30th May 2019
Together Against Sizewell C chairman, Pete Wilkinson, claims that EDF CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy makes some schoolboy errors in his fatuous defence of nuclear power in his IEA February 25th speech, this having been recently reported by World Nuclear News, 20 May 2019. Pete Wilkinson says
“M. Lévy is careful to use the word ‘direct’ when claiming that nuclear power produces electricity without emissions; by this, he presumably means that the only part of the nuclear fuel cycle that can even come close to being ‘low carbon’ is that which ‘burns’ uranium in the reactor. Of course, he knows, as do we all, that across the entire fuel cycle, nuclear requires an acceptance of a carbon footprint from uranium mining, milling, enrichment, fuel production, transport, nuclear plant construction, storage and the still-unknown CO2 burdens created by final spent fuel and waste management conundrums. To claim otherwise is disingenuous, especially from someone in such a position of responsibility.
It is true that the fight against climate change is challenging, but to conclude that nuclear power is essential to winning that fight is wrong and designed to defend a technology which is antiquated, costly, polluting and presents us with a wealth of unresolved health issues related to childhood leukaemia. Sixty studies, including the seminal German government-sponsored KiKK Report indicate elevated rates of leukaemia and other cancers as a result of exposure to ionising radiation.
The Oxford Research Group produced a report some years ago which clearly demonstrated that, given the global nature of the problem of climate change, it would require the building of at least 3000 nuclear plants to have a noticeable impact on the problem – that’s one new plant a week for 60 years. Impossible, yes, but wholly undesirable as well since the nuclear waste legacy that scale of programme would create is unthinkable: we can’t even deal with the 500,000 cubic metres of legacy waste in the UK after 60 years of merrily creating it without a thought about how to manage it safely. Even after ten years of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the UK is still no closer to a universally safe and secure means of dealing with the legacy waste, let alone the hotter and more radioactive waste which M. Levy’s reactors will leave us over the next few decades in return for huge amounts of UK tax payers’ cash should the plant at Hinkley ever be finished and should Sizewell become more than an EdF aspiration.
A further reason why nuclear power cannot hope to have more than a minor role to play in the fight against the climate emergency, is the fact that the plants take so long to build. The ‘nuclear renaissance’ in the UK was mooted on the back of energy security and low carbon. The lights in the UK were, at the time of Blair’s announcement in 2005, predicted to go out in 2017. It is now 2019, the lights didn’t go out and no new nuclear is contributing electricity to the national grid in the UK and is unlikely to be doing so for at least another six or seven years – probably longer, given the historic over-runs of time and budget which accompany nuclear plant. Nuclear is an option for the future, not an imperative: that much has been shown time and again with analyses from highly reputable and responsible green and academic groups. Nuclear just can’t contribute fast enough and even if and when it does, its contribution will be only marginal at best, negative at worst.
By definition, renewables are potentially endless. They rely on the Sun, the wind, the tides and ambient energy. Moreover, the source of the energy arrives free-of-charge, without mining for rare, unstable and potentially lethal metals or digging for fossil fuels to burn, releasing their carbon back into the atmosphere. Combined with efficiency measures, decentralised electricity generation, smart grids and conservation measures which have already seen electricity demand fall in the UK by some 16% in the last decade, we can meet all our climate change, cost and demand targets without nuclear. This has been demonstrated time and time again: nuclear is an option, not an imperative, and it is an option we should refuse.
Quite apart from the fact that EdF’s flagship EPR Flamanville plant is facing a further two year delay as a result of ASN’s likely demands that reactor core welds are repaired, it is appropriate to remind M. Lévy that EdF is hugely in debt, that its board of Directors are not united in their view of the company’s new build programme and that the victim communities around the proposed sites for new build are fearful of the wholesale disruption to their lives, the environment and the tranquility they currently enjoy in these largely remote and isolated sites”.