Letter to the Telegraph: “The fire would not have occurred under the London Building Acts and bylaws.”

June 16, 2017 at 8:38 pm (engineering, environment, history, law, London, posted by JD)

  Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

The Daily Telegraph Letters to the Editor, 16 June 2017

SIR – The construction of buildings in London was controlled between 1667 and 1985 by the London Building Acts and associated construction bylaws.

These were administered by district surveyors, appointed by the superintending architect to the Greater London Council but independent as statutory officers who not only helped write the acts but also had the final say over any forms of construction. Many sections of the bylaws included the phrase “to the satisfaction of the district surveyor”.

The 28 district surveyors (all highly experienced construction professionals, usually both chartered engineers and chartered surveyors), working with the GLC’s buildings regulation department, ensured that all buildings built in the old London County Council area were safely built.

The old maxim in the service was: first, make sure it does not fall down; secondly, make sure it does not burn down; and thirdly, use your common sense for all other matters.

This excellent service was abolished in 1985 and replaced with the inferior National Building Regulations system. The London district surveyors were not responsible to any council and so could always do what they saw fit, free from political or financial pressure.

The fire at Grenfell Tower would not have happened  under the London Building Acts and bylaws. Proper fire breaks in the cladding would have been insisted on and, more importantly, enforced. Controlling fire-spread was the foundation of the  of the 1667 Act for the Rebuilding of London and its basics were still in place when I stood down as district surveyor for Chelsea in 1983.

No combustible materials would have been allowed on the outside of a building, no cavities in cladding allowed to create vertical fire or air pathways. Vertical and horizontal fire breaks were the foundation of the protection principles.

A building would have been regularly inspected by the respected London Building Regulations Department of the GLC and if found wanting, the owners, whoever they were, would have been prosecuted.

My former district surveyor colleagues will not be surprised that this disaster happened. Whenever politicians and accountants are in ultimate control of complex building matters, in place of experienced construction professionals who do not have to answer to them, we will see more disasters like this one.

Terence Jenkins
Tring, Hertfordshire

Permalink 7 Comments

Grenfell Action Group: “All our warnings fell on deaf ears”

June 14, 2017 at 10:41 pm (class, environment, Human rights, London, posted by JD, privatisation, Tory scum, tragedy, workers)

It is becoming apparent that the residents of Grenfell Tower had made repeated representations to the (Tory) Council and the so-called Tenant Management Committee, about their fears over the safety of the building. But these were poor working class people, isolated within a prosperous borough. They were ignored, as the Grenfell Action Group’s blog demonstrates:

Posted on by

Watching breaking news about the Grenfell Tower fire catastrophe. Too soon (5am) to even guess at numbers of casualties and fatalities. Our heartfelt and sincere condolences to all who have perished, to the injured, to those who are bereaved or are still searching for missing loved ones.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have posted numerous warnings in recent years about the very poor fire safety standards at Grenfell Tower and elsewhere in RBKC.

ALL OUR WARNINGS FELL ON DEAF EARS and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time. Below is a list of links to previous blogs we posted on this site trying to warn the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, who own this property, and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation who supposedly manage all social housing in RBKC on the Council’s behalf:

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/fire-safety-scandal-at-lancaster-west/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/kctmo-playing-with-fire/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/more-on-fire-safety/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/02/21/another-fire-safety-scandal/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/03/14/kctmo-feeling-the-heat/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/why-are-we-waiting/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/grenfell-tower-from-bad-to-worse/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/more-trouble-at-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/tmo-still-asleep-at-the-wheel

Permalink 9 Comments

Trump repudiates science and the future of humanity

June 2, 2017 at 8:49 am (Asshole, climate change, environment, populism, posted by JD, Republican Party, Trump, United States)


 Q: How can you tell when he’s lying? A: His lips move

Bill McKibben is eloquent on Trump’s disgusting move.

