Bellona stands against forecasted nuclear expansion in UK

Nils Bøhmer/Bellona

Publish date: January 7, 2008

Written by: Charles Digges

NEW YORK - As members of the UK government tip the media that the government of Prime Minster Gordon Brown is widely expected to announce nuclear energy expansion plans as a result of its consultations on the issue, environmentalists are disappointed by London’s decision not to pursue renewable energy more robustly.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s spokesman said the announcement would come in a statement to MPs from Business Secretary John Hutton on Thursday.

The Cabinet is expected to discuss the move, which will be the result of a month’s long government consultation on nuclear power at its regular weekly meeting on Tuesday. Ministers are expected to agree that new stations should be built to secure Britain’s future energy supplies, England’s Press Association reported.

"John Hutton will make a statement to MPs (Members of Parliament) and part of that will be the decision on whether or not to go ahead with the next generation of nuclear power stations," Brown’s spokesman said.

Brown himself has promised in British media that he “will not shrink from tough long term decisions,” another hint that the UK Government will likely come down on the side of nuclear energy, over which the British public itself is highly divided.

In interviews, Brown has said that, following the environmentalist-forced government consultation on nuclear power, "people will expect us to have a strategy not only to have safe energy but to have reasonably priced energy, and to not be wholly dependent on other countries."

Bellona opposed to more British nuke plants

Bellona has stated many times that any result of the UK Government consultation that finds in favour or building new generation nuclear power plants in the UK would be a waste of a unique environment in which to pursue off-shore wind energy parks and carbon capture and storage (CSS) and other renewable energy source.

Britain – which relies on nuclear power for 16 to 20 percent of its energy – also has no long-term source of storing more radioactive waste on top of that which will be produced by new plants. Already, the British Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which oversees dismantlement of aging UK nuclear facilities, somewhat desperately horse-trading for more space to store waste.

Last ditch efforts to find room for nuclear waste

The NDA agreed earlier this week to pay British villagers in the regions of Copeland Borough and Cumbria – where the embattled Sellafield site is located – as much as $150 million to expand dumping facilities.

Such deals are crucial if the British government is to be able to pursue its goal of producing more nuclear power, the NDA told the Sunday Times of London.

“It is wrong for UK officials to build nuclear power plants without concrete plans for how the waste will be stores already decided upon,” said Nils Bøhmer, Bellona’s chief nuclear physicist.

Some of this waste will continue to be produced by two plants Britain was meant to take off the grid this year, but were granted dangerous engineering life-span extensions by British Energy, England’s nuclear utility, at a cost of £90 million ($184 million).

Repository plans far off for UK
Bøhmer said that as recently as 2006, the UK had been speaking about building a geologic repository for nuclear waste. A geologic repository is, at present, the safest method for disposing of nuclear waste, but no countries have yet mastered the particulars of actually building one.

The UK’s plans for actually realizing a geologic repository are, according to Bøhmer, “some four to five decades in the future.”

“Before the British begin to build a new generation of nuclear power plants, they should first invest in how they are going to safely dispose of all the nuclear waste they have amassed over the last 50 years,” said Bøhmer.

The average cost of building each new additional plant that England plans to build, according to the government, is estimated ate £2.5 billion ($4.9 billion).

CO2 emission cuts or expensive quick fix?

The UK government, in the wake of the government commissioned Stern Report of 2006 – which indicated climate change would be more devastating economically than World War II – has been desperately seeking measures to reduce carbon emissions and urging other governments to do the same.

Bellona’s Bøhmer noted in earlier interviews that, Britain has been a hotbed of research and development for innovative and renewable energy solutions. But the administration of Prime Minister Brown heavily favours the nuclear fix.

Chief among the UK – and other – government’s arguments for nuclear power is that it emits almost no carbon. Environmental organisations, however, say such arguments are moot in the face the amount CO2 produced in the uranium mining and fuel production process.

According to British Energy Chief Executive Bill Coley said that granting life-span extensions the life extensions granted to aging reactors in Britain would prevent the emission of 37 million tons of CO2, which would have otherwise been generated by power plants filling the energy gap – equivalent to about half the annual emissions of a country like Portugal.

But just the life span extensions themselves – which is a dangerous practice in use in such distressed nuclear industries like Russia’s – would not make up for the power shortfall that would occur as the last of Britain’s reactors would be taken off line in 2035, said Coley.

He insists the expensive new generation reactors are necessary both for projected power shortfalls and capping emissions. Yet environmentalists and the Bellona organization say that for the considerable funds Britain will invest in its nuclear programme, research and realisation of CCS and renewable energy sources could ease the pending energy crisis far more cheaply and in a more environmentally sound way.

Replacing CO2 emitting energy sources with nuclear power is tantamount to trying “to cure the plague with cholera,” said Bøhmer.

Nuclear fever seen as sure for climate change

Britain is not the only country justifying stepping up reactor construction by flying the green flag of CO2 emissions cuts. The Untied States has ramped up construction of its own for the first time since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979.

Russia, too, will be developing new generation reactors at a promised rate of two per year until 2035, and has lucrative international contracts with China, India and Iran. It is putting the high pressure sell on countries like Uruguay, Turkey, Bangladesh and Morocco as well, according to World Nuclear News.

Another international nuclear power peddler to nations that have a reputation for hostilities toward the West is France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy has signed deals with Libya and Egypt to build nuclear reactors for them.

Government ties to nuke energy guarantee information blackouts
And while many countries jump on this bandwagon, there seems to be low consideration for the fact that nuclear power plant construction companies and operators have close ties to government – like in the United States – or are, in fact, branches of the government, like in France, England and Russia.

This fact all but guarantees that transparency of the nuclear industry to the public in any given country drops sharply.

One needs recall only the United States’ obfuscations of the effects of Three Mile Island issued by the plant’s operator, the leak at the Thorp reprocessing facility at Sellafield in England that went undetected for nine months, or, worst of all, the silence of the Soviet Government in 1986 following the devastation of Chernobyl.