No nukes is good nukes
Something has to be done about climate change, nuclear power is something therefore nuclear power will solve our climate change problems. Umm.... or not.
What's been interesting in the whole nuclear debate of the last few years has been the way that mainstream politicians that were always for nuclear power have seized on the climate change arguments as a lever to get their way.
Just as we went into the first world war to defend poor little Belgium rather than defend British Imperial power Blair and co have seized on the best parts of people's ideas in order to push their agenda.
Myths about nuclear power
Going nuclear cuts CO2 emissions.
Well firstly power production is only responsible for a minority of CO2 production so there are no solutions that don't involve tackling transportation, industry and waste.
But the main problem with this idea is that nuclear power does not produce green house gasses. As Caroline Lucas (Green MEP) said “Nuclear power is not emissions-free – and relies on ever-scarcer supplies of uranium ore, found only in some of the most politically unstable countries in the world,”
The fact that uranium is not found in unlimited supply does not just mean this solution is temporary, there is a big issue around the declining quality of uranium ore. As less uranium is found per ton of mined material the amount of energy put into extraction increases and increases and increases. The level of pollution that this kind of high intensity, low yield mining produces is set to increase from an already unacceptably high level.
At the current level of extraction there is around 80 to 100 years worth of viably obtainable uranium. If we up uranium production just for the UK (and presumably any solution to climate change needs to be more than just a local answer) the fuel for nuclear reactors could have run out soon enough anyway. We'll have produced a vast amount of waste that we can't deal with for a temporary stop gap solution.
But nuclear is cleaner at the point of production
Whilst a wind farm falling over might create some damage I suppose a nuclear power plant accident (or sabotage) could have catastrophic environmental consequences in a way that no other form of energy production could have, but for today let's leave aside the risk of explosions.
Nuclear waste will be with us for many many generations and nobody has the faintest idea of how to deal with it. If this new generation of plants goes ahead it will mean literally hundred of sites around the country where the nuclear industry will, basically, dig a big hole and chuck the waste in - then concrete over it.
This is completely irresponsible. Green organisations have consistently stated that the waste should be kept on site in secure containers and research done into how to dispose or convert this waste responsibly. By dumping the waste in holes in the ground or, worse, at sea the industry is essentially washing its hands of the toxic problems it is creating.
Whilst these containers may or may not be secure for a long period of time - no one can say they will be secure in a thousand years. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, stated that "If the prime minister is looking for a lasting legacy, then perhaps there is none more durable than nuclear waste. Which leader from history can say that people some 100,000 years after he was gone still lived in fear of his rule?"
We have to act fast to reduce emissions
Yes we do. Building nuclear power plants takes years, even if these plans went through without a hitch its unlikely they would beginning producing power before 2020. Meanwhile we could have invested in renewable energies and begun producing power in a fraction of the time.
The UK needs energy security
This is one of the newest arguments and, in a world where energy has become one the biggest political issues, has some credence. But does nuclear energy produce energy security? Last time I looked there are no uranium mines in the UK and as Tony Juniper said nuclear power is "a choice based on imported French or US technology, when we have dozens of UK companies waiting for government to signal that it is truly in favour of sustainable energy"
There is an obvious way to gain energy independence - renewable energies - wind, water and sun are all found, in differing quantities in the UK.
Nuclear power is cheaper than renewables
In 2004, the government subsidised nuclear technologies to tune of £57.8 million and only £19 million on renewable sources (See www.dti.gov.uk/expenditureplan/report2004). So for the tax payer nuclear is more expensive not less - but these figures hide the fact that investment in renewable technologies is actually increasing whilst nuclear power has been heavily subsidised for more than half a century. With a modest increase in investment in the technologies lying behind renewable energy productivity would be massively increased, particularly if this investment is spread across a broad range of renewable options.
With an economy of scale the UK could produce, and export, renewable energy technologies at a far reduced cost if only there was the political will to do so.
Nuclear power? No thanks
By pre-empting the energy review Blair has not simply been a bit impatient he showed that he was never going to listen to what this review found. It's also possible he is jumping in now before he gets pushed off the top spot.
The fact is by focusing on nuclear power as the solution to climate change New Labour is being criminally irresponsible. We need to look at energy consumption, the behaviour of industry, our transport networks and a whole host of areas where we can cut the environmental damage we are creating often by increasing the quality of life, let alone risking decreasing it.
Kate Hudson, Chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, said, “Tony Blair must know that nuclear power does not make economic or environmental sense, and that it will do nothing to solve climate change. It is incomprehensible that he accepts the spin of the nuclear industry and comes to the conclusion that the UK needs more nuclear power. Any decision on nuclear power must come as the result of a full public parliamentary debate. Nuclear power is money down the drain that is going to produce major environmental and health hazards without solving the climate change issue.”
Caroline Lucas adds
“Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive – and doesn’t provide a
solution to either climate change or the end of oil. It produces a deadly legacy of nuclear waste which we still don’t know how to deal with – and creates a devastating target for terrorists."
“To cap it all, nuclear power is completely unnecessary – even a doubling of nuclear capacity could only cut our greenhouse gas emissions by eight per cent, according to the Sustainable Development Commission. As they, and so many others, have argued, we need a massive investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency if we are to achieve the necessary CO2 cuts to stave off climate disaster.”
Even the Liberal Democrats oppose these new proposals. Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne MP said "Not only does nuclear cause a great threat to the environment through the large amounts of waste produced, but it is also economically unviable. The Government intends to use private investment to fulfil our future energy needs. However, since the Chernobyl disaster, no nuclear power station has been built anywhere in the world without huge amounts of government subsidy. The Government should instead spend this money on the development of genuinely sustainable technologies."
It is imperative that we do not allow real concerns over climate change or long term energy security to take down a cul-de-sac that does not solve any problems and creates a legacy that future generations may not be around to forgive us for. We need a new industrial revolution - one that tackles the vested interests of the multi-nationals in order to save the world.
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