Wade Allison, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Oxford, on why nuclear power is such an obvious choice to solve shipping’s decarbonisation riddle.
Committees don’t change course – they see themselves as the stand on vessel. If their remit references safety they are on autopilot by design. But the remit that seemed self-evident yesterday may put the vessel into danger today.
Decisions start with individuals, like Admiral Rickover, for example, who wrote “I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants – those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age.” The nuclear-powered submarine he designed was launched in 1954 and he died 35 years ago. Since then discussion of nuclear-powered ocean-going shipping has been suppressed by international “group-think”. But on what evidence, we ask?
Mankind did not invent nuclear energy, only the horror story that he has mistakenly spread with it
Basic truths are most vividly expressed through children’s stories.
Everybody knew. It was in the papers, announced by the Emperor’s Chamberlain on TV and leaked in reports from inside the Palace, no less. It only remained to admire the New Clothes when the Emperor stepped out in public for the first time. But then the evidence showed that there were no clothes, as only the innocent eye of the country lad saw.
But Hans Andersen’s story is not just for children. Compare it to the following story.
Everybody knows that nuclear radiation is dangerous – said to be the most dangerous invention ever made by man. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki it mesmerised the world in the Cold War era. Nobody could escape its influence, and today it still evokes the ultimate political threat.
Everybody knows that in 1986 many thousands of people had to be evacuated from a huge zone around the nuclear plant at Chernobyl, the source of the worst ever nuclear accident. Everybody expects this zone to be uninhabitable for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.
But nobody told the animals in the evacuated region. Like the lad in Hans Andersen’s story, they saw only the evidence, the re-wilding of the zone. They were not evacuated; they were not told that they had been irradiated by an unseen deadly curse; they did not watch exciting disaster videos; they simply enjoyed the departure of humans. Indeed, numerous wildlife videos show that they are thriving today, whether radioactive or not. The story was repeated in the Fukushima Daiichi ‘disaster’. But the media seem not to have noticed, nobody was injured by the radiation, unlike the tsunami.
Mankind did not invent nuclear energy, only the horror story that he has mistakenly spread with it and entrenched in make-believe safety requirements. Natural science tells how nuclear energy and its radiation are universal in the universe. To survive on Earth, biological life had first to evolve layers of fool proof protection against radiation and oxygen. Then life became naturally sustainable in our radioactive environment. That is why radiation is particularly safe in practice and nuclear power has a safety record second to none.
Fortunately, fantasy and fear have not prevented the use of nuclear technology for human health. Ever since the medical work of Marie Curie – she received two Nobel Prizes in nuclear physics and chemistry – the world has benefited from large doses of radiation to diagnose and cure cancer. Her legacy is universally welcomed in medicine but shunned as a source of environmental energy.
In the context of marine propulsion the choice of a small modular nuclear reactor for large ocean-going shipping in place of a fossil fuel plant or any secondary source is safe, cheap and environmental – only the inept regulations suggest otherwise. On the evidence, it is time for the maritime industry to change course to avoid an environmental collision.