People say, if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. We should be so lucky. President Trump has a hammer, but all he’ll use it for is to smash things that others have built, as the world looks on in wonder and in fear.

That is Trump. He has nothing to offer himself. He’s an empty vessel, his only skill being to market ugly tasteless buildings. All he wants to do is smash things up and piss people off – no doubt to console himself for the fact that intelligent people, no matter how rich and selfish, will not go near him.

The latest, most troubling example is his decision to obliterate the Paris climate accord: After nearly 200 years of scientific inquiry and over 20 years of patient diplomacy that united every nation save Syria and Nicaragua, we had this afternoon’s big game-show Rose Garden reveal: Count us out.

It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces.

Trump doesn’t do diplomacy, which requires intelligence, thought, knowledge, experience, the ability to see and understand points of view not one’s own. Trump knows nothing but brute force and insults, because he is that stupid and empty.

The reason Paris is a series of voluntary agreements and not a real treaty is because the world had long since understood that no binding document would ever get two-thirds of the vote in our oil-soaked Senate. And that’s despite the fact that the agreement asks very little of us: President Barack Obama’s mild shift away from coal-fired power and toward higher-mileage cars would have satisfied our obligations.

Those changes, and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming. There are signs that this has been happening: The plummeting price of solar energy just this spring persuaded India to forgo a huge planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays to catch the sun. China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.

And that’s precisely the moment President Trump chose to make his move, a bid to undercut our best hope for a workable future in a bizarre attempt to restore the past.

The past in which there were more coal mines – as if coal mines were inherently desirable and good things, source of careers as enviable as any other.

And so we will resist. As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours. Already cities and states are committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Atlanta was the latest to take the step. We will make sure that every leader who hesitates and waffles on climate will be seen as another Donald Trump, and we will make sure that history will judge that name with the contempt it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but also because he didn’t take civilization seriously.

I wish Kathy Griffin had waited two days.

Permalink 14 Comments

Brexit and the environment: the Telegraph gives the game away

April 16, 2017 at 12:48 pm (Beyond parody, climate change, environment, Europe, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, profiteers, Tory scum)

 A man with vote leave EU badges.  Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

After Brexit, Britain can be free of the EU’s restrictive green targets 

Editorial, Daily Telegraph 15 April 2017

Government sources say that the Tories will scrap the EU’s green energy targets when legislation is repatriated to Britain. This is excellent news and one of the very best reasons to have supported Brexit.

Leaving the EU must result in a more competitive economy – it would be ridiculous to swap Brussels bureaucracy for Westminster meddling.

The targets are absurd: 15 per cent of energy must be met by renewable sources by 2020, excluding even nuclear. The only way to accomplish this is via public subsidy, which, it is estimated, will cost the average household an extra £100 per year.

Renewable energy will be part of the future mix, for sure, but let it serve human need, not green ideology. Why rob the consumers only to provide them with technology that is often inefficient and unreliable?

If the Government scraps the target then it will be a victory for our campaign to cut EU red tape. That said, there is a great deal of UK red tape that needs looking at, too. The Climate Change Act 2008 was a unilateral decision to commit Britain to cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent within five decades. It proved that the British are capable of making mistakes all by themselves.

Permalink 11 Comments

Unite’s Trident dilemma

March 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm (engineering, environment, Guest post, science, Trident, Unite the union, workers)

By Pat Corcoran

The Unite report of its recent conference for members in the defence sector is at: http://www.unitetheunion.org/news/unpatriotic-government-policy-putting-defence-jobs-at-risk/  McCluskey says that his speech is not a nationalist rant. Which is the roundabout way of saying: it is a bit of a nationalist rant.

The book of conference motions for the 2016 Unite policy conference has just been published. There are 13 pages of motions about Trident renewal, ranging from full support to outright opposition. Most motions take the latter position. Unsurprisingly, the motion from the Aerospace and Shipbuilding National Industrial Sector Committee (NISC) does not. What that motion calls for is for Rule 2 to be upheld. Rule 2 of the Unite Rulebook is a commitment to protect members’ jobs and communities. As the motion puts it: “We are not a political party, we are a trade union.”

