Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Are we right to fast-track new nuclear age?

Debate, reader comments and forum -- Times Online, The Times

Two years after a government report called nuclear power an "unattractive" option, the Prime Minister now wants planning procedures to be speeded up so a new generation of nuclear power stations could be under contruction within ten years. Is nuclear power the only solution to climate change? Is the Government right to make this U-turn? Send your e-mails using the form below. Your replies will be posted here

I would like to know exactly what the costs will be to the taxpayer over this will be. If it's nil and everything is funded through electricity bills, then fine, no problem. If nuclear is really cheaper then it's a clear runner, but only if there is cast iron way of covering decommissioning costs through ongoing electricity bills. Anthony Harrisson, London
The Government could cut greenhouse emissions far more quickly and easily simply by putting higher taxes on flying. That's what is causing rising emissions in the first place. Blair is preferring the nuclear option because while it makes more mess, he thinks it loses fewer votes. Despite nuclear waste, nuclear power is ultimately far less damaging to our environment than CO2 emissions, so we are better off with nuclear power than without it. Global warming has probably already killed more people than Chernobyl and it's barely started. However, political targets of cost and timing must not lead to dangerous shortcuts when reactors are being built. Richard Milne, Edinburgh

Excellent. After all these years of hesitation perhaps there is some people that recognize the benefits of nuclear power. Eduardo Romero, Liverpool

As somebody who has worked in the UK and US energy industries I agree that renewables are not the answer. Clean coal is currently viewed in the States as the cheaper solution, although GE has been lobbying for government subsidies for nuclear. The last US nuclear plant was built in 1992 and cost about $5,000/kW. This is ten times the cost of gas-fired plants, and excludes decommissioning costs. Since then, nuclear plants have been viewed as too expensive. New clean coal fired plants can be built for about $1,500/kW and CO2 removal technologies are being developed. The UK Government has a poor track record as a builder of nuclear power plants. Historically they have been over-budget, picked technologies which nobody else used and which didn't work well. The Department of Energy's economic analysis submitted to the public inquiry to justify Sizewell B in the 1980s used some dubious assumptions to make the case, but somehow they got away with it. It would be interesting to review the current economics. Hugo Peters, Dallas, Texas

We may be right to fast-track a new nuclear age, but what will the quality of debate be given the current meltdown of physics teaching in schools? The quest for the safe storage of nuclear waste seems easy when compared to the quest to find physics teachers. Good education in the subject would enable better decision making by a sceptical electorate. Andrew Hamilton-Meikle, Taunton

Energy is not the only issue here. The deeper issue is that the present Government has been so focused on headline management that the infrastructure of the country is in danger. Power supply is just one thing; educating enough people in physics so that there are people who know how it all works is another. I'm sure the people down in the engine room of the country can find many more. This Government spends so much time preening itself in the mirror there's none left to do the work required to keep the country running. John Small, Faversham

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but won't nuclear energy just end up being as dangerous as what we use now? I'm all for reducing CO2 emissions, but the word nuclear worries me a little. How about we build more solar panels, or wind turbines instead? I think we should try using green energy before the energy we're about to use turns us green! Katie Paddock, Walsall

Even if we don't build new nuclear power plants we still have to look after the waste and the old sites for hundreds of years. Also France, next door, produces nearly 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear and will continue to do so for most of our lives. A (highly unlikely) Chernobyl-type disaster there would affect us almost as much as one here. Given these facts, isn't it better that we build a new generation of nuclear plants, add another 10 per cent to the waste we've got and have the benefits of both reduced carbon emissions and a more diverse energy supply? None of this would mean giving up on renewables or that one day they couldn't provide most if not all of our needs. Nuclear fission is a medium-term solution and makes sense to me. Martin Johnson, Manchester

Nuclear power is good for short-term problems with electricity but not in the long run as the nuclear waste takes hundreds of years to decay. It's time this generation looked for more environmentally friendly ways to produce electricity. If it's not done now, when will it be done? The Government is always debating that we should come up with new environmentally friendly ways to produce power to protect the planet in the future. When will this train of thought actually turn into action? Scott Bunton, Clacton-on-Sea

Nova Scotia doesn't have nuclear power because when it was planned in the late 70s, a group of people organised a campaign against it. New Brunswick, across the bay from us did go for it at the same time. The refurbishment cost - spread between half a million tax payers - was annouced this year as being $1.9 billion, or $3800 per taxpayer. When you take into account the unemployment rate and low income of many families in NB it works out at a lot more. Surely this is a worthwhile price to pay for all your energy? Well no because a) you have to pay your electricity bill on top of that and b) nuclear only generates 1/3 of NB's power. Now, if NS had taken the money it saved in 1979 by not building a nuke station and put it into renewable energy sources we would be using safe and cheap electricity today. But hey, guess what? 12,000 lakes, the highest tides in the world and we are 400 miles from the windiest place on earth, and they generate less than one per cent of energy using renewable energy. Andrew Riddles, Bear River, Nova Scotia

Nuclear energy is not ?clean? just because it does not emit CO2. The waste from nuclear energy is a big worry for people who live by the reprocessing plant at Sellafield. The only progressive means of producing energy that is really clean, is to use renewables - green energies like solar and wind power. This issue needs a large and open public debate with all the facts laid out, not just the facts that support Tony's argument. Christine Hatcher, Weymouth

