Nuclear power stationSo the Government is going to build new nuclear power stations. John Hutton will announce it today, Take II after the initial mess of the “procedurally unfair” consultation process. I’m not an outright hater of nuclear power – I think we would be foolish to decommission the UK’s existing nuclear power stations early, and I am also not unduly bothered by the security issues. More analysis from Peter Tatchell here. The UK definitely should not go down the German line – decommission and then import more nuclear-generated electricity from France to bridge the gap.

Yet there are 2 issues that give me grave cause for concern. First is the issue of waste. What do we do with it? How do we manage to store it safely? Secondly, I am concerned that the government is just being cowardly with this decision with regard to the environmental benefits. The idea is to paint the picture that nuclear is the carbon friendly option, while the government is willing to take on Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the people who will be living next to wherever these 10 new reactors are going to be built. The government would rather, it seems, annoy those few people a lot, than take alternative policy options: radical improvements for energy efficiency of homes, district heating, decentralised CHP projects, and major expansion of wind power. The first two of those would entail a change in behaviour of many millions of Britons and that’s a political risk that is not worth taking. So annoy a few people a lot, rather than mildly inconveniencing the many. What were those words that Brown was saying about tough decisions?

4 Comments

  1. Jon,

    I’m sorry but wind power is simply not an option: it just doesn’t provide enough stable power.

    Solar power might be economically feasible (coupled with some new research into lithium ion batteries) in a decade, but it will take an awful lot longer before it is providing the power that we need.

    Nuclear fission is the only feasible option currently (assuming that you believe in CO2 driven climate change which, as you probably know, I don’t).

    I do believe that we will see the first industrial-size fusion generator within 20 years, but we are going to have to bridge the gap somehow.

    Mary, even with the building materials taken into account, nuclear is reasonably low-emission.

    See Worstall for more: http://timworstall.com/2008/01/10/careful-here/

    DK

  2. I agree with you, although suspect I am more anti-nuclear than you (I don’t think we should decommission early but I’m not convinced we should be building more until someone solves the waste issue. Also, the carbon footprint of construction – all that extra thick concrete… – should be factored in to the true cost of building more generators, and isn’t) but I don’t know what I find more depressing: the government’s pathetic subservience to the nuclear lobby or my realisation that the loathsome (smug, elitist) Zac Goldsmith was the only person talking sense about this issue on Newsnight the other night (the need for serious investment in energy efficiency, possibilities of CHP, the fact that it is too late to pin our hopes on nuclear power to tackle climate change). Why is there no one in British politics making a serious case for environmental justice as part of a social justice agenda (and not just a consumer lifestyle choice for old Etonians)?

  3. Ah, I’m with you on that one with fusion…

    But in terms of nuclear (fission) and what the government is proposing in the UK the figures do not add up in terms of when the power is needed, and I think the argument is false. Plus, unlike France that has invested in nuclear for decades, the UK does have other options.

  4. Emmanuel

    Jon, je ne suis pas sûr que poser le problème de la sorte corresponde à la réalité: toutes les réformes visant aux économies d’énergie ou au développement des énergies durables, même drastiques, ne suffiront pas à remplacer les centrales nucléaires, et particulièrement à un moment où l’Europe a besoin de renforcer son indépendance énergétique.

    En revanche, il me semble qu’il vaudrait mieux investir beaucoup plus dans la fusion nucléaire (que nous ne maîtrisons pas bien, mais qui produit plus d’énergie et moins de déchets) que dans de nouvelles centrales nucléaires classiques (utilisant la fission).

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