Nuclear power, terrorism and others

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The Independent Online

In the primordial soup with supporters of nuclear power

Sir: James Lovelock ("Nuclear power: time for a rethink?", 28 August) criticises the public for "irrational fears fed on ignorance", and blames the media for feeding this fear. But is it irrational to fear an industry which has consistently, over decades, misled the public? Lovelock's assertion that nuclear power plants can withstand a direct hit by a plane is a case in point.

David Kyd, spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency said, on 19 September, 2001: "If you postulate the risk of a jumbo jet full of fuel, it is clear that [the nuclear power plants'] design was not conceived to withstand such an impact." You couldn't ask for anything clearer. Yet the myth that nuclear plants can withstand such an impact somehow persists among supporters of the nuclear industry.

Lovelock's comparison of the costs of nuclear and sustainable energy supplies is also misleading: he compares the running costs of nuclear plants, at 2.3p per kilowatt hour, with the full-cycle costs of wind power, at 5p per kWh. The full-cycle costs include construction and decommissioning. The construction costs of nuclear plants had to be written off by the Government to save the industry from bankruptcy, and the decommissioning costs are unknown as the industry has yet to come up with a credible long term-plan for dealing with nuclear waste. The running costs of wind power are around 0.5p per kWh, much cheaper than any other option.

It is, as Lovelock explains, true that the radioactive contamination which might be released in the worst possible nuclear disaster would be mild compared to the conditions when life began in the primordial soup. But looking at the beauty of nature around us, I think we might set the bar a little higher than leaving future generations something better than the primordial soup.


It takes terrorism to catch our attention

Sir: The appalling hostage situation in Beslan has been followed up by a spate of commentaries not only on the horrific incident itself but also on the plight of the Chechen people. There is something deadly worrying about this, because it may affirm the terrorists' belief that it takes something truly shocking to bring the world's attention to something that lurks brutally unnoticed in the background.

Without these grotesque events most of us would forget about many of the world's problems. It seems to take a lot more than just peaceful protests to grab our attention. Take 11 September for example: much of the media following this tragic event focused not just on the event itself but also on the injustices inflicted on the Arab world.

We cannot condone these crimes of terrorism - such means can never be justified - but we also cannot release ourselves from part of the responsibility for this tragedy. Chechnya is a country of ongoing human rights abuses, where a sham of democracy presides over their fate within the iron grip of Russian oppression. Just because it has not of late made front-page headlines does not mean to say that the problem is not very real and very urgent. We should not need terrorism to remind us of this.


Sir: Mary Dejevsky reports Putin's standing will fall following the Beslan atrocity (4 September). Yet both the rise and fall of Putin's career have been determined by the demolition of occupied buildings.

On 9 September 1999, one month to the day after Putin was chosen as acting prime minister, Russia suffered the first of a series of apartment blasts. The government blamed the Chechens, who denied involvement, but it seemed more likely the blasts were the work of the Russian security forces, seeking a pretext to invade Chechnya. The war was initially popular and Putin won the subsequent election with a landslide

Now the Chechens are back and really are blowing up buildings and the ramshackle Russian security forces cannot stop them.

Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Sir: Howard Jacobson's failure of imagination in getting inside the mind of a terrorist (Opinion, 4 September) is hardly surprising, for it is precisely the failure of the terrorist to contemplate the human consequences of his/her act that makes it thinkable in the first place. The troubling thing is just how casually our empathy, our capacity for envisaging human consequences, can be suspended. The very nature of modern warfare seems to facilitate this.

In the case of the suicide bomber, eyeball to eyeball with the innocent people he/she is about to blow up, it is difficult to believe a real rupturing of our common sense of humanity has not occurred. But what of the submarine commander who launches a cruise missile at a target of which he knows or cares little, or the bomber pilot who scatters anti-personnel mines over the mountains, fields and villages of a foreign land?

Such acts for them are not defining moments of their existence as equivalent acts would be for the terrorist; they are impersonal and routine. In all likelihood these people will return home with no obvious rupturing of their sense of humanity; and yet the failure of imagination or empathy here is perhaps all the greater, all the more insidious, for not having been acknowledged.

London SE21

Sir: As usual, the "liberal" response to the bestial murderers in Beslan is to seek to excuse them. It is no wonder that many today regard the term liberal as an insult, suggesting someone willing to condone anything if it comes with the correct slogans and the requisite anti-Americanism.

London NW6

Sir: The entire world should take responsibility for the terror attacks in Russia. Terrorism has become an acceptable tool of protest. The world has stood by while hundreds of Israelis were killed by terror attacks, always finding excuses to legitimise and "understand" the use of terror, and, unfortunately and irresponsibly, responding in such a way as to reward terror.

Now Russian kids have paid the price for the world's acceptance of terror. The Chechens wanted their cause in the limelight and simply saw how successfully the Palestinians took the focus of global attention by their choice of using terror instead of negotiations.

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

Cold war victims

Sir: Moral relativism is a repugnant game, but it is madness to say that US actions during the cold war were "far less brutal" than Hungary in 1956, or Czechoslovakia in 1968 (letter, 4 September).

