Thursday, 31 March 2011

VIDEO: WATER & SANITATION FOR ALL?

We were lucky to have some big names in water & sanitation at our Water & Sanitation Symposium last week. We asked them what the biggest barriers were for water & sanitation for all, and what will happen after the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals.

Here's Jon Lane, Executive Director of the Water Supply and Sanitation Council:



More videos, including views from India and South Africa, WaterAid and Practical Action: Water & Sanitation Symposium playlist

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Monday, 28 March 2011

DIVERSITY, DISTRIBUTION AND DEVELOPMENT THROUGH KNOWLEDGE, NETWORKS AND NATIONS

By Melissa Leach, STEPS Centre director

A new report by the Royal Society surveys the global scientific landscape in 2011, noting the shift to an increasingly multipolar world underpinned by the rise of new scientific powers such as China, India and Brazil. Melissa Leach was on the Advisory Group for the report.

The Royal Society’s new report Knowledge, Networks and Nations: Global scientific collaboration in the 21st Century shows how much and how fast patterns of science and knowledge production are changing. New players, both expected and unexpected, are emerging, while an increasing proportion of a growing scientific output depends on networks of collaboration within and between regions and across the world.

A key and welcome dimension of these changes is in contributing to greater diversity in science. As STEPS Centre colleagues and I have elaborated, this is essential to tackling complex global challenges like energy or food security, where no single line of inquiry or technological solution will do: we will surely need multiple pathways, fed by multiple sciences produced in diverse places. Such diversity is also vital to understanding how global issues like climate change or disease pandemics unfold in particular local contexts, and to finding solutions that are attuned to particular conditions and needs as they vary around the world.

Diversity is nowhere more important than in addressing the development problems of the economically poorest countries and people, including in Africa – and to issues of poverty and distribution. African countries do not yet figure in the global top ten of scientific nations, as measured either by numbers of publications or their citations. Yet the report shows that many of them are expanding their investments in science too, especially in areas like health and agriculture which are central to addressing national and local development needs.

Uganda, for example, produced 116 scientific papers in 1996 but 477 in 2008; a huge expansion, albeit from a low baseline. African Ministers have declared 2011 the start of a decade for African science, with a national investment target of 1% of GDP. African countries are also collaborating more extensively, both within the continent – with South Africa intensifying its position as a hub of knowledge networks on the continent - but also with Europe and the US, while a new science and technology partnership established with China in 2009 suggests that science may become a growing element of intensifying China-Africa relations. But who is setting the terms of such collaboration, and how can we be sure that it genuinely meets the development perspectives and priorities of people in Africa, including those who are poor and marginalised?

The report did not set out to address questions of politics and governance in science, yet these will clearly be crucial. So too is capacity-building. As the report notes, this is important to enable poorer developing countries and their scientists to benefit from, draw on and apply global scientific knowledge, and to be in a position to collaborate. At the same time, collaboration can also build capacity, as scientists from European and African university or government institutions, for instance, work together and learn from each others’ respective skills and experiences.

I would add that capacity development also needs to address power relations, to enable poorer countries and localities to collaborate on more equal terms: for African scientists, for instance, to set agendas in collaborations and gear these to local views of what is scientifically interesting or important - rather than collaborating out of funding need in agendas framed by others.

Addressing global challenges such as those highlighted in the report, as well as their local manifestations, can often benefit from combining ‘natural knowledge’ with social, economic or political science, as well as with forms of local knowledge – farmers’ science, citizen science. The publication data that the report used, from Elsevier’s Scopus database, does cover social sciences and humanities – although these accounted for only 8.9% of articles considered. An interesting further analysis might explore the relationship between patterns of global collaboration and patterns of multi- and inter-disciplinarity, asking which scientists where are linking with others not just to combine perspectives within disciplines, but across them.

Significantly, though the data do not cover a large range of sources outside peer-reviewed articles in international journals where these vital strands of science-related knowledge might be found: local and regional peer-reviewed journals, grey literature, project and NGO reports; practitioner newsletters, online networks that link farmers, citizens and local innovators, and local language publications. 18% of the Scopus papers covered are not in English, but this is the tip of a large iceberg of local language publication. The knowledge found in this array of sources often meets standards of scientific rigour and is an important part of the global picture – yet one that remained uncaptured by the report’s methodology.

