London Olympic bid, New energy sources and others

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Who needs the Olympics? Londoners certainly don't

Who needs the Olympics? Londoners certainly don't

Sir: Hurrah for David Usborne! He is quite right in his assertion that the last thing we need is the Olympics adding chaos to the mayhem of city life (Review, 25 May). But hang on, what's this? He's writing about New York!

In fact, he could be writing about London as well, perhaps even more pertinently. I do not know a single person who wants the Olympic Games clogging up our infrastructure for years while various works are rushed to be completed. Look at the building sites that were once King's Cross and Stratford. Does anybody actually have a finalised plan for Vauxhall Cross? This is before we broach the thorny subject of security.

An Olympic Games would simply bring more of the same. Nobody in power cares overmuch about the daily disruption suffered by Londoners because they are driven everywhere in large cars with tinted (perhaps rose-tinted) windows. To say that London would benefit from the supposed generation of wealth brought about by the Games suggests London is in need of wealth. Compared with most of Britain (indeed the world), it clearly is not. Moscow perhaps is the only city left in the competition which could truthfully be said to be in need of regeneration. For the others, it is merely selfish posturing.

For the IOC, it is a clear signal that it has lost its nerve in light of the ongoing disaster that is the Athens Games. Instead it could have a few years of freebies in five of the world's more comfortable cities (especially if experienced from the back of the aforementioned limousines).

London N8

New energy sources to save the planet

Sir: James Lovelock (Opinion, 24 May) is right to highlight the devastating effect that climate change will have on the world if we do not curb greenhouse gas emissions. He is also right to point out that the threat from climate change is more serious than any threat from generating energy from nuclear fission. But he is wrong to assert that massively expanding nuclear fission so that it becomes our main source of energy is the only way, or a desirable way, to stop climate change.

The massive costs of radioactive waste disposal and the decades-long decommissioning of nuclear power plants are only now beginning to be recognised. Terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities could be catastrophic. The link between civil nuclear power programmes and nuclear weapons continues to fuel international tensions, as shown in North Korea and Iran.

Renewable energy and energy conservation are rather more than just "visionary". The costs of many renewables, especially wind and solar energy, are tumbling, with onshore wind already commercially competitive and offshore wind not far behind. This is despite the fact that energy research funding has been dominated by nuclear fission for decades (and still is in Japan and France).

Meanwhile, energy-saving technologies, which often lead to large cost savings, are also becoming much more mainstream. Energy conservation in general, using a combination of technology, economic instruments, regulation and education to encourage a change to less energy-intensive lifestyles (especially to curb the burgeoning road and aviation sectors which an expansion in nuclear power would do little to address) can lead to drastic reductions in emissions.

If the resources directed to renewable energy and energy conservation were raised to levels which reflected the seriousness of the climate change problem - for example by diverting some of the massive resources currently wasted on military activities and technologies, as we have often argued - the world could make the necessary drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions without nuclear fission.

Director, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Folkestone, Kent

Sir: Nuclear power supplies only a fraction of the world's energy - hundreds (maybe thousands) of reactors would have to be built to supply current energy demand, many in India, one of the nations nearest the brink of nuclear conflict, whose population and energy use are growing fastest. Nuclear power is a sticking plaster for the massive current level of resource loss. What happens when there is no more land to dump the waste in?

The problem of anthropogenic climate change is driven by resource waste in the rich countries and poverty causing population growth causing resource depletion (such as loss of forests) in the developing world. Sooner or later business-as-usual has to change - why make even more of the world uninhabitable first?

Queen Mary University of London.

Sir: There are 100 times the number of solar panels per head of population in Austria compared with the UK and 20 times in Germany. There is some 20 times the capacity of wind energy in Germany compared with the UK.

The same can be said about the development of solar electricity in Japan and the use of biofuels in most of Europe. The UK lags well behind the rest of the world in renewable energy. This largely due to a lack of government investment and understanding. If renewables received a tenth of the money that has gone into the support of nuclear we wouldn't be having this argument.

Flitton, Bedfordshire

Sir: Even if a decision to build new nuclear facilities was taken immediately, they would have no impact on the problem. Why? Because it would take many hundreds of new facilities, each requiring many hundreds of tonnes of concrete over many years to complete the task, each of which would consume enormous amounts of fossil fuels to build, so that only decades later, towards the end of their design life, the units might eventually pay off the fossil fuel debt incurred in their building.

In the end, there can only be one solution to global warming, and it must be a parallel expansion of renewable energy technology alongside that of energy conservation technology. It is seven times more costs effective to save a unit of electricity than it is to generate a new one. Building behemoths is not the answer.


Sir: It is very reassuring that a most prominent "green" has spoken up about the importance of nuclear power for saving us from the consequences of fossil-fuel burning. The great challenge is not technical, but political and educational.

The strategy has to be deployed on a timescale that does not motivate politicians (whose timescale is determined by the next general election) and with co-operation that has to transcend international boundaries. The man in the street has to be convinced by the experts, and the experts have failed to secure his confidence.

