Sean McDonagh’s account of nuclear dangers is ‘truly shocking’
Sean McDonagh has done it again. This time he has given us a truly shocking account of the dangers of the nuclear industry on a worldwide basis. Having devoted the first 50 pages, comprising two of his nine chapters, to the 2011 nuclear accident at Fukushima in Japan, he uses this as a launching-pad to survey the problems associated with the use of nuclear energy on a global basis. In doing so he refers to a quite astonishing number of studies which throw light on inherent difficulties, significant accidents, and widespread cover-ups in a whole range of countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Among the more striking not-widely-known figures which he gives are the fact that it may take up to 150 years to decommission a nuclear power-station when its lifespan has come to an end; and the fact that the cost of the decommissioning may be perhaps €40 billion. Even more scary is the fact that no really safe place has yet been found to store the hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear fuel and waste products which are lying around at present. He reminds us that it takes 24,000 years for plutonium 239 to lose even half of its toxicity. And he notes that even a tiny particle, the size of a grain of sand, of some nuclear material can kill a person. One further frightening point is the close link between civilian use of nuclear power and the development of nuclear weapons: it is estimated that, of the 60 countries which currently have civilian nuclear power plants, 20 have used these facilities to undertake covert research on a weapons programme.
Sean points out the danger of the ‘light-touch regulation’ which has come into vogue in recent years in the Western world, and the further risks of developing a nuclear industry in countries where many of the contract-employees have little education or training in this kind of work. He documents the extent to which the nuclear industry is supported by government subsidies and by failure to take account of its full costs, particularly the long-term cost of environmental pollution. He puts forward quite strong arguments to show that, if these overt and hidden subsidies were not available, alternative environmentally-friendly energy sources such as solar or wind power would turn out to be much less costly, even within the next few years, not to mention the long-term benefits.
In his final chapter Sean provides us with an interesting survey of the objections to nuclear power put forward by Catholic Church authorities in six different countries. He contrasts this with the favourable attitude taken by the Vatican until very recently. Then he notes the apparent change of attitude in a movement towards disapproval evident in a speech of the Vatican representative to the International Atomic Energy Association a few months after the Fukushima accident.
Sean’s treatment of the Fukushima accident is very thorough, but I would have preferred if he had tightened it up somewhat to avoid repetition. However, this is a very minor reservation compared with the overall value of this important book.
BOOK DETAILS: Sean McDonagh, FUKUSHIMA: The End of Nuclear Energy? Dublin (Columba Press: 2012), 165 pages.
This review was first published in the January 2013 edition of The Furrow.