Links: News item, SDC, chapter on C02 (pdf)
These are the arguments:
1. Long-term waste – no long term solutions are yet available, let alone acceptable to the general public; it is impossible to guarantee safety over the long- term disposal of waste.
Yes. Bang on. Of course if nuclear diminishes the threat of global warming, then this a question of what is the greater threat. Also how much nuclear may diminish global warming depends on the other arguments.
2. Cost – the economics of nuclear new-build are highly uncertain. There is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if estimated costs escalate, there’s a clear risk that the taxpayer will be have to pick up the tab.
Correct. The new Finnish reactor is getting hidden subsidies. Of course environmentalists will usually argue that it is worth paying more to fight global warming.
3. Inflexibility – nuclear would lock the UK into a centralised distribution system for the next 50 years, at exactly the time when opportunities for microgeneration and local distribution network are stronger than ever.
No, sorry, this just stinks. Microgeneration may be an alternative to grid power for people who are off-grid, but it is only a complement to grid power to those of us who have the benefit of a grid connection.
The SDC clearly sees nuclear as a political rival to renewables and microgeneration. They may be right, but it is still unfortunate. Nuclear, renewables, efficiency and microgeneration can all reduce carbon emissions, and are all alternatives to fossil fuel use.
There is absolutely no sign of an economically sound engineering case for dismantling the 'centralised distribution system'. It is driven by 'small is beautiful' wishful thinking. There is an engineering trade-off between capital-efficient and thermally-efficient large plant on the one hand, and distribution costs on the other.
4. Undermining energy efficiency – a new nuclear programme would give out the wrong signal to consumers and businesses, implying that a major technological fix is all that’s required, weakening the urgent action needed on energy efficiency.
This is just ridiculous. We should not use techonological means to reduce carbon emissions, because people may conclude that technological means can reduce carbon emissions. Sorry, this is not just ridiculous, it is gob-smackingly mind-bogglingly ridiculous.
And of course, what actually drives energy efficiency, is not the spin we put on how we generate the energy, but the price of energy. If we have more, expensive, nuclear power, cross-subsidising from gas and coal, then costs will be higher and efficiency will be promoted.
In the pdf linked above, the SDC talk about "demand reductions". Demand reduction if not a result of "technological fixes" will be much the same in economic impact as huge price increases, worse in fact if they are not brought about simply by huge price increases.
5. International security – if the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, we cannot deny other countries the same technology*. With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks.
I largely agree with this, or rather I agree that it is a very good reason to develop and promote renewables ahead of nuclear. But it is not so compelling a reason not to use nuclear in preference to fossil fuels in already-nuclear powers such as the US, Europe, China and India, representing a lot of energy demand growth.
It is suggested that maintaining nuclear capacity would only make a difference of 8% to our carbon emissions. That may not seem much compared to a target of 60%. But it is a lot compared to what we seem to be on course to achieving. United against nuclear are anti-technology environmentalists, and "economic contrarians" who consider that global warming is inevitable and the costs of doing anything about it would be disproportionate. What an alliance!
There are sound reasons for having a mix of energy sources, both for security of supply, and because they have different characteristics of cost, flexibility and so forth. Taking nuclear out of the equation altogether means taking it out of the roles it is best at. There is no case for trying to do without renewables, or without coal or without gas. It will take better arguments than those of the SDC to defeat nuclear.
Tag: nuclear power