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Ten reasons to continue to say no to nuclear power

March 19, 2009 10:10 AM

There are rumours, as yet unsubstantiated, that the Lib Dem leadership is considering reversing the party's long-term opposition to nuclear power. Here are ten reasons why nuclear power is a mistake:

1. Nuclear power is not green

Mining uranium requires fossils fuels. So does building a nuclear power station. And so does trying to dispose of radioactive waste. Over its lifecycle a nuclear power station produces as much carbon dioxide as a gas-fired power station (Van Leeuwen & Smith 2005). Better than oil or coal but not carbon-free. And it will get worse. In the not too distant future uranium will become so hard to mine that it will require more fossil fuels to extract it than the energy that will be produced from it.

2. Nuclear power will do little to reduce our carbon emissions

Even if Britain built ten new reactors, nuclear power would only deliver a 4 per cent cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025. Even the Government admits this. That's too late. We need the carbon reductions now. About 8% of our emissions come from electrical appliances left on standby. We'd do far better to ban standby buttons.

3. New nuclear power stations won't be ready in time

The earliest a new nuclear power station could possibly be ready is 2017 but 2025 is much more likely. But extra capacity is needed in the next few years when a number of nuclear and coal-fired plants are set to close. New nuclear will come too late. We'd do much better to invest in energy efficiency, wind, tidal, solar, hydro and biogas (from food waste, animal slurries, sewage and landfill).

4. Nuclear power stations are inefficient

We need to stop producing electricity in huge power stations hundreds of miles away which waste 60% of the energy they produce as heat through cooling towers and another 7-9% in transmission losses across the national grid. If we produce energy locally and use Combined Heat and Power (CHP), then we can reach efficiencies of 80-90%. Nuclear cannot and never has been made to work with CHP because to distribute the heat you need residents or businesses to be close by. But how many people want to live near a nuclear power station?

5. Nuclear power stations are a target for terrorists

If you can fly a plane into the Twin Towers, then you can certainly fly one into a nuclear power station.

6. Nuclear power is too expensive

Nuclear has always been an expensive white elephant. We currently subsidise nuclear to the tune of £1bn per year. In 2005 the UK spent £20m on wave energy research. There's nothing to stop someone building a nuclear power station right now. But the only nuclear reactor under construction anywhere in North America or Europe is in Finland. It's being subsidised by the French nuclear industry as a loss leader in the hope that it will spark a new nuclear building boom. When the decision was announced Standard & Poor instantly downgraded to "negative" the stock of the Finnish utility commissioning the reactor. In the US, if you want to build new power generation these days, you build wind farms. Which one would you rather have in your back yard - a nuclear reactor or a wind farm?

7. Nuclear power is a diversion of bureaucratic energy

I know, from talking to a source in the government, that nuclear has taken up a huge amount of civil servant time over the last few years. That's time that could have been spent on renewables, or energy efficiency, or carbon capture. Britain has by far the most potential for wind and tidal power in Europe because of our geography. Yet we produce just 1.5% of our electricity from wind. Germany gets 7% of its electricity from wind, Spain 9% and Denmark manages a whopping 20%. Those countries all have feed-in tariffs that pay householders more to supply electricity to the grid than they have to pay for electricity they use. The government is now talking about introducing a feed-in tariff by 2010 but why wait?

8. It is a myth that renewables cannot provide baseload

There has never been a day on record when the wind has not blown somewhere in the UK. The point about baseload is that what you need is enough people in enough places producing electricity. The more you decentralise electricity generation the more secure the baseload becomes. The same principle holds for investing in shares - it's much more risky to invest everything in a couple of big companies than it is to invest in a basket of shares that reflect all aspects of the market. That's why the Liberal Democrats have been calling for a feed-in tariff for years.

9. Nuclear does not and will not safeguard our energy security

Nuclear power currently provides 19% of our electricity but only 4% of our total energy needs. Most of the gas we use is for space heating, hot water and industrial purposes. Oil is used for virtually all forms of transport. Indeed 86 per cent of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. Nuclear power cannot replace that energy.

10. We still have no idea what to do with nuclear waste

Many people argue that climate change is a moral issue and that we have ten years to deal with it before it deals with us, or rather before it deals with our children and our children's children. But nuclear is not only NOT the solution to climate change, it is immoral to build a new generation of nuclear power stations when we still have no idea how to deal with radioactive waste which will stay dangerous for millions of year. What sort of future are we bequeathing to our children?

For these ten reasons Liberal Democrats should continue to oppose nuclear power. Do not be conned - nuclear power is not green, it will not reduce our carbon emissions significantly, it won't be ready in time to replace our current nuclear power stations, it will be expensive, it is inefficient, it is a diversion from the things we really need to do, it is a target for terrorists, it is not the only way to provide baseload supply, it will not safeguard our energy security and we still don't know how to deal with the waste.

Cllr Alexis Rowell, Website Editor, Green Liberal Democrats