Mon, Mar 28, 2011 - Page 8 News List


Nuclear is no answer

Ever since the nuclear crisis began in Japan, I was just waiting for somebody to step forward with the argument that “given all the environmental problems caused by fossil fuels, isn’t nuclear energy the lesser of two evils?” The Taipei Times’ editorial indeed repeated this tired, old propaganda of the nuclear industry (“The irrational fear of invisible agents,” March 22, page 8).

What is wrong with these arguments is that they are based not on what kind of world we want to live in, but on purely economic cost--benefit arguments in favor of either fossil fuels or nuclear fission, with no regard for moral imperatives. Are we morally justified in creating dangerous global warming and acidic oceans, leading to collapsed ecosystems? Do we really want to burden the coming generations with thousands of tonnes of the most toxic and dangerous waste for hundreds of thousands of years?

The deep-lying fault in these arguments is what environmental economists call “externalities.”

Energy production via fossil fuels and nuclear fission produces lots of external effects, such as air pollution, global warming or cancer, some of which can be economically calculated, but some of which cannot (how do you value a lost human life?).

Therefore, the whole dreadfully simple-minded economic case which was put forward in a recent letter in favor of nuclear energy (Letters, March 25, page 8) falls apart if we simply incorporate the externality of having to safeguard nuclear waste for the next hundred thousand years. The neo-liberal school of economics is forever disregarding external costs as if they do not exist, which makes it highly cost-effective to trash the planet. Environmental economics tries to incorporate these costs. However, many decisions should not be based on such cost-benefit analyses alone, even if they incorporate environmental externalities, but on what kind of world we want to live in.

I want to live in a world in which we avert the threat of global warming and nuclear poisoning through a massive investment into truly renewable energy sources. I like to show my students a diagram that shows that we only need to capture less than one-thousandth of all the solar energy reaching the earth to provide for all of our energy needs.

We do not have a -shortage of renewable energy, but a shortage of political will. If we made a moral decision to do so, we could revamp the entire world economy in one or two decades to run on solar, geothermal and tidal energy — the three truly long-term sustainable energy sources.

Moreover, through economies of scale, renewable energies would soon become cheaper than fossil fuel or nuclear energy.

Truly renewable energies are the only solution that any responsible parent would wish for his or her child.

The only people who are despicable are those who are willing to trash the planet in the name of economic efficiency, which is just another way of saying “for the sake of economic greed.”

Bruno Walther


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