The Real World
But back to today and the unfortunate real world, which is how it would be described by the toxic titans that still stand, entrenched, in the way of that vision. Jonathon Porritt, who’s been trying for years, has sadly concluded that engaging with oil companies on climate change is futile.
In the UK, we mentioned the new nuclear build and whatever it’s going to cost in the end. And there’s a troubling background to it.
There is no existing example of the EPR, European Pressurised Reactor, that the UK are buying. Two that are under construction are in France and Finland, the one in Finland was meant to be finished in 2009. Both projects have been dogged by worrying design faults, dodgy construction and improperly welded reactor containment. Finland commissioned theirs for €3 billion, which has now become €8.5 billion, although the Finns are confident it will be finished in 2020. It’ll be interesting to see how much it costs by then. The French project is similarly over budget, troubled and delayed. What on Earth has the UK bought here?
Peter Wynn Kirby at the University of Oxford explains and makes some worrying points.
And, of the question in general, so does this story of mistakes at a Cumbrian nuclear dump - how scary can this get?
The real danger isn’t just from the nature of the fuel itself, it’s the certainty that it’s going to be run by companies under intense pressure to cut every cost. A corner is cut here, then that practice becomes normal, and just a little more, and moral hazard creeps in.
The trouble with dealing with something that is truly terrible is always that mistakes can be made, even with the very best will in the world. It’s impossible to feel safe about nuclear energy, especially as it’s been long demonstrated that what we’re told is invariably a lie. So, now we’re going to make another big pile of waste to store forever.
And the other big energy news item has been fracking, hydraulic fracturing of rocks deep underground to release shale gas. Having bought a dodgy reactor at unknown huge expense, the government has made clear we’re going headlong for shale.
People are very upset about fracking, and it does sound an extreme measure. People have reacted with great emotion about it, like it’s an assault too far on Mother Earth. It’s an instinctive reaction that fracturing rocks underground, beneath our feet, just seems a very bad idea, that it’s too obviously asking for a lot of trouble at some time.
But experts present a very rational explanation of it.
It does sound reassuring; it can all be handled safely if done absolutely strenuously correctly. Wells will never leak, because of ... technology.
So, we were shocked to read the very alarming claims made in this article by Natalie Hynde following her arrest at Balcombe in an anti-fracking protest:
She says here:
Anyone can Google the "List of the Harmed" or look at the Shalefield Stories detailing what's happened to people in the US as a result of fracking – the nosebleeds, the cancers, the spontaneous abortions in livestock, the seizures and silicosis in the worker's lungs. Not to mention the farming revenue lost from sick and dying cattle. When you have exhausted all other channels of democratic process – written letters, gone on marches and signed petitions – direct action seems the only way left to get your voice heard.
Actually, you can Google it, or you could use another internet search facility. And she says:
In the US, this industry has buried people's stories and threatened their livelihoods if they dare to speak out. Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Healthhave found that a number of toxic, and carcinogenic, petroleum hydrocarbons in the air near fracking wells include benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene and xylene, which cause acute and chronic health problems for those living nearby.
So, either it is completely safe, and a lot of misguided, unrealistic people are making up a lot of lies about it. Or, it is certifiably diabolically bonkers, and corporations/governments are somehow suppressing a lot of stories about what's really happening.
It's a tough one, isn't it? Whichever it is, it certainly feels desperate.
The played out scenario of this dash for gas in the UK, seems to look like this: Each site would be about the size of a cricket ground, each attended by a constant stream of heavy lorries, and each site would need millions of gallons of fresh water which afterwards has to be treated as toxic waste. To start to make any big difference to energy supply and independence, there would need to be around 20,000 such sites around the country.
It is pitiful to imagine what that would look like. A country that has disfigured and uglified itself, perhaps poisoned itself, in order to keep the lights on. It is desperate. What the world needs to know is what Kitegen could do with a cricket ground, indeed, a Carousel around a cricket ground would be a most wonderful thing; sometimes swift shadows of distant kites would flicker across the wicket, and that would just be a part of playing on that wicket.
Hynde makes the crucial point that nothing in this country is in place to deal with thousands of millions of gallons of toxic waste water. When it comes to it, it’s obviously going to be dumped in estuaries. And then we’re talking about causing long-term damage to the ecology of this country, at the very least.
And thousands of millions of gallons of fresh water in the first place? This, in a crowded country that is sometimes water-stressed, sometimes flooded, may well become increasingly more so. Intuitively, fracking has got multi-layered disaster written all over it, a great big horrendous mess. It is desperate, and so, so unnecessary.
What is for sure, as OCI point out, is that extractive industries are necessarily getting more extreme:
It’s almost as if major corporations have decided that the world is totally screwed anyway, so this is the time to get hold of whatever resources are left in the world. The party’s going to end, anyway, no point in stopping now. Lands are to be ripped up to get the last bits of juice to keep the party going a little longer, suck every last bit of blood of every last stone and grain.
Of course, in fracking’s context, some kind of nod needs to be made towards greenness, and so fracking’s champions use language that suggests that the shale gas extracted is some kind of clean fuel, it comes over as a greenish kind of gas. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron has even claimed clean. He says:
If there’s an opportunity to extract clean, low-cost gas from shale in the UK we would be making a great mistake if we didn’t enable this industry to develop.
It’s certainly much nicer than coal, in that it doesn’t deposit mercury into the soil, but shale gas is not even low-carbon, let alone clean. The chemicals used in the rock fracturing process aren’t clean, they’re acutely carcinogenic.
Craig Bennett’s article sets it out fully.
As for low cost; of course, this totally skewed way of calculating cost is one of the world’s major issues.
A poignant picture of fracking in California illustrates well the futile desperation of the dying hydrocarbons age, busily fracturing rocks deep underground, seemingly oblivious to that great furnace in the sky above them, even in California. The Sun is setting on them.
Peter Lilley even described shale gas as a modern fuel. It’s not modern, it’s patently ancient fuel, being obtained by the traditional brutal methods of extractive industries. What is modern is the development of high precision engineering to harvest the huge quantities of naturally occurring energy that we’re swathed in. Modern Fuel, indeed.
There is a frantic lunge to hold onto the old certainties, the hard hats, business as normal. It’s a crazed attempt to carry on life as we’ve known it, as is biofuels, growing food for cars. It’s like a last yearning for business as usual, a desperate attempt to hold onto a passing age.
Maybe it is just as George Monbiot says, where he explains that the government's enthusiasm for fracking arises from something it shares with politicians the world over: a macho fixation with extractive industries.
A very scary thought is that, if all of provisions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) were in place, even as a free nation we wouldn’t be able to decide to leave it in the ground, because we may then be sued by corporations for the profits we wouldn’t be allowing them to rip out of the country.