1. The sourcing of uranium leaves a terrible legacy and can never be sustainable or carbon neutral. This is the elephant in the room that no one ever discusses.
2. Nuclear power stations can never be totally safe. Even though designers cater for every foreseeable event, it is the unforeseeable ones which have created the disasters of the last 50 years in Chernobyl, Fukushima and Three Mile Island and many other smaller ones
3. Nuclear waste remains radioactive for tens of thousands of years. It already costs in the UK £3 billion or £1000 per person per year to look after the existing legacy. How can it be safe, responsible or cost-effective to bequeath this to a distant and unknown future population?
4. It is not carbon neutral, or low carbon, but emits in its life-cycle about 30% of the carbon of gas generation, not including mining and looking after the radioactive tailings that results
5. It is highly centralised and so more vulnerable than a decentralised system
6. The nuclear industry has a reputation for secrecy and dissembling of the truth. This includes information about safety and costs which invariably rise. We need a power supply from sources we can trust.
7. We can satisfy our power needs from a mixture of existing and almost market ready renewable technologies, implementing the smart grid, low- and zero-carbon building design and refurbishment, better planning, more efficient transportation and other energy and resource efficiency.
8. New reactor designs are commercially unproven and improperly costed.
9. Uranium supplies will run out within 70 years - sooner as more plants are built. Why not invest instead in developing the renewable technologies whose fuel we will be able to use for much longer into the future?
10. Many power stations are on the coast. They will not be safe in 50 or 100 or more years' time when the sea level has risen as the Antarctic ice cap and glaciers melt.
11. Renewable energy (the source of it, i.e. the fuel) is free, and there is plenty of solar power - which fuels the wind, the waves, the tides and biomass growth - to supply the energy needs of the planet many times over. This means operating costs are in general lower as there is no fuel requirement. If only resources and subsidies currently channeled into nuclear and fossil fuels were channeled into renewable energy technologies, we could easily meet our needs this way.
Below, find some notes supporting some of the above statements. I will hopefully add to these in future posts.
None of the four Generation III designs submitted to the UK regulators for pre-licensing assessment have been proven commercially; they are design concepts without working prototypes to test their safety.
Are we expected to believe our energy companies will be around in any time over a few decades hence, for thousands of years, to pay for the full cost of management of the new radioactive waste produced?
How many companies are here now that were here 500 years ago let alone tens of thousands? None.
Existing nuclear waste is currently managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Its 2010-11 budget is £2.8bn, of which £1.69 billion comes from the taxpayer via DECC. DECC's overall budget in this year is £2.9bn. This means that the cost of managing existing radioactive waste is a staggering 58% of the Department's total expenditure.
The cost of looking after the waste for each new power station is estimated to be about £1 billion.
The World Nuclear Authority admits that in "emerging uranium producing countries" there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring.
It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing Principles of Uranium Stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Safety Guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores are not legally binding on operators.
To produce enough uranium fuel - about 25 tonnes - to keep your average (1300 MW) reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.
The conversion plant will generate a further 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste. To supply the number of power stations worldwide expected to be online in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residue every single year.
Uranium mining has often been a disaster for indigenous peoples. this includes as just one example the people in Niger around Areva's mines. The area has suffered conflict for ownership due to the huge profits involved, and the water table has dried up leaving cattle dead and farmers destitute. Radioactive contaminated goods have been found in street markets in villages.
British Energy is responsible for purchasing uranium in the UK.
Insurance: Nuclear plant operators have limited liability in the case of an accident. Any cost over £700m is covered by the taxpayer. Are taxpayers prepared to take on board the full insurance liabilities, which in the case of Chernobyl have already run to several tens of billions?
The cost of the new generation plant being constructed in Finland, which was alleged to be cost-effective and show what could be done by the new generation designs, has soared during the construction phase.
The same is true of its sister plant in Flamanville in France, now under construction.
Nuclear is not low carbon
Nuclear power produces roughly one quarter to one third of the carbon dioxide as the delivery of the same quantity of electricity from natural gas.
This is according to the Integrated Sustainability Analysis (ISA) by The University of Sydney, which concludes that the greenhouse gas (GHG) intensity of nuclear power varies within the range 130-160 g/kWh.
A second estimate (below) by Storm van Leeuwen and Smith (SLS) is higher because it reflects best practice, especially for waste treatment and disposal, and because the reality of errors and problems in the nuclear cycle typically raises the energy cost well beyond the planned level. ISA’s estimate includes all GHG emissions from the nuclear cycle.
Construction: 12-35 CO2 g/kWh
Front end: 36 CO2 g/kWh
Back end: 17 CO2 g/kWh
Dismantling: 23-46 CO2 g/kWh
Total: 88-134 CO2 g/kWh
To compare: GHG emissions from gas-fired electricity generation are about 450 g/kWh.
By contrast, the U.K. Government’s 2007 Nuclear Power Consultation accepts industry estimates that, across its whole life-cycle, nuclear power emits 7 - 22 g/kWh.
Additionally, no one can convince me that the mining and the care of the huge piles of tailings at uranium mines is carbon-free. It takes a lot of – almost certainly fossil-fuelled - energy to move that amount of rock and process the ore. But the carbon cost is often not in the country where the fuel is consumed - certainly in the case of the UK. So that's why it's called ‘carbon free’.
The threat of rising sea levels
The Met Office has said that rising sea-levels, increased wave height and increased storm surge height must all be considered in the planning of the UK's future nuclear stations.
Their report was commissioned by British Energy. It concludes future power plants will need to be further inland and may need added protection.
At Sizewell in Suffolk, for example, site of Britain's most modern reactor, the prediction is for the most severe storm surges to be 1.7 metres higher in 2080 than at present. But that's only if the Greenland ice sheet doesn't melt. If it does, much of it will be underwater.
At Dungeness in Kent, the storm surge increase could be up to 0.9 metres. Already this plant, which is sited on land only two metres above sea-level, is protected by a massive wall of shingle which needs constant maintenance in the winter. Waves erode so much of it that it needs to be topped up constantly with 600 tons of shingle every day.
Britain doesn’t need to build major new power stations to keep the lights on and maintain security, according to, for example, this report by independent consultants Pöyry.
Space and water heating counts for 83% of domestic energy use and about the same for office use. Together, offices and homes account for around 35% of UK energy use. Ie, 28% of total UK energy use.
Providing 40% of this by passive solar, solar water heating, heat pumps, domestic CHP, and woodchip/pellet boilers, would account for a significant proportion of the amount of power requirement as that required to compensate for the loss of old nuclear power stations.
It would have almost as great an impact in a shorter time scale and far cheaper but with little environmental impact than building new nuclear power stations, as well as creating more, sustainable jobs.