The plan to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Devon, in the light of the recent developments of power sources in the world, seems to be an anomaly. While many countries in Europe are turning to renewable energy in order to cut emissions, the UK seems to be determined to build this reactor while the rest of the world, with only a few exceptions, sees the decline of this energy source.
According to an article by Robert Kunzig, a respected scientific journalist, in a recent article in the National Geographic:
Germany has invested heavily in energy generated by offshore wind and expects one-third of its future wind energy to come from offshore farms…After the disaster in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, Germany vowed to quickly abandon nuclear energy. of 17 operable reactors, nine have since been shut down. The rest are set to close by 2022.
Yet in the UK going ahead with plans to enlist France and China to build a new reactor in the South West of the UK.
The arguments against this initiative are too numerous to mention but can be found in the pages of the Stop Hinkley pages.
In a recent visit to Holy Island, I got talking with Dr Martin Hird who is looking into the viability of building wind turbines to supply energy for the small community who live there. We discussed some of his ideas about this project.
Renewable energy means something which we can do and never have to stop doing. So it doesn’t use up a finite resource of any kind. An example is wind energy. The turbine blades won’t last forever so they have to be replaced. The towers will last for a huge amount of time and they can be recycled. There is no cut-off point when we have to stop using them.
Coal doesn’t have a future. Every year Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publish a summary of the climate science that’s going on around the world. They produced a report last year and a summary of last year (2015) which you can get on the web. It’s about 30 pages long and contains a recommendation for policy makers on planet change. We must stop emitting carbon dioxide by the end of the century if we hope to keep the increase to less than 2 degrees c. Even at 2 degrees c we just have to stop. What we’ve done already is catastrophic for the planet. The scientists have a high level of confidence, up to 95% confidence, that the effects caused by carbon dioxide emissions is harmful.
Producing animals to eat is a colossal use of greenhouse gases so being vegetarian is a very good contribution to reduce gases. But whether it’s actually viable to continue some form of animal husbandry for people to eat meat is doubtful…the very big difference from a Buddhist viewpoint or going by dharma is that we have to understand that we’re a part of everything and we behave as if we’re not; that the earth is just some kind of storehouse that we can plunder until our heart’s content and it will be fine, and that’s obviously not the case. We’re part of the whole thing and we need to behave in recognition of that. There is no independent arising and we behave as if there is and all the dharma teaching points out that that’s not the case although still we behave as if it is.
In the short term, there are people who say that nuclear energy is the only possible way to go because of what’s going to happen in the world because of the climate change already. For instance, there were studies published this year in the New Scientist (June/July 2015) saying that 5 meters of sea-level rise is now certain because of the melting of the glaciers in Antarctica which are in a runaway condition now: and also the effect of heating on Greenland glaciers. So 5 meter sea-level rise without all the other changes is going to devastate a lot of low-lying land. And that’s only one aspect, the sea-level rise – the devastation that’s going to caused – is huge. The only thing we can do in the long term is to reduce our consumption to reduce pollution. The real problem is over-consumption and the apparent need to consume more and more and more. While we continue to do that, there is really no hope, to be honest.
What the environmentalists say is that there is no chance of that happening – reducing the consumption of energy – of people changing their behaviour. The amount of energy we require is so big, the only way to provide that amount of energy is through nuclear power; and that’s probably true because there just isn’t the will to install alternative sources of energy.
Wind energy as well as wave energy has the potential to provide everything we need in the UK. The potential for wave energy in the north Atlantic is absolutely colossal. But the amount of money which is put into research to make that viable is a dribble. It seems like the seriousness of the situation and the response to it are not yet matched. The lack of will of the people responsible to do what really has to be done by taking on board just how serious the situation is not evident. That’s how it seems to me. Personally I’m strongly opposed to nuclear because of the waste. You can create an even longer-term problem by using nuclear. Nuclear fusion, if someone could figure out how to do it is an alternative possibility. There’s a lot of research going into fusion at the moment, it has the huge benefit of producing no radioactive waste. That would be a massive benefit. It still requires a source of fuel. The material used to produce fusion is readily available on the planet [tritium produced for lithium?].
The EU is very proactive in this area. European countries, especially Germany, has a strong green party who are getting things implemented much more quickly than here. The UK seems to be always behind in these things.
There’s a lot of research going on in the UK as well. Up until recently the implementation has been going on quite well till this present government came into power. Denmark also is a world leader in wind energy and has a huge proportion of its needs produced by this method but they’re supported by the Scandinavian grids. The states has a big potential. I don’t know if it’s really happening there yet. I’m not involved in research in that area. [See National Geographic the Climate Issue for information on world climate change.]
I’m involved in the energy project on Holy Island which is very small. We’re trying to put in a small wind energy project, less than a hundred kilowatts anyway, sixty to ninety kilowatts, that sort of region. The planning permission is in for that so I’m hoping to get that built this year. I’ve also been working on a system at the men’s retreat centre in Arran. For quite a few years it was stuck on a land ownership issue. I’m also hoping to get that built this year. These are the two main voluntary things I’m doing. I also do consultancy work in Glasgow. Most of their work in recent times has been wind farms.
One of the biggest problems today is caused by gas emissions. Pollution is also a problem but carbon dioxide, methane and the other greenhouse gases are the biggest problem. Those come from burning fossil fuels, coal, gas.
When you read what the scientists say it’s very bleak to be honest, it really is. You have to be aware of what they’re saying. The the tropical sea will be too warm for coral by 2050. In thirty years time. there may be no more coral in the world. It’s staggering. The oceans are more acidic than they have been for a millennium now and the rate of change in becoming is increasing. So the shellfish which take the calcium out of the sea to make their shells will be unable to do that. When you read about it all it’s not very happy reading and it’s only really a question of when. What we do from now will determine just how bad it’s going to be and how quickly or slowly these changes come about. [See WWF report.]
We can only do what we can do and just do it. In the long run, reducing our consumption is the only thing to do. However, Tich Nath Hanh gives me hope for the future.
Protecting the planet must be given the first priority. I hope you will take the time to sit down with each other, have tea with your friends and your family, and discuss these things. Invite Bodhisattva Earth Holder to sit and collaborate with you. Then make your decision and act to save our beautiful planet. Changing your way of living will bring you a lot of joy right away and, with your first mindful breath, healing will begin.
Dr Martin Hird