Nuclear armed vs nuclear powered

Published: April 18, 2019
The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at Twitter @Imran_Jan

The writer is a political analyst. He can be reached at Twitter @Imran_Jan

A nuclear power country and a country with nuclear power are not the same thing. Will demystify that later. While terrorism, money laundering and the relentlessly widening gap between the rich and the poor are certainly daunting threats facing the world, the greatest threats facing humanity, however, are climate change and nuclear war.

The nations of the world are too busy fighting with one another over immediate issues. As many believe, the story in the popular show Game of Thrones is actually about reminding the world of the threat of climate change that threatens everybody.

The army of the dead in that popular show is a threat that would come to kill all regardless of the rivalries and enmities of the various houses and families.

If we do nothing about it now, our grandchildren may not have a liveable world. In seeking a solution, firstly the word nuclear needs to be explained in a way that steers clear of the misconceptions and stereotypes.

Clean and cheap energy comes from nuclear power. An opinion piece in The New York Times titled “Nuclear Power Can Save the World” by Joshua Goldstein, Staffan Qvist, and Steven Pinker made a convincing case that nuclear power for peaceful purposes can provide clean energy and rid the world of greenhouse gas emissions.

They argue that Germany has been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions with renewables. However, that method requires an entire century to decarbonise the world. Norway and New Zealand have used the abundantly available hydroelectricity to decarbonise their electricity grids, but that model cannot provide the answer for the entire world.

The answer has been provided by the successful model of France and Sweden. They rapidly decarbonised their electric grids, supplying clean and cheap electricity. They are the world’s most pleasant places. Both these nations did this with nuclear power. Sweden is not armed with nuclear weapons but it has nuclear power to provide a more comfortable life to its citizens.

As for the safety issue the piece says, “Mining accidents, hydroelectric dam failures, natural gas explosions and oil train crashes all kill people, sometimes in large numbers, and smoke from coal-burning kills them in enormous numbers, more than half a million per year.

By contrast, in 60 years of nuclear power, only three accidents have raised public alarm: Three Mile Island in 1979, which killed no one; Fukushima in 2011, which killed no one (many deaths resulted from the tsunami and some from a panicked evacuation near the plant); and Chernobyl in 1986, the result of extraordinary Soviet bungling, which killed 31 in the accident and perhaps several thousand from cancer, around the same number killed by coal emissions every day.” Nuclear power plants cannot explode like nuclear bombs. Truth be told, nuclear energy is the safest energy.

Pakistan is one among many countries worst hit by climate change. It is a nuclear-armed nation with only 5% of electricity generated from nuclear power. With a Prime Minister who thankfully acknowledges that climate change indeed is a threat, serious thoughts must be given to maximising nuclear power usage to decarbonise the electricity grids of Pakistan.

The irony in saving humanity is that humans buy lies and rumours more than facts. One may study deep intricate concepts of stock market and stock exchange but in the end the rumour mill wins. We saw it just days ago in Pakistan with the dollar spike.

That’s just how mass psychology works. The word nuclear is nuclear. As soon as it’s mentioned people want to stay away from it. As in the Game of Thrones, the Valyrian steel is the only thing that can kill the army of the dead. Nuclear power is that.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2019.

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