In fairness, Unite does face a genuine dilemma: Around 7,000 people in Barrow-in-Furness work for BAE Systems Maritime, with up to 10,000 more working for its suppliers. The firm is currently building seven nuclear-powered Astute-class submarines and planning the Successor programme to replace the aging Vanguard-class submarines, which carry nuclear missiles, ensuring jobs for 30 years. The industry is responsible for around one in ten jobs in the  area and if the supply chain is taken into account it’s probably nearer one in five.

In addition, Unite has a long established tradition of respecting the wishes of its directly effected sectors when it comes to key industrial issues.

McCluskey and the overwhelming majority of the Unite EC would genuinely like to see nuclear disarmament, but they face a real dilemma: surely the first duty of a trade union is to defend the jobs of its members? The Aerospace and Shipbuilding NISC has a point about Unite not being a political party.

There is only one way to resolve this dilemma: Unite must commission an expert report into how to replace Trident-related jobs and put serious resources (ie financial resources) into coming up with a detailed, practical alternative jobs plan, just as the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards did in the 1970’s. Corbyn could also be offered support for abolishing Trident so long as assurances are forthcoming regarding a future Labour government safeguarding jobs. Sadly, there is no sign at the moment that McCluskey and the United Left majority on the EC are minded to adopt such a strategy.

Permalink 3 Comments

The Volkswagan emissions scandal

September 24, 2015 at 7:43 pm (capitalism, corruption, crime, engineering, environment, posted by JD, United States)

From The World Socialist website:

 

The scandal at Volkswagen (VW) over the manipulation of emissions readings from its autos in the US has plunged the firm into a major crisis. The company, which along with Toyota is the world’s largest auto producer, faces the threat of up to $18 billion in fines, along with massive costs related to the recall of almost half a million vehicles and huge compensation claims. The US Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation and a congressional committee has announced plans for a hearing on the scandal.

VW has already acknowledged that accusations by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are valid. It has admitted that it deliberately deceived American customers and government authorities.

“Let’s be clear: our company was dishonest,” said VW’s American head Michael Horn at the unveiling of the new Passat model in New York. “We totally screwed up.”

In a calculated manner, VW broke the law in order to manipulate emissions readings. In diesel models sold in the US, the company installed specially developed software to enable the vehicles to determine when they were being tested and automatically switch to a mode that reduced the emission of pollutants. After the test, the cars automatically switched back to the normal mode, increasing their release of poisonous oxides between 10- and 40-fold.

VW used the low emissions test rates as a selling point for the US market, where diesel cars comprise just one percent of total sales, a far lower percentage than in Europe. Many US buyers decided to purchase a diesel car from VW or Audi because, in contrast to hybrid vehicles from Asian producers, which have low emission rates but are cumbersome, the German models were considered both environmentally friendly and sporty.

The ultimate scale of the scandal is not yet known. The suspicion is that VW manipulated emissions figures not only in the US, but also in other markets. Germany, Switzerland, France and South Korea have all announced investigations into diesel vehicle manipulation. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 3 Comments

Pushing back the tide

February 15, 2014 at 9:18 am (environment, Rosie B)

European and UK policies towards land management increase the likelihood of flooding, according to George Monbiot:-

The story begins with a group of visionary farmers at Pontbren, in the headwaters of Britain’s longest river, the Severn. In the 1990s they realised that the usual hill-farming strategy – loading the land with more and bigger sheep, grubbing up the trees and hedges, digging more drains – wasn’t working. It made no economic sense, the animals had nowhere to shelter, and the farmers were breaking their backs to wreck their own land.

So they devised something beautiful. They began planting shelter belts of trees along the contours. They stopped draining the wettest ground and built ponds to catch the water instead. They cut and chipped some of the wood they grew to make bedding for their animals, which meant that they no longer spent a fortune buying straw. Then they used the composted bedding, in a perfect closed loop, to cultivate more trees.

