By Rahm Emanuael (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Rahm Emanuael via wikimedia commons

By Deborah Burley and Maya Robert

Nuclear power has hit the headlines this year. When a devastating Tsunami hit Japan’s coastline, concern grew over the Fukushima power plant and the after effects of leaking nuclear waste. Despite this,  the UK government announced plans for more nuclear power plants, promising safe power to boost energy sources.

Today, another argument against nuclear power surfaced as ofgem realeased a study of Scotland’s wind and marine power concluding that it  would decrease the cost of feeding Scotland’s renewable energy back into the national grid by 80 percent  if this power source was increased.

The nuclear debate is constant. Some see it as the future of UK energy, while others feel that the safety risks may be too high to outweigh the benefits.

We’ve used nuclear power for the last 50 decades and in the 1990s, 30 percent of the UK’s energy supply came from nuclear power stations. Although this figure has reduced since then, as many of these have been,  or are set to be,  decommissioned several energy providers still use nuclear as their main supply source – EDF, for example, use 64 percent of their electricity from nuclear energy.

It was announced earlier this year that several new nuclear power plants are planned for the UK by 2025 to tackle the need for sufficient UK energy sources. But considering the media attention surrounding nuclear as an energy source, and their implications when met with natural or man-made disasters seen through the events of  Chernobyl, Fukushima and Hiroshima, concern around the topic grows.

We asked Alastair Evans, of the Nuclear Industry Association and Andy Atkins, of Friends of the Earth if nuclear was the future…

Friends of the Earth

Andy Atkins, Executive Director of Friends of the Earth

“People are angry: UK unemployment is at a 17-year high. Households are struggling to pay their bills while the energy companies continue to rake in massive profits. We all lost out because our politicians failed to stand up to the banks. We desperately need them to make sure we get a good deal on energy.

Our energy bills are sky-rocketing because of our broken electricity system. The last thing we need is another round of costly nuclear power stations. Despite all the money spent on nuclear power over the years – at a cost of billions of pounds to the taxpayer – they still require huge injections of public cash.

And there remain significant safety issues. The government’s own chief nuclear inspector catalogued 1,767 safety incidents across Britain’s nuclear plants between 2001 and 2008. The UK may not be at risk of major earthquakes or tsunamis like Fukushima, but our nuclear power plants are vulnerable to sea level rise and terrorist attacks.

Nuclear power is often presented as a shiny modern technology, but in reality it’s a product of the 1950s that hasn’t changed much since. Like fossil fuels, it still involves environmentally damaging extraction industries, and creates pollution. We need to ditch the old polluting energy technologies and opt for smart, clean technologies. The main thing that stands between us and a fair energy system is not a lack of available technologies, but a lack of ambition on the part of our politicians.

We need an energy system that will keep our lights on in the future without costing the earth. Replacing our broken energy system requires investment and means that our bills will go up. But Government figures show that they will go up less and be more stable in the long run if we invest in renewable energy and cut the energy that’s wasted in our homes and businesses, rather than persisting with dirty fuels, and guzzling power.

A step-change is needed with a new focus on clean energy and local production. Communities and householders need to be supported to produce their own clean energy. Friends of the Earth led and won the campaign for solar and wind energy rewards through the feed-in-tariff which has created 25,000 new jobs in the solar industry since it was introduced in 2010. Investing in green energy and energy saving will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and give us an energy system that we can be proud of. Investing in nuclear will create a fraction of the jobs, expose us to unnecessary risks and leave a legacy of radioactive waste that will remain dangerous for generations.

75% of Brits think our top energy investment priority should be renewable energy or energy saving in homes. 11,000 people signed the Friends of the Earth petition for a nuclear free future based on renewables and energy saving. It’s clear that the Government’s plans to expand nuclear is out of step with public opinion. Nuclear power is a gamble we don’t need, and can’t afford,  to take.”

Nuclear Industry Association

Nuclear power, Nuclear Industry Association

Alastair Evans, Nuclear Industry Association

The UK has legally binding commitments to reduce emissions of Co2 by
80% by 2050 as part of measures to combat global climate change which the coalition government are determined to meet. Furthermore, the Government needs to ensure the lights stay on throughout the United Kingdom.

We therefore need a secure supply of affordable low carbon energy – and nuclear must be a key component as part of a balanced energy mix.

Renewables should play a role but the constant baseload supply of electricity provided to the grid by nuclear is essential.

The stability that nuclear provides ensures that when the wind is not blowing the lights stay on. Nuclear delivers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The other options in the mix –coal, and gas are high carbon, and if our climate change targets are to be achieved then we must plan for a low carbon energy mix with nuclear at its heart.

Security of supply in an ever changing world is important. Nuclear is not an imported energy source subject to interference by other countries. In this age of international uncertainty and geo-political issues, energy is becoming a much bigger topic of concern. We need nuclear’s flexibility, and stability.

The new nuclear programme of up to 16GW of new plant will provide a significant economic boost to the UK and up to 30,000 new jobs as the build programme progresses.

Nuclear will provide a generation with work in one industry for life, something that is increasingly rare. These jobs are not created by Government, but by industry.

There is no public subsidy for the new build programme; these jobs are created by investors with the foresight to invest in nuclear now.
Safety is at the forefront of everything that is done in nuclear, from new build, to the running, and finally to the decommissioning of a plant. We have a remarkably good safety record and the industry is overseen by one of the most highly regarded independent regulators who would not permit an industry that is not safe to operate.

A thorough review of the major accident at Fukushima has been carried out by Dr Mike Weightman the UK’s chief nuclear regulator, who was also chosen to lead international investigations. In his report ‘the lessons to be learnt from Fukushima’ 30 recommendations were made that will be implemented by UK industry going forward. The UK is committed to the principle of continuous improvement and the maintenance of a strong safety culture.

Politicians change every few years, and it is therefore essential we have continuity in our energy policy and bipartisan support. This gives confidence to the UK supply chain, as well as investors to ensure the right decisions are made now to keep the lights on, minimise the UK carbon footprint, and give the British public stable energy pricing.”

What are your thoughts on nuclear energy? Are you worried about the goverment’s plans to build more nuclear power plants? Do you live near one of the proposed sites? Do you think we should use other alternatives to nuclear power? Or are you confident that nuclear is the future?