The dreadful Greta Thunberg is joining the protests in Germany against the destruction of ancient villages to make way for coal mines. This is no reason to think the protestors are wrong. In this case they are right, and so is she. In a deal between the German government and a giant energy company, fifty Germany villages west of Cologne, including the village of Lützerath, will be demolished to make way for massive excavators that will rip up the lovely countryside to extract brown coal, probably the most polluting fuel on Earth. These villages are rich in history and tradition, with beautiful old churches and charming old houses. Their destruction is an abomination.
The fact that Greta Thunberg, the green mascot of wealth and privilege, thinks it is wrong does not make it right. The photos of her gloating with triumph as she was being carried away by very gentle German policemen were enough to turn any one’s stomach. (I wonder if her PR managers paid the Germany police to arrest her in front of the cameras.) But don’t listen to your stomach. Listen to your mind, take heed of the facts and the data and the science.
The main reason that Germany is wrecking her lovely countryside to dig for coal is, of course, the calamitous energiewende (“energy transition”) adopted by the German Government under Angela Merkel in 2011. It will be forever a stain on her memory and a mark of her shame. It shut down Germany’s cleanest, safest, cheapest source of electricity. In Japan, on 11 March 2011, there was a large earthquake under the sea close to her northeast coast. All of Japan’s operating nuclear power plants in the area automatically shut down immediately and safely. But when a nuclear reactor shuts down, there is still a lot of residual heat in the reactor (approximately 5% of its maximum power) in the form of radioactive decay products. These must be cooled down, which takes weeks. In Japan, water was pumped through these reactors to cool them. Then the tsunami (tidal wave) from the earthquake hit the Japanese mainland with a wave 14 metres high. It swept through northeast Japan, causing terrible loss of life. With one exception, the nuclear stations all cooled down safely. The exception was Fukushima Daiichi, where the tsunami swept away the power lines to the pumps that were cooling the three old reactors that had been running at the time. With no cooling, the fuel overheated and melted down, destroying the reactors and releasing large amounts of radiation into the environment.
Should never have happened
Almost everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong at Fukushima Daiichi. Adding disgrace to the nuclear accident was the fact that it should never have happened. Japanese geologists had told the nuclear authorities that there had been 14-metre tsunamis in the past thousand years, and it was quite easy to design against them, but Fukushima Daiichi did not. (Onagawa, another coastal nuclear station nearer the epicenter of the quake, came through the tsunami completely unscathed.) The crucial fact of this awful accident was this: nobody was harmed by the radiation. People did die of panic, heart-attacks, and suicides in the enforced evacuation of the area, but the casualties from the radiation were zero. The accident, regrettable though it was, was a stunning vindication of the safety of nuclear power and was acknowledged as such by the ultra-green environmentalist, George Monbiot.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, saw otherwise, or pretended to see otherwise. Her shaky coalition was under pressure from the greens and the fanatic anti-nuclear lobby in Germany. She saw Fukushima as a good excuse to appease them and so announced the phase-out of nuclear in Germany. Germany then had 17 excellent operating nuclear plants producing safe, clean, reliable, affordable electricity. If Germany had kept those nuclear plants and built more, she would now have no energy problems and would not have to destroy precious villages and violate her beautiful environment with hideous coal mines. Instead she shut down eight of them quickly, with more to follow, and turned – groan! – to renewable energy, spending astronomical amounts of money on tens of thousands of gigantic wind turbines and colossal solar arrays, consuming gargantuan amounts of raw materials, causing massive environmental problems, and with a much worse waste problem that nuclear’s. (Germany’s installed capacity for solar and wind is now over 130 GW – more than twice SA’s total electrical capacity.)
The program was the total failure that everybody with half a brain and no vested interest in renewable power companies had expected. German final electricity prices soared, sending millions of her citizens into energy poverty and shutting down industries. Electricity failures mounted. When Russia’s gas supplies became uncertain and winter loomed, Germany desperately tried to import as much coal as possible, including from South Africa. But she obviously didn’t think this would be enough and so ordered more coal mining in Germany itself – and Germany villages to be destroyed.
