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Chris Slatter

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Power Without Glory

Rune of the Day: Inguz, Fertility


As I sit and write this Italians are preparing to vote in a referendum on a number of issues about their future. One of these is to do with who will manage the water supplies in the future, state or private enterprise; another is whether government officials can continue to claim that their duties prevent them from attending trials either as a witness or accused. Thirdly, Italians are being asked if they want the government to re-introduce nuclear power.
While I have some concern over the response to the first two questions, it’s the answer to the third that’s really worrying me not, as you might think, because I believe Italians will accept nuclear power, but because I think they won’t.
Flash back to 1987 when Italians last voted in a referendum about nuclear power. Italy had four reactors running and was building a fifth. The year before, in April, 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster had occurred: Chernobyl. Few people wanted nuclear power in the late eighties. The Italians voted against it and the nation’s nuclear programme was closed down. It was a relatively easy decision back then. Oil was relatively cheap and plentiful and the issue of climate change was yet to capture the attention of the general public. How things have changed.
In the intervening years Italy has become a huge importer of both fuel and electrical power – more than 80% of its energy comes from overseas. Italy is the world’s largest importer of electricity and Italians pay nearly half as much again as their neighbours, the French, to run their lights and appliances.
Italy’s Minister of Economic Development Claudio Scajola put the figure for the "terrible mistake" of the nuclear phase-out at some €50 billion. Italy is now the only G8 nation without a nuclear programme, something which the Berlusconi government had planned to correct until the nuclear accident, still ongoing, at the Fukushima Daiichi plant earlier this year.
That nuclear power is dangerous is uncontested and the Fukushima disaster shows that it can probably never be made safe, no matter what precautions are put in place. What is seldom stated though is that fossil fuel-generated power is dangerous, too. Oil and coal-fired electrical plants give off huge emissions; gas-fired power plants do, too, though not as much as the former. Oil is becoming scarcer (nobody knows how scarce) and consequently more expensive. The world is turning to natural gas and a boom in this commodity has already started.
Oil companies, aware that conventional supplies of natural gas are finite, have turned to an unconventional source known as shale gas. Shale, which is what you get when you bury sediments like mud for several million years, is everywhere. It contains gas trapped in tiny pockets and mining engineers have conceived a clever system of extracting it called ‘fracking’. In the United States mining companies are buying huge leases so they can mine the shale deposits and send down a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure to fracture the rock and release the gas. It stands to reason that not all of the gas and fracking liquid is collected and some of it leaks into the ground water giving rise to dramatic TV footage of residents setting fire to their tap water.
Of course, the technique will eventually be refined and leakages minimised, but it raises an interesting question: where do we want our future power supplies to come from? We can, of course, keep plundering the planet until that inevitable day when our planet, honeycombed, stinking and lifeless is declared uninhabitable by the human beings who remain. Or we can pursue alternative means of producing power that do not involve mining and burning fossil deposits.
Renewable energy is the only way, that is to say, wind, solar, tidal, hydro-electric. But there’s a catch: it will take decades and an investment of trillions of dollars to engineer renewable power producing systems to replace the ones that are currently run on fossil fuels. Renewable energy currently supplies between 15% and 20% of total power. Some countries have a high proportion of renewables in their energy mix, others not so high. 
So what do we use for energy while we’re spending the coming decades building solar concentration power plants, wind arrays, tidal generators and the like? It should decreasingly be fossil fuels because they cause climate change and pollute our ground water. What can we use that’s plentiful and cheap and emission-free? Guess what.

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About Me

I have been an advertising copywriter, film director, teacher of screenwriting and a television producer. I have worked for some of the world's largest advertising agencies in Australia and the UK before attending the London Film School for two years.

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