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Nuclear divide

Viewpoint - Should nuclear power be part of Britain's energy mix?


Nathan Argent, Greenpeace

LAST WEEK the High Court dealt a major blow to the government's plans to reinvigorate nuclear power when it was ruled unlawful for government to back a programme of new nuclear power stations (see News page 6).

No one disagrees that uncertainty hangs over future energy supply or that we have to act now to tackle climate change.

But what are the facts about this?

Are the right questions being asked - and what is the best solution?

Nuclear power currently provides 20% of our electricity, representing only 3.6% of the UK's total energy use, thus only marginally dealing with our need for services that are mainly derived from gas, such as hot water and central heating. So its effect on our total CO 2 emissions is very small.

Even at the most optimistic build rate, 10 new reactors will only cut carbon emissions by 4% by 2024: far too little and far too late to stop global warming.

And let's not forget that nuclear power has its own very real dangers and problems. It provides a high-risk target for terrorists, and produces highly radioactive waste.

The reality is that nuclear power is an inefficient, dangerous and expensive hangover of an antiquated, centralised electricity system, established over 50 years ago.

The only sustainable solution to climate change and energy security is to reform our centralised UK energy system and generate power closer to where it is required, allowing us to use 'waste' heat for central heating and hot water, and the electricity for our other needs.

This is known as decentralised energy generation, which combined with renewable energy and energy efficiency could deliver 30% larger carbon dioxide savings than building new nuclear power stations.

Yes !

Bruno Comby of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy

NUCLEAR POWER is clean, safe, reliable, competitive and practically inexhaustible.

Today more than 400 nuclear reactors provide base-load electric power in 30 countries.

At 50 years old, it is a relatively mature technology with the promise of great improvement in the next generation.

The cost of nuclear power is competitive and stable. The cost of nuclear fuel is a small part of the price of a nuclear kilowatthour. Uranium is found everywhere in the crust of the Earth - it is more abundant than tin, for example. Major deposits are found in Canada and Australia.

It is estimated that increasing the market price by a factor of 10 would result in 300 times more uranium coming to market. Eventually, we will be able to recover uranium from sea water where 4bn tons are dissolved, whereas fossilfuelled power is at the mercy of the market.

One gram of uranium yields about as much energy as a ton of coal or oil - it is the famous 'factor of a million'. Nuclear waste is correspondingly about a million times smaller than fossil fuel waste, and it is totally con ned, not rejected in the atmosphere like CO 2. Nuclear waste is to be deposited in deep geological storage sites, where it is effectively isolated from the biosphere.

Nuclear waste spontaneously decays over time, while stable chemical waste, such as arsenic or mercury, lasts forever.

Most fossil fuel waste is in the form of gas that goes up the smokestack. We don't see it but it is not without effect, causing global warming, acid rain and smog as well as eye, throat and lung irritation.

Nuclear energy is the main part of the solution to the world's greatest problems in future: climate change and the predicted decline in oil production. This will shake the world's economy when the availability of oil starts declining in the coming years, while demand continues to rise.

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