More effective means and metrics for capturing these contributions to the growing global scientific field are clearly needed. In turn, this should lead to better assessment of – and potentially action to stimulate – investments and collaborations in science geared to development goals.

Links

>>Royal Society: Knowledge, Networks and Nations
>> Download the 'Knowledge, Networks and Nations' report (PDF)
>> STEPS Centre: A New Manifesto
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Monday, 21 March 2011

WATER & SANITATION FOR ALL IS ELUSIVE, BUT ACHIEVABLE

Here's another guest post on water and sanitation, on the eve of our Symposium on that subject. Barbara Frost is Chief Executive of Water Aid, a charity dedicated to the provision of safe domestic water, sanitation and hygiene education to the world's poorest people.

A great deal has been achieved since the first UN International Decade of Water Supply and Sanitation (1980-1990). But the goal of water and sanitation for all remains elusive, particularly for the world’s poorest countries and communities. Almost 900 million people are without safe drinking water, while a staggering 2.6 billion have nowhere to go to the toilet. The forthcoming STEPS Symposium provides a valuable opportunity to reflect with others on the journey so far and to consider what we have learned as we look forward to Rio+20 and the post 2015 MDG framework.

The Symposium organisers rightly identify the New Delhi Statement of 1990 as a seminal moment in the journey. There have been many such statements over the past 30 years, too many in fact, but it was the Delhi statement that enshrined the principle of ‘some for all rather than more for some’. This principle of equity is fundamental to WaterAid’s own work but unfortunately it has been somewhat eroded in subsequent international agreements. The Dublin principles of 1992, for example, placed much greater emphasis on water as an economic good rather than a social good; and the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 focused on reducing only the proportion of the population without access. The MDG Review Summit in September last year highlighted the need for a much stronger emphasis on equity going forward, so in some ways we have come full circle, but unless it is front and centre of the post-2015 MDG framework, poor and marginalised groups will continue to miss out.

So what else have we learned, and where next? The Delhi statement called for an integrated approach to environment and health, yet sanitation continues to be neglected by national governments and donor agencies alike. WaterAid’s own experience on the ground shows that the enduring challenge is not just how to provide infrastructure, but also how to promote uptake and use of facilities. This is an area where health professionals have a strong track record. Close collaboration with the health sector will be key to accelerating progress on sanitation.

The Delhi statement emphasised participation and the central role of women. WaterAid has long promoted the inclusion of women in decision making related to water and sanitation services, and we are increasingly focusing our attention on other groups excluded or marginalised on the basis of factors such as age, disability, ethnicity or HIV status. We should take some encouragement from the fact that mothers and children are increasingly central to the mainstream development agenda; but emerging strategies for improving nutrition, maternal and child health frequently overlook the critical importance of access to sanitation and water.

The Delhi principle of ‘some for all rather than more for some’ was based on the idea that access to services could be greatly expanded through the use of lower cost technologies managed at community level. This is very much in line WaterAid’s own thinking: our approach has always involved working closely with local authorities in order to support communities to manage services on a sustainable and equitable basis. Unfortunately, in many cases the pendulum has swung too far, with governments disengaging completely and communities left to their own devices. Addressing some of the myths which have grown up around community management will be key to tackling the emerging crisis of sustainability and ensuring lasting benefits from improved in access to water and sanitation.

Open debate around technical and financial aspects of managing water and delivering services remains crucial, but the intervening years since the Delhi statement have highlighted the fact that providing sanitation and water for all is fundamentally a political challenge. WaterAid and partners have made significant progress over the years in raising awareness and demand among communities for improved services, but this alone is not enough. That we are currently so far off track for the sanitation MDG is arguably not due to a lack of demand or lack of technological knowhow, but rather due to political failure to tackle the issue.

It is for this reason that WaterAid has been a strong supporter to the Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) initiative, which seeks to engage politicians at the highest level. The inaugural High Level Meeting in April 2010 was the first time that Ministers of Finance from developing countries had come together with external donors to discuss water and sanitation issues. As such, it marked an important milestone in the development of the sector. In addition to galvanising political will at different levels, SWA provides a forum whereby governments and donors can be held accountable for fulfilling the many political and financial commitments they make. Increasing transparency and accountability for results within the sector is a key challenge going forward and is an essential precondition for monitoring progress towards realisation of the Human Right to Water and Sanitation agreed by the UN General Assembly last year.

