The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Nuclear Power in Singapore.

Are we, I wonder, being prepared to accept nuclear power, in Singapore? I ask because some of the members of Singapore's Ministry of Trade and Industry's International Advisory Panel on Energy are pro-nuclear power, in the city state.

Dr. John Deutch of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) thinks that "Nuclear power should not be taken off the table, especially since it may become more prominent in the region." He does add that long-term costs, safety and waste management had to be studied.

I find this alarming. Firstly, I don't think Singapore should consider what the region is doing. If the region goes nuclear, let it - but I wouldn't advise that Singapore should follow their example. You see, Singapore is just too small for safe nuclear energy. Last year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was not feasible for densely populated, compact Singapore because it lacked the minimum 30km distance for evacuation in case of fallout. (Source: Today newspaper, 4th November 2008).

Think about that. There needs to be a minimum of 30km distance between people and the reactor to give some measure of safety in the event of an accident. The last time I looked almost nothing was 30 km away from anything else in Singapore - never mind 30 km away from EVERYONE.

I think Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had it right the first time: Singapore would not be safe with nuclear power. He should not be persuaded by bright eyed foreign academics who may be just looking at the upside, and overlooking the peculiar dangers of the Singaporean situation.

There is no such thing as 100% safety with any machine. There is always the possibility of a series of events leading to disaster. With nuclear power, a huge clear area is needed around the plant, to protect people from the consequences of a disaster. I think even 30km is being cautious - just look at the widespread devastation caused by the Chernobyl disaster (increased radioactivity was noted in the UK!)

If Singapore acquires nuclear power plants, one day there will be an accident. It might be in twenty years or a thousand - but one day, something will go wrong. When that happens, there will not be a Singapore left. Singapore will be uninhabitable. As for the people of Singapore - some of them could face death in the short-term from radiation poisoning - and many would face a slow death in the long-term from radiation induced cancers. All that Singapore has striven for will be at an end. Is it worth it? Aren't there other sources of electricity?

If Singapore had a hinterland in which one could place nuclear power stations comfortably far from human habitation, then they might be a viable option. Yet, the fact is that Singapore has no hinterland. Singapore is an overcrowded little dot. It cannot afford to take the "one in a million" chance that something will go wrong with a nuclear power station one day. You can acquire the "safest" designs and hire the "best" engineers - but one day, something could happen. Don't say that Chernobyl happened because the Russians don't know what they are doing - the Americans also had a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. If America can get it wrong, Singapore can too. It just isn't worth it.

If Singapore goes nuclear, I would certainly look for another location to live - for I, for one, would not take the risk of my family being caught near to a nuclear plant that went wrong, one day. In fact, maybe that is how this plan will work out. The nuclear power stations will move into our small island - and all the people will leave, creating the comfortable 30km exclusion zone required. Then Singapore can have all the power it wants, even if it hasn't got citizens willing to live near the stations in question.

Technological advocates like Dr. John Deutch often have too much faith in their machines. Such people often forget the times and consequences of when such machines fail. Nuclear power is for those with room to isolate it from major population centres. It is not something a wise nation places next to a major population centre. Not unless, of course, they don't value their people...

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:12 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What if one day PM tells us that it is a economic necessity to have nuclear plants in our backyard?

You can leave. Sad to say, most of us can't.

I have no confidence that our PM will keep his word and his beliefs, if indeed that was.

I am working towards sending my children elsewhere.

12:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If accidents can happen in Japan, it will happen anywhere.

But MM Lee is *not young* and the incoming President Obama is for clean green energy. As you are well aware, the leaders(trailers?) in SG have never had an orginal thought that wasn't thought of before by LKY or the American Leadership so there is hope.


1:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sometimes, these senior leaders know the limits of our island. They know it is impossible to go nuclear on this island. They know it is not practical.

Then, why this piece of news floated up out of the sudden.

Well, it provides distraction and let's our neighbours make some noise. Our old man has been used this trick for so many years.

Next trick up in the sleeve, please ...

5:23 PM  
Anonymous Krusty said...

never say never. nuclear power might come here if technology allows "high" safety standards, and fossil fuels dependence is unfeasible.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I dearly hope that you are wrong, Krusty. The consequences of a nuclear accident in a country as small as Singapore are mind-boggling. It could destroy the lives of the entire population, after all, dying of cancer is no fun at all.

There is no such thing as perfect safety where nuclear fission technology is concerned. The process of nuclear fission is inherently highly dangerous: much of the reactor is all about containment of that danger. Any failure of that protective system, means great danger to anyone for tens (hundreds?) of kilometres around it. It simply isn't funny what can happen when things go wrong. Look at what Chernobyl did: it created a radioactive wasteland.

No matter how "safe" the technology becomes, there is always the possibility of failure. Great nations have suffered nuclear accidents - nations far greater than Singapore. It is clear that Singapore would not be safe from such accidents too. Yet, the consequences for Singapore would be far greater than they were in vast Russia, or America. Those countries wouldn't notice losing a few thousand square kilometres of land to radioactivity: Singapore sure would.

The only safe nuclear power would be nuclear fusion: that is acceptable. However, it is not presently feasible. It is said it could take 50 years before it can be done commercially. Let Singapore not have nuclear power, until then.

7:47 PM  
Blogger John said...

Hi, just curious. How is Nuclear Fusion safer than fission?

12:35 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi John,

Nuclear fusion is inherently less hazardous than fission. The major byproduct of fusion is helium, which is completely harmless. There is some amount of tritium produced, and this must be contained, or at least its release must be controlled - but this is much less dangerous than fission products. The reactor itself will become radioactive in fusion - but the materials will be radioactive for only about 50 years, having low half-lives, compared to fission products. A fission reactor gone wrong can devastate an area for thousands of years.

So, fusion offers a safer deal than fission. I have seen no figures, however, on how big a clearance zone would be needed around such a plant.

However, fusion poses less of a problem for waste management given the short half-life of its products. That, in itself, is a great improvement.

The big problem with fusion is that no-one knows how to do it.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

There is another safety advantage of fusion reactors: they cannot undergo runaway or meltdown type events...unlike fission reactors - thus they are infinitely safer than fission reactors.

I hope that helps.

4:41 PM  
Anonymous charlie Hotel said...

There's always these babies:

3:45 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Charlie Hotel...for an absolutely crazy Japanese idea.

For those who haven't linked to site referred to, it speaks of micro Japanese nuclear reactors by Toshiba aimed to power apartment blocks and the like.

They claim it is safer than the usual reactor...but these things will produce a lot of radioactive waste, ultimately. I dread to think what would happen in an earthquake to a city filled with "micro" nuclear reactors. (They have started marketing them in of quakes).

It sounds like the Japanese have thought of another way to kill themselves (apart from living in a country destined for huge earthquakes).

What a worrying world.

4:16 PM  
Blogger MAxis said...

Hi, we have a current technology: Pebble Bed Modular Reactor. This is for sure suitable for singapore because the safety radius is ard 200mtres. i'm in the project of assess the feasibility of this. Might post some in future. :)

9:23 AM  

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