.

Being techno-progressive doesn’t mean advocating generation after generation of fuel-hungry, juice-guzzling gadgets, it means finding a subtler and more practical solution to a problem and not simply denying “technology” and declaring “technology” to be the cause of all our problems.]