One day a government consultant was walking over their fields during a rainstorm. He noticed something that fascinated him. The water flashing off the land suddenly disappeared when it reached the belts of trees the farmers had planted. This prompted a major research programme, which produced the following astonishing results: water sinks into the soil under trees at 67 times the rate at which it sinks into the soil under grass. The roots of the trees provide channels down which the water flows, deep into the ground. The soil there becomes a sponge, a reservoir which sucks up water and then releases it slowly. In the pastures, by contrast, the small sharp hooves of the sheep puddle the ground, making it almost impermeable, a hard pan off which the rain gushes.

One of the research papers estimates that – even though only 5% of the Pontbren land has been reforested – if all the farmers in the catchment did the same thing, flooding peaks downstream would be reduced by about 29%. Full reforestation would reduce the peaks by about 50%. For the residents of Shrewsbury, Gloucester and the other towns ravaged by endless Severn floods, that means – more or less – problem solved.

Somerset

Permalink 4 Comments

Acting for Active Transport

October 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm (Cycling, environment, Rosie B)

Hundreds of people will gather outside the St Andrews House government offices at  1.00-1.30pm on Weds 30 October to call on Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP, the man in charge of the 2014/15 Scottish budget, to double investment in walking and cycling.  Be there!!

The event is organised by Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, an umbrella body for over 60 Scottish organisations including environment, community, faith and international development groups, trades unions, student unions, and of course transport and cycling groups such as Spokes, Transform and Pedal on Parliament.

FREE PIC- On Your Bike Campaign EM 01_4

A similar SCCS event two years ago marked the turning point in a successful campaign by Spokes and many other organisations to reverse severe active travel cuts which the government had included in the draft 2012/13 budget.

This year the draft budget for 14/15 does include a welcome rise in active travel investment but it is nowhere near adequate to meet the government’s ambition of 10% of all trips in Scotland to be by bike in 2020.  There is growing cycle use in Edinburgh, but, for Scotland as a whole, only 1% of all trips are by bike (around 2% of work trips).  Furthermore, under the draft budget, cycling investment peaks in 14/15 and starts to fall back again in 15/16.

Location:
outside St Andrews House
Regent Road
EH1 3DG Edinburgh
United Kingdom

Date:
Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Time:
1 – 1.30pm

1395875_10152035084774744_222826718_n

Permalink 1 Comment

Nuclear power: yes! This deal: no!

October 21, 2013 at 8:40 pm (economics, environment, green, Jim D, nuclear power, science, strange situations, Tory scum)

The environmentalist George Monbiot tweeted today:

Yes, I support #nuclear power, in general. But the economics of the #Hinkley deal are simply bonkers. Appalling value for money.

nuclear power symbol

Monbiot is right on both points: nuclear power must play a part in any serious UK energy plan, taking account of environmental concerns and climate change. But he’s also correct that this deal is “bonkers” – and not just because of the price guarantee/subsidy being gifted to EDF and the two Chinese companies that will deliver the new reactors: it’s simply bizarre that the privatisation-obsessed Tories are, in effect, handing the UK’s nuclear energy industry over to state-owned concerns in France and China.

The Observer‘s Will Hutton adds a further note of concern:

“This is a breathtaking step in an industry where the sensitivities over operating safety, technical efficiency and waste disposal are so acute. Fukushima, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are remembered around the world. Chinese state-owned companies are a byword, not least in China, for inefficiency, loss-making and politicisation of decision-making. The party has wrestled for a generation with the reality that these companies, designed by Mao to embody the communist dream of uniting economic and social obligations, abolishing worker exploitation and spearheading modernisation, are sclerotic economic duds.”

Nevertheless, the traditional “left” stance against nuclear power (in reality, based upon Stalinist cold war anti-nuclear weapons concerns) is clearly outmoded, and must be dispensed with.

