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Should we abandon nuclear energy?

THE BIGGEST and most outspoken names in the nuclear dispute took part in a passionate debate at the ICE this week.

The motion 'This house believes that the generation of electricity through nuclear energy in Europe should be abandoned' was proposed by Greenpeace chairman Professor Robin Grove-White and seconded by senior ICE vice president Mark Whitby.

Sir Bernard Ingham, secretary of pro nuclear lobby group Supporters of Nuclear Energy, opposed the motion, seconded by past chairman of the World Association of Nuclear Operators Remy Carle.

After presentations from each speaker comments were invited from the floor. The floor, dominated by engineers and nuclear enthusiasts, comprehensively voted against the motion, defeating it by 60 votes to 21.

Why revive nuclear? After 50 years of investment, no-one wants to buy into it. No-one is going to risk the money.

We have to think about the future.

Carbon dioxide emission targets can be achieved in three ways, first, through the prudent use of gas. Your average family saloon emits 190g CO 2/km and is grossly inefficient. A gas powered car is twice as efficient, and half as polluting.

The Government knows this is the way to go and an emissions linked duty on cars is not far away.

The second way will be to make our homes and businesses perform better. It is simple.

Changing all our homes to fluorescent light bulbs would save 11GW a year - equivalent to nine Sizewell Bs.

Finally we will put money into renewables. Just three offshore wind farms would generate enough power to replace all current nuclear plants. And then there's the Hydrogen fuel cell - the jet engine of the 2020s.

Nuclear has had £50M a year invested in it for decades.

Renewables deserve that too.

My contention is that engineers' hopes for new nuclear plants are empty and unrealistic. It is better to face reality, put the past behind us, and go into the future by looking elsewhere.

Throughout the 1970s and 80s there were similar calls for new nuclear plant, but it did not happen.

Nuclear was only thriving under the protection of the state, and with privatisation in 1990 it got found out. It was shown up as monolithic, inflexible and risky, with long lead in times and vulnerability to political change.

Financial investors do not want to take on this risk. They want energy sources that are decentralised, flexible and that arouse less popular hostility. Post privatisation there are now better alternatives - offshore, solar, and combined heat and power.

The key argument used by the pro-nuclear camp is that nuclear involves no CO emissions. But consider the social reality.

A report from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution has shown that CO 2can be reduced by 60% by generating 50MW from nuclear. This would require the construction of 30 new plants. Where are you going to put them? There would be a public outcry and city investors would run a mile.

This debate reminds me of a letter I received when France was about to build its first nuclear plant.

'Please don't worry us with nuclear.

We already have electricity'.

Of course, it is not that simple.

Power has to be generated. And there is always a cost.

2is not a risk - it is a fact.

Coal is a heavy polluter. Gas may be twice as efficient, but then you have put all your eggs in one basket.

Yes, we have to make energy conservation efforts. But the only practical way of achieving this is tax - and what government is going to want to do that after recent events in France and the UK?

Chernobyl was bad. But do you ban all cars because of one careless driver? Since then, bodies like WANO have worked throughout Europe, providing safety advice and recommending improvements.

In France, renewable energy already supplies 15%. We have experimented a lot, and know that it is limited in terms of large scale generation.

We must not judge by emotion, but by consequence. If Europe could abandon nuclear, then fine.

But when nuclear runs out we will realise the limits of renewables and continue to burn fossil fuels.

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