Ditch the dodgy nukes!

Posted by bex — 8 November 2005 at 9:00am - Comments
Solar panels beside Sizewell B Nuclear Plant

Solar panels beside Sizewell B Nuclear Plant

Prime Minister Tony Blair needs to get his facts straight - nuclear power is not a sustainable energy source.

At the Labour party conference in September 2005, Mr Blair talked about "building on Britain's Kyoto commitments", and looking at all options for 'sustainable' energy - "including civil nuclear power". The UK is not currently on track to meet its carbon emission targets, with CO2 emissions increasing in the last two years. Tony Blair has found himself in a vulnerable and unenviable position, desperately seeking a solution. The nuclear industry's lobbyists, equally desperate to revive their dying trade, have found rich pickings in Prime Minister's situation. Blair seems to have desperately seized upon nuclear power as the default solution - not because it's environmentally acceptable or economically sound, but merely because it exists.

The chief executive of British Energy, Bill Coley - who should know better - followed up the Labour conference by saying that "Tony Blair must give the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations by the end of next year if the government is to meet its climate-change targets and safeguard security of supply."

By October, the nuclear lobby seem to have had their feet firmly in the door of Number 10 Downing Street - energy minister Malcolm Wicks, was telling the Guardian that the "government is preparing to win the 'hearts and minds' of MPs and the public over new nuclear power stations." It appears the government have now seized on nuclear power as their safety net for Kyoto failures, and is even using it for some extremely dodgy political manoeuvring. John McTernan - Blair's director of political operations - has apparently suggested to colleagues that building a new nuclear power station at Dounreay in Scotland would be an aggressive method of undermining local Liberal Democrat colleagues - who are campaigning for a shift away from nuclear towards wind and wave power.

Yet, at the recent follow up meeting in London to the G8 summit earlier this year , Blair seemed determined to shy away from greenhouse emission commitments by siding with big business. In a speech to environment and energy ministers, Blair said that legally binding targets to reduce pollution made people "very nervous and very worried".

Interestingly, Mr Blair didn't identify these nervous folk, or mention how many of them exist. However, it's fair to say that there are plenty of people "very nervous and very worried" about the effects of climate change, and the government's apathy towards Kyoto Protocol targets - and the fact that Blair's speech signals a government movement away from its Kyoto commitments.

The idea of nuclear power as a 'clean' or 'sustainable' method of generating power smacks of a lack of imagination - and of political lobbying by a nuclear industry in decline. It argues that nuclear power can help cut carbon emissions - but the figures on this just don't add up.

To make any serious impact on climate change in the UK, we need to reduce carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and 60% by 2050. Yet even if the UK were to replace all 23 of its operating reactors (creating huge amounts of spent fuel and costing the taxpayer billions in public subsidies in the process, a mere 10% reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions would be achieved - and that's not taking into account the environmental costs of building and later decommissioning the plants. Research carried out for the European Union found that the whole cycle of nuclear generation would produce around 50% more greenhouse gas emissions than wind power.

The real solution to both securing our energy supply and meeting our carbon targets is not simply to find more energy, it's to make the most of the energy we already have. Nuclear power stations are fundamental elements of an outdated, inefficient, centralised electricity system put in place almost a century ago and has barely changed since. Of every unit of energy put into a coal or nuclear power station, only one-fifth is actually turned into usable electricity. Most is lost in the form of heat, and some is lost when transporting it along the wires, while the rest through inefficient appliances. By decentralizing the system and locating small-scale stations powered by renewable sources, we can make the most of our primary energy sources. Power is not lost through transmission, the heat can be captured and used for heating, and individuals can become engaged in taking responsibility for their own energy use by giving them the chance to generate as well as consume energy.

Be in no doubt - the renewable potential in the UK is vast. The potential for wind power alone is nine times our energy needs - and it takes less than a year to build an offshore wind farm. It would be 2018 before a new nuclear station could be built. Tidal, wave, solar and biomass technologies are in constant development, and a diverse renewable energy industry is emerging. Combined with the possible 30% energy reductions in energy demand identified by a recent government Energy Review, these innovations alone negate the need of nuclear power stations.

There's a finite amount of money available for government and private investment into developing electricity generation systems. Investment in renewable energy depends on government involvement. Competition with a heavily subsidised nuclear industry would seriously undermine both the future of renewable energy as well as economic growth in the energy sector.

Then of course, there's the most obvious issue - safety. Nuclear power atoms are no different to the atoms used in nuclear weapons and dirty bombs. As terrorist targets, nuclear power stations are expensive, polluting sitting ducks - static time bombs.

Renewable energy installations are flexible, cheap to construct and pose no terrorist or proliferation threat. So come on Mr Blair - show some real courage on climate change - ditch the expensive, dangerous dodgy nukes, and embrace realistic energy development - renewable energy and a decentralized grid that helps us make the most or our vast resources.

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