International Writers Magazine: After Oil?
AND THE NUKES
July 1973, crude oil was at $3 a barrel. During that same month,
oil producing Irans 20 year agreement with the foreign oil
companies came to an end and the then reigning Big Wheel,
Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, better known as the Shah decided to up
the prices by 70%. He was dead keen on bettering his social program
for his people and improving their standard of living. Ring an
This caught the
Western gas guzzlers with their pants down. World monetary instability
and hyperinflation followed. Meanwhile, in October of the same year,
Egypt and Syria decided to attack Israel. The Yom Kippur War had started.
In retaliation, the Arab contingent of OPEC, the Organization of Oil
Exporting Countries, decided to jump on the bandwagon to hammer Israel
and by December had upped the prices of a barrel of oil another 120%.
For the first time in modern history, the world economy was completely
turned on its head and every citizen, particularly in the developed
world realised the undisputable and dangerous dependence on oil as the
one and only real source of energy.
I was on the Cayman Islands at the time, having an after-office-hours
beer with a few of the local lads, in an isolated pub called Wellys
Cool Spot. Wellys was a typical West Indian breezy bar tucked
away in and open space within the tropical jungle surrounded by palm
trees. The shanty shack was equipped with sloppy wooden chairs and tables,
the air cooled and flushed around by a rusty ceiling fan. It was miles
away from civilisation. No television, no phone (although I was about
to install one for him) no honky-tonk music player, just a fridge full
of beer cooled by large blocks of ice. I remember Welly asking me, whatre
we going to live on boss, now that we aint got any gas?
I took a swig of my Heineken and answered, Im going back
to England in a few weeks. Thats were weve got a real bitch
of a problem. He looked perplexed. Welly; you guys
have got it all, coconuts, mango trees, fish, lobsters and plenty of
good weather to go with it. You dont need oil!
Ironically, I was in Iran two years later to exploit the fruits of Western
investment thanks to the oil hike. But the ball had already started
in the depths of our world thinkers. Oil not only had an unstable price
tag, it was in the hands of a group of countries that would continue
to hold Western civilisation and democracy to ransom. It also had a
timeframe. Someday the black gold would run out. Thirty years later,
the scene hasnt changed much, except that the political arena
has altered. Islamic terrorism has thrown a wrench into the works and
not only is the world economy threatened because of new and increasing
oil price hikes, the instability of the civilized world is about to
collapse unless an alternative energy solution is brought about.
Enter nuclear power.
Without going into a thesis on the design and development of this energy
source, suffice to say that it is clean, non-polluting, and efficient
and has the output capacity to eventually supersede oil as the main
supplier of electrical power for present and emerging industrial world
countries. Nuclear engineering design and development has been going
on for decades opening the doors for nuclear power plants to be installed
in many countries around the world. They have been successful in proving
an alternative to gas guzzling electrical power plants. However, they
do present three major problems.
Like all man made inventions, no nuclear installation is fool proof.
In April, 1986 due to human error in maintenance procedures, one of
the Russian nuclear plants in Chernobyl exploded and was set
on fire. Despite a hush-up by the Russians, radioactive
material had been blasted into the atmosphere (it is still up there)
and was detected by scientists as far away as Sweden. It did not take
long for an international outcry to be heard across the continents as
hundreds of Ukrainians began to suffer the after effects and die of
nuclear radiation. Thus the first issue against these types of energy
suppliers is their relative safety in case of a major failure.
The second disadvantage is the age old question of what to do with nuclear
waste. Like any other fuel consumption, there is always the left over
residual material to take care of. We humans tend to be a dirty lot
of animals and are experts in producing rubbish. We burn it, bury it,
sometimes recycle it and if possible convert it into other substances
such as, in the case of petrol, turn it into contaminating carbon dioxide
gases. But with the nuclear stuff we have a serious problem. It will
continue to cause a possible radiation problem for millions of years.
Ever heard of the atomic half-cycle? In other words, every time the
garbage collector turns up at one of these plants, he has to take the
muck away and bury it in a super concrete and steel box supposedly for
thousands of years. At least that is what were are told by the experts.
Therefore, if the world eventually converted to nuclear power, it is
obvious that the danger of radiation due to either an accident or eventual
leakage of one of these nuclear coffins would increase exponentially
over the next few centuries.
The third drawback is the old story of the parallel use of nuclear technology
that can be used in the development of large nuclear bombs. The proliferation
of these destructive gadgets, especially by unscrupulous countries could
easily threaten the very existence of life on this planet should a nuclear
holocaust ever take place. At this moment in time, if we look at the
world political arena, there is ample evidence to prove that this fear
is real, and what is more, it is growing. North Korea has been rambling
on for years that it will have a go at its neighbour down south. India
and Pakistan both have bombs and continue to argue over borders. Any
one of them could press the trigger. And now we have Iran defying the
Western world, breaking all the rules and going full steam ahead to
develop their own nuclear capabilities, whatever they may be.
If we introduce the time element, humanity takes on a double whammy
of risk. Other types of energy are emerging but they cannot replace
the vast needs of the planet for many decades. To transfer over from
oil is going to take years of planning and development. You cannot switch
from petrol engines to other means overnight. And then we have the political
infighting, not to mention the environmental issues or the international
terrorist threats. Britain says there is no future unless they build
nuclear power plants. France has them already and intends to build a
few more. Spain has started to shut down all theirs with no future energy
plan in place. These are just a few samples of the discussions going
on at the moment at top governmental levels in Europe. The old
continents nuclear program, the peaceful one, is upside down.
So, whats the answer? Do we bite the bullet and go for nuclear?
Do we continue down the oil pipeline until it runs out? I havent
even spoken about many other ramifications such as transport, construction,
industry in general and the plethora of other smaller derivatives that
would be affected by a dramatic change in the world energy supply. The
whole lot is in the boiling pot of uncertainty. Nevertheless, I know
what my answer is!
Im going back to Wellys Cool Spot!
© James Skinner. May 23rd 2006
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