Monday, September 17, 2007

The nuclear credit card



Some people may remember the heady feeling of power when aquiring their first credit card. There is the shiny piece of plastic with the power to buy anything you want. It doesn't look or feel like money so it doesn't hit so hard when you hand it over. So people buy and buy and buy with the virtual money they don't actually have.


The nuclear industry has been marketing its product along similar appealing lines. Nuclear energy just won't run out according to its marketers - some ministers in South Africa have even called it "sustainable". This would be laughable if it were not so deadly serious. The uranium that fuels nuclear reactors will run out before coal reserves do - and ironically, the nuclear industry is now also demanding a share of that coal to power its nuclear smelter at Pelindaba.


Nuclear propaganda has even spread to schools, where children are taught that nuclear energy is "safe", "green" and "sustainable". But just like the infamous credit card, the nuclear industry is already spending millions of government/taxpayers' money on the premise that it will recoup this money - one day.


However, as all credit card holders know, that final day of payment arrives sooner than you think or want - with plenty of interest added onto those loans. Those days of carefree spending come to an end when you have to tally up your repayments, plus interest for borrowing from the bank. This is again where the nuclear industry hides some nasty surprises, because when bank loans on construction of nuclear plants are called in, interest payments can cripple third world nations that just cannot afford this expensive form of energy.


During the cold war, when Russia and the US built up nuclear munitions as fast as they could in deadly competition, President Reagan was asked who he thought would "go bust" first. Well, it turned out to be Russia; a country paying so much for nuclear weapons that in the end it could not afford food or basic consumer goods for its people. The nuclear arms race truly crippled the might of the former Soviet Union.


Nations in Africa might heed this warning. How can a country pay millions for weapons when it cannot afford to feed its people? Signing all those cheques or handing over the nuclear credit card may seem very appealing initially - but the account will be called in - sooner rather than later. And the national debt will skyrocket.


More progressive nations have come to realise that truly "sustainable" energy sources are to be found in renewables like solar and wind power. It is just unfortunate that in South Africa, these have not received the same kind of advertising or government investment as nuclear has been lucky enough to enjoy.


Yours sincerely




South Africa 

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