We have, in large part, George Monbiot to thank for forcing at least some in the environmental movement, and on the rational left, to rethink their old prejudices against nuclear power.

Les Hearn, writing for the AWL’s paper Solidarity in 2011, takes a similar position:

Why I support nuclear power as one of a range of alternatives to fossil fuels

Back in the 70s, like many on the left, I was alarmed by what seemed to be the cover-up of the risks of nuclear power in the 50s and 60s. The indiscriminate power of nuclear weapons to kill in large numbers also marked many on the left with a fear of nuclear energy. But, as Maynard Keynes put it, “when the facts change, I change my mind”.

We only have one planet and it is overwhelmingly likely that “we” (or greedy capitalists, if you like) are altering its climate for the worse by returning carbon dioxide to the atmosphere a million times faster than it was originally locked away in fossil fuels. And, despite attempts to reduce carbon emissions, these are actually rising … by over 5% last year, from 29.0 to 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt or billion tonnes).

And, of the 13.7 Gt released by electricity generation, 11.2 Gt is “fixed” for the foreseeable future, since it will come from existing or planned fossil fuel power stations that will be operating in 2020.

The closure or cancellation of nuclear power stations makes this much worse, since these are the main proven alternative source of electricity. Countries which have reacted to recent scares, rather than evidence, include Japan, Germany, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy and Switzerland.

Truthfully, the potential risks of radiation are massively exaggerated by anti-nuclear groups in comparison with the actual risks of the fossil fuel industry to workers and the public. In particular, the environmental risks of radiation are minimal — wildlife is flourishing in the exclusion zone round Chernobyl and, as James Lovelock has pointed out, in the atom bomb test sites in the Pacific.

Furthermore, the difficulties of replacing nuclear power, let alone the whole fossil fuel industry, with renewables are minimised (see my article in Solidarity 203, 11 May).

It is said (by Theo Simon, Letters, Solidarity 204, 18 May —http://bit.ly/k8WOD9) that “nuclear power demands high security and central control”, as if these were necessarily bad.

Central control would anyway be needed to construct tens of thousands of wind turbines, on- and offshore, and the new supergrid of thousands of kilometres which would be needed to get the electricity to the cities. Already, proposals to introduce new systems of pylons have provoked mass protests in Wales, Scotland, Somerset and the West Midlands. And putting cables underground would be ten times more expensive.

Apparently, I fail “to question the projected ‘energy gap’ which is being used to justify nuclear power expansion”. The argument goes that, if the most wide-ranging programme of insulation and energy conservation is undertaken world-wide (the like of which has never been seen), then the electricity generated by nuclear power would not be needed. As the Spartans once said in a different context, if!

Once again, let’s look at the reality of nuclear power. The worst accident of all time, Chernobyl, has killed 43 people. This was due to the criminal negligence of the USSR police state. 28 workers were fatally irradiated while bringing the reactor under control. 15 young people died of thyroid cancer, entirely avoidable had the bureaucrats issued potassium iodide tablets (as was done promptly in Japan recently). Other estimates of potential deaths range from 9,000 to 900,000 but even the lowest of these seems to be way too high. So far, no other deaths have been proved to be due to the Chernobyl disaster.

As Wade Allison (author of Radiation and Reason) states, the ability of living tissue to repair radiation damage has been wildly underestimated. In radiation treatment of cancers, healthy tissues receive up to five times the fatal dose of radiation but spread over several weeks, during which time they efficiently repair the damage.

Many accidents have occurred in nuclear power plants. In those resulting in radiation leaks, there have been … no deaths or even injuries among the public. A few workers have died, usually because they were close to the incident. Otherwise, nuclear workers are healthier than the general population. A 2% increased risk of cancers linked to radiation is dwarfed by a 24% decreased risk of death from other cancers, according to a Canadian study. It also found that nuclear workers lived longer than average. And this under capitalism!

