Safe, clean and abundant nuclear power has been proved possible

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 June, 2011, 12:00am


Professor He Zuoxiu's cautions on Chinese nuclear power ('Warning sounded on nuclear push', May 30) were ironically printed beside a report of coal mining deaths in Guizhou .

Since the People's Republic of China was formed in 1949, China has suffered about 750,000 coal mining deaths. The World Health Organisation estimates annual global deaths due to air pollution average some two to three million. The best estimate for total direct radiation deaths related to nuclear power reactors worldwide since the 1950s is 63, including 53 at Chernobyl. Indirect Chernobyl deaths from induced cancers are of the order of 4,000 to 10,000.

Professor He is right to urge caution, and increased Chinese transparency is an encouraging policy development. However, the facts show that the choice is between nuclear and fossil fuel and the choice is clear. No Hongkonger will argue the need to limit air pollution. No credible scientist will argue the need to limit carbon release to combat climate change. Future human advancement requires vastly increased reliable non-carbon-based global power supplies. By the middle of this century, we will require hugely increased sea-water desalination to provide fresh water for larger populations, to avoid water wars and perhaps for a hydrogen economy for high-energy uses (like air transport and rockets to deploy space-based solar power).

The only currently viable solution is nuclear power. Yes, risks must be contained (as they were at Fukushima). Yes, waste problems must be solved. Terrestrial solar power won't do it, industrial wind power is a non-starter (ask the Danes). Other postulated technologies are science fiction.

Unless we want our grandchildren living like 17th century farmers, the only viable solution is 'passively safe', integral fast reactors (fuelled by what is now waste). Demonstrated at the Argonne National Laboratory some 30 years ago, the programme was cancelled because of political short-sightedness and rumoured high-level collusion with fossil fuel interests in 1994, just as these designs were ready for deployment.

These designs will make those quaint 1950s promises of safe, clean and abundant nuclear power come true, as Professor He undoubtedly knows. Castle Peak might be an excellent spot for a fleet of these reactors. Maybe we'd be able to see Castle Peak from Hong Kong Island again.

Ian Dubin, Central