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Ending The Nuclear Century

By The Editors

The nuclear issue is one that has all but disappeared from the public consciousness. The majority of people could not name the nearest nuclear reactor to their own home. Fewer people understand how these reactors work, and even fewer are aware of the terrible dangers. During the preparation of this special issue of The Ecologist, a number of people asked us why we should want to revive an issue that was dead and done with. The answer, of course, is that nuclear power is no more dead than is biotechnology. The accident that occurred on the 30th Sep­ tember of this year at the uranium fuel production plant in Japan should make this clear. Nuclear radiation is still killing large numbers of people with leukaemia and other forms of cancer and will kil l very many more i f we allow the industry to proceed with its present plans.

Nuclear power, we were told decades ago, would provide electricity that was 'safe, clean, and too cheap to meter'. We now know that it is, on the contrary, totally unsafe, highly pol­ luting, and very expensive indeed. Of course, since the nuclear power project was linked very closely with its military coun­ terpart - of which it was but an offshoot - there was very little room for argument at the time. Our small island and neigh­ bouring countries were, like it or not, to be crammed with nuclear power stations of all types, and people would be made dependent on an energy source whose consequences the nuclear establishment had either not bothered to find out or were willing to lie about, and which could not be further from our government's main preoccupations.

So the nuclear industry was allowed to grow and grow, with no public consultation of any kind, on the basis of bogus sci­ ence, with the help of compromised politicians and lengthy public inquiries, the results of which - as in the case of the Windscale inquiry - were predictable from the start.

As a result, our lives today are largely in the hands of tech­ nocrats and engineers - often minor, plodding ones at that, and a small mistake like pressing the wrong button - as has already happened - could spell disaster for millions.

When most of us reflect on the fate of those affected by Chernobyl, of the victims of Three Mile Island, and of the highly covered-up Windscale fire of 1957, we still believe that these were but isolated accidents, and that such disasters are very unlikely to recur - let alone in the sophisticated West. But we now know that Britain, for example, came, just a few years ago, within seconds of a nuclear meltdown - the consequences of which could have been disastrous for us all. We know that the United States has similarly only narrowly avoided such a catastrophe. In fact, as we clearly demonstrate in this issue of The Ecologist, the majority of us in Western Europe and many in the United States and Japan and elsewhere, have been living on a razor's edge for decades.

Beyond these horrifying scenarios, a large number of people are at present exposed to routine emissions from nuclear instal­ lations of different sorts - that contaminate the air we breathe, the food we eat and even consumer products in our homes and all this in order to assure the survival of an industry whose very raison d'etre is unjustifiable on environmental, social and

economic grounds, and whose survival would have been inconceivable without vast government subsidies, both direct and indirect.

But if, as we have clearly shown in the following pages, the industry has failed to deliver on every one of its much hyped promises, how then have our leaders managed for so long to keep this monster going, and more to the point, why?

In our opening article by Peter Bunyard and Pete Roche we try to answer these questions by closely examining the history of lies, cover-ups, scandals and corruption surrounding the nuclear industry. Chris Busby, in his expose of the dangers to our health of radioactive emissions, uncovers mountains of evidence that there is not only no such thing as a 'safe dose', but that repeated low levels of exposure are proportionately more dangerous than exposure to a single massive dose.

Other articles reveal that independent regulatory agencies are not as independent as we are led to believe, and that eminent scientists are willing to put their own careers before the health of the general public. The history of the nuclear industry and those who support it, is shown to provide a perfect illustration of the utter recklessness with which industrialisation-at-anycost has been foisted on the world, and of the gulf that separates the agenda of our political leaders and that which they should have set themselves were they in any way concerned with the true interests of those who elected them to power. •

The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 7, November 1999

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