Thursday, 28 July 2016

Nuclear nonsense


The Hinkley C nuclear power deal is nuclear nonsense. For a start its clearly not cost-effective. EDF board member Gerard Magnin quit his position saying the deal was financially "very risky". Previously Thomas Piquemal, EDF's finance director, resigned as he was concerned that the deal would drag down EDF itself.

Nuclear power has completely failed to keep its promise of providing cheap electricity, even though at one point it was claimed it would be too cheap to meter. To make the Hinkley C nuclear deal happen there is a price guarantee of almost double the current market rate for its electricity! UK households and businesses will pay high bills as a result, at a time when renewable energy costs are falling and energy efficiency measures actually cut bills.
The very high capital costs of nuclear power have long been acknowledged and nobody yet knows for sure how high decommissioning costs will finally be because we have insufficient experience of it. In Normandy, France the nuclear power station under construction is 6 yrs late and 7.2 billion euros over budget (similar problems have occurred with nuclear construction in Finland). Far from being an effective part of a low carbon future nuclear power is a very large drain on both public and private resources that we should be directing into energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, the only low carbon and sustainable options in any case.
Nuclear is touted as a tried and tested technology but it’s failed the test of time.  When all-round technical capabilities and limitations, total cost-effectiveness, socio-economic effects and environmental impacts are fairly and broadly examined it performs poorly. Its efficiency of job creation per pound spent does not compare well with the alternatives. Human ability to keep safe and accurate records of nuclear waste disposal for thousands of yrs is highly doubtful. Nuclear certainly does not fit in with building a sustainable society because of the finite nature of nuclear fuel sources and because it leaves ongoing problems for future generations in the form of nuclear waste (regularly transported by train from Bridgewater through Bristol via Yatton, Parsons St, Bedminster, Temple Meads, Lawrence Hill, Stapleton Rd, Filton Abbeywood and Bristol Parkway).
Its argued that we need nuclear power to help fight climate change but it's very slow and ineffective at this. It takes many years to build nuclear stations and even more to pay back the carbon costs of construction, mining and transport. Energy efficiency measures are very many times faster and more effective – and bring wider benefits such as paying for itself in lowered bills. The Government's own [former] advisors at the Sustainable Development Commission produced figures to show that even doubling nuclear capacity would cut the UK's carbon emissions by just 8% and then not until 2035. 
As for making us less dependent on imported energy well, uranium oxide from which nuclear fuel for power stations is made comes from abroad eg Canada (27.9% of world production) and Australia (22.8%) being the largest producers and Kazakhstan (10.5%), Russia (8.0%), Namibia (7.5%), Niger (7.4%), Uzbekistan (5.5%), the United States (2.5%), Ukraine (1.9%) and China (1.7%).

Nuclear is hardly about having an innovative economy, built by entrepreneurs either. Its technology is not generally the kind that can be tinkered with, adapted and developed by small and medium-sized businesses and individuals. Energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy technologies are often more amenable and are very rapidly developing, with costs falling.
There are very large amounts of uranium ore in the ground though to make the fuel from its true. If nuclear power is expanded however,  more uranium ore is mined, the quality of the ore falls and the energy cost of mining it goes up. A mass nuclear power program would rapidly exhaust high quality ores and the uranium being mined would provide far less energy per tonne of rock.
Solutions to nuclear waste disposal have yet to be fully agreed. There are huge nuclear waste handling, storage, transport and disposal problems and there is no widespread scientific consensus on the best way to do it, for existing waste let alone the extra produced from more nuclear stations. Conservative politician Sir Hugh Rossi once said "With waste that can be active for thousands of yrs, guaranteeing that the institutions would be stable beyond periods which have so far proved to be whole lifetimes of civilisations would be impossible."

We are not learning from our nuclear mistakes. There are a whole range of safety and security issues for nuclear stations: with major accidents like Three Mile Island, USA in 1979, Chernobyl USSR in 1986, Windscale, UK in 1957; and Fukushima, Japan in 2011. It’s highly problematic: predicting and minimising human error in the design, construction, operation and decommissioning process; establishing safe levels of radioactivity; safely transporting nuclear waste by rail and road, including through cities like Bristol, for safe disposal for thousands of yrs; planning what it is best to do in the event of a serious incident/accident; whether we can effectively prevent terrorist attacks eg by flying planes into stations, driving cars/lorries loaded up to be bombs. The consequences of just one very serious incident have the potential to be very large and long-lasting in scale as Fukushima and Chernobyl demonstrate.