Compendium of my recent anti-nuclear arguments

I’ve been asked to put together the links to my arguments against nuclear. Here are the main ones:

http://rupertread.org/rupertread.org/wordpress/?p=1523
http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/2008/01/09/our-short-termist-polity-was-always-going-to-go-nuclear/
http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/2008/01/03/the-year-ahead-green-milestones-and-nuclear-millstones/

Plus this letter just sent to some papers in Eastern Region:

Dear Sir,

The Labour Government has decided to back more nuclear power stations. However, the Greens believe the arguments for nuclear power to be based on a series of misleading and false assumptions and are pledging to fight any new nuclear build in East Anglia.

It is expected that Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex will be likely sites for the new stations. The Government is also legislating to change the planning system, making it harder for local communities to have any real say in major infrastructure projects. Their undemocratic planning regime could be used to steamroller through a host of unsustainable and damaging projects including nuclear power plants, incinerators, motorways and airport expansion.

As I have said before, the taxpayer is going to pay through the nose if there are new nuclear power stations built in this country. Lets not forget that the reason that Governments stopped building nuclear power stations, a generation ago, is very simple: they are uneconomic. Nuclear power is a failed technology which should not be part of East Anglia‘s energy future!

Just consider these wrong-headed claims for nuclear:

1. Nuclear power is zero carbon – That’s a lie. The mining and processing of uranium ore is hugely-energy intensive, requiring the use of fossil fuels. Nuclear power plants are very large, energy-hungry buildings to construct and decommission.

2. Nuclear power can help fight dangerous climate change – That’s totally misleading, even if my rebuttal of point (1) above were wrong (which it isn’t). If all the current nuclear power stations were replaced, by the 2020’s they would offset around 4% of the UK’s CO2 emissions.

3. Nuclear is a clean technology – That’s a lie. Despite being a nuclear state for over 50 years, the UK still does not know what to do with its growing mountain of nuclear waste.

4. Nuclear will secure the UK‘s growing long term energy need and avoid relying on imports so much – That’s false. New motorways and runways, lead to an ever increasing energy supply – Labour has failed to stop the relentless rise in demand for energy and CO2 emissions have consequently risen since 1997.

5. New nuclear power will not cost the taxpayer and will be financed from private companies – That’s highly unlikely. Almost all-nuclear facilities worldwide have required taxpayer support.

Cllr. Rupert Read.


Some problems with biofuels

People sometimes ask me why I am not keen on biofuels (except for small local re-used vegetable oil etc. biofuels, which are great.). Let me sketch a parallel.
One day, nuclear fusion might be great — but not for a long time. In the meantime, vast funds are poured into nuclear research, whereas those funds are needed NOW for tidal, wave, etc.
The biofuels-craze is damaging our planet seriously NOW — rainforests are being destroyed by the biofuels mania. Yes, there may be _relatively_ undamaging biofuels to come. But in the meantime Greens have to speak up to say that the current generation of biofuels is doing real damage — now.
I was one of the founders of the East Anglian organisation ‘Large Scale Biofuel Concern’, which has since been absorbed into the excellent ‘Biofuelwatch’. Biofuels on a large-scale are a ‘techno-fix’, and at present a very damaging one. They are NOT an ecological solution.
Biofuels give people the illusion that they can carry on driving just as much as they presently are.
Greens need to firmly resist the biofuels bubble.
For more info, check out the biofuels articles published at my column (primarily by Andrew Boswell and Jacqui McCarney), at

A must-read report on nuclear

I am feeling depressed about the government’s appalling embrace of nuclear power, fully backed by the Tories.
As David Fleming’s chilling report (www.theleaneconomyconnection.net/nuclear/Nuclear.pdf ) makes clear, the real question now is whether nuclear power even has enough energy left to contribute, from its fast-depleting uranium, to clean up its own wastes, let alone to contribute anything to our energy needs beyond that.
Do read this report! Everyone ought to know what it says.

A Norwich Conservative Councillor speaks

Here’s a real beauty, from Cllr. Eve Collishaw (Con.), at yesterday’s Joint Highways Agency Committee meeting, on which I also sit:

“The public never understand transport schemes.”

And another, a few minutes later, to ‘explain’ what she meant:

“If you have public meetings about transport schemes, you’ll just waste a load of time and money, and it is nothing to do with democracy: Officers understand these schemes, ordinary people just don’t.”