I am accused of listing the objections to nuclear power but not attempting to answer many of them. In particular, in the areas of waste disposal, plant safety and cost, I fail to “see the reality of nuclear power within the context of a global capitalist economy”. Trading content-free accusations, I might accuse others of failing to see the reality of renewable energy within the context etc. etc.

Of course, I did deal with plant safety and waste disposal. A recent Physics World (May 2011) shows that more modern designs would have survived both the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. These include better back-up generators and containment for molten fuel in case of a meltdown, and passive (i.e. not depending on a power supply) emergency cooling operated by gas pressure or gravity. In fact, modifications to the Fukushima model to reduce radiation leaks in case of an accident were proposed by scientists 30 years ago but rejected as too expensive. Meanwhile, other similar power plants survived the earthquake and tsunami undamaged.

On radioactive waste, I said that deep storage in stable strata was perfectly plausible. Reprocessing would reduce the amount and feed back fuel to nuclear plants. The relevance of the “global capitalist economy” to this is not clear, except that they won’t pay for it. In any case, the danger of waste has been greatly overstated. Five metres of concrete would absorb all the radiation from anything. Wade Allison “would be perfectly happy” to have high-level waste buried 100 metres below his house, while James Lovelock has “offered to take the full output of a nuclear power station in my back yard.”

Alternatives to fossil fuels consist of two proven technologies, nuclear and hydroelectric power (HEP), a host of promising but unproven ones, and the mirage (at present) of a vast reduction in energy demand.

All have environmental and/or health implications. HEP requires vast dams flooding arable land and wildlife habitats, disrupting river ecosystems, destroying estuarine fisheries, reducing the fertility of flood plains, and endangering lives in case of collapse.

The Three Gorges dam in China necessitated flooding 1000 towns and villages, and “removing” 1.4 million people. Since completion in 2006, the reservoir has been plagued by pollution and algae. The dam is silting up, while the extra weight of water is causing geological problems. Downstream, the reduction in flow has led to a drought affecting 300,000 people, with drinking water reservoirs containing only “dead water”. Shipping can no longer use large stretches of the river. It is worrying that Switzerland is phasing out the nuclear power that provides 40% of its electricity, replacing it with HEP.

It is also worrying that Germany, the sixth biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, is phasing out nuclear power, increasing carbon emissions by 3%. If it can afford to do without the electricity from its nuclear plants, it should keep them open while closing down an equivalent number of fossil fuel plants, cutting CO2 emissions proportionately.

In Japan, phasing out nuclear power will cause massive shortfalls in energy. The optimistic scenarios of Energy-Rich Japan (ERJ — http://www.energyrichjapan.info) all involve substantial reductions in demand (so far untested), while some involve reductions in population — by up to 20%! Since an increase will be needed in order to care for the ageing population, this seems particularly unrealistic.

In particular, ERJ claims that transport energy can be reduced by 70% with hydrogen-powered vehicles. They don’t mention the following problems. Hydrogen is inefficiently produced from fossil fuels; solar-powered electrolysis of water is even more expensive. Highly flammable hydrogen must be stored in pressurised tanks, no doubt to be released in traffic accidents. A new infra-structure for hydrogen supply would have to be built, “a matter for policy decisions and market forces” (ERJ) (!?). Fuel cells to “burn” the hydrogen use costly platinum catalysts which can be poisoned by impurities in the hydrogen or air, which is also needed; their reliability over long periods is unknown; they would easily freeze in cold weather; they would be a magnet for thieves. Incidentally, ERJ assumes that much of the hydrogen would be imported (from where?).

Other aspects of ERJ’s schemes are equally vague. Much geothermal energy would be needed, though this technology is notoriously unreliable. Curiously, nowhere in 250-plus pages is there a mention of earthquakes or tsunamis!

