Tony Blair: More nuclear power plants an option for UK

Sizwell B er det siste atomkraftverket som er bygd i Storbritannia. Det tok syv år og kostet over 11 milliarder kroner å bygge verket.
Foto: Twi.ita

Publish date: November 25, 2005

Written by: Erik Martiniussen

According to a highly placed source within Tony Blair’s administration, Britain’s prime minister may get to decide if the UK builds several new nuclear power plants in within the next ten years, the London Times reported.

If the decision does fall to the newly pro-nuclear Blair, the new plants, and the waste they will produce, would—along with his participation in the Iraqi war based on doctored and botched intelligence—be the legacy of the embattled prime minister, who is tipped for a tough fight in Britain’s next general election.

Sources inside 10 Downing Street, who requested anonymity, said statements made by Blair himself have increased the number of rumours concerning a change in state nuclear policies. During a session in The House of Commons this Tuesday Blair made the following statements concerning the question of nuclear power: “The facts have changed during the last couple of years” and “We have to make the decision we believe would give the largest long term profit for the country”.

More nuclear waste

The last nuclear power plant built in Britain was Sizewell B, which opened in 1988. Since then a number of older nuclear power plants have been shut down, and the nation’s nuclear power industry is in the middle of a major readjustment.

The reasons for this are the enormous problems associated with British nuclear waste. Official numbers from the British government indicate that an attempt to remove the waste that has already accumulated will cost more than 600 billion Norwegian Kroner (some 52 billion pounds sterling), and that this figure does not include the price of a pemanent waste repository. Any waste from new power plants will just add to the present radioactive trash.

There are still 12 nuclear power plants operating in Great Britain, These represent a little more than 20 per cent of the nation’s energy production. However this will change considerably during the next two of years, and the share of energy produced by the nuclear power plants will diminish. There will only be three nuclear power plants left in Britain by the year 2020—unless the old power plants are replaced by new ones.

According to The London Times, Blair has been convinced by Sir David King, one of his advisors, that renewable energy will not be sufficient to replace nuclear power. The former Secretary of State for the Environment and Labour-representative, Michael Meacher, has put up strong opposition to this suggestion, and has called King “A spin doctor to the nuclear industry,” the paper reported.

Meacher is also the man who met with Norwegian Secretary of State for the Environment Børge Brende several times to discuss controversial nuclear spills from the Sellafield nuclear site in West Cumbria, England. Since then Meacher has been replaced by Margaret Beckett, who has also made statements against new nuclear power plants. This means that Blair may not get what he wants this time.

Committee to be appointed

Earlier this week, several British newspapers reported that Blair will appoint a committee to look at the question of nuclear power. This committee will make an assessment by the summer of 2006. If they support the construction of new nuclear power plants, this time table will make it possible to begin building a new plant within 10 years—earlier than previously assumed.

The committee, which will include members from both the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Downing Street’s own political strategy group, shall report to British Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Alan Johnson, as well as to Tony Blair.

Great Britain has agreed to ambitious goals concerning the climate, and the government is trying to decrease carbon dioxide emission within the country by 60 percent by the year 2050. These ambitious goals presumably influenced Blair’s decision to support the construction of new nuclear power plants.

e1d568410b8557647c3c7aae1a11ef31.jpeg Photo: Foto: Greenpeace/ Ivleva


Nuclear power plants themselves emit no carbon dioxide. But when the entire nuclear infrastructure—from uranium mining to storing spend nuclear fuel—is examined, the pollution picture changes completely.

Today the world’s 440 nuclear power plants produce about 2 per cent of the world’s total energy. An increase to 10 per cent will require approximately an additional 1000 reactors. This will again increase pressure on the uranium demand, and the extraction and processing of rock at the uranium deposits, leading to yet another major increase in the emission of carbon dioxide.

These are connections not yet taken into consideration by the Blair-administration, but chemists like Willem Storm Van Leeuwen and nuclear physicist Philip Bartlett have studied them. Both physicists are Americans, Smith with a background as a professor in experimental physics from the University of Groningen.

According to the two scientists, the future decline in uranium occurrences make it necessary to process large amounts of stone where the extraction of one tonne of uranium may require the processing of as much as 10.000 tons of stone. The processing of such amounts of stone combined with the extraction of uranium will require enormous amounts of energy, again leading to new emissions of CO2. The overall results may therefore negatively impact the CO2 situation, according to the two professors. Even if nuclear power plants may lead to a reduction of the emissions in Britain, it is still a possibility that it will not lead to a net reduction in emission if one considers an increase in world wide uranium mining.

Major readjustments

The British nuclear industry has been forced to adapt to several major changes over the last few years. A new state agency, The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, is now responsible for waste management. At the same time a large part of the industry has been privatized. The former British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL)—once a gigantic company, which both owned the controversial Sellafield plant and were responsible for day to day management—has now been split into multiple smaller companies, like British Nuclear Group (BNG).

BNG, which today manages the safety at the Sellafield facility, among other sites, are put on sale, with potential bidders tipped to be companies like Halliburton, Bechtel and Fluor. BNG, together with other companies, will in the future be competing for decommissioning contracts from the NDA.