Friday, June 01, 2007

Nuclear or no nuclear? The future of generation in the UK

I read this article on oD and was struck by how unpolemical it was. Most articles on this issue are stridently calling for 50 new nuclear power stations by yesterday or predicting orders of magnitude increases in incidences of cancer as a resuolt of such policies. I've rarely found such a balanced rebuttal of the idea.

On the other hand I've rarely felt as overwhelmed by Green Party propaganda as this item- part of a distinctly polemical Green Party email bulletin- made me feel:

1 Electricity Produced by Nuclear Power (NP) is not CO2 free
"The use of nuclear power causes, at the end of the road and under the
most favourable conditions, approximately one-third as much CO2-emission as gas-fired electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve this reduction are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be
exhausted within four years. Use of the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reactors would produce more CO2 emission than burning fossil fuels directly." - ref:

2 Conventional NP offers an insignificant contribution to world energy needs
Uranium reserves are so limited that a fourfold expansion of the world's nuclear fleet would exhaust the known global reserves of uranium. It would produce maybe 5% (maybe less) of the world's energy needs for some thirty years, then that would be it.

Breeder technology would offer a more significant amount, but. Breeder technology means uncontrollable nuclear weapons
proliferation. The plutonium-driven fast breeder reactors could make a more significant contribution, but this would mean kissing goodbye to any notion of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to rogue states and terrorists, because there would be so much plutonium around, there is no way we could keep it from falling into the hands of terrorists.

4 NP possession now implies Nuclear War later
No country has developed nuclear weapons without first having a nuclear power programme. That is what the fuss is about in Iran and North Korea. If we have weapons, we will inevitably use them at some time in the future, because no human system is perfect. America has already used them once, on the Japanese. US presidents have considered using them many times since Hiroshima. Next time they use them, there is a risk that everyone else will join in, producing a nuclear holocaust. The only way to avoid this is to get rid of nuclear weapons, which means we must get rid of nuclear power.

5 Nuclear Power is Not Insured
UK NP stations carry ?140 million of public liability insurance, and the Government would contribute an equal amount, but after that - tough luck if there is an MCA. Ironically, the planning Inspector ruled that we could not have a wind farm near Hinkley point NPS because a blade might break off... and damage the NPS.

6 Routine discharges of radioactive materials cause cancer
There is a vast amount of writing on this subject, but it is not necessary to develop it here, since it could be argued that a few local cancers are a small price to pay if nuclear power saves us from the catastrophe of global warming, and the relatives of the cancer victims could be compensated. The low level Radiation Campaign is a useful site for this information:

7 Nuclear Power Stations are vulnerable to terrorist attack
9/11 demonstrated the acute vulnerability of the structures of western civilisation to attack from terrorists motivated by suicidal religious convictions. We cannot hope that humane and rational considerations would
inhibit terrorists from using the same technique on one or more NPS. It would be consistent with the modus operandi of Al-Qaeda to do this kind of high profile action. It is a moot point whether a jumbo jet would breach containment, but it would certainly disrupt the coolant circuits sufficiently to cause releases, and a critical incident (major meltdown) cannot be ruled out

8 The waste problem is not solved - and not solvable
Some nuclear wastes have radioactivity that remains dangerous to human and animal health for 250,000 years. What ethical right do we have to dump that problem on our descendants for the sake of a few years worth of electricity?

9 NP stations (NPS) are vulnerable to changes brought about by Global Warming
They are mostly built near the sea, for cooling and waste discharge purposes. Sea level rise due to global warming will add a huge amount to the decommissioning costs. If a new wave of NPS are built, they will have to be higher up, inland, which means they will have to take their coolant water from rivers. In hot summers recently, European NPS have been forced to close due to lack of cool river water, and in the warmer, drier future, the same could happen to UK NPS.

10 NP would suck funding away from the real long term solutions which are energy efficiency and renewable energy.
Nuclear power was developed through massive state subsidies as part of the nuclear weapons development programme. These R+D costs are not included in conventional nuclear power costings. In the UK, these expenses were hidden from parliamentary inspection in the post-war public accounts as "Repairs to
Public Buildings". NP was a spin-off of the nuclear weapons effort.

The NP programme died off in the 90s, ironically not so much through the
activities of the green lobby as through the policies of Mrs Thatcher, who
although a staunch supporter of NP, insisted on privatising it. When the
City took a look at the books, they did not like what they saw, and decided
not to buy into it.

There is a finite amount of money available to meet the costs of Global
Warming. Energy Conservation is at least 7 times as effective in reducing
CO2 emissions than NP. PV cladding on every house in Britain would produce
more electricity than NP at a fraction of the cost.

Up until todayish I have been a supporter of new nuclear power stations after reading that they were economical, cheap and could be made carbon-neutral. Now I am not so sure.

For sure articles like the polemic I have posted here do not help me make up my mind. Claims that cheaply extractable global uranium reserves will be consumed in as little as 4 years if a 5-fold increase in nuclear generation becomes reality sound like bollocks but I don't know who to believe. The website of the global nuke industry say that there are 70 years of cheap uranium left so if you include a 5-fold increase then you have a mere 14 years left. I know its very different from 4 years but still, nuclear doesn't really sound like the long-term generation technology that we need. Far better to invest in renewable technology and a greatly uprated national grid to transport the enormous generation capcaity of remote regions to urban centres where they will be needed. Or we could just get TREC on the case. . . .

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