Saturday, July 29, 2006

Nuclear Power: why we have no choice

Here’s an interesting map. It’s taken off the BBC website and it indicates just where France has built all its nuclear power plants. Alone in the western world, France has embraced nuclear power. France now produces 80% of its electricity from nuclear. It also makes France by far the lowest CO2 emitter of the rich Western countries. Whilst the rest of the EU produces around 10 tonnes of C02 per person per annum, and the USA produces as much as 18 tonnes each, France is throwing off just 6 tonnes.

If my maths is right, they now have a total of 54 reactors at 19 different sites. The map doesn’t even include France’s nuclear reprocessing site at Cap de la Hague, on the Cherbourg peninsula, close to Flamanvillle (No 1 on the map). It’s also close to the Channel Islands and not that far from the Isle of Wight.

Whilst neighbouring countries debate whether to restart their nuclear programmes, France just steams ahead with hers, never having even paused for breath in the first place. There are four sites across the Channel which could affect us in the UK in the event of an accident. Belgium has two right on its borders and ultra-green Germany two more. German policy remains implacably opposed to any new nuclear power stations and, because of this, Germany won’t agree to an enhanced carbon offset trading scheme because it fears this would give ammunition to the pro-nuclear lobby.

But is Germany just showboating? In the absence of any means of influencing French policy and with two nuclear sites sitting just over the Rhine, downwind of Frankfurt, Cologne and Stuttgart, who are they kidding but themselves in pretending that they can opt for a nuclear-free future.

And isn’t it strange to reflect that there is no pan-European energy production policy? In its absence, France has effectively made everyone elses’ decision for them.

Over the next few years, as you watch the pro- and anti- nuclear lobbies tear bits out of each, arguing about frankly unquantifiable risks, just remember that the Channel isn’t very wide and that, short of invading France, we have no way of avoiding the nuclear option. We might just as well build our own and be done with.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Minor comment - it's not just the French, the Swiss (an even richer nation) only emit 6 tonnes/yr of CO2 and they have a nuclear moratorium and a plan to reduce CO2 further by 2050. So other factors such as energy efficiency and good public transport can help a lot too.

7:48 pm  
Blogger Alastair said...

There is one large snag withg nuclear power: we have about 40 years of useful uranium left on the planet at present rates of usage alone, or 70 if we remove it from the bomb stockpiles. This means that nuclear power is likely to follow the peak oil pattern of declining availability. So, in 40 years (or 70 if we are smart enough) we will run out.

How are we going to deal with all that nuclear waste without either oil or uranium power? How are we going to be able to invest in renewables in 50 years time when energy is likely to be rationed for essential services? Wouldn't it be wiser to invest the money in renewables right now and circumvent the energy problem. As a comparative example, the £300 billion spent so far in Iraq by the US in pursuit of oil could have built wind turbines sufficient to power 30 million homes.

Renewables work and as energy conservation increases and consumption decreases (due to the costs of oil/gas) then they will exponentially become preferable to nuclear. I am arguing that renewables will follow the opposite pattern of growth to the peak oil pattern of decline.

10:58 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is said that there's sufficient fuel to power the entire UK for 500 years sitting on the carpark at Sellafield. If we use it in breeder reactors.

2:09 am  
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