James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia theory and inventor of the electron capture detector (which made possible the detection of CFCs and other atmospheric nano-pollutants) has always been a strong and outspoken supporter of nuclear energy – and a person whose ideas I have the deepest respect for.
In the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the consequent damage to some of the Japanese nuclear plants, I asked James if he had reconsidered his stance on nuclear – if his opinions had changed.
In reply, he sent me an email outlining his reaction to the tragedy and, in particular, the reaction of the world’s press and the actions taken by many governments.
In James’ own words:
The reactions of the media and of Green lobbies to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are in my opinion obscene.
The facts are these: There was an earthquake at the Richter 9 scale, which is about as bad as can ever be. It was followed one hour later by a tsunami with a height of 60 feet.
All 54 nuclear plants in Japan, including the five at Fukushima, shut down in an orderly manner immediately the earthquake occurred. Those at Fukushima were close to the Pacific Ocean and were overwhelmed by the tsunami wave. The reactors were designed to withstand such a wave and did so. Unfortunately, five out of six of the diesel engine back up electrical power supplies were put out of action; because of this it was not possible to pump cooling water to the shutdown but still hot reactors. Two of these reactors suffered a meltdown of their fuel, but the molten material was safely contained in the reactor vessel as its design required. Later, sea water was pumped into the damaged reactors to cool them further; this worked but the steam pressure inside the reactor vessel rose to levels that required the engineers to allow some steam to escape to the air. This carried some radioactive material with it, particularly volatile elements such as iodine. The total escape was about one fiftieth that from Chernobyl. No one was killed in the Fukushima disaster and no one in the neighbourhood of Fukushima has been injured by the escape of radioactive materials; some of the plant workers may have received doses well above normal safety limits, but no deaths or injuries have been reported.
Had Fukushima been a chemical plant and the accident allowed the escape of a small quantity of toxic gas, and if no one was hurt or killed, we would probably not have heard about it. But such is the fear of nuclear radiation and a fear endlessly stoked by the Media, Green lobbies and ignorant politicians, that a local event such as Fukushima became a global scare. What is inexcusable about this tiny event in the Japanese tragedy is the way that the media have used it to sell their stories and the politicians cravenly used public fear to justify closing their perfectly safe power stations. This act immediately increases the flow of carbon dioxide to the air. Carbon dioxide is a substance that, unlike the minute quantities of radioactivity, will if we do not see sense kill most of us.
How could we ignore the huge suffering of the Japanese people in their earthquake ordeal and instead spend days of media time wallowing in wholly imaginary fears as unreal and stupid as those of vampires, malign ghosts and Dracula. The earthquake and tsunami death toll was 23,000 and 500,000 Japanese have lost their homes. Bad as we have been, at least we in this Island can be proud that we did not behave like the Germans and Italians who shut down their nuclear power, nor as asinine as the Los Angles citizens who purchased the entire stock of potassium iodide, an antidote to radioactive iodine they falsely feared would blow upon them from Japan.