We have come a long way in the past 30 years, but there remain many challenges ahead. WaterAid believes that the vision of Sanitation and Water for All is achievable by combining innovative on-the-ground programming with targeted advocacy and campaigning at local, national and international levels. The STEPS Symposium provides a valuable opportunity to reflect and build consensus on next steps.

Other water & sanitation guest posts

>> Gourisankar Ghosh: Rethinking water
>> Erik Swyngedouw: Thinking out of the water box

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RETHINKING WATER

Our second guest blog for the STEPS Water Symposium is by Gourisankar Ghosh. Gourisankar is the CEO of FXB India Suraksha, a non profit company working for the vulnerable children affected or infected with HIV AIDS. Till recently he was the Executive Director of Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) at the World Health Organisation. He was the plenary keynote speaker on sanitation in the WSSD, Johannesburg and subsequently a member of the UN MDG Task force on water and sanitation. He was the founder director of the National Drinking Water Mission, India (1986-1991), and the main organiser on behalf of the Indian government for the New Delhi Consultation in 1990, when he also chaired the drafting committee of the New Delhi statement.

More than three decades have passed since the beginning of the first International Water Decade in 1980. This is a time for reflection and to evaluate where we stand. The past 30 years have seen a large number of international conferences, regular World Water Fora, and a mushrooming of initiatives from international agencies. What are the lessons from the way water has been handled over that time?

Sad to say, the collective action on water which came out of the International Water Decade has now almost disappeared in the international development scene. All the major international agencies try to pursue their own goals without a collective effort or common messages. In spite of many discussions, there is no common road map shared by agencies competing to capture donor funds for their programmes. International efforts have moved away from research, new innovations, and investment in technology. For more than three decades, the same methodology has been pursued by the different lead agencies without any tangible result on the ground.

The success of the first decade was in its agreed focus on finding low-cost solutions and technologies; the application of these at grassroots level through community frameworks; and a collective effort between the private and public sector to find solutions. Since that decade, the focus on technology has almost disappeared - yet therein lies the main tool and empowerment for the poor and powerless. Development and marketing of hand pumps was a wonderful effort of private-public partnership. Hand pumps helped to eradicate the guinea worm. They also, for example, empowered tribal women in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan in India to be “cycle army” volunteers; the KWAHO women of Kenya took their solution in their own hands; and in the Philippines, slum dwellers introduced improved sanitation in remote districts. But what happened to the numerous case studies as collected at a very high cost by the agencies - and how much have they helped to transform the policies in the respective countries? Do agencies need to change their own policies first before they start preaching to poor countries?

These question should be answered from the donor end. Are these lead agencies perfect or perfect enough to lead for the tasks given to them by the many UN resolutions? Are they competent enough to face the new challenges of maintaining growth with equity? Can they conserve the environment without the harsh impact of the degradation due to over exploitation due to increasing demand for growth? Have they answered the basic questions (which remained unanswered at the end of the 1980s) on financial and institutional models? What will be the exact roles of the private sector, and how can scarce water resources still be treated as a national resource? How can we mobilize extra finance in an imperfect market with high risk factors?

The water market is imperfect. The capacities of the lead agencies are further imperfect. The time has come to open the door to a much active role for academic and research institutions. In the future, private commerce, business enterprises and associations, local bodies and civic society must play a major role in decision-making and in protecting the interests of poor consumers. More research and models are required, and support is needed for financing, institutional reforms and decentralization. There is no alternative to a clear National Water Policy and Action Plan.

Water is life: sanitation is a means to life too, and back then in Delhi, the importance of education and youth and environmental principles were recognised. The issue of integrated water resource management was highlighted first in the New Delhi Statement in 1990. The only solution now is to create a mass movement for conservation of water sources and ecosystems, and an improved immediate environment and protection of this scarce resource for the poor.

Water has a wide influence in the spectrum of development. Neglecting it will not only jeopardize people’s health, but also economic growth. While the demand for water is ever increasing, supply is limited. The real challenge will be to sustain the ever-growing urban centres, to develop pollution-free disposal of industrial waste, to manage the solid and liquid waste in large habitats, and to preserve river basins. The more pollution there is, the greater the cost for its treatment.

