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50 gone - 500,000 to go

First published in InFocus: Nuclear, a supplement to Cleantech magazine January/February 2008. Copyright Cleantech Investor 2008
Friends of the Earth Nuclear campaigner, Neil Crumpton, responds to the UK Government’s decision to embrace nuclear energy.
After 50 years of costs and cover-ups, nuclear power has been put back on the agenda by New Labour. Ministers repeatedly implied that the lights would go out if new nuclear stations were not built, Tony Blair said in the Commons that a new 'replacement' nuclear programme would generate only 10% of the waste of the existing programme, and just a couple of months ago Gordon Brown was saying to the media that nuclear generates 7.6% of the UK's energy.

The ‘actualité’ is that the UK's existing nuclear stations, when all are working, generate about 3.8% of UK 'final' (useful) energy, about half the figure scripted by the Prime Minister's advisers. The 7.6% primary supply figure includes the efficiency losses in the power stations. As for 10% of the waste, that's comparing volume not radio-toxicity. The reprocessing of 'hot' spent fuel from existing reactors to extract plutonium has created a huge volume of lower level 'legacy' wastes. The spent fuel from a new programme would not be reprocessed, so the volume would be much less. However, 10GW of new reactors, which run 'hotter', would actually generate about two to three times the really dangerous high level 'hot' waste. This would necessitate a repository around three times the size of that needed to store 'legacy' hot waste. And a similar scale of 'terrorism-proof' interim storage would also be needed for the 50 years before a repository could be built. Yet the Government's media spin and waste consultation implied that the problem of waste had been solved. As for the lights going out, about 22GW would be decommissioned by 2020 when maybe one new nuclear station would be up and running.

Despite the UK having the best marine renewable energy resource in Europe, masses of scope for CHP (combined heat and power), and globally leading CCS (carbon capture and storage) opportunities, the Government's pro-nuclear decision was a foregone conclusion. What a role model for developing countries - hardly informed democracy or non-proliferation.

Globally, nuclear power generates just 3% of final energy. Even trying to maintain, let alone increase, such levels would raise more intractable problems in terms of additional waste, terrorism risk, compromised foreign policies, proliferation, hidden costs, accidents and even the availability of uranium fuel. Yet Earth has abundant renewable energy resources which can be used to power all future energy needs safely, securely and sustainably. For example, concentrated solar power (CSP) mirror schemes covering just 1% of the area of Earth’s deserts could generate the equivalent of all current global electricity and all the world's nuclear output in a square 71 miles by 71 miles.

Yet Brown, Blair, Bush and Sarkozy (and not forgetting Brown’s brother Andrew - head of media at EdF) are happy to sell nuclear power to Sunni muslim countries and India. So much for world peace and clean, simple, safe and exportable energy technologies.


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