10 Mar 2009

Greens still oppose nuclear

There has been some controversy in the news recently about 'leading Green' Chris Goodall going nuclear - see here - in fact his comments aren't as clear cut as the media would like us to believe. While he does entertain the idea of nuclear he has made it quite clear that he is NOT pro-nuclear (he says so in his latest book).

Cartoon: a view from local artist Russ

However the media have distorted this, not only did they give his article a misleading headline but they also changed the article without his permission. The Oxford press even said that the local party weren't ruling out deselection three days after the election coordinator had publicly ruled it out on the radio (they didn't even ask the local party). While BBC Oxford cut short their radio slot when they realised they had given it the wrong headlines - unlike in newspapers where articles are modified/ distorted etc, in a live radio interview Chris was able to tell the truth.

Basically the message Chris seemed to be trying to get across is that we can meet CO2 targets without resorting to nuclear, but only if the Government acts immediately - if they don't then as a society we will be forced to choose between coal or nuclear.

I find disturbing the recent portrayal of nuclear new build as a sustainable solution to climate change. Significant issues remain to be addressed, let alone resolved. These include uncertainty about nuclear fuel supply and manufacture, vulnerability to attack, security and proliferation, radioactive waste management, radiation risk and health effects, reactor safety and decommissioning. George Monbiot, another leading green commentator, has moved closer to nuclear but he has put conditions on the move like answers about nuclear waste - well at present we still don't have those answers.

Even if financing new nuclear build were competitive in these cash-strapped times, it is not possible to build enough nuclear power stations to make a significant impact on the amount of coal that will be burnt world-wide. China, with the most ambitious nuclear programme, would achieve at most 6 per cent of its electricity from nuclear. If Britain embarked on a full-scale nuclear rebuild programme, the Government's own figures conclude that this would mitigate only 4 per cent of our CO2 emissions. Nuclear power is an expensive, inflexible option, soaking up money and slowing development of more sustainable solutions to climate change.

Caroline Lucas MEP has responded to the recent calls for nukes by saying we can organise a massive programme of energy-saving for every home and business in the UK starting now. We can get renewable energy sources into place rapidly if we unclog the planning system and set up the kind of incentives used so successfully in Germany and Spain. Do all this quickly, and we will help tackle the recession, as green energy creates far more jobs per megawatt than nuclear. See more of her comments here in the Independent. However while this is clearly still possible we need to act now.

Here is Prof John Whitelegg, Green Party spokesperson on sustainable development response:

It is true that a small number of Greens, feeling the urgency of the climate crisis, have suggested a nuclear re-think as a lesser of two evils. But it's also true that the Green Party overwhelmingly thinks they're wrong. The case for nuclear power to deal with climate change simply doesn't stack up.

Let's forget for a moment that nuclear energy is risky, and that after fifty years the industry still hasn't worked out what to do with the dangerous waste it generates. Even then, nuclear power should still be phased out in the interest of good economics. A recent study showed that the UK nuclear industry has wasted £32 billion. It's the most expensive form of energy when we take into account its long-term waste costs, even if we ignore the potential costs of a nuclear disaster.

But there are other reasons why Greens oppose nuclear power. We want to create a truly sustainable economy. That means viable jobs for huge numbers of people in sustainable industries. Studies have consistently shown that nuclear energy sustains far fewer jobs per megawatt than non-nuclear renewables.

It also means creating resilient, diverse economies. Currently many local economies are far too dependent on the industrial monoculture of a nuclear power plant. Renewable energy would not only sustain jobs in significant numbers at major locations, for example where wind turbines are being manufactured. It would also create huge numbers of jobs spread around the entire country, benefitting every local economy, for instance the jobs installing and maintaining microgenerators and servicing very large numbers of small-scale windfarms and biogas plants and so on.

Of course, in the immediate term we have a recession to deal with. We need to create very large numbers of jobs right now. We can't achieve this by building nuclear power stations in fifteen years' time. We can, however, unclog the planning system so that all the offshore and onshore wind projects that are currently held up can go ahead urgently. We could immediately announce new feed-in tariffs that would give investors the confidence to pour money into renewable energy. We could put the UK economy on something like a war footing starting tomorrow, to get all the wind, wave and solar systems in place that we need to achieve a low-carbon or even zero-carbon economy. If we achieved Denmark's rate of growth on wind energy we could create something like 200,000 jobs in that sector alone by 2020 - faster than you could build nuclear power stations.

And also, as a matter of priority, we could start straightaway with domestic and business energy conservation. Not only would this rapidly create many tens of thousands of jobs within a short space of time - it would also save as much energy as all the UK's nuclear power stations currently generate.

So we simply don't need nuclear power to stop climate change. But we do need comprehensive Green policies, and we need them to be implemented now.

Last week at our monthly Green party meeting we had a debate about nuclear - it is healthy to question and discuss our position but for me the arguments about nuclear still do not convince despite the serious threats of the energy gap - see graph that shows how much imported energy we will need - there is no question that time is running out for us to act and find sustainable solutions - our Government is leading us the wrong way.

See here Martin Whitesides letter in SNJ this week in response to pro-nuke letters. Download the latest NuClear News at:

Also see Sustainable Energy - without the hot air by David JC MacKay, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge. The book is available to download from http://www.withouthotair.com/

You can download a 10-page synopsis which doesn't take long to read! If you go to http://www.withouthotair.com/synopsis10.pdf (the synopsis) and look at page 6 you'll see several plans for hypothetical UK energy mixes, including one (the Green Plan) which does without both nuclear and "clean" coal.

No comments: