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Nuclear- No thanks

Comment

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Someone needs to tell Tony Blair that the new nuclear power programme he has set his heart on really is a poor choice of Prime Ministerial legacy.

Sadly, it seems his mind is all but made up. Announcing a new energy review this week Blair confi med that it 'will include specifi cally the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations'.

'Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking, ' he told the Confederation of British Industry on Tuesday.

'By around 2020 the UK is likely to have seen decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants that together generate over 30% of today's electricity supply.

Some of this will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can, ' he said.

Coming so soon after the February 2003 energy White Paper, the writing appears to be on the wall. This, remember, stated that 'current economics make [nuclear power] an unattractive option for new carbon free generating capacity'.

It added that there remained 'important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved' and, while not ruling nuclear power out completely, stressed that the 'fullest public consultation' would be needed before any new facilities were built.

So what happened over three years?

Firstly, the pro-nuclear lobby has got stuck in to talk up nuclear as the only way to meet electricity demand while maintaining security of supply and cutting CO 2 emissions.

Secondly, perhaps as a result of pro-nuclear lobbying, perhaps because of the fears of upsetting voters, the government has done little to deliver its White Paper aspirations.

It is frightening how swiftly the focus appears to have moved away from energy effi ciency and investment in renewables towards justifi cation for a new nuclear programme.

But the facts just don't stack up for me - nuclear power just does not provide the all encompassing energy panacea.

It is not cheap - even the pro-nuclear Royal Academy of Engineering accepts 'further scrutiny of the commercial claims for nuclear power would be useful'.

It is not clean - we are committed to spending £50bn decommissioning the current nuclear power legacy - a figure that will almost certainly rise.

It is not 100% safe - and the post 9/11 terrorist threat can only exacerbate this risk.

It is not even completely carbon free when you consider the amount of fossil fuel energy needed to mine and transport uranium.

I accept that as we shut down nuclear power stations between now and 2020, we will need to plug the gap. And I accept that we must also reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and on imported gas.

But building more nuclear power stations is not the answer.

he multi-billion pound investment earmarked for nuclear must be committed to developing hydrogen, wind, hydro, tide, biomass, solar, micro-generation, and combined heat and power technologies.

We have time if we are not distracted by nuclear.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the world's fi rst commercial nuclear power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria.

We should celebrate by moving forward with a commitment to develop the next energy technology, not by hanging onto a myth.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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