Italy, Murakami and Rifkin say No to nuclear

Following from the example of both Switzerland and Germany, Italy has now become the latest country in Europe to say No to nuclear power ... or, to be more precise, to say Yes to a moratorium on nuclear.

This is an amazing victory because of the tactics that the Berlusconi government used to try and defeat it. They first tried to ban the referendum on legal grounds, and when that failed the Berlusconi media empire, which controls the bulk of the Italian media, decided not to give it any coverage.

The vagaries of the Italian referendum system mean that a referendum can only succeed if the turnout is greater than 50%. This gives rise to the ridiculous situation that a referendum could be lost if 49% said Yes and 51% didn't vote, but could be won if only 26% said Yes and 25% said No. The No supporters didn't have to campaign for a No vote, they just had to do nothing. That means that virtually everyone who turned out to vote, voted Yes. 96% in total. The turnout was 57%. It was a stunning, overwhelming rejection of nuclear power.

Of course Berlusconi hardly helped himself. There were four different ballots, including a vote on his effective immunity from prosecution and water privatization, so there were four different reasons to get out and vote ... and this is in fact the first referendum to obtain the 50% threshold since 1995.

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This decision, along side the similar decisions in Germany and Switzerland, should give other countries in Europe plenty of reason to follow suit. Not least the government of the UK. The coalition agreement between the Tories and LibDems stated that new nuclear would only be permitted to go ahead if it received no public subsidy, but it is now become obvious that they are trying to sneak those subsidies through anyway. This is a report from last month:

UK breaks promise on nuclear power subsidies, say MPs

MPs have urged ministers to admit they are tacitly subsidising nuclear power despite promising that the industry would not receive such support.

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee's report accused ministers of disguising the subsidy and distorting the reforms.

The report says the government is hampered by a coalition agreement that pledges to allow new nuclear power stations to be built "provided that they receive no public subsidy".

But the nuclear industry has refused to build new power stations without further inducements, so ministers are proposing long-term contracts at a guaranteed price for nuclear power.

BBC, 16 May 2011

I'll leave people to judge for themselves the twisted standards by which Tory MPs think they should openly go back on their commitments. Surely the right thing to do is to condemn the government for even thinking of reneging on such a clear commitment.

     

Continuing the theme of nuclear power, I'd like to draw people's attention to two other significant things which have happened in the past week which would not have been widely reported in our media. The first is the speech by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami when he accepted the Premi Internacional Catalunya award for developing cultural, scientific and human values worldwide.

The problem with Japan's nuclear plant is the absence of idealism.
The next ten years should be the years of idealism once again.

   

Haruki Murakami was awarded the 23rd Premi Internacional Catalunya at a ceremony that took place on Thursday evening at the Catalan Government’s Palace. The Japanese writer delivered an acceptance speech in which he deeply and bitterly criticised nuclear power and especially the way in which his country has been dealing with it for many decades.

“The Japanese people should have been saying “no” to nuclear energy. That is my opinion”, he said. Then he added “We should have put all our efforts into technological power, knowledge and the social capital we had as a country to develop an effective way that could have substituted nuclear power. It would have been the way to assume a collective responsibility towards the numerous victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Murakami said he would donate the 80,000 euros awarded with the prize to the victims of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident of Fukushima.

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Yesterday you criticised the nuclear companies, saying they prefer efficiency over security. You were talking earlier that love is the world’s engine. Maybe those companies should be more concerned about love?

I entered the University of Tokyo in 1968. Those were years of revolution. Young people were very idealistic and very political. Those years are gone. People are not interested in idealism any more and they are trying to make a profit. The problem with the nuclear plant in Japan is the absence of idealism. I think the next ten years should be the years of idealism again. We should build up a new value system. In 1968, 1969, people were saying “peace and love”. Maybe we should have the age of “peace and love” again. It will be easier to be optimistic. It’s not easy right now, but we should be if we want to survive. Capitalism is on the turning point right now; we have to seek for the revival of humanism. Efficiency and conviniency is the easy way, but we should seek for the hard way sometimes. That is what I feel and I think we should think about it again. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that! [he laughs] But still I’m going to write very dark stories, very twisted, brutal, bloody stories. Although I’m idealistic and optimistic, and I believe in love.

Catalan News Agency, 11 June 2011

It is sometimes hard to understand why people are turning against nuclear power, particularly when so many politicians are bent on persuading us that there is no alternative to nuclear if we want to "keep the lights on". There are alternatives, much better alternatives. For us now, we can echo Murakami and say,

We should put all our efforts into technological power, knowledge and the social capital we have as a country to develop an effective way that can be a substitute for nuclear power.

For us in Wales, the only answer is put our effort into developing sustainable power from renewables. Particularly the one renewable that we have better potential to harness than virtually anywhere else in the world. The tide.

     

Finally, and with thanks to Bella Caledonia, another thing that particularly drew my attention was this interview on nuclear power featuring Jeremy Rifkin on French television last month.

     

This should act firstly as a reminder that nuclear power is not commercially viable. Companies can make huge sums of money from building them and running them, but only if government provides the framework of subsidies, using taxpayer's money, that they can exploit.

But secondly he points to a new way of producing the power we need at a much more sustainable, local level using a multiplicity of sources rather than by using a heavily centralized model.

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4 comments:

Siônnyn said...

Thorium fuelled reactors could well be the future - they are safer than uranium, and thorium is abundant - especially in Wales. China is sinking billions into research which will produce scalable, pre-fab units which are fail-safe, and produce far less waste, which has a much shorter half life than the current nuclear generators.

It even appears that the UK media - even the Daily Mail, are starting to take this seriously, and that some of the enabling technology is being developed in the UK

A rather superficial though supportive article from them HERE.

Lyndon said...

Rifkin has always been an anti-science, rabble-rousing charlatan. His campaign against genetic engineering was particularly grotesque, making him genetics's number one hate figure when I was in university.

Dafydd said...

@Lyndon

It's easy to dismiss someone with insults. Much harder to listen to the arguments and make the rational case.

MH said...

Lyndon, In so far as genetics is concerned, Rifkin warned of the risks involved in genetically modified material either cross-pollinating or cross-breeding with existing wildlife in unexpected and uncontrollable ways. I, Plaid Cymru and many others share that concern, and want to keep Wales GM free.

The argument against GM is exactly the same as the argument against nuclear power in Wales. We can produce the food we need without GM, so why take the risk? We can produce the energy we need without nuclear, so why take the risk?

That's not to say that there aren't appropriate fields for nuclear or genetic scientists to be involved in, only to say that the commercial-scale use of either of these technologies is unnecessary and inappropriate in Wales.

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