24 Mar 2011

Fukishima: time to say no to nuclear

I've been away from this blog for more than a week and much has happened in the news - I had been planning to update re nuclear but the situation in Japan completely changes the focus of what I was going to write - the nightmare of polluted water and food, the number of refugees, the race to tackle the plants and indeed all the unknowns - thoughts go out to all those there at Fukishima dealing with the crisis.

Photo: Trawsfynydd nuclear power station in North Wales - closed 1991

Our MP Neil Carmichael has very publicly been supporting the new nuclear reactors planned for Oldbury - despite an electrical failure at the Oldbury site this last week - remember also the fire at Oldbury a few years ago - the situation in Japan in my view only confirms what we already know - nukes are just too dangerous. You can email Neil from here. Whether or not an earthquake on this scale could happen in the UK, one key lesson is that the company operating Fukushima had said that its reactors could withstand any expected tremor. They didn’t. EdF has made similar claims about the proposed Hinkley C reactors, for example in relation to an aircraft crash. As this blog noted previously, a tsunami did hit the Somerset coast in 1607. Just as at Fukushima, Hinkley C and indeed Oldbury will have storage buildings for spent nuclear fuel expected to stay secure against flooding, or other natural disaster, for at least 100 years.

You can never design out every possible human error, or natural accident, or unpredictable event. The problem with nuclear power is that it’s just so inherently risky. If a catastrophe does happen, then the impacts when we’re dealing with nuclear power are uniquely catastrophic - in a way that they’re not if we were dealing with the alternatives around renewable energy and energy efficiency. We at least have a review of nuclear although David Cameron has said he will push ahead with nukes - you can email Huhne here to say to say suspend plans for new nukes and here to sign Friends of the Earth petition. Read more by clicking on the read more!

Obama has reaffirmed his support for nuclear power to protect the massive investment his administration has made in the industry, over in Germany and Switzerland the governments have jammed the brakes on plans to build and replace nuclear plants. I have been sent links to demonstrations in Germany - see a Youtube here 60,000 people forming a human chain from Neckarwestheim to Stuttgart - 45 km long
"All assumptions about the safety of nuclear power must now be open to challenge. Granted that this was a natural disaster far off the scale of anything ever envisaged, even for Japan's fragile geology, the implications are still grave. If the Japanese, with all their understandable inhibitions about anything nuclear and all their world-leading technology, cannot build reactors that are invulnerable to disaster, who can?" Editorial in Indy

Dr Ian Fairlie, who spoke in Stroud on nuclear issues, has been interviewed on the Greenpeace website - see here - unfortunately audio quality is poor but it answers many questions. The Japan wind industry has pointed out that the earthquake hasn't caused problems for their turbines - see here. See here Grist on an issue I've covered before re whether climate change causes tsunamis.
"It isn’t and never was, for example, a good idea to build a nuclear plant in a location such as Oldbury-on-Severn, an accident at which could force evacuation of large parts of Bristol." Daily Express.
See here a very useful film, 'Into Eternity' that looks at Finland and the nuclear industry - it looks particularly at waste storage:

Caroline Lucas debates with George Monbiot

Monbiot has said Japan doesn't mean we should not go down the nuclear road. I can't accept this. Here is what Caroline says:

"It’s precisely because of the urgency of climate change that actually nuclear simply isn’t an option for us here in the UK. If you listen to the scientists, they’re telling us that the next 8-10 years are going to be critical in terms of whether we’re able to get our emissions to peak and start coming down if we’re going to try to avoid the worst of catastrophic climate change. New nuclear, the government’s plans for 10 new nuclear power stations, simply isn’t going to come on stream fast enough. There are much quicker ways of getting our emissions down than going down the nuclear route.

"It sounds a very attractive proposition, doesn’t it, to say that climate change is so urgent, that we need to do everything. But there’s a fixed pot of money, and a fixed amount of political will. When it comes down to it, if you’re putting money into nuclear, and giving the sign to investors that the government is still serious about nuclear, then that means that money isn’t going into the kind of supergrid that we need with Europe, the kind of investment in renewables and energy efficiency, and so on. So you have to make some choices here. The bottom line is that the fastest way, the quickest way, the cheapest way and the safest way, to get our emissions down and keep the lights on, isn’t nuclear.

"I wanted to ask George Monbiot specifically about the UK; because in the UK, there are ways in which we can keep our lights on, get our emissions down, without recourse to coal. I’m certainly not suggesting coal is the alternative. But were we to make a serious investment in energy efficiency, if we were to properly capitalise the Green Investment Bank so we can put the billions into, for example, a street-by-street insulation programme, if we were to really invest in solar-thermal, in PV, in various different types of wind and geothermal, would George agree that we could actually get to where we need to be without nuclear? Because the trouble with George’s rather principled position on this is that right now our government here in the UK is going to be making a decision about whether or not to roll out ten new nuclear power stations. I don’t think we need them in Britain, and I haven’t heard an argument from George about why we do."

Nuclear subsidies

In a blog I started before this I was going to share the recent calculations by WWF and Greenpeace, that show that the proposed carbon floor price could result in windfall profits for existing nuclear generators of up to £3.43 billion between 2013 and 2026. This not only follows a long history of UK taxpayer subsidies to support the nuclear industry (including a £10bn public bailout of British Energy in 2002) but also flies in the face of the government's stated opposition to any more public subsidy for nuclear energy.

In the last two years the cost of new nuclear power stations has more than doubled (download report here). It is true that the cost of offshore wind has also increased - less so - a doubling in the last five years. However the forecasts for wind are that costs will fall in future, albeit gradually. The same cannot be said of nuclear costs that seems to continue ever upwards.

Earth Track has just to announced the release of "Nuclear Subsidies: Still Not Viable Without Subsidies." This report, prepared on behalf of the Union of Concerned Scientists, provides a detailed review and quantification of subsidies to nuclear power in the United States. With increasingly large subsidies being proposed to support new reactor and fuel cycle infrastructure, much greater transparency on nuclear economics is needed.

You can access the full report here:
The executive summary can be accessed here:

The Wall Street Journal today reminds us again as if we haven't seen enough reasons that the safety debate obscures an economic point that already was emerging before the Japan disaster: Nuclear power makes little economic sense. Dr Paul Dorfman in The Ecologist made similar points a couple of days ago.


Philip Booth said...

A timely court action:

The government is being taken to court in a bid to derail its plans for a programme of new nuclear power stations because of fears that leaking radiation will give children cancer. A 24-year-old community worker from Lancaster has won legal aid to launch an unprecedented High Court action against Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. Lawyers claim the action could delay, or even stop, the nuclear programme. Rory Walker, who lives close to Heysham where new reactors are planned, is worried about having children who could suffer an increased risk of leukaemia. His court challenge is backed by radiation experts and is being pursued by one of Britain’s largest law firms, Irwin Mitchell. Evidence from government-sponsored studies in Germany has! suggested that young children who live close to nuclear power stations suffer twice as many leukaemias and other cancers as other children. The studies, known as KiKK (Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von KernKraftwerken), have prompted an investigation by the UK Department of Health, the results of which were originally due to be published before the end of last year, but have been delayed.

Guardian 25th March 2011

Philip Booth said...

Petition at: