Blair backs a nuclear (and more dangerous) future

Posted by bex — 17 May 2006 at 8:00am - Comments
Three Mile Island nuclear power plant at sunrise, USA

Tony Blair has announced that nuclear power is now "back on the agenda with a vengeance".

Speaking at a CBI dinner last night, Blair made his strongest admission yet that the Energy Review is a smokescreen for a decision that has already been taken: to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Stephen Tindale, Executive Director of Greenpeace UK, called the announcement "the latest act in the long running farce that is the Energy Review".

Repeating claims made by the nuclear industry its recent PR campaign, Tony Blair positioned nuclear power as part of the solution to climate change and the UK's energy gap. But the claims are disingenuous. Building 10 new nuclear reactors would only deliver a 4 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2024, even at the most optimistic build rate: far too little, too late to help combat climate change.

And nuclear power can't bridge the energy gap. As it only produces electricity, it can only marginally deal with our need for the services that are mainly derived from gas: hot water, central heating and cooling. In fact, its overall contribution to total UK energy demand is tiny - only 3.6 per cent.

"Nuclear power presents a real terrorist threat, costs a stupid amount of money, doesn't help in the fight against climate change and certainly won't plug the energy gap. To put this hazard back on the agenda is recklessly incompetent," says Stephen Tindale.

But there is a proven solution to energy security and climate change - and it is not only cleaner, safer and more secure than nuclear power, it is also enormously cheaper.

Nuclear power, like coal, oil and gas, relies on an antiquated energy model that is the largest single contributor to climate change in the UK, wasting two thirds of all the energy put into it. The heat lost through the chimneys of the UK's power stations is enough to meet all of the UK's building and water heating needs.

By producing electricity near to where it is used, waste heat can be captured and used to heat local buildings. This decentralised model -- already common in Europe -- is far less vulnerable to massive failure or attack than nuclear power, as it relies on diverse, renewable energy supplies. And it works - Woking Borough Council has reduced emissions by 77 per cent by decentralising its energy.

A Greenpeace report comparing nuclear and decentralised scenarios for the UK found that a decentralised energy scenario would be:

1. £1 billion cheaper than a nuclear scenario -- even excluding the cost of managing nuclear waste;

2. Cleaner than nuclear, with 17 per cent lower carbon emissions;

3. More secure than nuclear - UK gas consumption would be 14 per cent lower than in the nuclear scenario.

The announcement comes days after the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management recommended that existing nuclear waste should be buried in the ground, putting water sources and food supplies at risk of contamination.

"If we don't take these long-term decisions now," Blair told the CBI, "we will be committing a serious dereliction of our duty to the future of this country."

Blair wants to quadruple the amounts of the UK's most highly radioactive waste by building a new generation of nuclear power stations. It takes over a million years for nuclear waste to become safe: a time span equivalent to the evolution of modern man.

Is this Blair's idea of a legacy to the nation?

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