Rethinking nuclear power

By saying no to that source of energy, Israel could become a leader in implementing the never-ending, carbon-free and completely safe kind: solar and wind power.

By KARL GROSSMAN
March 21, 2011 22:19
Smoke billows from Japanese nuclear plant

Japan Nuclear Plant 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)

The nuclear disaster in Japan caused Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to declare last week that Israel will not build nuclear power plants.

“I don’t think we are going to pursue civil nuclear energy in coming years,” said Netanyahu, asked by Piers Morgan on CNN whether the situation in Japan will affect plans to construct nuclear plants.

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“The cloud of radioactivity, the uncertainty of what will happen with it, is the cloud that hangs over the people of Japan, and I think right now hangs over the world,” he said.


Also, there was the recent discovery of natural gas in the Mediterranean, he noted. “I think we’ll go for the gas and skip the nuclear.

It’s wonderful that Netanyahu is saying no to nuclear power. However, Israel could yet become “a light unto the nations” by implementing never-ending, carbon-free and completely safe energy: solar and wind energy – the vision of David Ben-Gurion.

Israel is already at the cutting edge of solar energy.

Some 80 percent of homes have solar panels that heat water. It is “the first” in the world with solar power, says Shoshana Dann, an associate at the Ben-Gurion National Solar Energy Center at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

That’s where extraordinary work is going on near the graves of David and Paula Ben-Gurion and a few miles from their humble home at Kibbutz Sde Boker, where hangs a 1955 statement of Ben-Gurion: “In the Negev the creative ingenuity and pioneering vitality of Israel will be tested. Scientists must develop...

applied solar energy [and] wind-power for producing energy.”

Dr. David Faiman is director of the center where this dream is being realized. His main project is using sunlight to produce electricity. There’s a huge parabolic plate that focuses 1,000 times more sunlight on a photovoltaic panel than what usually powers a panel.

This provides enormous efficiency in harvesting solar energy. Faiman’s rotating solar collector converts more than 70% of incoming solar energy into electricity, compared to industry norms of 10-25%. The center is collaborating with the Israeli company ZenithSolar in marketing solar collectors based on Faiman’s design.

Faiman, who made aliya from the UK in 1973, says the way is now clear to manufacture solar energy systems that will compete with conventional technologies.

His work in using concentrated sunlight more efficiently constitutes a great boost to solar photovoltaic power.

THOUGH BG researchers and scientists claim no prophetic abilities, they do claim a passionate commitment, working ‘religiously’ to develop solar energy for our energy needs.

That solar and wind energy are keys in providing all the energy the world needs is a theme of a recent book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse by Lester Brown, president of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute. Brown dismisses nuclear power as too expensive and dangerous.

Netanyahu commented last week on Piers Morgan Tonight that “the situation in Japan is a confluence of a natural disaster and man-made disaster” and it has “certainly caused me to reconsider the prospects of building civil nuclear power plants.”

It was only last year, on March 9 that National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau announced that a nuclear power plant would be built in the Negev.

“Building a nuclear reactor to produce electricity will allow Israel to develop energy independence,” he said.

I wrote pieces criticizing the move that stated this made no sense economically, militarily, environmentally, or for the health of the people of Israel.

Economically, I noted, the cost of building one nuclear power plant is now between $12 and $15 billion.

As a result, huge government subsidies are required. In comparison, the total budget for the IDF in recent times is about $13 billion.

Militarily, a nuclear power plant is a sitting duck for Israel’s enemies. A hostile country – or terrorist organization – need not put together an atomic bomb to bring nuclear destruction. It need only use an aircraft to pierce the concrete containment of any nuclear plant and cause a core meltdown. I quoted Paul Gunter, reactor specialist with the organization Beyond Nuclear (www.beyondnuclar.org), as stating that nuclear power plants are “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction” and pointed to numerous reports that for some time al-Qaida has been considering and training for an attack on a nuclear plant.

As for environmental issues, although the nuclear industry says nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases, what it doesn’t say is that the overall nuclear “cycle” – which includes uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication and so on – creates significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Moreover, I questioned where Israel would get the water to cool a nuclear plant, which requires a million gallons a minute as coolant. If that flow stops, a meltdown can ensue as has been occurring in Japan.

As for nuclear waste, the poisons produced constantly in a nuclear plant need to be isolated from life for up to millions of years.

And as for a major accident, I noted a book then just-published by the New York Academy of Sciences, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment. Written by scientists who used health data from 1986 to 2004, it found that 985,000 people died worldwide as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Most were in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. A Chernobyl-scale accident in Israel could be devastating to much of the tiny nation and leave a good portion uninhabitable for millennia.

AFTER MY pieces ran, I received calls from the National Infrastructures Ministry in Jerusalem seeking additional information. What I wrote and what I sent wasn’t the reason for Netanyahu’s decision to forget about plans for nuclear power. The cause was the catastrophe in Japan. Throughout human history, it’s a disaster that has caused people to change their ways.

The year before, ZenithSolar opened its first “solar farm” based on the concentrated photovoltaic system developed by Faiman. President Shimon Peres, in cutting the ceremonial ribbon at Kibbutz Kvutzat Yavne, where the farm is located, said: “Israel has the capability to become the leading country in the promotion of alternative energy.”

David Ben-Gurion pointed the way. Now Israel can lead the world in providing a safe and clean future, if it wills it.

The writer is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, the author of Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power and many TV programs on the issue (www.envirovideo.com). He has given presentations around the world about the dangers of nuclear technology.


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