A Future for Nuclear Power in Britain?

In late October we went to a Fabians talk and discussion led by Prof Gordon McKerron, Director of SPRU at Sussex University.  SPRU used to stand for Science Policy Research Unit, but they changed it to something that doesn’t start S, P, R and U.  They kept the acronym though.  Peculiar decision.  Anyway SPRU still does research in science policy.  Gordon used to be a member of the local Labour Party, and was an adviser to the last labour Government.  He is an economist.

In March of this year he produced a report for the Dept of Environment and Climate Change.  He noted that in 2006 Tony Blair said we needed more nuclear power.  EDF (85% French Govt owned) is the only company talking to government about building one or more here.  They are still discussing the necessary level of subsidy.  At the moment they are building a new French reactor, an updated design of the many reactors they have in France.  It is 100% over budget and 3 years late.  It seems unlikely we will have a new reactor until at least 2021.  Even if we build 4 by then they will do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions because they will replace other nuclear reactors due to be taken out of service!

China is building 60 nuclear power plants, and is partly driven by pollution issues.  They know more of this than we do because they make all the stuff we use, so their air pollution is much more marked than ours.  Also China has seen 250,000 colliers die in mining accidents since the end of the second world war, so they have a different sense of the balance of risks than us.

60 Chinese nuclear reactors will provide 20% of Chinese electricity.

In UK we get 15% of our electricity from nuclear power.

The French get 80% of their electricity from nuclear power.

Gordon told us there is much discussion on long term underground storage of high level waste.  The discussion is about whether it should be sealed off forever, or remain accessible.  New reactors create less waste than older ones, and we no longer re-process waste.  It doesn’t make money anymore and we have all the plutonium we are likely to need (100 tonnes, 40% of world supply), even if fast breeder reactors make a return (unlikely).

Waste is still an expensive issue – we spend £1,500,000,000 a year on treating Sellafield waste, and have about £100 billion still to spend. 

Nuclear Power will not stop the lights going out – we simply cannot build them fast enough.  The only solution must centre on reducing our consumption – but no party is willing to address it seriously.

Good news huh?

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