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Opposing Construction of New Nuclear Power Stations in the UK

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Confused?

Photo of Hartlepool nuclear power plant (C) FreeFoto.com 2003

The newspapers are full of it. It's all over the TV.

Should Britain start building nuclear power stations again?

The pro-nuclear industry says one thing, anti-nuclear environmental groups say the opposite. Politicians blow with the wind. Poor old Joe Public is caught in the middle, bombarded with information, not really sure who to believe.

We don't think Britain's future lies with nuclear power, and this website is an honest attempt to persuade you that new nukes are really not the best way forward. Although our site is geared towards opposing nuclear power, we are also including some pro-nuclear material so you can make up your own mind.

This website is aimed at giving ordinary people a quick overview of the nuclear debate. The information is not meant to be overly technical, detailed, or offputting (but there are plenty of links to detailed reports if you need them).

For a quick summary of the issues and the arguments against nuclear power, read on!

Photo credit: Picture of Hartlepool nuclear power station by Ian Britton from FreeFoto.com.

Why should I care?

That's what most people think about nuclear power. As long as the lights come on, why should you care where your electricity comes from? It's all the same in the end, isn't it, whether it comes from coal, gas, nuclear, wind or whatever. Isn't that the very beauty of electricity? And, anyway, isn't "nuclear power" one of those old-fashioned hippie issues from the 1970s? Why should anyone still care about it 30 years on?

Whether you could care less about the environment or not, the government's plan to build more nuclear power stations will directly affect you and your life. Here's how:

Money down the drain

Money going down the drain

Dangerous, dirty, and ineffective

Britain's existing nuclear waste would fill five times the Albert Hall

People don't want it

In poll after poll, people say they do not want more nuclear power:

Those are just a few selfish reasons why any of us might conclude that it makes sense not to build any more nuclear power stations. In a nutshell, nuclear is a deadly, dirty technology that we will all have to pay for – in more ways than one. But there are plenty of other reasons for opposing nuclear power too. Want to know a bit more about the arguments? Read on!

What are the arguments for and against nuclear power?

What does nuclear have in its favour?

Bulleted list item Unlike coal, oil, and gas power stations, nuclear stations don't burn fossil fuels. So in theory, at least, nuclear power has the potential to create an enormous amount of energy without the greenhouse gas emissions (carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions) that increase the greenhouse effect, global warming, and climate change.

Graphic: Cover of Greenpeace report

So nuclear could cut greenhouse emissions?

Bulleted list item Unfortunately, it's not that simple! First, if reducing greenhouse emissions and climate change is our objective, we have to look more closely at how those emissions occur. Less than a third of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions come from power stations that generate electricity. The vast majority come from transport (airplanes, trucks, and cars), manufacturing industries, and other sources. So even if we switched all our electricity generation over to nuclear overnight, and nuclear generated no CO2 emissions at all, we would reduce our emissions by a maximum of about a third.

But, in fact, it wouldn't be anything like a third. Some of our electricity is already made by renewable sources like hydroelectricity, wind, biomass, and so on, as well as by fossil fuels. In practice, nuclear power would replace only the older, dirtier coal-fired power stations. Friends of the Earth have calculated that a doubling of nuclear power would cut our greenhouse emissions by only 8%.

Surely that's better than nothing?

Bulleted list item Actually, no. Every pound invested in nuclear power is a pound that isn't invested in renewable energy. A classic American study found that, pound for pound and dollar for dollar, investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy is seven times as effective as investing in nuclear. In other words, every pound or dollar invested in renewables and efficiency removes seven times as many carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere as a pound or dollar invested in nuclear energy. In other words, investing in nuclear power has what economists call an opportunity cost: it stops us having a bigger impact on climate change by reducing our investment in more effective measures (renewables and energy efficiency).

But nuclear still helps to stop climate change?

Bulleted list item Maybe, maybe not. Mining, transporting, and reprocessing the uranium fuel used in nuclear power plants requires energy and generates greenhouse-gas emissions. If supplies of easy-to-mine uranium become harder to find, as many people expect, mining companies will have to expend more and more energy to extract and process them. Over the next few decades, uranium mining will become an increasingly uneconomic and environmentally costly source of fuel.

But nuclear is a proven and reliable technology?

Bulleted list item Nuclear power has been generating energy for the world for half a century, but look at the problems it's created. It's an old, dirty, expensive, uneconomic, unsafe, and dangerous technology. It creates nuclear waste that no-one has yet found a safe way to store. It offers dangerous opportunities to terrorists. It runs the risk of catastrophic accidents. It fuels the world's dangerous arsenal of nuclear weapons. It pollutes our seas, our land, and our skies.

What would you do instead?

Blyth Harbour wind farm (C) Ian Britton, FreeFoto.com 2003 Bulleted list item Together, energy efficiency and renewable energy can meet our energy needs and our emissions targets in a clean, safe way without nuclear power. A report by the Prime Minister Tony Blair's own strategy unit shows renewables could meet half our energy needs by 2025. Other government research shows simple energy efficiency measures could cut our energy use by 30% a year, saving businesses and homeowners significant sums of money.

Photo credit: Picture of Blyth Harbour wind farm by Ian Britton from FreeFoto.com.

Nuclear could be the technology of the future!

Bulleted list item Nuclear energy is an old-style, centralized way of making power that doesn't match the way most people want to use it. An estimated one third of the energy generated in large power stations goes straight up the chimneys or is wasted traveling over the electricity grid to the places where it's used. So what we need is smarter, "micro" power: more decentralized power production, with many more homes and buildings generating their own electricity and supplying what they don't need to the power grid.

Surely all that wind and solar stuff isn't reliable or economic?

Bulleted list item Renewable energy already supplies around 20% of the world's energy and investment in renewables is currently growing at 20-30% per year. Government subsidies for nuclear power could seriously harm investments in renewables. It turns out nuclear is the truly uneconomic technology. The main reason so few nuclear power plants have been built in recent years is that they do not offer investors any kind of decent return on their investment. Nuclear power stations are enormously expensive not only to build but also to clean up (decommission) at the end of their useful life. Nuclear power makes economic sense only with massive government subsidies -- a massive waste of public money that could be better spent on renewables. Left to market forces, with no public subsidy, nuclear power stations would have been closed down long ago.

So nuclear power isn't the answer?

Bulleted list item As Australian technology professor Ian Lowe has said: "If nuclear power is the answer, it must have been a pretty stupid question".

Are there some short, easy-to-read documents that will fill me in?

Screenshot of BBC nuclear debate website

There are literally dozens of detailed briefings about nuclear power, many of them listed on our background page. Here are some you might try if you just want a quick and simple overview:

If you need more detailed information

That's the end of our quick introduction to the nuclear issue. If you want more information, have a look round the other pages on our website:

Pssst, are you looking for our news section?

We've moved it onto its own special news page.