Why We Need Nuclear Power

Vernon Coleman

Some `greens' and self-styled `environmentalists' believe that it is possible to control the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by using solar and wind power and being more efficient and careful in the use of coal and gas. But to reduce the use of gas and coal and to put up prices enough to be effective will mean massive unemployment. A growing number of thinking greens now recognise that nuclear power really has to incorporated into our energy sources.

James Lovelock, is probably the world's best known and most respected environmental scientist and the inventor of the Gaia theory (that the earth behaves like a living organism and actively sustains its climate and chemistry to keep itself habitable). He argues that he believes the Earth to have reached a dangerous condition. `Green lobbies,' he says, `are well-intentioned, but they understand people better than they do the Earth. Consequently, they recommend inappropriate remedies and action. Wind turbines and bio-fuels alone will not cure the Earth's sickness.' Lovelock recommends that nuclear energy, as part of a portfolio of energy sources, would make good medicine for the Earth's ills. Lovelock points out that by the time Greenland's icy mountains have melted the sea will have risen seven metres, making low lying cities such as London, New York, Tokyo, Calcutta and Venice uninhabitable. A four degree rise in temperature will eliminate the vast Amazon forests which are a great global air conditioner. Extra heat from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of arctic ice, the changing structure of the oceans surface and the destruction of tropical forests will be amplified. Since Kyoto, little has happened. `Somewhere between 400 and 600 parts per million of carbon dioxide the Earth passes a threshold beyond which global warming becomes irreversible. We are now at 380 ppm and could reach 400 ppm by 2012. `We must stop gaining energy from fossil fuels in a way that emits greenhouse gases to the air,' says Lovelock. `And we must do it in the next decade.' He says that green concepts of sustainable development and renewable energy are beguiling dreams that can lead only to failure. `I cannot see the US or the emerging economies of China and India cutting back,' he says. `To retain civilisation, our survivors will need Draconian energy saving, the self-restraint to stop burning fossil fuel, and a secure and reliable source of energy. There is no sensible alternative to nuclear energy. We need something much more effective than the green ideology of the Kyoto agreement. We must stop thinking of human needs and rights alone. The real threat comes from the living Earth, which we have harmed and is now at war with us. We have to remember that we are a part of it and it is our home.'

The simple unavoidable truth is that wind and solar energy are temporary sources of energy. They work when you have wind or sun. So only people who are happy to read, use their computer or watch TV only when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining will be happy to rely on wind and solar energy for their electricity.

The UK is not as windy as some people think. The idea that wind turbines could generate a fifth of the UK's energy needs by 2020 is clearly nonsense. No English region produces more than 26% of its theoretical capacity because there are too many calm days. Similarly, the idea of solar power offering a major source of energy is ridiculous. If we want to continue to have the joys of electricity then we must build nuclear power stations. And we must start building them soon. Nuclear energy is the only practical alternative to oil and coal.

Wind turbines affect the environment too. They don't just look horrid and make an awful noise. If you erect enough to produce useful amounts of electricity they will change the climate and change the surface drag of the earth. Tony Blair was wise to campaign to stop a wind farm being built near his home. Try building one near to a country cottage owned by a Labour MP to find out how unpopular wind farms really are.

The problems with wind reliability are vast. Germany has a lot of wind farms but these can generate only a sixth of their potential capacity. There is no way to store wind generated electricity when the wind blows very hard. There is no way that Britain, for example, could get its power from wind farms unless the demand for power was dramatically reduced (to about a tenth of its current levels.)

It is clear that even politicians don't have much faith in solar or wind energy. Home owners who spend money on eco-friendly wind turbines, solar panels or other energy saving measures will have to pay higher council taxes.

Britain must start building nuclear power stations (the French, the Chinese and the Americans already have them, and are planning to build many more and the Russians are limiting uranium exports in order to conserve material for their new nuclear reactors). Even the Iranians are building nuclear power stations. Even those who still refuse to accept that global warming is a real threat to our future must accept that oil supplies are running out - and that nuclear energy is the only viable alternative. The only safe, reliable, effective way for us to obtain our energy in the future is from nuclear power plants. But this logical approach is avoided, partly because it offends a minority of loud spoken objectors who still think of Chenobyl but mainly because it offends those leaders of the oil industry who have their heads stuck as deep in the sand as an oil drill in modern Saudi Arabia. The future is nuclear. There is no other choice. Those who complain that nuclear power isn't safe should know that deaths from coal mining alone, each year, exceed the deaths from the entire history of nuclear reactors.

Nuclear power is clean, effective and relatively safe. Nearly 80% of France's electricity comes from 58 nuclear power plants. As a result France has the cleanest air in the industrialised world and the cheapest electricity in Europe. The French do not store their nuclear waste. Instead they reprocess it. Instead of burying spent fuel rods deep in the sea or underground they have built a massive plant on the coast of Normandy to recycle the used fuel and so reuse it.

In April 2007, there were 103 nuclear plants operating in the USA. These have produced 20% of the nation's electricity without any major incident since the problem at Three Mile Island. (It is worth remembering that the infamous Chernobyl disaster, which involved an obsolete, badly maintained reactor, resulted in 75 deaths. Far more people die digging coal out of the ground. The infamous Three Mile Island accident killed no one.

Both China and South Africa are building advanced power plants - to protect themselves from rising coal and natural gas prices and to meet new restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions. During a safety test at a Chinese reactor, engineers did their best to create a diaster. they cut off the flow of the coolant that removes heat from the nuclear reactor and then withdrew the control rods - usually a recipe for meltdown. but the reactor simply shut down with no damage or threat.

Nuclear power produces virtually no carbon dioxide and is very climate friendly. The UK currently gets 25% of its electricity from nuclear energy, but many of our nuclear stations are reaching the end of their lives and by 2015 our nuclear output of electricity will be down to 12%. It takes 10 years from commissioning a nuclear power station to it providing electricity. Nuclear power is the only cost effective and environmentally acceptable way of creating electricity.

Copyright Vernon Coleman April 23rd 2007
For more information read Living In A Fascist Country by Vernon Coleman, available from all good bookshops - including the shop on this website.