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[cdn-nucl-l] Further in the Sunday Telegraph
A stronger message!? :-)
Regards, Jim Muckerheide
Time for Blair to go nuclear?
As demand for power soars, even 'green' nations are building nuclear plants.
Britain faces an energy crisis unless it follows suit, says Andrew
On a quiet outcrop of land on the windswept Somerset coastline, an old power
plant is slowly, and very carefully, being taken apart.
Hinkley Point A, a nuclear power station owned by BNFL, came to the end of
its working life in 2000. A few hundred workers, where once there were
thousands, are decommissioning the plant. Its radioactive fuel rods are
being dismantled and the site will be used to store spent radioactive
material in a safe environment.
Hinkley A is a symbol of the state of the UK nuclear power industry. The
plant, which once generated 470MW of electricity, is one of 12 older Magnox
nuclear plants owned by BNFL, which will all be decommissioned by 2011.
British Energy, the UK's other nuclear power company, owns eight nuclear
plants. The company is nearly wholly owned by its bondholders and would have
collapsed entirely had it not been for a Government handout. The British
nuclear industry appears to be on its last legs.
The Government, while not completely abandoning the nuclear power industry,
appears to have decided that other forms of renewable energy such as wind
and tidal power are to be encouraged at all costs.
Although renewables generate clean energy, they cause a different sort of
pollution. Wind farms in particular are increasingly running into opposition
from local pressure groups, who claim that they are a visual blight on the
landscape. Environmentalists also claim that thousands of birds are killed
every year by the turbine blades.
But last Wednesday, supporters of the UK nuclear industry were heartened by
Tony Blair's appearance before a committee of senior MPs. He admitted that
America was pressing Britain to re-examine the case for building a new
generation of nuclear power stations.
Blair said that he had "fought long and hard . . . to make sure that the
nuclear option is not closed off". He told MPs that there was no way nuclear
power could be removed from the agenda "if you are serious about the issue
of climate change".
Blair stressed, however, that no decision had been made in Government and
the nuclear industry had to do more to meet the public's concerns about
safety and costs.
Yet while the UK has now only just started to reignite the nuclear debate,
nuclear power, for so long haunted by the ghosts of Chernobyl, has been
making a comeback throughout the rest of the world.
Its recovery is being led by countries that do not have historical hang-ups
about the dangers of harnessing the power of the atom, and which need
reliable sources of electricity to drive their power-hungry industries.
In total, there are 30 nuclear power stations currently under construction
around the globe to add to the 438 already in existence. Together they will
generate 2610TWh of power without emitting greenhouse gases. Coal-powered
stations generating the same amount of power would spew 2.4bn tonnes of
carbon into the atmosphere every year.
Asia is leading the way in building new nuclear plants. Of the 30 under
construction, nine are in India, four are in China, three in Japan and one
is in South Korea.
Why is new generating capacity required? According to the World Nuclear
Association, global energy use has grown by 50 per cent since 1980. The
United Nations predicts that with the world's population growing from 6bn to
7.5bn by 2020, demand for energy will continue to increase, probably by 85
And it is fears of global warming that are turning the tide in favour of the
nuclear industry. Even in parts of Europe dominated by "green" interests,
nuclear power is again being increasingly viewed as a realistic option.
Sweden, for example, has 11 nuclear power plants, generating half the
country's electricity. The bulk of the remainder is generated by hydro
However, the Three Mile Island accident in the US prompted a referendum in
Sweden to phase out nuclear energy and no new stations have been built since
1985. And in 1988 the government decided to begin the phasing-out of nuclear
But this decision was overturned three years later following pressure from
trade unions. Since then, faced with the prospect of importing expensive
natural gas to meet domestic demand, the Swedes have grown increasingly fond
of the country's nuclear power stations.
In 1996 a survey conducted by the Confederation of Swedish Industries found
that 80 per cent of the public were in favour of nuclear power. A third of
those questioned said that they favoured replacing older nuclear stations
with new plants.
In December last year a poll of Swedes found that 75 per cent gave top
environmental priority to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Only 10 per cent
wanted nuclear to be phased out.
An official of the Swedish Nuclear Power Inspectorate said: "Attitudes
towards nuclear are changing dramatically. A proportion in government want
to build new nuclear stations - but they are still in a minority."
In neighbouring Finland, a new nuclear station, financed by the country's
business community, is being built to safeguard supplies of electricity. A
coalition of about 60 Finnish heavy industrial firms have formed a group
called TVO and believe the 1,000MW plant is vital.
Even in Germany, where the Green Party still hold the balance of power in
government, an increasing number of voices are questioning whether the
country is wise to phase out its nuclear generating capacity.
John Ritch, the former US ambassador to the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA), believes the change in public attitudes in Scandinavia could
be replicated in the UK if there were a sensible debate.
Ritch, who is now the director general of the World Nuclear Association,
says: "When you force the general public to face facts, the case for nuclear
becomes very persuasive. In Sweden you have a classic case of public debate
leading to public enlightenment."
Ritch describes this process as the "immunisation effect", where a populace
grows to like nuclear power after seeing at first hand the benefits it can
provide over a long period.
Ritch argues that the public opposition to nuclear power is irrational.
"Current nuclear generation is enormously safe. Year after year it churns
out electricity without incident. There has not been one instance in history
where civil nuclear plants have been used as a means of getting nuclear
weapons," he says.
Ritch also believes that the UK is heading for an energy crisis if it does
not embrace the nuclear option again. "This Government will take the UK from
being completely energy autonomous to completely energy dependent within a
generation," he says.
Opponents of the nuclear industry in the UK do not believe the public will
ever accept the prospect of new nuclear stations.
Friends of the Earth, among others, claims that other forms of renewable
energy can provide all the power the country needs and reduce carbon
emissions at the same time.
But the Government's target of generating more than 10 per cent of all
electricity from renewable sources by 2010 is under threat. The power
industry is already lagging well behind the 4.3 per cent target for 2004.
The growth in renewables is not cutting carbon emissions in the UK - it is
merely replacing nuclear plants as they are decommissioned.
Meanwhile, a Government White Paper on energy last year found that
deep-rooted fears about atomic energy remained etched into the public
That said, the technical issues facing the industry, such as how to deal
with nuclear waste, are being tackled. A spokesman for BNFL says: "These
issues are not insurmountable by any means, and indeed are being solved
around the world at this very minute.
"In the US, Yucca Mountain, an underground geological repository for nuclear
waste, is under construction. Work on a similar facility in Sweden is about
Supporters of nuclear power concede that the fear of terrorists getting hold
of nuclear waste is prevalent, but highlight the fact that more radioactive
material exists from the Cold War arms race than will ever be created by
civil nuclear power stations.
Any decision about the future of the nuclear industry in the UK is unlikely
to be taken until after the next general election. But even if the next
administration decides in 2006 to build new nuclear stations, the planning
and construction process means that new plants could not come on line until
2015 at the earliest.
But with renewables unable to provide security of supply and the reserves of
gas and oil running out, nuclear appears to some to be the only viable
option. It may remain unpopular, but it could become the least undesirable
option to fulfilling the UK's energy needs while meeting its commitments on
reducing greenhouse gases.