At last, the Prime Minister has started to think rationally about nuclear power. Regardless of the savings on greenhouse gases, the 30 per cent of our electricity that is currently generated by nuclear power cannot be replaced by renewables such as wind/wave power. Building new nuclear facilities at the site of the current facilities will mean stable electricity supplies without despoiling vast tracts of countryside, particularly in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District. David Leslie, Crieff

The real technical problem we face with power production is density. First, the density of our population and, secondly, the power density of various power sources. If the UK had a population of about 10 million it might well be possible to generate the required energy using renewable sources, but with 60 million we cannot realistically get the output required. Nuclear offers a very effective use of space in terms of covering a relatively small amount of land per KWH generated, and it is predictable. Therefore I see three scenarios in the future. 1. No nuclear and renewable sources: we had better get used to an unreliable power supply. 2. No nuclear and hydrocarbons: simply more pollution and CO2. 3. Nuclear: reliable supply, no CO2 but big issues with the disposal of waste material. These seem to be our choices, time to decide. Graham Mapp, Munich, Germany

I am remarkably happy with the news that the present government has decided to "go nuclear". With the real and present threat of global warming I feel this is the only practical/economic technology that we have today that can significantly lower Britain's CO2 emissions. Amir Helmy, London
It is not difficult to understand that building popular support for nuclear power is difficult as long as the belief persists in the minds of many that renewables can fuel economic growth into the future safely and cheaply. The renewables lobby must be challenged to provide convincing evidence that wind, tide, solar and biomass can really power our economy in the future. If they don't demonstrate the reality of their claims and instead frighten us into mistakenly rejecting nuclear, in years to come we may experience a practical demonstration of the effect significant energy shortages will have on our daily lives. John Haslam, High Wycombe

There is an insidious, creeping enemy far more dangerous than the terrorist, and far more close to home. Why, again and again, has there been no open presentation of the facts? Why in news reports do we not see a straightforward appraisal of the relative capacities and benefits of nuclear compared to renewable energies? Where is the analysis? Where is the argument? Let's have a heated debate! Prior, during and after Iraq, and indeed ever since 9/11 there has been a failure on the part of first politicians, and then the media to hold this government to account. Why? The Government may be lobbied by powerful agents, but the media too? We can no longer afford the luxury of blindly trusting the rich, the powerful, the decision-makers. Ask the questions. And if they can't come up with the answers? They had better not be making any decisions. David L. Williams, London

Nuclear cannot be the way forward - it does not address the shorter term issues of supply and is not a legacy to leave our children. In the minimum 10-15 it would take to bring new nuclear stations online and with a fraction of the investment, existing renewables could be providing a partial solution. And in that same time frame serious investment in R&D will provide better solutions than any headlong rush for nuclear. Trevor Skelton, Deal

The Government needs to make massive investment in renewables immediately. If nuclear power stations were approved for development today it is unlikely that any of them would be online before 2020. This would result in a major energy gap and continued contribution to climate change through the CO2 emitted by coal-fired power stations. Investment in wave and tidal power, biomass and micro generation as well as continued investment in wind power is all necessary and through a breadth of power generation provided by the above, the UK can produce the majority of its energy needs sustainably and responsibly. Talk is not enough, though - individuals need to take action today whether it is by choosing a renewable electricity supplier, installing micro renewables on their home or attending the Climate March on the December 3. We must vote with our money and our mouths if we are to stand a chance of getting the power we want. Hugo House, Bristol

Participants in the energy debate frequently use the term "renewable", but I wonder how many can actually define what they mean by this. "Sustainable" is a far more suitable word and immediately makes obvious its purpose: just because a fuel source is clean and "renewable" (like wind power, for example), does not mean it is sustainable. Future technological advances will demand increasing amounts of energy (despite the calls for lowering our energy consumption: this is simply not a sustainable reality - energy consumption WILL go up), and I don't believe that wind or solar power will ever be a reliable source of sufficient amounts of energy. The only renewable energy source that even comes close to being a viable energy source for the future is wave power, as waves are the most reliable of the natural sources. Perhaps the medium term provision of nuclear power will allow us to properly develop wave power with a view to long-term implementation of wave farms. This, of course, would rely heavily on the powers that be actually having a long-term plan. History (and the present debate - held at the last possible moment) would indicate that they do not. Nicholas Ord, Guildford

Nuclear power is the only option if we are to head towards a low carbon, hydrogen economy. To move into a hydrogen economy requires vast amounts of energy which only nuclear can provide. Roughly 70 per cent of France's energy supplies are derived from nuclear generation, yet they have had no serious issues with "Chernobyl-style" accidents or leakage. Michael Stainsby, Huddersfield


Blogger Ian Deavin said...

The problematic element of this debate, both within mainstream media, and the blogs posted above is the dogmatic "right and wrong way" camps that form, often based upon intuition and supported by carefully selected supporting evidence. Through all of this electrical smog its very difficult to identify relevant from non-relevant information. This criticism is directed to both camps. From a government level the spin doctors (and chief scientific, absolutely non biased, chief scientific advisor) are setting the the questions, thus in turn defining the framework for their pre-selected answers. A totally transparent process, so blindingly manipulative as to be perfectly see-through, what a turn up for the books!

Perhaps more relevant questions include the following:
Are we consuming too much energy?
Economic growth at all costs, a model for a civilised, environmentally and socially sustainable society?

Such ideas will no doubt initiate a barrage of comments with the words "pragmatism, idealism and realism" featuring heavily. However if we only address the questions posed by goverment and main stream media then no real progress will be made towards a real sustainabilty. Sometimes we need to think outside the box.
Are we right to fast track a nuclear age? no!
were asking the wrong question.

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