Monday, March 02, 2009

Nuclear Power - Still Not the Answer

There's been quite a lot in the press in the past few days about 'leading greens' doing a volte-face and coming out in favour of nuclear power. I thought it was worth clarifying that the vast majority of those in the green movement, and the clear stance of the Green Party is that nuclear power is not the solution to our energy crisis or tackling climate change.

A little bit lazy on my part, but rather than reinventing the wheel, I thought the article below from a Lancaster Green councillor John Whitelegg was a pretty good summation of the arguments against nuclear power.

We don't need nuclear power to stop climate change
Prof John Whitelegg, Green Party spokesperson on sustainable development and one of 12 Green councillors on Lancaster city council, discusses why renewables, rather than nuclear power, should be the focus for economic recovery.

It is true that a small number of Greens, feeling the urgency of the climate crisis, have suggested a nuclear re-think as a lesser of two evils. But it's also true that the Green Party overwhelmingly thinks they're wrong.

The case for nuclear power to deal with climate change simply doesn't stack up.

Let's forget for a moment that nuclear energy is risky, and that after fifty years the industry still hasn't worked out what to do with the dangerous waste it generates. Even then, nuclear power should still be phased out in the interest of good economics.

A recent study showed that the UK nuclear industry has wasted £32 billion. It's the most expensive form of energy when we take into account its long-term waste costs, even if we ignore the potential costs of a nuclear disaster.

But there are other reasons why Greens oppose nuclear power. We want to create a truly sustainable economy. That means viable jobs for huge numbers of people in sustainable industries. Studies have consistently shown that nuclear energy sustains far fewer jobs per megawatt than non-nuclear renewables.

It also means creating resilient, diverse economies. Currently many local economies are far too dependent on the industrial monoculture of a nuclear power plant.

Renewable energy would not only sustain jobs in significant numbers at major locations, for example where wind turbines are being manufactured. It would also create huge numbers of jobs spread around the entire country, benefitting every local economy, for instance the jobs installing and maintaining microgenerators and servicing very large numbers of small-scale windfarms and biogas plants and so on.

Studies have consistently shown that nuclear energy sustains far fewer jobs per megawatt than non-nuclear renewables.

Of course, in the immediate term we have a recession to deal with. We need to create very large numbers of jobs right now. We can't achieve this by building nuclear power stations in fifteen years' time.

We can, however, unclog the planning system so that all the offshore and onshore wind projects that are currently held up can go ahead urgently. We could immediately announce new feed-in tariffs that would give investors the confidence to pour money into renewable energy. We could put the UK economy on something like a war footing starting tomorrow, to get all the wind, wave and solar systems in place that we need to achieve a low-carbon or even zero-carbon economy.

If we achieved Denmark's rate of growth on wind energy we could create something like 200,000 jobs in that sector alone by 2020 - faster than you could build nuclear power stations.

And also, as a matter of priority, we could start straightaway with domestic and business energy conservation. Not only would this rapidly create many tens of thousands of jobs within a short space of time - it would also save as much energy as all the UK's nuclear power stations currently generate.

So we simply don't need nuclear power to stop climate change. But we do need comprehensive Green policies, and we need them to be implemented now.

Green Party spokesman and Lancaster councillor Prof John Whitelegg is former Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and former Professor of Sustainable Development at York University's Stockholm Institute of the Environment.

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