Nuclear power wrong for Pacific 'rim of fire' nations

Richard Dowden disputes Gwynne Dyer's view that the retreat from the use of nuclear power (26.11.12) is madness.

It was foolish of Japan to build or buy nuclear power stations, because, like New Zealand, Japan is on the Pacific's ''rim of fire'' enclosing most of the world's fault lines. Earthquakes from such faults at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean make a very large area of small up or down movement. This travels as a long wave at jet-plane speeds in all horizontal directions, slowing down as the ocean shallows, so the water piles up into a huge wave of several metres.

Auckland has not had such a tsunami in recent years, but it is just as likely as Japan to have one at any time. Fortunately, the Cook Strait power cable and the discovery of the Maui gas field made nuclear power far less urgent and now unnecessary since hydro-electric power, wind power, tidal power and geothermal power more than cope.

Apart from tsunamis, there are many possible causes of nuclear accidents. Many of the nations listed by Mr Dyer will be in trouble because they have depended too much on nuclear power. Italy was the first nation in the world to use geothermal power, yet now geothermal power accounts for only 1.5% of Italy's national production. In the United States, it accounts for only 0.3%.

Despite many opportunities, geothermal power accounts for only 1% of Japan's power. The United States appears to have adequate wind power, but it is not developed as it is in Europe. Germany, the United Kingdom and France, all of which have nuclear power, though closing it down, produce 48GW, 15GW, and 13GW, respectively.

This is only beaten by Spain, producing 58GW.

On the other hand, Denmark is the best placed. It has no nuclear power stations, no intention of getting any, and sells 95% of the world's wind turbines.

 - Richard Dowden, whose field is physics, is a University of Otago emeritus professor.