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Letter to the editor

Pendulum – Out Here

The latest Hutt News pissed me off. Too many people making uninformed opinions, bleating on with generic rhetoric. It pushed me to the point of writing my second ever letter to the editor. Let’s see if it gets published, stay tuned!

Dear Editor,
Regarding Nuclear Energy: No.  To the people who are jumping on the nuclear equals green bandwagon, while it is indeed less pollutive than say, Huntly, it’s a simple matter of economics, future technologies and alternative mentalities.

New Zealand has 4.26 million people in an area of approx 268,680 km sq.  It is an isolated island nation, astride the Pacific “ring of fire.”  The closest comparative country, also on the ring of fire, is Japan.  Japan has a population of over 127 million in an area of approx 377,873 km sq.  The other island nation to compare to, the United Kingdom, has nearly 61 million people within approx 244,820 km sq.

Japan and the UK can justify nuclear energy via supply and demand:  In terms of density, Japan has 339 people per sq km, the UK has 246.  We have around 15 per sq km.  Nuclear energy, while great on paper, is simply uneconomical for NZ at this point in time.  There is basically no realistic return on investment, and should a plant proposal get through the red tape of resource consents etc, no-one in their right mind would fund such a venture.

And as for those blithering on about “what about another Chernobyl?!”, look, Chernobyl was a rushed plant based on a flawed design over 20 years ago.  It was Soviet corner-cutting at its worst, and even though it was built in the Generation II era, it was by design no better than a Generation I reactor. We’re up to Generation IV designs now, including designs that will do nothing at all when void of coolant.  You’re simply more likely to be hit by bird droppings while in the middle of an air traffic accident during a solar eclipse than you are to experience another Chernobyl in your lifetime.

The main concern with Nuclear is the insistence that it has to be Uranium based.  Uranium has limited reserves, of which only 0.7% of (natural) reserves can be used.  However it remains popular because of the existing technologies/infrastructure and that it generates the most weapons grade material.  Basically, any investment in Uranium based technology is a wasted investment, because like oil it is a dead-end resource.

Thorium, on the other hand, is much safer and has reserves to last us several hundreds, if not thousands of years.  It is more efficient, can burn conventional nuclear waste, generates less waste, the waste it does generate has a half-life measured in dozens of years instead of hundreds/thousands, and it produces considerably less weapons grade material.  Thorium is the answer to that (George Dubya voice) “Iran + Nukular = Terrism” non-issue that we in the West are being ignorantly force-fed.  And to top it off Australia has the largest Thorium reserves in the world, followed by India, making it the most suitable Nuclear technology for NZ should it ever become economically and politically desirable for us.

But it’s all for nothing, really.  The latest estimates from MIT is that if current funding continues, we’ll have commercial-grade fusion reactors within 30 years.  Fusion is infinately safer and less wasteful, and any radioactive leftover from the process has a significantly lower half-life than present fission technologies.

The only real way forward in the meantime, though, is to do away with the silly notion that all electricity absolutely must be generated centrally.  If we all had some combination of insulated homes, energy-efficient appliances, hybrid solar lighting, solar hot water panels, and small 1-2kWh cowl-style wind turbines, our dependance on our aging and inefficient national grid would collectively decrease.  

Imagine; no more moaning in the middle of winter about lake levels, if only we’d all do our part, starting with the government retrofitting all state buildings and offering subsidies to people on their “Welcome Home” first home loan package.

The business model of the electricty industry would change – you’d basically augment your at-home-generated energy with units from a conventional provider.  It would be possible under the right conditions for even a city council to generate and supply electricity, maybe finally giving us the competition that we were promised all those years ago when the industry was shaken up.  Decentralisation is the key.

We have the technology now, we just lack the mentality and political motivation.  And without either we’re not going to innovate, we’re not going to apply our #8 Wire ingenuity, we’re not going to go anywhere.  We’ll stay stuck here in our anti-progressive public bickering session.

The fact remains though: For every wind turbine you protest, a little Huntly keeps polluting.

Rawiri Blundell

Categories: Geeking Out Journal opinion rant

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4 replies

  1. Hi Ra- Very well written piece and you make a very strong case. I don’t see how they could not publish it. Glad to see you back. Take good care.

  2. Hey Nat, cheers for that 🙂 I can only imagine the amount of irritating responses it’ll get, but there’s been a long running debate in this newspaper – I thought it was time some FACTS got injected into it 😉

    Unfortunately with writing a letter to the editor you’ve got to be either concise (say up to 300 words) or really good, this is around 700 words at a guess. I could have fleshed it out considerably quite easily, but I think that’ll be dealt to in subsequent tirades in response to any retorts I get 🙂

  3. “Youâ??re simply more likely to be hit by bird droppings while in the middle of an air traffic accident during a solar eclipse than you are to experience another Chernobyl in your lifetime.”

    new quote for the start of a post me thinks, the only reason any NZ government/ local district council / dictator will not look into personal solar power etc is because theres no way to make us pay rates on it.

    The truth is the government wants to keep us on the grid, keep us forking out, and fearing that our blessed hydro lakes will deplete.

  4. I don’t know about that… I’m not sure the NZ government is as invested in FUD spreading and Orwellian control as some other governments that could be named. You’re forgetting, we’re a red country at the moment – as a raised social democrat and a part maori – you have to remember that that’s a good thing ™ 🙂

    But imagine, at up to NZD$10k a panel, retrofitted to say a generous 70% of all existing structures, which in turn save up to 40% of the electricity bill – that’s a massive untapped market that the government and the electricity companies should be falling over each other to capture. Not to mention the short to mid term economic injection through jobs created (roofers, plumbers and sparkies)

    Imagine this: You go to hook up with the government’s Welcome Home loan first home package. As part of it, the government provides a repayable loan at a higher interest rate than the mortgage itself (or something) to cover the purchase and installation of a solar hot water panel.

    This means that first home buyers on the government scheme are dealing with the issue through entropy.

    So the government, as part of this deal, has some caveats, such as once the panel is paid off (and therefore saving you money) then 50% of the savings it is generating for you goes straight onto your mortgage repayments. This means you pay off your mortgage that bit faster – especially if tied in with kiwisaver – the government can juggle interest rates etc so that it still comes out ahead, but it should be using the Welcome Home loan package as a tool to improve building standards.

    The only real reasons solar’s not being done on a mass scale as yet are:
    1) The efficiency of panels is not high enough to be economically scalable. There is MAJOR work being done here in silicon valley, and they’re coming along in leaps and bounds, and I’m surprised that IRL aren’t jumping on this
    2) Stupid f*cking neighbours. “Oh you want to do something remotely progressive which will have ZERO impact on my way of life? I’M CALLING THE COUNCIL!”

    Al Gore himself had to battle uphill for years before he could get the consents to install renewable equipment on his house.

    The other thing you have to remember is that our govt has a vested interest in decentralisation and building efficiency. As part of its Kyoto obligation plans, it wants the country to be on 90% renewable sources. If they want to make their deadline, they need some out of the box thinking, and this kind of plan would help them a long way.