Green Watch: Comment

Why nuclear power should be last resortSTEPHEN Tindale, former director of Greenpeace, was one of four “greens” who recently announced their conversion to nuclear power.

David Green

Why nuclear power should be last resort

STEPHEN Tindale, former director of Greenpeace, was one of four “greens” who recently announced their conversion to nuclear power.

The UK must further embrace this technology, they said, if it is to cut climate- change emissions by 80% by 2050. Nuclear is not ideal, they made clear, but it is preferable to the more extreme scenarios of global warming.

I understand the arguments of these “converted greens” but I doubt it is wise to give nuclear a role to play in helping to solve the Earth's climatic problems. Even if the technology does help cut emissions (and that cut can only be small) it will introduce another serious problem - that of the need to guard radioactive waste for thousand of years.

However, we must face the fact that without some kind of action on the power front, UK carbon emissions will continue to increase and there will be a gaping hole in the supply system when all but one (Sizewell B) of the existing nuclear stations reach the end of their operating lifetimes over the next decade - unless we can build new power plants or, crucially, reduce demand. Even a doubling of nuclear capacity would reduce our greenhouse emissions by only 8%. And that can only be achieved by about 2025 because nuclear plants take so long to build.

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Neither will going nuclear make us more energy-independent as a nation. Supporters of the nuclear option point to our reliance on natural gas and coal from other countries. Where do they think the uranium for Sizewell comes from? It is not mined in Thorpeness, that's for sure.

The best potential for reducing carbon emissions is reducing demand. This can be done by energy-efficiency measures such as improved insulation, the use of appliances which use less gas and electricity and the development and use of electric vehicles.

But successive governments have never put in the investment needed; politicians seem to favour big infrastructure development rather than whittling away at the grassroots of the problem,

Yet many of those active in the debate argue that �1 spent on energy efficiency is more effective - in terms of cutting carbon emissions - that �1 spent on nuclear power, a notoriously expensive and heavy-handed way of generating electricity.

Investing in nuclear will, of course, also serve to divert attention (and money) away from the truly sustainable options.

I don't consider leaving our offspring with tonnes of highly radioactive waste is either sustainable or safe. In some parts of the world these little children grow up to be big terrorists and, with unstable regimes, the threat of nuclear power being used to create nuclear weapons is real. While my experience suggests that UK nuclear safety standards are the best in the world, my opinion is that we should expand this industry only as a last resort.

david.green@eadt.co.uk