Carte Blanche Spreads FUD About Nuclear Power

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I don’t watch Carte Blanche much these days, but occasionally I find myself drifting into the TV room if it’s on and my curiosity gets the better of me. I almost always regret it; since the night’s report is almost always a one-sided and sloppily-researched piece of tabloid journalism that has me shaking my fist at the screen in frustration. Lest we forget, this is the show that devoted an entire episode and a few million bucks to slavishly promoting Danie Krugel, a pseudo-scientific former cop with a mystery device that could locate missing people, except for the fact that it can’t. So I suppose the rot set in a while ago.

Tonight’s episode was almost as bad. Titled ‘Uranium Road,’ it was a one-sided tirade against South Africa’s nuclear energy program that drew on the work of David Fig (a well-known anti-nuclear campaigner) and his book of the same name. The show also blatantly adopted his point of view.
It began innocently enough with some background on the apartheid government’s nuclear weapons program, albeit while trying desperately to manufacture a controversy where none exists. The bets were off after that, with gotcha journalism prominent as Carte Blanche sympathetically portrayed the views of anti-nuclear activists while seeking to contradict anything stated or claimed by Eskom and the government. The FUD came thick and fast: Viewers were shown images of victims from the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, were told that Eskom’s reactor design couldn’t be made to work in either Germany or the US and were bombarded with claims what would happen if a Chernobyl-style accident occurred at Koeberg, as if such an accident were inevitable. One particularly hilarious scene was a narration on how Strontium-90 and Caesium-137 are absorbed into soil and milk while showing farmers tending fields and working with cows within eyesight of Koeberg. To top it off, the show even included a nutty conspiracy theory claiming that the PBMR program was a cover for an ANC desire to build nuclear weapons.

In reality, the accident at Chernobyl was the result of inherently-unsafe reactor design that no Western country was mad enough to even think of building, let alone put into service. And Koeberg has never leaked either Strontium-90 or Caesium-137 into the surrounding area, nor is it ever likely to since they are both supremely well-contained. Further, Eskom’s PBMR is a vastly different design to the high-temperature thorium reactor created in Germany while the only US ventures into this area have been within the past few years. Right now, there are no less than six different pebble-bed reactor designs under either active development or construction around the world. China alone is to build nearly 200 pebble-bed reactors over the next fifty years. But I guess we’re supposed to believe that Eskom is pursuing a dead-end technology with no future use if you’re happy going by what Carte Blanche says. And of course, the less said about the conspiracy theories, the better.

All in all, this report wasn’t an investigation; it was advocacy. Carte Blanche should be ashamed.

More importantly, though, one thing the anti-nuclear lobby in SA can never really explain is what we should be using instead of nuclear power. Because after all, this is all about choices: We still have a serious need to generate huge amounts of electricity, the only question is how we’re going to provide it. The standard alternative provided by environmental groups (and Carte Blanche) is to use wind or solar power instead, but this is like claiming you could use bamboo to build skyscrapers. Wind energy and solar power, while they have their place, are far too inefficient and unreliable to provide the continuous and reliable base-load power we need, and at best can only supplement traditional power generation options. It’s certainly not even feasible, economically or otherwise, to think about using solar or wind power to generate the electricity for even a smallish S.African city.

That leaves only two real options: Nuclear power or, alternatively, that big old dirty but reliable elephant in the room, coal. Nothing else provides the type of energy we require. So if we are to abandon nuclear power, as Earthlife Africa and others demand, the only true option available to SA is to build more coal power stations, regardless of their CO2 emissions. Is that really what these environmentalists want? I suspect most haven’t thought it through, since they choose to believe instead that nuclear power is a conspiracy by people who, I dunno, enjoy radiation or something and choose to ignore solar and wind power because they’re evil.

Fact is, faced with the combination of a severe power crunch and the looming shadow of global warming, nuclear power is the only power generation option that makes any sense and is available now. It provides safe, reliable and efficient power while emitting zero CO2. Frankly, I think it’s brilliant.