This week I was delighted to read a new argument against an expansion in the use of nuclear powe. I've long opposed nuclear power and certainly am very much against the so called 'pragmatism' of expanding atomic energy to help meet climate change targets. The arguments against have always been clear-cut in my mind:
Nuclear power is hugely expensive, and is usually subsidised at eye watering tax-payer expense. Even with such subsidies there is debate whether it is truly price competitive if one factors in all the costs of extracting, transporting, processing and disposing of the uranium used in nuclear power stations.
Nuclear waste is an unsolved problem, most countries are using temporary facilities whilst a laborious process of trying to find a place to leave the waste long enough to let it stop being dangerously radioactive. This is a growing problem that will hang over generations to come. Why create such a risk for our children's children?
Nuclear power as a whole is a safety and health risk to workers and us, the public. Furthermore continued development and production of nuclear power technologies only serve to further the chances of a proliferation in nuclear weapons.
Nuclear power stations take a long time to build and come online. They perpetuate the centralised, long distance transmission model of electrical grids which waste huge amounts of energy through transport. They are the wrong type of approach to solve our clean energy needs and we could never get enough online in time to significantly reduce global emissions anyway.
Uranium is not a renewable fuel. It's dug out of the ground… Why depend on a fuel like that when the sun, wind and waves are free and never ending?
Further to this final point, Daniel Botkin wrote “The limits of nuclear power” a comment piece in the International Herald Tribune. In it he argues that if we could build enough nuclear power stations to replace all fossil fuels then on known available uranium reserves we would run out in less than five years. Including all known sources of uranium, even those deemed not viable for mining, Botkin says we would run out in 29 years.
To a more realistic scenario, increasing nuclear energy yearly so that by 2050 50% of world energy was nuclear. Botkin calculates that uranium would run out in 2019 (using available reserves figure) or 2038 (all known uranium).
He also notes that 'breeder' reactors, which generate more fuel than they use, are not viable yet and are dangerous.
So even if we run headlong to nuclear power it barely gives us any breathing room. And there are carbon costs in the construction of these behemoth stations. Much better to stick to renewables which can generate local electricity without the costs and inefficiences of distribution.
Nuclear power still isn't, and never has been, any kind of answer.