The cabinet have apparently voted unanimously to approve the building of new nuclear power stations in the UK. (Source: Today, Radio 4)
Well, that’s the way the winds been blowing…
I’m going to say straight off that I think this is a really bad idea. Yes, there are merits to nuclear power; it is almost entirely carbon neutral for a start. Yes, the degrading of our current nuclear generation capacity meant that we were soon to have a hole in our power production, that would be a challenge to fill; something that necessitated action sooner rather than later. Yes, the issue of energy security is becoming a major one, especially as the UK’s ability to produce its own oil and gas is diminishing.
All good reasons, and probably the ones Gordon will use to justify the plan when he announces it today (presuming he doesn’t cower in the background and let John Hutton take the flack). But I really, really don’t think that these (albeit valid) reasons overcome the glaring hole in the nuclear issue: waste.
The decision being announced today effectively means that we are going ahead with building more nuclear reactors (or at least, letting industry decide to build them if it wants) without having any clear idea what to do with the waste we already have from our existing nuclear generators. This is stuff that will be dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years, and we have no idea what to do with it!
To dispose of radioactive waste in such a way that it will still be safe in 200,000 years time (or, in context, about 10× the length of the entire of human history we know about) will be hugely expensive and incredibly technically challenging. I mean, how do you go about finding a location that will be safe from geological processes for 200,000 years?!? And, just as they don’t know how to achieve safe long-term storage, no one knows who is going to pay for this.
To me, despite its apparent advantages as a ‘green’ and secure energy supply, the issue of safe waste disposal means that the nuclear option cannot be considered safe, or cost effective. Until that is resolved, there is no way we should consider building new nuclear generators.
If the government want new capacity, we have a very windy coastline, perfect for offshore wind generation. Microgeneration within towns and cities could be hugely successful if the government would subsidise it. And promoting energy efficiency at both industrial and domestic levels would reduce our overall generation requirements. If after that the government are worried about energy security, how about buying a 20% stake in Gazprom? (Better than investing in Northern Rock).