How charmingly frank!

If this is representative of the level of ‘respect’ which Norwich Tory Councillors have for the intelligence of their voters, then perhaps those voters will particularly enjoy the chance to be equally ‘frank’ with Norwich’s Conservatives, when democratically voting, this May 1st…

My on-air destruction of nuclear

Goto http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/local_radio/index.shtml , and then to ‘Listen Again’. I am on ‘Breakfast with Bumfrey’, on Thurs Jan. 10, periodically from fairly soon after the start of the programme at 7a.m., until about 8.20.
[I set out my stall against nuclear from about 7.10 til 7.15, and we come back to it periodically after that. From about 7.40 til 8.20, there is some particular interesting _debate_ between myself and various pro-nuclear people phoning into Radio Norfolk.]

Nuclear short-termism

NUCLEAR IS NOT LOW-CARBON: The failure of our political system to see through the nuclear spin

So, the Cabinet has (yesterday) spinelessly given the unanimous go-ahead for our kingdom to ‘go nuclear’ once again (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601102&sid=arArd6CQxfXk&refer=uk ). The formal Parliamentary announcement that New Labour is taking the nuclear (power) option will come tomorrow. But we have known for years a few years now that this was a fait accompli, the consultation(s) a sham (http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/climate/greenpeace-formal-complaint-to-mrsc-over-nuclear-power-consultation ).

What made it a fait accompli? The excuse that nuclear power is ‘low-carbon’, at a time when the government is desperately trying to present itself as serious about manmade climate change.

The government is busy bribing local communities to mortgage their futures to take in what will be a huge tranche of new nuclear waste under their roofs (http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/politics/article3312836.ece ). But the key issues which no-one is facing are: given that there is no solution still to the nuclear waste problem, and that that waste will be around for hundreds of thousands of years, how can nuclear possibly be economic? And how can it possibly be low-carbon? The failure to face these issues indicts the British political system.

Because we have to assume that even a very small amount of effort and oversight needed to keep that waste safe for thousands of human generations will cumulatively add up to a very large amount of money and a very large amount of CO2 emissions. (For a back of the envelope calculation on the devastatingly large amount of energy and carbon this would result in, see my blogpost at http://rupertread.org/rupertread.org/wordpress/?p=1525 ; for a more scientifically-solid and much fuller version of the same, see David Fleming’s masterful report at http://www.theleaneconomyconnection.net/nuclear/Nuclear.pdf .)

It is often said that nuclear energy has about one third the carbon emissions of standard gas-fired fossil fuel sources. But the ‘one third’ figure is garbage because it simply excludes long-term decommissioning, monitoring etc. costs, the costs laid out at the websites just referred to. If these costs are included at all, in cost-benefit analyses, they are within a generation or two ‘discounted’ to virtually zero — but that practice of ‘discounting’ assumes permanent economic growth! Is it really plausible to think that the problem that mathematically illustrated at the sites just referred to would be sidestepped by permanent economic growth? Only if one believes, insanely, that there are no ecological limits for the economy to reckon with. For instance, limits to the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb CO2…
A proper full calculation of ‘lifetime’ costs (i.e. the lifetime of the WASTE) shows a very HIGH amount of carbon coming from nuclear power generation. The emperor has no clothes — any truly-long-term perspective surely shows that nuclear is simply NOT a low-carbon fuel (and nor is it ‘economic’). When Labour announce tomorrow that they are going ahead with building a new generation of nuclear power plants, they will not only be creating a deadly dangerous distraction, but doing it in the name of stopping dangerous climate change – which nuclear, for the reasons outlined here, cannot do.

If they were sincere about that goal, rather than being in the pockets of and in cahoots with a very well-financed and subsidy-hungry nuclear lobby (see www.nuclearspin.org , where this claim is evidenced), they would pour their effort and money and political capital into renewables, instead.

Am I really asserting that this government is cynically uninterested in doing anything effective to stop climate chaos? No. The underlying problem is that ‘mainstream’ politics in this country is wedded to the neo-liberal paradigm of political economy, and ‘environmentalism’ is added to that only as a kind of bolt-on. ‘Environmentalism’ can never deliver the transformation of our polity that is required. For that, we need ecologism, instead – a wholistic reassessment of our way of life. And this concept is just beyond the ken of Brown or Cameron. Looking for a ‘big-science’ techno-fix solution (of which nuclear is a classic example) is potentially compatible with environmentalism, but not with ecologism. Thus the receptiveness of the ears of our government to the siren song of the nuclearites — while pitifully small programmes of grants for renewable energy projects run out hours after they are launched.

