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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

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The case against

cejill perry
Green Party: Jill Perry

THE Government has just announced that 10 sites around the UK can be fast-tracked through the planning system for nuclear new build. Three of them are along the Cumbrian coast, two of them on greenfield sites.

This is bad news for the fight against climate change. Even with changes in the planning system it will still take far too long to deliver a new nuclear power station. Promised building timescales slip badly. At Olkiuoto, Finland, the plant promised to be built in four years will now take at least twice that. There can be no new nuclear power stations operating in the UK before 2015, and probably much later than that.

Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for about 100 years, cutting emissions quickly is important. Delay means that much deeper cuts will have to be made later.

The Sustainable Development Commission calculated the effect of replacing existing nuclear generation with new nuclear capacity. This might reduce overall emissions in 2020 by 2.4 per cent. They also considered doubling the contribution of nuclear power, which might cut overall emissions by 6.5 per cent in 2030. Either of these options is miniscule compared with what is needed, and too late.

It is bad news for the economy. The cost of this programme will be huge and unpredictable. At the most recent British nuclear power plant, Sizewell B, capital costs more than doubled. In Finland the promised price has already more than doubled to 5.5 billion euros.

Our Government insisted that any new build is privately financed and companies were apparently content with this, but we always suspected this would change. Nowhere has a nuclear power station been built on these terms, and independent analysts think it impossible for the UK unless help is given with the construction, power price and operational risks. In fact EDF has asked the Government for financial help to build the new reactors.

It’s bad news for jobs. A new-build programme would create employment, although whether the large figures being bandied about are realistic is debatable. Nor are there guarantees that the jobs would come to Cumbrians. Only about one third of the jobs at Olkiluoto went to Finnish people.

No assessment has been made of the jobs that will be lost in other industries – farming and tourism locally – as West Cumbria regains its nuclear status, but also in the wider public sector as nuclear subsidies result in a drain on public funds. Nor of the jobs that could come, if we went a different route.

It’s bad news for the environment. From the cradle to the grave nuclear is bad news. Uranium mining is often an exploitative affair. Campaigners from Tuareg, Niger, describe vividly the environmental degradation and human rights abuses caused by uranium mining.

Currently the Ranua people of Lapland, Finland, are fighting proposals for uranium prospecting and to mining which threatens traditional livelihoods and would destroy this vast northern wilderness area.

There are considerable risks in operating the reactors. Neither of the types under consideration is licensed or operating yet, although EPRs are being built in Finland and France. The EPR was supposed to set a new standard for nuclear safety but Finnish nuclear safety authorities have detected about 3,000 minor and critical safety problems. Contractors have attempted to hide their mistakes by fabricating measurements and covering up defective structures. The Finnish, UK and French nuclear safety authorities have found the design of the control system of the reactor to be at odds with basic principles of nuclear safety.

As yet there is no solution for existing radioactive waste. A Geological Disposal Facility (underground waste dump) is hugely controversial, and although the industry and politicians tell us that there are no technical problems to burial, this is simply not the case. Geological and gas-related problems (amongst others) still remain to be solved. Much of West Cumbria is unhappy about volunteering to host a waste dump.

The waste from a new generation of reactors would be even more problematic and dangerous. The industry tells us it is high-efficiency, high burn-up fuel which sounds good, but means that the waste fuel is more radioactive and less stable, and is even more difficult to store underground.

THERE is a far better way to reduce our climate change emissions, which is more effective, cheaper, provides more jobs and does not result in a contaminated environment.

We propose a low-carbon energy system that includes making “every building a power station”. The energy efficiency of existing buildings will be maximised, as will the use of renewables to generate electricity.

A “carbon army” of workers will be trained. Country-wide we will have hundreds of thousands of jobs created. The housing stock of West Cumbria is, in general, older and less energy efficient than that of other parts of the country so many jobs would be created locally, improving insulation and heating systems and installing domestic sized renewable energy systems.

For a nuclear power station to be built at Kirksanton, the Haverigg windfarm would have to be demolished. What more potent symbol of this Government’s abject policy failure is there?

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