We need a complete rethink to reorganize action and look for new technologies. Unfortunately, those working on water remain isolated and end up largely talking to each other. We never see any finance, health or social leaders at the big water events or conferences. So we need to open up the sector and make water a central development issue. It is also time to learn lessons from the reforms in the power and forestry sector. Domestic water supply cannot be in isolation from water for agriculture or water for industrial development. If we want real and lasting change, water needs to move beyond its traditional boundaries.

Other Water Symposium blogs


>> Erik Swyngedouw: Thinking out of the water box
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FILM: "WATER AND JUSTICE" OUT NOW

Our new film, "Water and Justice: Peri-urban pathways in Delhi", tells the story of three people and their relationship with water in the towns and villages on the edge of the city.



The film draws on our research into water in peri-urban Delhi.

>> STEPS Centre: Films
>> "Water and Justice" on Facebook

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Thursday, 17 March 2011

THINKING OUT OF THE WATER BOX

We're delighted to feature this guest post by Erik Swyngedouw, Professor of Geography at the University of Manchester. This is the first of a series of blog posts by speakers at our Water Symposium next week.

Recent experiences with water privatization experiments have shown that turning water services into profitable and socially acceptable businesses is not an easy task. And demands for full-cost recovery of water-related activities reduce the possibilities for cross-financing and cross-subsidization.

The very term full-cost recovery is an oxymoron. It is self-evident that all investment project costs need to be recovered by someone somewhere. The key question is really a political one – that is, who will be responsible for the recovery of what kind of costs.

When full-cost recovery is discussed in the context of water projects, it invariably refers to the view that water projects should be self-sufficient (i.e. that the cost of investment should be met fully through water rates – that cost recovery is organized via water consumers). This limits the possibilities of cross-subsidization to managing the tariff structure of water delivery in a redistributive manner. This, in turn, precludes the financing of projects from local, regional or national tax revenues or, through development aid, from tax revenues raised elsewhere. However, this has been the only way through which successful development of large-scale water works was achieved in the past in the global North, particularly in terms of solving the contradiction between the collective character of the system and the private organization of its management.

There is no evidence that this will be any different in the developing world. Mobilizing tax revenues permits mobilizing resources obtained from elsewhere or from other activities into collectively more desirable ones. Therefore, the narrow definition of full-cost recovery needs to be replaced by a much wider social and political-economic understanding – one that permits systemic forms of redistribution of financial resources.

In sum, questions of investment in collective commodities such as water are never independent of the question of (re)distribution. To the extent that the water economy is publicly or privately organized (or a mixture of both), these modalities of redistribution will be organized differently.

The pivotal social and political struggles for the years to come will exactly revolve around the modalities of subsidization. In other words, the struggle over mediating the tension between providing bundled territorialized and socialized hydro-social networks, on the one hand, and the private appropriation of surplus value, on the other, will be the pivot around which the social struggle over the construction of hydro-social infrastructure and access to water will be fought. While the private sector effectively claims that private-sector participation will be dependent upon public financial support, there is increasing pressure on public institutions to sustain private-sector investment by means of significant public financial support.

While we have argued above that uneven access to water is primarily a question of economic or monetary power, achieving the Millennium Development Goals for water necessarily implies a major redistribution of capital resources. Guaranteeing access to clean and safe water requires the transfer of considerable amounts of investment capital whose return will have to be carried by the more wealthy sections of the world’s population. This is independent of the question of whether the actual management of water supply and delivery should be publicly or privately organized. The latter question is one of efficient management. Around the world, both public and private (or mixed) companies have proven that they can be effective and efficient. However, the public–private debate should not overshadow (as it has done over the past decades) the question of the origin of the required investments to secure access to water. The private sector, because of the structural requirement for a normal return (profit) on investment, cannot guarantee access to water to social groups with insufficient effective buying power (or, in some cases, willingness to pay) or investment in projects of an uncertain return. The only strategy that can offer a mass solution is one based on subsidies and, thus, on redistribution of capital and income. Moreover, a public organization of investment and of distribution permits considering a much wider range of technological, organization and managerial options.

