So the UK government has finally woken up to the fact that within 20 years we will have no power stations left. Amazing! When I began work in the civil nuclear industry two decades ago this was already a well-established fact. For the record, those within the nuclear industry pressed the ‘powers that be’ to invest in development of something – renewable sources (wind and waves), bio-fuels and even nuclear plant that far back. Many of us even supported the coal miners recognising the diverse benefits (including pharmaceuticals) that derive from carbon products.
As a ‘tame nuclear professional’ I guess it is pretty obvious which side of the fence I stand on the issue. The truth is that the industry has been allowed to decline to such an extent that if we ordered a nuclear plant tomorrow it would probably have to be an imported design (like Sizewell) rather than home grown like my beloved Torness. Suffice to say, Sizewell has lots of features not found in US reactors because it would never have got licensed in this country without them. Further, you would never, ever, get away with a Chernobyl style reactor in this country (and never would have) despite the fact the real cause of the disaster was not the design but human wilfulness in breaking rules (is that what we minister-types call sin? I think it is).
Before people start quoting all the old myths at me….
Yes, there are leukaemia clusters around some nuclear sites, but also around many coal mines and even, reputedly, Arthur Scargill’s home! There is good evidence to suggest that, sadly, leukaemia and other cancers are more common among the ‘migrant worker’ populations that tend to gather around large industrial sites. If you are really concerned about the effects of ionising radiation, give up the trans-Atlantic flights and visits to Aberdeen or Cornwall! Oh yes, and stop drinking coffee, which is sufficiently radioactive that it would constitute low-level waste at a power station.
Yes, nuclear waste does last for thousands of years – but so do thermo-set plastics, industrial chemicals and all the non-degradable stuff we put in landfill sites. It is a much bigger issue than one type of waste.
Yes, nuclear accidents can kill and maim incredible numbers of people. Alas the internal combustion engine and tobacco kill far more every day of the week – yet we are happy to allow the former and struggle to outlaw the latter. Having worked in nuclear safety with its “belts, braces, safety pins, and a spare pair of trousers to boot’ mentality I am dismayed that we are blind to the inherent (and often unchosen) risks from other sources. Don’t move more than half a mile further from a nuclear site or the risk of being killed on the road will outweigh the benefits. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Yes, it is true that wind farms and wave-powered systems are CO2 neutral, but don’t be fooled into thinking they have no environmental impact. Why do we put breakwaters on beaches – to stop long-shore drift. Anything we put in the way of wind or water affects its flow and will have some sort of impact. I doubt it’d be catastrophic like the greenhouse effects, but I don’t know what research has been done to think it through. Maybe you do and can tell me.
The sad truth is that in the western world our electricity consumption is ever increasing – despite so-called energy efficient equipment – as we have TV’s in every room, several computers, endless kitchen gadgets and the like. If we are to sustain our current life styles we need to act and act fast. A new power station of any kind will take up to 20 years from design to commissioning – I don’t think HM government has time to prevaricate in this one. In the meantime I’ll start stockpiling nasty NiCd batteries…(or not).