By Gustavo Fernández Colón*
In his recent visit to Iran, president Chávez emphasized the importance of impelling the study and production of alternative power plants to hydrocarbons, since these are a nonrenewable resource that is diminishing quickly by virtue of the increase of the consumption in the countries of the first world. He affirmed that there was to plan with time the use of the energy to assure the survival the human species and its social development. Nevertheless, between the varied range of power sources different from hydrocarbons, he made emphasis in the atomic energy mainly, endorsing the plans that to develop it has implemented the Iranian government and emphasizing the meaning of the initiatives that go ahead in the field of the nuclear investigation within the Mercosur (Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias, 30-07-06).
Given the importance, as much for Venezuela as for Latin America as a whole, of the plans of investigation and development in the matter of energy mentioned by president Chávez, we considered opportune to put under discussion, once again, the controversial subject of the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy.
In effect, several specialists have indicated that the world counts on petroleum reserves to supply the world-wide demand sufficiently, usable with the technology at the moment available, as soon as until year 2030. Most optimistic they extend the term until half-full of century. The certain thing is that the great majority of the experts agrees in affirming that the days of cheap petroleum and, still more, the days of the industry based on the burning of this fuel are arriving at their end.
On the other hand, every time they are more well-known the evidences that the fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, gas) are the cause of the global heating and of the more and more violent alterations of the climate, like suffered during the season of hurricanes of the year last in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico.
All these factors have taken so much to George Bush in the United States like Tony Blair in the European Union, to insist – to just as president Chávez- in the necessity to reactivate the investments in the industry of generation of electricity powered by the atomic energy, in answer to the prolonged rise of the prices of the crude caused by, among other factors, the bloody occupation of Iraq and the increase of the demand in China.
At least in Europe, the adverse reactions have arisen immediately in the public opinion of diverse countries that decided some years ago, before the impact of the disaster of Chernóbil, deactivate their nuclear power stations and reconvert them to other sources like the gas, the Aeolian energy and the Solar energy. In fact, the list of the nations that - like Germany, Austria, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy and Holland - decided, by means of the promulgation of laws or the accomplishment of consultative referenda is significant, to leave progressively this dangerous power plant. Although also it is certain, unfortunately, that several of the governments at the moment in the power in Europe have begun to be interested in retaking it.
In Asia, the Chinese government recently announced his decision to implement an ambitious plan for the construction of aerogenerators destined to the electricity production, with a view to turning the wind force the third power source of the nation for year 2010.
In Latin America, also Argentina has begun to develop two important projects to generate electricity from the Aeolian energy in the Patagonia. And in Brazil, aside from its well-known initiative to use ethanol (extracted alcohol of the sugar cane) like fuel for the automobiles, the growth of the industry of the aerogenerators has been significant, mainly as a result of the droughts that have affected in the last years their hydroelectric capacity.
Lamentably, also the atomic energy has experienced a considerable advance in both countries of South America. Argentina, for example, has advanced in the manufacture and export of nuclear reactors for the electricity production, by means of negotiation strategies that have provoked serious controversies. This it was the case of the agreement of sale of an Argentine plant to Australia subscribed in 2000 that contemplated between its clauses the return to the mother country of San Martin of the radioactive remainders generated by the installed reactor in the outskirts of Sydney.
This class of agreements, very in the style of the “wild Capitalism” that caused a serious damage in the southern country in the Nineties, reflects in addition the gravity of the problems that must face the nations dedicated to the production of atomic energy, as much in the North as in the South. In the Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, for example, according to the estimations of the World Health Organization, passed away at least 50 people and other 4,000 will suffer of cancer, congenital leukemia and malformations because of the radiation released in Chernobyl (although, in agreement with the investigations of Greenpeace, the official numbers hide the true dimension of this tragedy whose victims happen of one hundred thousands). In any case, the risk is not limited to possible accidents in the operation of the power stations, but the technically not solved problem of the handling of the radioactive remainders, whose lethal emissions last by thousands of years. Of there the appetizing quotation in the market of the services of processing of these remainders offered by public or deprived companies of countries like Argentina, defendant repeatedly to turn the territories that lodge them in uninhabitable nuclear waste baskets, like prove the contamination of underground waters with radioactive uranium in the neighborhood of the Nuclear Center of Ezeiza, in the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
For all these reasons, the initiative to develop plans for the generation of electricity produced by means of nuclear reactors in Venezuela seems to us absolutely inconvenient, announced it makes some time by the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. It is an unnecessary and expensive risk, mainly if one considers the diversity of clean power sources available in the wide extension of national geography.
So that, why our government does not think rather about regenerating the forests of the Caroní basin (devastated during decades of irrational mining) to preserve the potential of generation of the dams of Guri, Caruachi, Macagua and Tocoma, where 70% of the electricity that is consumed in the country is produced? Why our government does not provide incentives for scientists and technologists so that they develop effective techniques for the filtrate and processing of the carbon, to avoid launching it to the air through the chimneys of the thermoelectrial power stations with gas or fueloil in the style of Planta Centro or Termozulia? Why our government does not to make feasible the dream of thousands of aerogenerators, turning with the inexhaustible breeze of Paraguaná to resolve the deficiencies of the electrical provision that affect to the State of Falcón?
Now that recently has turned twenty years of the worse accident in the history of the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy, happened in the power station of Chernóbil the 26 of April of 1986, is propitious the occasion to activate the discussion on the power, technological and productive bases of South American integration, with a view to offering sustainable solutions to the pressing problems like the misery, the undernourishment, the unemployment, the violence, the discrimination, the technological dependency and the ecological degradation that affect the region.
The hour has arrived to begin to occupy us of the global health of the nature seriously, because also our health is in danger by virtue of our condition of inseparable threads of the nature’s weft. It’s time to re-examine the premises of development: today more than ever it has been made evident that without the ecology the economy does not have future.
*Professor of University of Carabobo, Venezuela