There is a need to help people understand the relative risks they face as a consequence of living with the technology that supports their lifestyle. We seem to lament and quickly recover from many man-made disasters (Bhopal, Seveso, Frejus, Flixborough, train crashes), learning from the mistakes and doing things better next time. Even more perversely, we accept the guaranteed carnage that is a consequence of motor transport. But if half a dozen employees died as a result of an accident at a nuclear power station (it has never happened in the UK or the vast majority of nations with nuclear power), there would be outcry from those who are unable to make a rational judgement of relative risks to society.

It is not their fault. It is the fault of the experts who have failed to convince them. I regret that I am one of those who have, collectively, failed. Those of us who are involved in the high technologies that support our lifestyle have a responsibility to keep on trying. It is very encouraging that Jim Lovelock has spoken out for nuclear power.

East Linton, East Lothian

Sir: Not either or, but both and. James Lovelock is right. We sit petrified, facing the greatest threat to civilisation: massive climate disruption. It is good that The Independent leads again on this, the biggest news story ever.

Weaning us off our dependency, our fossil fuel abuse is urgent. Leaving it until the "the day after tomorrow" is gambling with our children's lives.

Where to turn? James Lovelock neatly captures the predicament. But the remedy he advocates, more nuclear power, is not the only one. If we rush to nurture nuclear, we may condemn the emerging renewables industries to be stillborn. Instead we must back both, as strongly as we can, and with equal urgency, resources and ingenuity. united against fossil fuel.

Do we have enough time left to do anything about it? Yes, exactly enough - if we start now.

Director, ABS consulting
Chair, Construction Industry Council, Sustainable Development Committee, London SE1

Arabs and Israel

Sir: Peter Janikoun (letter, 25 May) repeats one of the most enduring Zionist myths when he claims that the Arab states attacked Israel as soon as the state was declared in May 1948.

The UN's partition plan and Britain's departure from Palestine were both announced in November 1947. The Zionist militias immediately began attacking and ethnically cleansing Arab villages and seizing land beyond that allocated to the Jewish state by the UN. The British left Palestine in May 1948 and then the Arab states mobilised to prevent the ethnic cleansing.

By May 1948 there were already hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees and by the end of that war there were nearly a million.

Dagenham, Essex

Afghan opium

Sir: What your leading article on Afghanistan (25 May) does not point out is the extent to which our Prime Minister's failure, yet again, to match words with deeds relates specifically to a British area of responsibility and bears directly on vital British interests.

After its abolition by the Taliban, Afghanistan's opium production has soared to the point where its annual value on the world market amounts to some $16bn. It is now grown in 26 of Afghanistan's 28 provinces.

Within the group of nations concerned with assistance to Afghanistan, Britain has the specific responsibility for taking measures to curb this production. Nothing effective has been done. The bulk of the heroin sold in this country has its origins in the opium grown in Afghanistan. Need more be said?

London SE1

Sir: Your report (25 May) that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's recent visit to Afghanistan concluded the country is a "basket case" is extremely disturbing, not least when compared with the UK government's pledge to stay the distance and ensure peace and security for the people of the country.

Amnesty International has found that the police and the judiciary are untrained and lack even pens and paper, never mind salaries. Torture is often resorted to as a means of interrogation, and unfair trials, detention without charge and extortion are common.

Women are in many regions more vulnerable to the threat of sexual violence because of the lawlessness, and forced marriage and prosecution for crimes of sexual "impropriety" remain widespread. Past human rights violations have still not been investigated and the courts lack legitimacy.

There is now a crucial window of opportunity before the elections this September to make good the promises made to the people of Afghanistan and put in the sustained investment and real political commitment needed. The international community must learn that reconstruction with human rights and justice at its heart cannot be done on the cheap.

Amnesty International UK
London EC1

Substitute parents

Sir: According to Alison Bostock (letter, 20 May) stay-at-home mothers are "bogged down with household tasks", unlike nannies who "are able to devote themselves entirely to child care".

But if they are not doing the housework in Mummy and Daddy's absence, who is? Presumably another employee. So the "only practical solution" for the childcare problem of both parents working away from home recedes out of most people's reach.

But is Nanny's round of socialising with other nannies and their charges really the way to bring up children? And can family life be satisfactorily relegated to evenings and weekends?

There is no substitute for a mum (or dad) who stays at home at least part of the working day.

London E14

Final mystery

Sir: Perhaps awarding the 2010 World Cup to South Africa will allow us to solve one of the last remaining mysteries of physics - whether Mexican waves travel in the opposite direction in the Southern Hemisphere.

Ascot, Berkshire

Showing off

Sir: For some years we have been persuaded that it is cool to wear designer clothes with the label on the outside of the garment. Perhaps it may be a logical extension of this idea to display the family jewels on the bonnet of one's car ("One small shunt and bang goes a diamond worth £200,000", 24 May). Now, I wonder if I can fit the house deeds and my bank statement underneath the glass sunroof?

Broadstairs, Kent

Danger displaced

Sir: Sorry to see that David Phelan regards that nasty little device, the speed camera detector, as one of the Ten Best car gadgets (24 May). I suspect that most non-motorised road users would rather have seen the humble first-aid kit in there instead. As for the assertion that these things reduce accidents - they don't. Speed cameras reduce crashes. Speed camera detectors let crashes happen somewhere else.

Wrelton, North Yorkshire

Take no notice

Sir: At least government literacy policy appears to be having a cross-species effect. A local sign reads: "Please close the gate farm animals".

Beverley, East Yorkshire