The key issue, therefore, is not about whether or not water is (or should be) a commodity or commoditized. Water is a commodity to the extent that delivering the right volume of water of the right quality to the right place requires major investments of capital and labour, and these have to be made available and paid for. The central concern is who will pay for what part of the hydro-social circulation process. Adequate and reliable access of water for those who lack access will require a major transfer ofcapital and systematic and sustained cross-subsidization. It is exactly the recognition of water as a commodity that permits effective cross-subsidization. However, the question of subsidization is necessarily a political one that needs to be addressed at local, national and transnational levels. Cross-subsidization of investment requires embedding issues of water access and distribution within appropriate institutional frameworks that discuss, democratically and openly, such questions of distribution. In fact, in the same way as a decision to privatize or ring-fence water services (and to insist on its full-cost recovery) is a political one, so are issues of cross-subsidization. Indeed, if the above argument is correct, then the question of who decides on both investment and distribution becomes an eminently political question, and one that relates directly to issues of democracy and of the distribution of political power.

In conclusion: private-sector participation in the water sector remains limited and the prospects for future private-sector investment rather dim. This leaves no other alternative than public financing to cover the bulk of the required investment. It would be a mirage to believe that the MDGs can be achieved on the basis of massively increased private sector investment in the water sector. It has not happened in the recent past despite great pressure on all actors. The results of the existing experiments are mixed, to say the least, and the prospects for enhanced investment in context of total privatization are not promising. Equally, the call from alternative ‘people’s non-governmental organizations (NGOs)’ to improve water access by improving local-level stakeholder participation and citizen’s involvement can easily prove to be a mirage, too, as a solution for solving the socio-hydraulic problems of the world’s big cities. Without massively enhanced national and international public support, the MDGs will remain an empty promise.

STEPS Centre Water Symposium 2011: event details

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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

JAPAN: NEGLECTED NUCLEAR LESSONS


Photo: Screen capture from video of an explosion at the Fukushima Daichi plant in Japan (Reuters)

By Andy Stirling, STEPS Centre co-director

What lessons can be learned from the tragic calamity in Japan, for global debates about nuclear power? With the situation still unfolding, it is too early and uncertain to conclude with any confidence. Indeed, it is somewhat distastefully self-absorbed even to begin to adopt such a narrow sectoral focus, at a time of such continuing and unresolved suffering for so many people. Yet it is questions over the general fate of nuclear power that seem to be commanding premature and parochial attention in much international news media and political debate. With defensive reflexes already in danger of ‘locking in’, the issues are worth considering quite carefully even at this early stage.

One thing is for sure: there are no resounding new revelations over the vulnerability of nuclear power to unforeseen levels of severity in specific natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. This we knew already. It is to the credit of Japanese nuclear engineering, that Japan routinely adopted a series of additional safeguards of a kind that are typically excluded in nuclear construction elsewhere. In this respect, the lesson is very general: no matter how stringent the precaution, there is always the possibility of surprise. This applies not only in Japan, but also in less earthquake-prone regions, especially where assumptions about the likely magnitudes of storm surges or sea level rise are relatively relaxed. It is not just Japan that has learned lessons about the prospect of events occurring beyond the levels anticipated in official risk assessments. It has long been clear that risk assessment everywhere, systematically excludes many kinds of possible eventuality. There are many other scenarios that can be imagined apart from unusually severe earthquakes, that can lead to the catastrophic combinations of abrupt loss of connection to the grid, coupled with damage to vulnerable auxiliary power supplies (which are often located outside protective structures). It is implicit, for instance, in all four of the UK Government’s ‘top tier’ security threats, that some such scenarios may even be thought more likely in the UK than Japan.

Nor, then, is there any surprising new lesson about nuclear power’s general vulnerability to other kinds of catastrophic accident. This also has long been well known – and well exemplified. It seems recently to have become unfashionable to mention in ‘polite’ policy debates, the relevance of the successive nuclear shocks at Three Mile Island in 1979 and Chernobyl in 1986. Yet features of these events were routinely and assertively declared “impossible” (or of “negligible likelihood”) in ostensibly-rational tones before these accidents actually occurred. After the fact, various kinds of received wisdoms emerged concerning the supposedly “unique circumstances” in each case. But it is worth noting that these claims are all instances of ‘wisdom in hindsight’. The Chernobyl RBMK reactor, for instance, was (before the 1986 accident) even the subject of praise over its potential safety features. And the now often-cited supposedly distinctive safety shortcomings of the RBMK are not as unique as frequently claimed. In fact, neither the notorious ‘positive void coefficient’ (which accelerates, rather than slows down, nuclear reactions after shutdown), nor the lack of secondary containment – two things that were implicated in that disaster – are exclusive to that reactor design. And whatever their mistakes, the Soviet operators twenty five years ago held no monopoly on the capacity for human error. No doubt we can in due course expect similar post hoc exaggerations of supposedly unique Japanese circumstances. Either way, it seems to be assumed that present-day assurances by the nuclear industry on the completeness of risk assessment carry greater weight than the demonstrably self-interested bias and errors of the past. Our vulnerability to such assumptions has long been obvious.

