Saturday 4 June 2011

Editorial: The hysteria of nuclear salads

Unclear nuclear similarities

One is somewhat forced to watch in amusement the hysteria that is taking the place of common-sense and logic in lands where better should be known and done with requisite proof to support decisions being made.

There is no doubt that nuclear power poses threats most especially in terms of the management of spent fuel. However, with Chernobyl and now Fukushima we are met with grave issues of a man-made set of cascading events and a natural disaster that could really have not be planned for except with hindsight.

It is understandable that Japan needs to reconsider the use of nuclear energy and the siting of nuclear power stations because it for all its technological prowess is prone to earthquakes on the one hand and whilst it appears the nuclear power stations can survive earthquakes, on the other hand tsunamis are literally unpredictable.

Parallels in disagreement

All consideration should be on board for other nations too that rely on nuclear power and France is one such country.

The decision to phase out nuclear power stations in Germany by 2022 just does not find any logical, scientific or sensible feet to stand on - their systems literally run like clockwork, German efficiency would prevent a Chernobyl style failure and if there is any earth movement of any significance, it is probably a building site than a natural occurrence. Germany is just not Japan.

Now, the matter of handling spent fuel remains an issue regardless, better ways need to be found to manage nuclear waste but in terms of usefulness, pollution and cost, nuclear generated power represents the best value for money compared to alternatives.

Opportunity to think missed

It really begs that question where Germany intends to make up for the shortfall caused by the loss of nuclear generated power; I think we have heard enough about clean coal, there is nothing clean about coal; the northern hemisphere does not present the abundance of solar energy and you might have to lease large tranches of the continent to get the equivalent from wind power, relying on gas or oil just takes us back to energy dependence from states that are hardly picture-book examples of our systems, values and processes.

Allowing political expediency for the purposes of appeasement that simply raises the economic cost of development will on reflection turn out to be a grave error of judgement - this is a time for thinking heads to work together and discard of the unnecessary hysteria of opportunity to push through views that have no credence or scientific basis in fact.

Half-truths exacerbating hysteria

The Escherichia coli or commonly known as e. coli bug outbreak in Germany is one event that leaves one reeling in disbelief as the news and the analysis seem to have left the facts so far behind you begin to wonder who should be garrotted for the half-truths that have fuelled the hysteria no end.

We now know that this e. coli strain (enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli [EHEC]) is quite unusual, virulent, difficult to treat and turning out to have a rather scary high mortality rate.

It might well have been caught from contaminated cucumbers as first speculated but as one digs for the fundamentals of the story, there is no conclusive proof that the so-called cucumbers were Spanish in origin. As one expert averred, the contamination might have been due to poorly handled food - the original outbreak was in restaurant in Luebeck near Hamburg, it coincided with a yearly celebration for the port of Hamburg.

This outbreak, even though it has spread to other countries, the affected are from Germany and from that region of the far North of Germany and so far, only women have been affected.

Jumping to bad conclusions and decisions

It then leaves one quite bemused as to how Spain got besmirched with the xenophobia of exporting contaminated cucumbers when there was no evidence to maintain that claim; meanwhile, a humongous harvest has been destroyed in Spain because of the ban on its exports and whilst the German authorities are still working for determining the real origins of this outbreak, Russia has place a blanket ban on vegetables from mainland Europe.

It is the job of governments to protect its citizenry from health hazards both proactively and pre-emptively but all that should be done with useful information rather than knee-jerk reactions even if the government could be damned if they ban foods or damned if they allow imports in the midst of scares - it does not absolve the authorities from being measured, sensible and intelligent in decision making.

Russia relies on vegetable imports from Europe in the late spring and early summer because its harvest is much later in the year than in Mainland Europe and suddenly a scarcity of these food essentials might help local growers but they have nothing to sell.

A sorry affair

You find yourself asking whether there is a thinking head in any government establishment, its figureheads and supposedly responsible and knowledgeable experts nowadays.

Furthermore, you worry that the tendency to surf the waves of irrational fear and hysteria would leave many really suspect of leadership at a time when the credibility of our elected officials or the apparatchiks that man the ministry is hardly worth commending.

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