I must point out that, awful though the harm will be to these German villages, it is not nearly as bad as the harm done to Baotou, a Chinese town, from the mining of minerals required for the wind turbines of Germany and other rich countries. The generator of a wind turbine without a gearbox requires neodymium, a rare earth, to provide sufficient magnetic flux. The rare earth mines around Baotou are filthy, with terrible pollution, causing death, disease (including cancer), and infant abnormalities among local people. I cannot think of a single occasion where Greta Thunberg has posed for the cameras at Baotou.
I find Greta, with her privilege, arrogance, and ignorance, quite repellent, but a friend tells me I should regard her as a victim. She is being used by the rich green establishment in the same way that photogenic young girls were used by Hollywood talent scouts to become child movie stars. My friend has a point.
In both cases the girl is chosen because she looks good in front of a camera and has a natural talent for projection. But in both cases, the girl is a willing victim, quite happy to be exploited for the celebrity it brings her. (I make you money, you make me famous.) Greta is obviously desperate to stay in the limelight and be hailed as a saviour and prophet. People accuse her of contempt for the poor people of the world, who will suffer under her proposed technologies. (She wants “green” technologies such as wind, solar and electric cars, but these require large amounts of extremely toxic materials, often mined in terrible conditions by children in poor African countries, such as the Congo.) I don’t think it is contempt. I think it is just that Greta, knowing only comfort and security, living in a rich and privileged environment, is simply unaware of the poor masses living in countries without the high development of Sweden – development based largely on fossil fuels. Her natural habitat is Sweden, the Monaco Yacht Club and glamorous climate conferences where rich green plutocrats fly in in private jets to condemn economy class air travel for the plebs. (She once capped them all by travelling not in a private jet but in a high-tech carbon-fibre yacht, with her crew flown across the Atlantic, thus emitting even more CO2 than Al Gore or John Kerry.)
Since the shutting down of most of Germany’s nuclear reactors is in large part the cause of her energy problems and the reason why her villages and countryside are being destroyed, what does Greta Thunberg think about nuclear power? After all, nuclear power stations in operation release no CO2, which she thinks, quite wrongly, has a bad effect on the climate. She was asked this in an interview. Smiling in admiration of her own daring, she replied that the existing three nuclear plants in Germany should probably not be shut down. Brave Greta! But I don’t know whether her reply is a good thing or a bad thing for nuclear power. So, I say again: judge not on what Greta Thunberg says; judge only on the facts and the data.
In Germany and in South Africa, and in most of the world, it is becoming obvious that nuclear power is by far the best way of ensuring a plentiful and sustainable supply of clean, reliable and affordable electricity far into the future. Nuclear, unlike coal, requires a tiny amount of fuel, so that it requires far less mining than coal. Furthermore, uranium mines are safer and cleaner than coal mines – and, incidentally, expose miners to less radiation. Witness the Rossing Uranium Mine in Namibia. Nuclear is the least disruptive of the environment of any energy source. Just look out at Koeberg next time you pass it on the R27. Compare it with the thousands of gargantuan wind turbines or colossal solar arrays you would need to produce the same amount of electricity.
All energy technologies leave toxic waste that lasts millions of years but nuclear has the least waste problem; its waste is small, compact, chemically stable, and easy to store safely so that it presents no danger to humans or the environment. Vaalputs, in the deserts of the Northern Cape, could easily store all our nuclear waste centuries into the future.
I am embarrassed by the fact that so many in our nuclear establishment are punting nuclear because it reduces CO2 emissions, and thus saves us from the “climate crisis”. I don’t know whether they believe this rubbish. Nuclear does reduce CO2 emissions but there is no climate crisis, and CO2 has never been seen to have any effect on the climate. I suppose a cynical adherent to realpolitik would say that the end (saving the planet with clean nuclear power) justifies the means (lying that CO2 is a problem). One of them might even say, “Greta Thunberg supports nuclear power.” You can’t get more cynical than that.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.
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