|The government has given the go ahead to a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK. The quality of the White Paper announcing the decision and of the consultation documents that preceded it, beggar belief ...|
"Licensing a nuclear power plant is in my view, licensing random premeditated murder." "Every responsible organization studying radiation injury now holds that cancer, leukemia, and genetic damage must be considered to be essentially proportional to dose, down to the very lowest radiation doses." "In one year of operation , a 1000-megawatt nuclear power plant generates fission products (like Strontium-90 and Cesium 137) in a quantity equal to what is produced by the explosion of 23 megatons of nuclear fission bombs--or more than one thousand bombs of the Hiroshima-size." - Dr. John Gofman, the pre-eminent Manhattan Project nuclear scientist and medical physician, who died in 2007.
"Nuclear power is neither the answer to modern energy problems nor a panacea for climate change challenges. It requires huge amounts of initial capital, while decommissioning plants is very expensive and costs continue to be incurred long after a power station are closed." - Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president (quoted in 'Gorbachev puts anti-nuclear case to Blair', The Guardian, Thursday June 8, 2006).
"At least 500,000 people - perhaps more - have already died out of the 2 million people who were officially classed as victims of Chernobyl [nuclear power station] in Ukraine" - Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine. (UN accused of ignoring 500,000 Chernobyl deaths, The Guardian, March 25, 2006)
Ex-environment minister Michael Meacher told Tony Blair it was "patently untrue" that nuclear power was needed for the UK to meet emissions targets. Mr Meacher said "steady expansion" of renewable energy could allow the UK to meet its greenhouse gases targets. Nuclear power was more expensive than coal and oil, produced dangerous waste and was a terrorist target, he said.
"In 1966 I was appointed Minister of Technology with responsibility for the development of that programme. I was told, believed and argued publicly that civil nuclear power was cheap, safe and peaceful and it was only later that I learned that this was all untrue ..." "Nor are Britain's civil nuclear power stations peaceful as for many years, and still possibly today, the plutonium they produce was sent to fuel the American nuclear weapons programme." "At no stage, as a minister, could I rely on being told the truth either by the Industry itself, or by my own civil servants who may or may not have known it themselves.” - Tony Benn, who as a minister in the 1960's was in charge of nuclear power.
"But what is a safe place, let us say, for the enormous amounts of radioactive waste products created by nuclear reactors? No place on earth can be shown to be safe.” - E F Shumacher in 'Small is Beautiful', published 1973. (Postscript: In 2010, 37 years later, President Obama has set up a “Blue Ribbon Panel” to try to find a solution to the USA’s escalating crisis of radioactive wastes. Yucca Mountain in Nevada had been designated as the USA's geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste, but after 20 years of work and $14 billion spent, it was plagued with safety concerns and is no longer considered an option.)
"For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program." - Former US Vice President Al Gore.
"The international nuclear lobby does not want to recognise the the scale of the disaster in our country because if it does, nuclear power will be finished.” - Soviet scientist and nuclear power designer Vassili Nesterenko. (Shortly after completing a mobile nuclear power station to be used to power missile launchers, Chernobyl blew up. Nesterenko flew over the burning atomic plant and threw liquid nitrogen containers onto the reactor core. He survived but three others in the same helicopter died. He studied the effects of the radioactivity released by the accident and founded the Belrad Institute to continue this work. Because of his activities, he lost his job and was threatened with internment in a psychiatric asylum. He died in 2008.)'Dodgy Dossier' presented before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the nuclear power consultation document seems to have been written to justify a decision that had already been taken. Here's how it treats some of the key issues:
SAFETY: The Chernobyl nuclear accident killed tens of thousands, 485 villages became uninhabitable and contaminated large areas of Europe – today there are still government restrictions on the consumption of sheep from parts of the UK because of the radioactivity. But in the whole 207 pages of the consultation document, there is just half a sentence about Chernobyl, which says only that it “had significant impacts on health”!