Beyond these familiar issues, there is one striking general lesson that is already arising in current events: the pressures on the media to adopt a narrative of reassurance. With a grim responsibility for preventing the consequences of panic in an already traumatised population, it might at least be understood (if not condoned) that the Japanese Government be circumspect in its readiness to acknowledge the full gravity of the possibilities now faced. But there is no such excuse for media commentators on other continents, many of whom seem explicitly to see their principal responsibility to lie in ‘reassuring’ what is clearly feared to be an inconveniently-sceptical public. Respected institutions that should know better, are allowing their names to be used by individuals who (presented as objective ‘nuclear experts’), are sometimes acting as little more than PR platforms for the partisan interests of a newly-beleaguered nuclear industry.

Uncertainties notwithstanding, this ‘expert’ attention repeatedly takes the form of biased and incomplete understatements of the severity of the present situation and of future possibilities. Manifest hazards such as highly radioactive plumes are qualified as only “potentially” dangerous (as if danger is not always ‘potential’). The seriousness of structural damage by hydrogen explosions is understated as if only a minor encumbrance. Obvious exacerbating factors, like the vulnerable positions of irradiated fuel ponds, remain systematically neglected until realised. Expediently contrived forms of words are concocted disingenuously to confound outcomes like ‘containment failure’, ‘pressure vessel breach’, ‘nuclear explosion’, ‘fuel melt’ and ‘meltdown’. A “main message” is continually referred to – and repeatedly refuted by successive further escalations in unfolding events – that the emergency is likely to be imminently resolved. Contrasting safety features of current reactor designs elsewhere are misleadingly exaggerated. The effect is consistently to imply – and even explicitly assert – that eminently possible severities of consequences, are somehow “impossible”.

The overall effect of much of this ‘expert’ media commentary is one of sustained suppression of plausible (and highly relevant) worst case possibilities – as if blinkered denial is somehow synonymous with well-informed responsible rationality. Perhaps even more incongruously, opportunities are sometimes taken (without prompting or substantiation), gratuitously to denigrate alternative energy technologies. Reference is made to significant Chinese nuclear construction rates, without mentioning the even larger investments of that country in, say, wind energy. It is difficult to imagine a more corrosively partisan position than the monotonously-implied counsel of despair: that there somehow exists “no alternative” to nuclear power.

So the most serious lesson already emerging outside Japan is about the pressures, driven by established nuclear commitments, to obscure information; compromise objectivity; and suppress political choice about energy futures. We may live in hope that there will come a time when more comprehensive and dispassionate attention will be given to the full global potential of viable alternatives to nuclear power. Many of these are manifestly more resilient in the face of technical mishap, natural disaster or deliberate acts of violence. Distributed renewable energy infrastructures, for instance, offer a way to avoid huge regulation-enforced losses of electricity-generating capacity when a series of similar plants have to be closed due to safety failings in any one. They minimise the compounding economic impacts of the knock-on self-destruction of massively expensive capital equipment, some time after an initial shock. They do not threaten to exacerbate natural disaster with forced precautionary evacuations of large tracts of urban industrial areas. And there is no scenario at all – unlikely or otherwise – under which they can render significant areas of land effectively uninhabitable for decades, let alone commit large populations to the potential long-term (and untraceable) harm of elevated low doses of ionising radiation. Although apparently more muted in much politics and the media, it is already the case that global industrial momentum behind renewable energy development significantly exceeds that in support of nuclear. The worldwide potential presented by these technologies is far larger than that envisaged in current nuclear programmes. With political will, the possible timescales are more favourable. And the commercial, industrial, employment and economic benefits that these renewable technologies offer is at least the equal of anything promised by nuclear.

These are the lessons that we may hope to learn in time – and set alongside other relevant considerations. But now is the moment for solidarity and support in the face of the terrible conjunction of natural catastrophe and a threatened – but uncertain – nuclear disaster currently unfolding in Japan. In the end, the most important long term cause for hope on energy is the same elsewhere in the world as it is in Japan. If we are allowed to exercise it, we certainly have the choice.

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