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Letter to the Morning Star following Japan's nuclear reactors damaged by earthquake

Your article on nuclear safety ("Cracks in nuclear power agenda" by Paddy McGuffin, March 13th) forces us to ask if atomic energy can ever be truly safe. Chernobyl alerted the world to the fact that a nuclear accident can have effects that extend well beyonf the borders of the nation in which it occurs. For example, in parts of Scotland there were elevated radiation levels that affected livestock and may even have been responsible for reduced sperm counts recorded over the next few years in men living in Northern Europe.

But we can't go on being dependent on coal and oil for our power. The atmosphere can't take it. If anything the increased CO2 will cause warming, shrinking of the ice caps, rising sea levels and higher risks to low lying countries when tsunamis show man the power of nature. Whether or not the risks of storms and flooding are also related to global warming is still being debated, but I wouldn't discount the possibility.

The reason that I wrote in was that some statistics were posted on Twitter today that should make us ask if our assumptions about the relative risk of nuclear power isn't a lot less than the alternatives. Tens of thousands of people are killed every year in mining accidents, many of them in the coal industry. Drilling for oil has its own share of casualties. Both release CO2 when they're burnt and a lot of coal also releases sulphur into the atmosphere, which can cause acid rain, which together with global warming can turn arable areas into deserts.

About a billion people in the world are rated as "hungry" by the UN and millions are starving. Until a genuinely green source of energy comes along, we're going to have to do what we can - and nuclear energy may be the best of a bad bunch. That said, we still need to find better ways of dealing with the waste and reducing the risks and consequences of accidents at the plants themselves.

I don't know if the figures quoted at the link below are accurate, but I think that the actual number of fatalities in the various energy industries should be taken into account before we discount atomic energy as a means of reducing our carbon emissions.

The nuclear bogeyman

Jon Purdom

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