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[cdn-nucl-l] Patrick Moore, The Independent, Nuclear energy? Yes please ...
Patrick Moore, The Independent, Nuclear energy? Yes please ...
Nuclear energy? Yes please ...
15 February 2007
EDITORIAL & OPINION
Last summer, the UK government's Energy Review looked at the big picture
surrounding energy needs, and wisely called for a resurgence in nuclear
power generation. Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and other
activist groups have adopted policies that specifically exclude nuclear from
the UK's future energy supply. While they talk about "transitioning to a
low-carbon system", they dismiss nuclear, the only energy source capable of
actually delivering us from an increasing use of fossil fuels and their
resulting carbon emissions.
As a lifelong environmentalist, a co-founder and 15-year leader of
Greenpeace who finds himself critical of many activist groups today, I am
perplexed by this logical inconsistency. It is simply not credible to claim
that wind and solar energy can replace coal and natural gas.
Wind and solar are by nature intermittent, and therefore not capable of
delivering the baseload power required for an energy grid. In fact wind and
solar must be backed up with baseload energy so there is power when the wind
stops blowing and the sun is not shining. Simply put, the only choice is
between fossil fuel and nuclear.
I choose nuclear for clear and compelling environmental reasons. Worldwide,
442 operating nuclear plants avoid the release of nearly 3 billion tons of
CO2 emissions annually - the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 428
million cars. In the UK alone, 23 nuclear reactors avoid the release of
approximately 150 million tons of CO2 each year, while quietly providing 20
percent of its electricity.
The UK is the EU's largest, and the world's third-largest natural gas
consumer, and in 1994 became a net-importer of natural gas. The risk of
building an energy infrastructure that depends on gas from Russia and the
Middle East is worth considering. The twin policy drivers of climate change
and energy security compliment each other in directing us towards an
aggressive programme of replacing fossil fuels with a combination of
renewable energy and nuclear.
I am not an alarmist on the subject of climate change. But I do believe that
it would be very wise to adopt a realistic program to reduce CO2 emissions.
Nuclear energy has an impressive operational record, yet unease continues to
surround this proven source of clean and safe power. Each concern deserves
Concern: nuclear energy is not safe. Fact: nuclear energy is one of the
safest industrial sectors worldwide. Modern nuclear power plants follow
strict government regulations, which mandate continuous employee training
and redundant safety features. By contrast, the Soviet-designed Chernobyl
reactor was an accident waiting to happen; it had no containment structure,
and its operators literally blew it up. While tragic, the number of deaths
from Chernobyl confirmed last year by the United Nations was, at 56, well
below initial reports. The Three Mile Island accident in the US, on the
other hand, was a safety success story. The containment structure functioned
as designed, and prevented radioactive material from escaping at harmful
levels, resulting in no deaths or injuries. In the last 35 years, no one has
died of a radiation-related accident in the UK civilian nuclear reactor
Concern: nuclear energy is expensive. Fact: nuclear reactors deliver
electricity on par with the cost of coal and hydro, and cheaper than natural
gas, wind or solar.
Concern: nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years. Fact: spent
fuel, which contains 95 per cent of its original energy, is being safely
stored at nuclear power plants around the world, and will be re-used by
future generations for electricity. Within 40 years, spent fuel has less
than 1000th the radioactivity it had when it was removed from the reactor.
Concern: nuclear reactors are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Fact: even an
airliner could not penetrate the five-foot-thick reinforced concrete
containment structure, which protects contents from the outside as well as
from the inside.
Concern: nuclear energy is directly linked to nuclear weapons proliferation.
Fact: it is not necessary to have a nuclear reactor in order to produce
enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. Uranium can be enriched by using new
centrifuge technology; that is what Iran is suspected of doing at present.
Nuclear proliferation must be addressed as a separate issue from nuclear
The only significant obstacle facing a greater reliance on nuclear energy is
the wrongheaded opposition by activist groups like Friends of the Earth and
Greenpeace. These groups use misinformation to scare the public into
believing nuclear energy is unsafe. They want fossil fuel power plants and
nuclear plants phased out, falsely claiming that conservation, efficiency
and renewables alone will provide sufficient energy to power the UK's cities
and manufacturing sectors.
Once people see nuclear energy for what it truly is - safe, reliable
baseload power with no greenhouse gas emissions - they will wholeheartedly
support their government's forward-thinking policy. Then the engineers and
scientists can get on with the job of building an energy infrastructure that
makes it possible to reduce the use of fossil fuels and the threat of
The writer is a former leader of Greenpeace and chair and chief scientist of