Unless a European life is worth thousands of Asian or Latin American lives, the opposite is true: the casualty figures in both of these interventions by the Soviets were in hundreds and simply bear no relation to the millions of Vietnamese and Cambodian casualties, or the many hundreds of thousands of casualties that resulted from the USA's murderous wars against the peoples of Guatemala, Chile, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

As the carnage continues in post-sanctions Iraq, the heavy beam in the blind eye of western imperialism remains as shameful as ever.


Children behind bars

Sir: Anti-social behaviour orders are an inappropriate sanction for dealing with children ("Blair hails the success of anti-social orders in tackling 'yob culture' ", 1 September). Asbos bring restriction, not structure, to children's lives, and the restrictions are often so lengthy and wide-ranging that they are impossible to adhere to. Children breach the orders and are then sucked into the penal system, ending up in custody for what amounts to bad behaviour.

Difficult and needy children are simply being used by politicians as election fodder. The consequence is hundreds of children behind bars who emerge more angry and dislocated from family or support, and nearly 90 per cent go on to create more mayhem and commit more crime.

The Home Office has just published a crime-reduction practice report recommending a move away from primarily punitive to restorative approaches. This has been very successfully pioneered in Thames Valley with both children and adults. We suggest the Government heeds its own research and develops work with children that helps them change their lives and really does something to create a safer society.

The Howard League for Penal Reform
London N1

Aerodynamic splat

Sir: I was interested to read your article (2 September) on the "splatometer" tests to assess the number of flying insects. I do hope that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds will allow for the aerodynamic efficiency of modern cars when they come to assess the results.

Today's cars part the air much more effectively than those of even 10 or 20 years ago. The insects therefore tend to be carried, with the air past the car rather than simply blasting against the front of it. Could this be an alternative explanation for why our windscreens no longer become encrusted with tiny bodies?

Harrogate, North Yorkshire

Eye of the storm

Sir: It is all too symptomatic of the lack of awareness in UK of its Overseas Territories and its responsibilities to them that you publish ("Hurricane twice size of Charley to hit US", 3 September) a satellite image of the hugely powerful Hurricane Frances centred over UK territory (the Turks and Caicos Islands) with some 20,000 British citizens, without mentioning the fact.

The article addresses only Florida, where the hurricane - thankfully slightly reduced in power - was then approaching, with a small mention of the Bahamas, about to be hit before the US. I had expected a better level of awareness by The Independent.

The good news (if you are interested) is that, despite the hurricane's eye (with its 140 mph winds) passing within 35 miles of TCI and winds there reaching 90 mph, there are no reports of serious injuries. Power supplies were cut but are being restored.

Chairman, UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum

Arabic studies

Sir: There should be no surprise that more British students want to engage in Middle Eastern studies (report, 31 August), and it is exceedingly welcome given the continued woeful ignorance about this vital area of the world.

However, it is more than time that the Government and universities re-examined their priorities and started investing in Arabic and Middle Eastern studies more strategically. After 11 September, the United States increased Middle East language funding by 26 per cent. Strangely, although we devoutly follow the US administration in most matters, there has been no similar injection of funds here. Many of the most prominent academics dealing with the region are nearing retirement age and there are too few younger academics to replace them. The lack of Arabic speakers has affected the Foreign Office, security services and the military.

It is time to invest in a new generation of Middle East specialists who can cater for the demands of the future rather than play catch-up with the Americans, French and Germans.

Director, Council for Arab-British Understanding
London EC4

Racing certainties

Sir: Colin Burke (letter, 3 September) is right about the attitude of punters to fixed races.

As a horse-mad teenager in the 1950s, I knew a groom who was lucky enough to have a nephew who was a jockey. Each Saturday morning a friend and I visited him and asked one question: "Is Andy trying?" If the answer was "Yes" it was only a question of "to win or each way". If the answer to the first question was "No" we kept our money in our pockets. I don't remember ever losing.

Unfortunately Andy's uncle has long gone to the great stable in the sky. I don't bet any more.


Off the road

Sir: Mike Perry (letter, 31 August) lambasts his council as incompetent and miserly because the local roads are too narrow to park on. Public highways are just that - roadways for all to use, not taxpayer-funded car parks for Mr Perry and his like to store their property on.

London SE14

These islands

Sir: I entirely agree that the use of the archaic and mildly offensive term "British Isles" (letter 4 September) should be avoided. As a Briton of Irish ancestry, I very much prefer the name "Islands of the North Atlantic" or Iona for short. Has a nice Celtic sound, don't you think (as well as being, I understand, the preferred official term in the Irish Republic)?

London N6

Causes of death

Sir: If, as Dr Hershon states (letter, 3 September), doctors "have no training in assessing the cause of death" in situations where they are asked to countersign death certificates, then what on earth are they doing signing them? Surely the whole point of this procedure is that it is a safeguard against error or malpractice, which these doctors appear to have undermined.

Histon, Cambridgeshire

Mayoral myopia

Sir: Ken Livingstone states that he has no plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street etc (letter, 4 September). What lack of vision!

Sale, Cheshire