23 May 2007

The Nuclear Option

Alistair Darling, the Trade and Industry Secretary, was on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4, this morning. John Humphrys was trying to get him to admit that they're underfunding renewable energy and energy efficiency projects (a bottom-up solution), and opting instead for a new generation of nuclear power stations (a top-down solution).

Which, of course, they are.

Each nuclear power station will take billions of pounds to build. The renewable energy grants that the government does offer are only a few million pounds per month, and they are vastly oversubscribed.

A nuclear power station is not low-carbon. You have to mine uranium. You have to transport it to Britain. You have to build the station itself (lots o' concrete). You have to dispose of the nuclear waste.

A nuclear power station will take years to build. We don't have the time to wait. We have a window of a few years before we reach a tipping point of climate change producing "feedback" effects (permafrost in Siberia melting, producing methane, which powers the greenhouse effect more). In contrast, loft insulation, or triple glazing, or insulating your boiler, or replacing all lights in your house, or very energy efficient white goods (your fridge, your dishwasher, your stove), or solar panels on your roof, can be installed/replaced tomorrow.

Finally, we don't have the technology to safely dispose of highly toxic radioactive waste for 250,000 years. That's the waste we already have, not the waste from a worldwide expansion of the nuclear industry (not just Britain, but India/China). It's immoral to impose this kind of nuclear disposal legacy on future generations.

Edited to add:

Here's a good Greenpeace blog entry about the other flaws. (Their quotes are from Blair's article to The Times, 23rd May):

"Nuclear power accounts for about a fifth of our electricity"

Sneaky. Nuclear power provides 19 per cent of our electricity but - much more importantly for both climate change and energy security - only 3.6 per cent of our energy. By just talking about electricity instead of energy, Blair's ignoring all the energy that's used to heat our homes, businesses and water, mostly provided by gas.
"We can meet our carbon dioxide emissions targets, but only if we are willing to think ahead... and give serious consideration to nuclear power."

Replacing our whole fleet of nuclear power stations would reduce our carbon emissions by just four per cent. Some time after 2024. Far too little too late to tackle climate change (and that four per cent would be wiped out by emissions from aviation expansion alone).

A new nuclear power station has never been built on time and on budget, anywhere in the world. In fact, the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget.

Building a new fleet of new power stations will cost, based on past experience, between £20 and 40 billion - and that's ignoring the billions that will be spent on operation, waste management and decommissioning.

Research from the US found that every pound spent on nuclear would deliver 10 times the cut in carbon if it was spent on efficiency instead.

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