ALTERNATIVE SOURCES OF POWER: Germany has more wind power capacity than all the UK's nuclear stations put together and a fast growing solar power capacity. A Club of Rome study says solar could much of Europe's electricity. Yet the consultation document manages not to even mention the word 'solar' and dismisses wave and tidal energy in one sentence.
WASTE: For 40 years of a rather small amount of expensive nuclear electricity we will be dumping waste that will be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years. The consultation document uses a formula that includes only a fraction of these costs: only a third of the initial decommissioning costs are counted and only a twenty-fifth of the dismantling costs 100 years later. If our descendants in 1000 years time have to spend a £1 billion plugging the leaks in the crumbling waste tanks, the formula costs that at just 36 pence.
There were about 2700 responses to the consultation, from companies and organisations as well as individuals. My response is here:
GOING NUCLEAR FREE COSTS NO MORE THAN WHAT WE SPEND ON ICE CREAM: According to the White Paper (page 169), if we didn't build any new nuclear stations in the UK, then we would need to spend an extra £1 billion per year in 2050 to meet our CO2 targets. Well £1 billion is about the same amount that we spend annually as a nation on ice cream, or a fortieth of what we spend on beer. Drinking a bit less to avoid 250,000 years of nuclear waste and the risk of poisoning half of the UK should a reactor explode, would seem to be a bargain.
DITCHING NUCLEAR IS POSSIBLE EVEN WITHOUT SOLAR, TIDE AND WAVE: The White Paper also asserts that this nuclear-free future can be achieved without reliance on a substantial contribution by any of the emerging renewable energy technologies except wind. Given that industry experts are expecting solar PV to become competitive with grid prices within 5 years, the government's assumptions are very conservative. Our children are more likely to have to give up ice cream in 2050 if we do have nuclear than if we don't.
Trans-Mediterranean Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power: This study was commisioned by the German government as part of the DESERTEC project. It shows how solar power generation in North Africa can be interconnected with the European electricity grid. But it is far more than that - it contains a comprehensive analysis of how Europe and the Mediterranean countries can generate sufficient electricity and meet CO2 targets without any nuclear. There are even sections showing the possible energy mix for each European country, including the UK. The initiative is supported by the Club of Rome; there is a UK site here: TREC-UK from which the study can be downloaded. In 2009 the Desertec Foundation was created to develop the scheme with the backing of several major companies.
Zero Carbon Britain: The Center for Alternative Technology (CAT) has developed this energy strategy for Britain which covers all energy use, not just electricity. "The authors of zerocarbonbritain present a time-scale for action that begins now. I commend their imagination (coupled with realism), their integrated view and their sense of urgency, as an inspiration to all who are grappling with the challenge that climate change is bringing to our world." - Sir John Houghton, June 2007, Former Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Former Director General of the UK Metrological Office.
[The Energy Report Not available at the time of the consultation, this major new (2011) report from the WWF sets out to demonstrate that all of the world's energy needs could be provided cleanly, renewably and economically, using renewable sources of energy and no nuclear.]
Other studies analyse in depth the dangers of nuclear power and nuclear proliferation, the economics of nuclear, and whether it can make any impact on CO2 emissions.
Voodoo Economics and the Doomed Nuclear Renaissance: Reveals that building a new generation of nuclear power stations would mean spending large sums of taxpayers money. Written by ex Guardian environment correspondent Paul Brown, the report exposes fifty years of disastrous performance, failed technology and broken promises. It also highlights escalating bills to the taxpayer and a backlog of toxic waste. Download it from FOE website.
Secure Energy? Civil Nuclear Power, Security and Global Warming: "For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program." - Former US Vice President Al Gore. The Oxford Research Group highlight the danger of a nuclear expansion increasing the availability of MOX and reactor-grade plutonium that can be used to build dirty bombs or crude nuclear weapons, and spreading the knowledge, materials and technology needed to develop nuclear weapons. They show how nuclear power should not be classed as a particularly low-carbon energy source and how as the quality of the uranium bearing ore available declines, CO2 (and other Greenhouse Gases) emissions from nuclear power will rise steeply.
