9 November 2009

Nuclear power stations - 10 sites proposed

The UK government has finally approved sites for 10 new nuclear power stations, which are Bradwell, Braystones, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkley Point, Kirksanton (shown above), Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell and Wylfa.  The proposed sites at Dungeness in Kent, Kingsnorth, Druridge Bay and Owston Ferry were ruled out. Before final planning permission is granted, the power stations have to prove that they are capable of disposing of their radioactive waste safely. Not surprisingly, there has been and will continue to be vocal opposition to the advancement of nuclear power in the UK. WWF, FOE and the Sustainable Development Commission claim that the issue regarding radioactive waste has not been resolved. The Sustainalbe Development Commission suggested that the govenrment would be better investing in small scale, smart power generation. 

The Government has a problem - a huge black hole in electricity generation that will become apparent in about 2015. Even if  construction on these power stations started tomorrow they would not come online for many years, The current generation of nuclear power stations about to be mothballed, but nothing has been planned to replace them,although the Govenrment has had plenty of time to do something about it.  The Government estimates that about 60 GW of new  genenrating capacity will be needed by 2025, with 35 GW coming from renewables. That leaves 25 GW to find from conventional generation capacity. But to meet the objectives in the Low Carbon Transition Plan, the UK will have to reduce emissions from power generation to almost zero by 2050. So the extra 25GW of power can't come from fossil fuels, its going to have to come from nuclear.

Meanwhile, just across the channel are the nuclear power plants of France which generate more than 70 % of the country's electricity.  The French are proud of their nuclear power industry which has created many jobs. There,  nuclear energy is seen as being clean and safe. And of course, the UK benefits too, as French electricity flows through our national grid when demand exceeds supply. The US are taking a fresh look at nuclear power too,  and Barack Obama has stated that nuclear energy will play an important role in electricity generation. More than  25 nuclear power plants have been approved, the first to come online in 2016. China and India are pro nuclear power, and each has plans to build 50 plants. 

So, is nuclear energy good or bad from an environmental point of view. That's tricky. From a carbon emissions point of view it represents a source of clean energy, although there are emissions associated with the extraction of uranium which is a non renewal energy source. On the other hand, it produces radioactive waste which we can't really deal with at the moment, other than bury it in the ground and forget about it for hundreds of years. However the nuclear industry is working hard to developing techniques to recycle the spent uraniun rods, which still contain 85 % of their energy and if this is successful, one of the biggest arguments against nuclear energy will be removed. 

Climate change is upon us and despite all the things we are doing, we are not ready to make the switch to a low carbon lifestyle. So I see nuclear power as a necessary evil. Its a stop gap remedy that may help us to beat climage change but something to be replaced as soon as possible.

1 comment:

  1. There also plans afoot to supplement the currently over-stretched South African power grid with locally designed pebble-bed reactors. Their location if of course in an unspoilt bit of wilderness and I worry about long-term maintenance.