This edition, the Young Greens argue against a new generation of nuclear power stations.
Nuclear power is being repackaged and wheeled out as a solution to our climate woes. Those in favour of a new generation of nuclear power plants claim that it can deliver reliable, safe and clean energy – this is not the case. There is a general consensus that global air pollution is seriously impacting our changing climate on a colossal scale. Growth in emissions is affecting our environment through the everyday energy that we use – the energy used to heat buildings alone is currently responsible for 50% of UK emissions. We cannot blindly accept the logic of nuclear power, even as a last resort or stop gap measure.
The by-products of the fission process can and have been used to produce nuclear weapons, hence concern about Iran’s current nuclear power programme. Nor is this nuclear material secure; research shows that in 2003 19.1 kg of it went missing at the Sellafield plant – this would be enough to produce five nuclear bombs. Even the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant requires serious risk management and there are very few private organisations willing to undertake something so dangerous. To clean up after existing nuclear power plants, the government has had to give the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority £56 billion.
There is pollution in the form of radiation. The incidence of childhood leukaemia around Sellafield is ten times the national average and there is a considerable increase in cases of leukaemia around every plant in Europe.
The amount of radioactive waste in Britain is continually increasing. There is the equivalent of 384 swimming pools of waste, too radioactive for human contact. At the moment it is kept in concrete casing, while we decide how to deal with it.
Even though nuclear reactors do not produce carbon dioxide, mining their fuel and dismantling them certainly does. Nuclear power often uses high quality uranium ore which produces as much CO2 over our life cycles as a small gas plant. Uranium ore is also running out and we have no natural source in the UK – there is no security of supply. The UK will thus be as dependent on other countries to supply and import the fuel for nuclear power as it currently is with oil. We need to cut down on carbon dioxide pollution but this does not mean nuclear power stations will reduce our energy demand. For example, fuel-efficient cars could almost halve energy demand.
Other energy options such as solar panels on houses must be explored. Instead of spending billions on supply, the government should be spending it on reducing demand. Recently the German government announced that it would spend money on improving energy efficiency in housing. This policy is estimated not only to save enough energy so as to be able to make Germany nuclear free, but also to reduce people’s energy bills.
We can deal with climate change without nuclear power; we do not need it and do not want it. A recent survey showed only 34% of people actually support building more nuclear reactors. We need to campaign for better waste management and renewables. Solar and wind technology work with our environment instead of against it.
By Kirran Shah, Young Green