The Economics of Nuclear Power: The Economics of Nuclear Power: Here's a report that the White Paper does mention (in a footnote): but judge for yourself whether it deals adequately with the points here. A number of energy experts have collaborated to produce this report for Greenpeace: long and comprehensive, it demolishes the case for nuclear power. An extract from the summary: "Country after country has seen nuclear construction programmes go considerably over-budget. In the United States, an assessment of 75 of the country’s reactors showed predicted costs to have been $45 billion but the actual costs were $145 billion. In India, the country with the most recent and current construction experience, completion costs of the last 10 reactors have averaged at least 300% over budget. The average construction time for nuclear plants has increased from 66 months for completions in the mid 1970s, to 116 months (nearly 10 years) for completions between 1995 and 2000." The report also contains a chapter on renewable energy resources, their economics and prospects.
To many it is extraordinary that the Labour government would decide in favour of more nuclear power, when Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Sweden have decided not to build new plants or are phasing out nuclear power, and when the government has just had to bail out the national nuclear power company and been landed with a £73 billion bill for cleaning up the mess left by existing nuclear plants. The close links between some leading members of the party and the nuclear lobby don't increase confidence in the decision.
Two senior ex-ministers who will earn tens of thousands of pounds on top of their parliamentary salaries by working for the nuclear industry look set to be summoned before an inquiry into lobbying, The Times has learnt. - The Times, January 10, 2008 'Ex-ministers face inquiry into nuclear business links'.
DAVID MILIBAND, the new environment secretary, is embroiled in a sleaze row this weekend over his links to a nuclear industry lobbyist. The lobbyist — Alan Donnelly — chairs the minister’s local constituency party ... Donnelly’s lobbying firm, represents the US multinational Fluor, one of the world’s biggest nuclear companies, which is hoping to win a stake in the £70 billion British nuclear waste market. Donnelly also founded and helps to run the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum (Tanef), an organisation that aims to foster “strong relationships” between nuclear power companies and governments. - The Sunday Times, May 14, 2006. 'Revealed: minister's links to nuclear lobby'.
Former energy minister Brian Wilson is now a non-executive director of Amec Nuclear, a client of BNFL, the government-owned nuclear reactor operator. Since 2004, BNFL has used lobbyists Weber Shandwick to help it push the case for new nuclear plants. Weber Shandwick's UK arm is headed by Colin Byrne, the Labour Party's former chief press officer. ... French energy giant EDF ... has successfully lobbied ministers to introduce a fast-track planning process to make it easier to build new [nuclear power] plants without lengthy public enquiries. Chancellor Gordon Brown's brother, Andrew, is EDF's head of media relations in the UK. Labour peer Lord Cunningham, Tony Blair's former "cabinet enforcer" and the ex chairman of the Friends of Sellafield campaign ... is also "legislative chair" of the Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum. - BBC News, Wednesday, 23 May 2007. 'Labour and the nuclear lobby'.>
The Government held at least nine secret meetings at Downing Street with the bosses of nuclear energy companies while it formulated controversial plans for a new generation of the power plants. - Spinwatch. First Published in the Independent on Sunday.>
"So when we are told the outcome of the review ... you can be sure that, if the decision to go ahead is made, we will not be told the whole truth and military links with the USA may well be the real reason". - Tony Benn.
Chernobyl nuclear power station: (1) Cleanup workers (Photo by Lu Taskey); (2) Decontamination checkpoint; (3) Abandoned radioactive fire engines and helicopters. From site of biker Elena, who ventured into the zone around Chernobyl.
Nuclear physicist Walt Patterson wrote the classic book on nuclear power, explaining the technology & surveying the history. Published 1976 (2nd Ed 1982) by Pelican, it is out of print but can be downloaded from his website.
Scientists for Global Responsibility. SGR is deeply concerned about the likely major impacts of human-induced climate change, and about the problems associated with nuclear power. See for example the 'Nuclear power: yes or no?' powerpoint presentation.
No 2 Nuclear Power. News and information about the UK nuclear industry.