The UK's Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) has produced a response to the UK government's ongoing energy review. The SDC's findings come out against the construction of further nuclear power plants in Britain.
The SCD believes that a new tranche of reactors will not produce the benefits hoped for in either economic or scientific terms, and are not necessary to help the UK met its carbon reduction targets.
The SDC says its research establishes that even if the UK’s existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only give an 8% cut on CO2 emissions by 2035 (and nothing before 2010). This must be set against the risks of the new build project, among which the SDC identifies the question of waste disposal, and the potential burden on the UK taxpayer due to the high capital outlay of building the plants.
The body concludes that these risks outweigh the benefits of the program at the present time, although it advises further research into the nuclear option as technology develops.
It’s vital that we get to grips with the complexity of nuclear power. Far too often, the debate is highly polarized, with NGOs claiming to see no advantages to nuclear at all, and the pro-nuclear lobby claiming that it’s the only solution available to us, says Jonathan Porritt, chairman of the SDC.
Instead of hurtling along to a pre-judged conclusion (which many fear the government is intent on doing), we must look to the evidence. There’s little point in denying that nuclear power has benefits, but in our view, these are outweighed by serious disadvantages. The government is going to have to stop looking for an easy fix to our climate change and energy crises – there simply isn’t one, Mr Porritt adds.
The need to replace the lost capacity of the UK’s aging nuclear fleet poses a significant headache for the government in its fight to deliver on its climate change commitments.
As Mr Porritt suggests, there is a feeling among industry watchers – and many politicians, it seems – that prime minister Tony Blair will give the green light to a new build program, however such a decision is likely to provoke a fierce backlash from the green lobby, and considerable opposition in the country as a whole.