Environmentalism tries to care about the environment within the constraints of a system which despoils it. Ecologism plans wholistically and long-term from the beginning to avoid such despoliation. Most of the negative effects of nuclear power will come in the dreadful virtually-interminable legacy we risk leaving behind us, of waste and the waste of money and energy and lives that it will create. Our short-termist political system is ill-suited to the prevention of such waste. To become a truly long-termist, genuinely sustainable, ecological political system would require huge changes, beginning with the creation of democratic mechanisms to include the interests and needs of the untold generations of human beings who are as yet unborn. I hope to return to what those mechanisms might consist in, in a future post…

(A version of this post has also just been put online on OUR KINGDOM: http://ourkingdom.opendemocracy.net/2008/01/09/our-short-termist-polity-was-always-going-to-go-nuclear/ . If you want to make a comment, I strongly suggest making it there (as well as here), to hit the widest possible audience.)

The cumulative CO2 emissions of nuclear waste: A back-of-the-envelope job

If say just 10kg of coal were burned each hour for two hundred thousand years, in order to look after a given nuclear waste dump, then that adds up to about 20 million kg, or 20000 tonnes of coal. Now multiply that by say 2500, to represent the rough number of nuclear plants that would be needed across the world to satisfy current electricity demand alone: = 50 million tonnes. Now take into account the functional working lifetime of a nuclear plant: say 30 years. So, in 200,000 years, if we were running on nuclear, we would need to repeat the exercise about 6,000 times. Then the rough figure that one comes out with is that, for dealing with nuclear waste alone (ignoring entirely the other factors, such as for instance the increasing costs (in both cash and energy terms) of mining uranium, as it starts to run out), is that one would have to burn about 300 billion tonnes of coal, over a 200,000 years period. For dealing with nuclear waste alone. That is about one third of the total coal supply left in the Earth! And current estimates are that if we use more than a minute fraction of that total supply, we will bring about runaway climate change, and extinguish ourselves.

You can retort that it wouldn’t be coal that was burned: it would be nuclear power that was used to look after the nuclear waste. But remember first, that that would require yet many hundreds more nuclear power stations to be built each generation – and the energy for that, and for their nuclear waste, would have to come from somewhere; and second that nuclear power only covers at best our electricity needs, not our other energy needs.

[For a full scientific analysis to back up my little sketch here, see David Fleming’s masterful deconstruction of the pseudo-attractions of a nuclear future, at http://www.theleaneconomyconnection.net/nuclear/Nuclear.pdf .]

Nuclear lies

I say that it is a lie that nuclear is low-carbon, let alone carbon-free…:
Once one factors in the very substantial amount of energy needed for mining, transporting and processing uranium, for building nuclear power plants, for protecting them and their fuel from sabotage and accident, etc etc., and once one includes the vast amount of energy needed to decommission, monitor and protect nuclear waste for hundreds of thousands of years, then nuclear ends up with a stupendously huge carbon footprint. It is simply not true — it is the grossest most misleading spin imaginable — for advocates of nuclear power to claim that nuclear is a low-carbon source of enegy. The only true low-carbon sources of energy are renewables energy sources such as solar, wind and wave. Renewable energy can save us from dangerous climate change. Nuclear power cannot.
And furthermore, it is a lie that nuclear is low-cost…:
The government has secretly given the go-ahead for plans to collect a fee from the energy companies for each unit of electricity used in British homes to build up a fund to meet decommissiong costs for new nuclear power stations. Those of us with genuinely green electricity tariffs — i.e. those of us whose electricity is coming wholly from renewable sources — would presumably be exempt from paying this fee? It would be a
gross injustice if we had to pay the fee, despite not being users of nuclear power… The bottom line here is that the British taxpayer, and the British energy-consumer, is going to pay through the nose, if there are new nuclear power stations built in this country. Never forget that the reason that we stopped building nuclear power stations, a generation ago, is a very simple one: they are uneconomic.