More emphasis on energy efficiency and the promotion of green energy is preferable to any expansion of nuclear power to meet energy needs, according to eco-theologian Sean McDonagh. Speaking in Central London on 4 October, the Feast of St Francis, in an ecumenical meeting organised by London and Southwark Churches Action on the Environment, he urged that nuclear power should not be seen as the solution to Global Warming. He also urged the Vatican to withdraw its support for nuclear power. In his talk, 'Nuclear Power: Blessing or Curse?' the Irish Columban priest reflected that his own involvement with the issue dated back to the late 1970s when the Marcos government in the Philippines decided to build a nuclear power plant at Bataan on Luzon Island. After popular opposition, the Supreme Court forbade the generation of electricity there and a team of international inspectors declared it unsafe. The nuclear plant had been built near a geological fault line. There were 4 active volcanoes within a range of 30 miles along with another volcano which was dormant. The latter was called Pinatubo and it erupted in 1992. Under President Cory Aquino, nuclear power was banned and this ban is now enshrined in the Philippines Constitution. Fr McDonagh was concerned about the link between civilian nuclear power and nuclear weapons programmes. Currently about 60 countries in the world have civilian nuclear power plants, and he pointed out that around 20 of these countries have used their supposedly civilian nuclear facilities to undertake covert research on weapons programmes. He also highlighted the severe and long-term health consequences of nuclear accidents, such as the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. As well as the immediate health and socio-economic consequences for the populations of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia, children of victims are also dying at a younger age from a variety of cancers and many are also suffering from genetic defects. The impact on future generations is a key difference between accidents at nuclear facilities and accidents at other power plants. Since 9/11, nuclear power stations should now be seen as potential terrorist targets and Fr McDonagh felt that security reasons alone should lead to their demise. Moving nuclear waste around a country like Britain is another potential area where serious accidents or terrorist attacks can occur. He questioned whether nuclear energy really is a green alternative to fossil fuels. Whilst it is true that very little fossil fuel is used to produce electricity in nuclear plants, an enormous quantity is needed at almost every phase of the nuclear process which begins with uranium mining. Nuclear waste is carcinogenic and toxic and fossil fuels will be needed to transport and store nuclear waste for umpteen generations. At the end of their 30 or 40 years life-span, vast amounts of fossil fuel will be needed to decommission nuclear plants. Fr McDonagh felt the claim that nuclear power will help win the battle against global warming should be challenged. Nuclear power is used to generate electricity, but generating electricity is only responsible for one third of greenhouse gas emissions. Even if there was a doubling of nuclear power output by the year 2050 this would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by mere 5 percent. This is less that one tenth of what the scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are asking for in order to stabilise the climate. He wanted greater investment to be put into renewables such as wind, wave and solar power. One of those attending the talk was Professor Ghillean Prance, former Director of Kew Gardens. He agreed with Fr McDonagh that the nuclear power issue was a moral one, not only for human development but for the integrity of the natural world. "Costa Rica has shown us that it is possible to make significant cut backs in energy use, which can mean you getting money back rather than paying bigger bills" he said. He felt that environmental assets should be costed into any nuclear venture.
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