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THE COUNTRYMAN

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Selwyn Johnston

INDEPENDENT COMMUNITY REPRESENTATIVES'

ADVOCATE

(Cairns... Far North Queensland)

 

Thank you for visiting my on-line office. 

I appreciate your interest in the issues that effect not only Queenslanders, but all Australians. 

Please let me hear from you about your views on the issues that matter to your Family, your Community and your State.  

Sincerely,

Selwyn Johnston

 

One person, with the support of the community, can make a difference

 

.

GLOBAL WARMING

and

THE NUCLEAR OPTION

Since the beginning of time the climate of the earth, in fact the earth itself, has been changing. Scientists have been able to define and provide reasons and a time frame on the various stages of the development of the planet or at least its significant events. Admittedly they are not real sure, or at least there are differing opinions as to why the dinosaurs departed this earth, but nothing can be surer than they are not here now!  

Even the time when they departed is hardly in question. When the scientists do speak of these things the time spans and intervals are truly mind-boggling. Hundreds of thousands of years is a relatively short time in their language and the use of millions of years as a time interval is not uncommon. 

If we use the analogy of the 12-hour clock, then on the scale of things, man came onto this earth only a few minutes ago at about 5 to midnight. Given this, our ability to keep accurate records of the earth’s changes can only be measured in something less than nanoseconds.  

So for the last 100 years or so we have been keeping weather records and attempting to predict the future or what happened in the past, which is a clearly suspect activity given the totality of time involved. Methodologies have improved in the last few years, with the help of super computers that have the number crunching power to give answers when several variables are thrown into the one equation. Factors, such as water temperature, humidity, wind characteristics, water currents and the like, are variables now used to give far more reliable results. 

We also know that since the beginning of time man has looked for the “quick fix”, so it’s not really surprising now that when we have noticed a heating and drying up of our environment over the last quarter of a century, we have looked for an “obvious” cause.  

On this occasion we have discovered “Global Warming” a concept that we believe causes “climate change”. This climate change evidenced itself in higher temperatures, rising sea levels and the melting of the world’s glacial ice. The cause was quickly attributed to pollution and more particularly a build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from the prolific use of energy.   

As swiftly as we have swept down on the concept of “Global Warming”, and let there be no doubt that there has been a steady warming and drying, we have also swept down on yet another quick fix. That fix is nuclear power and like all the quick fixes that have come before it this one needs not only a thorough scrutiny but a mature scrutiny as well. 

The problem is that we rightly or wrongly attribute Global Warming totally to climate change and we attribute this solely to atmospheric pollution. To remove any doubt we have people as honest and trustworthy as ex Presidents of the United States touring the world to tell us so. And again let there be no doubt that atmospheric pollution caused by gas emissions, the carbon dioxides and the methane, among many, have to be taken very seriously. As to whether or not atmospheric pollution is the sole cause of the climate change is yet another matter.  

There may well be other contributing factors. This question must be asked because if you aren’t treating the right complaint, with the right medicine the patient is at grave risk [no pun intended]. Given this we know that the worlds and Australia’s own excessive and inefficient use of energy is a major pollutant and must be reduced.  

Several more environmentally friendly alternatives exist, some with more detriment than others but in coal power generation there is a place called ‘peak load’, and it’s the only place to be. Here, whatever the relative level of efficiency, the power station works at its greatest efficiency and the peak load usage to a large extent is consumed on after hour usage such as pumping volumes either shifting water or energy. Our engineers are extremely competent in this field but even the greatest efficiency results in pollution. 

The essential element of any centralised energy system is the “grid”, the means by which the energy is transferred from the central producing site to the ultimate user. I expect that the question that we have to ask now is has our technology progressed sufficiently to reconsider the use of this grid system, at least in its present extent. Can we, over time, shift from a total reliance on the universal grid system or could we economically consider energy being produced on site for domestic and light industry, either separate from or in conjunction with, the grid? 

But the other question is will nuclear be any better or any cheaper than the coal fired alternative and if this is the case what are the other advantages and disadvantages.  

This whole debate of course is presaged on the basis that we need a universal, integrated power distribution system. Remember, when power stations started they were considered to be a wonderful concept and pollution wasn’t a consideration. They were the tip of technology and the rise of the United States as a world power was due to their ability to produce electricity efficiently and cheaply and so, undercut steam.  

The question now remains, given our greatly enhanced technological advances would we, in this day and age choose the integrated, universal power generator and distributor to solve today’s energy problems. Or, would we perhaps go to selective power generation for “heavy and consistent” users of energy and develop an alternative energy management system for domestic and light energy consumptive industries.  

Given all of these possibilities there will still be a need for some integrated heavy energy production facility, so lets talk about nuclear energy as it is presently mooted, at least in some quarters, as the saving grace. 

Despite significant advances in nuclear power production over the last couple of decades it is still generally considered to be a capital intensive and expensive option. It’s not correct to assume that it’s cost neutral as compared to say coal, but let’s assume it is. It also has the disadvantage of leaving a residue “nuclear waste” that is highly radioactive, a definite health danger and more importantly a political hot potato around the world.  

If you need assurance on this simply do a Google search on “Yucca Mountain, Nevada”. Many countries that have been producing nuclear power for some time now have enormous, but unspoken of problems with this nuclear waste and there is more talk of safe storage than actual safe storage. As we all know the half-life of the stuff is tens of thousands of years, after which it still packs a punch. 

To dispose of it efficiently it has to be especially encased in lead, concrete or ceramics or all of these, stored in an area that is geologically stable and remote from cities and towns, with substantial on-going security costs. Australia has this sort of country, plenty of it, but here in lies the rub.  

Assume that we were to build a nuclear power plant as Iran presently seems to want to do, and assuming that we wouldn’t have the problems that Iran is presently having with the idea, we would have to dispose of our own nuclear waste. Not really a great problem for us and if we wanted to we could join the nuclear club as Pakistan and India recently have done and rely on the Mutually Assured Destruction [MAD] concept so popular during the Cold War from the nineteen sixties to the nineties. 

Of course if we disposed of our nuclear waste safely and securely you could be assured that we would have any number of ‘friends’ who would ask, request or even insist, if not in fact demand, that we did the same with theirs. If you need further direction in this regard then I suggest that you again do a trusty Google search for the  “Pangea Proposal”... a proposal to establish an international, commercial high level nuclear waste dump in the outback of Western Australia!

Now if you have done a Google search on both “Yucca Mountain” and the “Pangea Proposal” then my concerns must at least be justified. 

I believe that I can also conclude that the case for nuclear energy in Australia is far more complicated than it looks and it’s something you should talk with your local candidates standing for the next Federal election. You could also research the Internet or local library, as this one’s so important a second and third opinion is, to my way of thinking, essential. 

You see, I don’t only live here… my family does as well!

 

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Written and Authorised by Selwyn Johnston, Cairns FNQ 4870