It is difficult to avoid James Lovelock’s conclusion that “only nuclear power can now [my emphasis] halt global warming” — but this is not to accept nuclear power as it is. The possibility of fail-safe thorium-powered reactors is ignored not only by the (capitalist) industry which will not or cannot afford the research costs but by the Left and environmentalists. Supported by eminent scientists such as Carlo Rubbia of CERN, thorium reactors do not have a chain reaction to go out of control. They rely on a stream of neutrons from a particle accelerator which could be instantly switched off. Using plentiful thorium, they can also “burn” other radioactive materials, including surplus bombs … and high level radioactive waste. Radioactive material decays into stable isotopes, usually lead. Plutonium takes about 100,000 years to reduce to 1/20 of its original amount. Thorium reactors accelerate this process greatly (Accelerated Transmutation of Waste), reducing the volume of waste and the time for which it would have to be kept safe.

A final point: Theo accuses me of ignoring the “proliferation argument”, which he seems to equate with the simple possession of nuclear power. There are many difficult steps to building nuclear weapons and it is clear that these have not proliferated anything like as fast as civil nuclear power. More of a problem is terrorism and here too it is not clear that nuclear power plants are uniquely vulnerable and dangerous targets. More importantly, many conflicts are, and will be increasingly, over resources, particularly as the climate changes. Nuclear bombs won’t be much use in these!

Yet more deaths in the UK fossil fuel industry (four workers killed in a Welsh oil refinery explosion in March; five coal miners killed in Wales and Yorkshire in September) should help put the supposed dangers of nuclear power in perspective. Multiply these figures by at least 1,000 worldwide. According to Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy (www.ecolo.org), environmental opposition to nuclear energy is the “greatest misunderstanding and mistake of the century”. We should be demanding that nuclear power be expanded and improved, rather than phased out.

But let’s demand the safest forms of nuclear power, as well as support for renewable energy research.

Excellent piece by Monbiot: ‘The farce of Hinkley c’

Permalink 2 Comments

Sanity begins to prevail on GM crops

June 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm (conspiracy theories, environment, green, Jim D, science)

Environmental secretary Owen Paterson made a speech today in favour of GM crops.

He said that his speech was “quite long” and that it would contain “quite a lot of detail”. He’s right. You can read it here and, unusually for a speech posted on a government website, it makes very good use of links. If you read the speech online, you will find plenty of links to source material justifying the claims that Paterson was making. Paterson made some of his arguments on the Today programme this morning (9.45) , but in that interview did not include the attack on the European Union’s regulatory regime that is at the heart of the speech.

Paterson’s decision to come out in favour of GM follows years of pusillanimous evasion by British politicians of all stripes, terrified of antagonising the anti-science lobby and being portrayed as friends of “Frankenfoods.”   In large part this is due to a significant shift in public opinion: in a poll commissioned by the Independent last year, 64 per cent of respondents were in favour of experiments on GM crops, with 27 against and 9 per cent undecided. This represents a major shift from the 1990’s when public opinion in Britain was overwhelmingly opposed.

Much of the credit for this must go to Mark Lynas, an anti-GM protester from the 1990’s who studied the science and changed his mind, braving the wrath of erstwhile friends and colleagues, some of whom can turn very nasty. Lynas told the Guardian:

“I think there are several reasons why GM is making a comeback. First, the blanket opposition to GM per se as a technology is obviously untenable in any scientific sense – there is no reason why it should present any new dangers in food, and, indeed, may well be safer than conventional breeding in crops…

“With the passage of more than a decade since the widespread commercialisation of GM crops in North America, Brazil and elsewhere, hundreds of millions of people have eaten GM-originated food without a single substantiated case of any harm done whatsoever.”

Alongside Lynas, credit is due to Professor John Pickett and his team of scientists at the publicly funded Rothamsted Research Institute. Here four of the Rothamsted scientists make their case, pleading with protesters who had threatened to destroy their GM trial in May of last year:

Now, at last, it looks as though those voices of reason are winning the day.

Permalink 20 Comments

Next page »