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Watch this Space

July 18, 2013

                                                                           Vit Plant Aerial view 2a

Hanford Site in America’s Washington State and where an almighty

                         clean up process is under way.

The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that this blog has lain almost fallow for the last couple of months except for a video related to my novel mixing fact with fiction and entitled ‘Shadow on the Sun’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udgdDuThEJ for one minute – no kid – promo video).

The original idea here was to write about nuclear stuff as this is central to my book’s plot (more of this later). However there were three issues that threatened to overtake me. The first came in the form of former Apple chief evangelist Guy Kawasaki. He  has a zillion followers for his books and so should know what’s he’s talking about. He made his point that ‘blogs’ were a waste of time during a marketing ‘webinar’ I was attending during April care of my book’s distributor, Amazon.

I could take his point. Researching blogs is hard work and how many potential, new readers do you reach? So far not many is my candid observation. However, the alternative answer came via an inner voice telling me it was too early to quit.

Finally was my chosen blog topic – nuclear power (again part of my book) and its hazards thereof – and which seemed to me to be dying a natural death.  This because of a lack of robust companies around willing to foot the multi billion pound financial bills for building new nuclear plants.

Look at what’s been happening in the UK with its proposed Hinkley Point C expansion? Seemingly blest by the UK Government (‘but don’t ask us for money!’) of which so far no takers for the finance. And of those there have been (Centrica springs to mind here) they’re busy looking for the exit. The only good news is that of a possible Chinese white horse on the horizon but again its all talk. And as they say ‘talk is cheap.’

Maybe this wariness is just as well. Anyone reading my past blogs will have realized whilst I’ve been not exactly been “for” nuclear power than I haven’t been entirely “against” it either.

Those more positive than myself could argue that it’s now as safe as houses. And on paper, so it looks. The major problem is not the plants themselves but the people who design, build and run them. For here ‘Murphy’s Law holds sway: if it can go wrong then it surely will. And historically it has!

Look at the US with its Three Mile Island experience (and former President Jimmy Carter in office at the time was a trained submarine, nuclear engineer care of the US Navy), or the Russians with those fools who burned down Chernobyl! Then there’s been the British with its Windscale disaster…and so it goes. Wherever there’s a country that’s gone nuclear then there’s usually been a calamity. Japan’s Fukushima is only the latest and is still posing an uncontained threat all this time later. All of these disasters were down to human error. The real problem is the result can be around for 100,000 years contaminating the whole planet in its wake! BIG stakes to play with! So far we’ve been lucky. What happens when the luck runs out?

Japan’s Fukushima problem upset the anti-nuclear apple cart even further – if that was possible. The result has been ever more and vigorous protests against existing nuclear sites. Nowhere has this been more vigorous than in California with two sites, one at San Onofre in the South down San Diego way and the other, further North close to San Luis Obispo at Diabolo Canyon towards the centre of the state.

The soft target eventually proved to be the aged 2.200MW facility of San Onofre giving power to 1.4m people and on the doorsteps of former President Nixon’s Western White House at San Clemente. The axe came down in June of this year when the plant’s operator, Edison threw in the towel after an upgrade originally aimed at extending the plant’s life by another 20 years and costing £400m.

It should have saved itself the effort.

Bungles on an epic scale (what did I tell you about human fallibility?) ended with premature closure only months after restarting. Worried regulators, amidst mounting public concern stepped in and finally called a halt. Edison decided the cost of going on was too much. Now there’s going to be legal wrangles all round as to who pays the bill estimated at a cool $2billion? Meanwhile as Winter draws ever nearer Californians will be left wondering whether the lights will ever come back on again!

Only the French seem to be charging relentlessly on with ‘nuclear’ but then they are the French and that’s what they do whatever the opposition. But the French are not backing a one horse race. Comparatively recently it received the green light from the EC to proceed with its ITER Fusion reactor in Southern France. Hopefully this one will be ‘self-sustaining’. Note that word ‘self sustaining’ along with ‘fusion’. Nice, clean fusion is where tomorrow’s energy is going to be they say. So far it has proved elusive. But you never know…

That brings me to the end of ‘Issue 3’ if you can remember that far back? It moves me on too to potential new pastures. ‘Fusion’ has for long been the Great White Hope. It also again lies (yet again) at the centre of my book ‘Shadow on the Sun’ so seems appropriate.

Britain too has a foot in the camp with its own Tokamak reactor based at Harwell in Oxfordshire (where ZETA was also based for those with long memories) but sadly one that is not self sustaining as the French system is hoped to be. Added to this we have the recent failure of the American ‘National Ignition Facilty’ at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory along with a tacit admission that after spending $3billion its never going to work as hoped. And so its back to the drawing board – but this drawing board is the relatively hum drum task of modeling nuclear explosions!

If we add to this mix the current issues of a place called ‘Hanford Reach’ (where?See photo) in the middle of Washington State then there might be enough to keep me writing and readers interested. For those wanting to know, Hanford is a place of mind boggling nuclear contamination on a vast scale (also included in my book) and requiring an equally vast but belated effort on the part of the US Department of Energy to clean it up and costing quadrillions. There’s a whole lot of other mess too. And all connected with America building a not inconsiderable stockpile of 60,000 nuclear weapons during the cold war. Now thery’re finding, as Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy used to say: This is another fine mess you’ve got me into!’

So there we have it. All it leaves me to say is ‘Watch this Space!’

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rjuliancox

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Cathy Bell

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