We had a comment on the blog from a ColinG making some specific points. You can read his comment here. Responding to his comment allows us to repeat Greenpeace’s stance on nuclear energy and offer examples of why this is the case. Instead of burying the response in the comments, we thought it deserved a post of its own.

Greenpeace is ‘historically’ opposed to nuclear energy for several reasons.

1. Nuclear power is a very real and dangerous distraction to providing safer, cleaner and cheaper means of energy production.

In Finland, for instance, the building of the Olkiluoto Reactor represents a massive 85 per cent of the country’s energy investment for 2006-10. The reactor won’t even contribute to Finland’s Kyoto commitments.

There are 439 operational civilian reactors around the world, providing 15 per cent of the world’s electricity but only 6.5 per cent of overall energy supply. If we want to address climate change, CO2 emissions need to be declining by 2015 at the latest. Even if we were to double the number of reactors worldwide, we would only see a 5 per cent fall in emissions – with us needing to halve emissions by 2050.

The Oxford Research Group has shown that if nuclear energy is going to meet projected global demand for energy, we’re going to need between 2000 and 2500 new reactors by 2075. That’s construction starting on four new reactors every month, with all the planning, cost and schedule overruns involved. The UK has never brought a nuclear reactor online on time or on budget. The last ten reactors built in India were, on average, three times over budget. The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada is 20 years late and $32 billion over budget.

We believe that that time and money could be much more wisely spent elsewhere, on safer and cleaner alternatives. Greenpeace does not support coal power tacitly or otherwise. You say that people ‘end up using a little renewable power’ which is not the case – investment in renewables is growing, and fast. The Scottish government have just declared their intention to build Europe’s biggest wind farm. Wind energy production in the Bayan Nur province in China will shortly be outstripping state of the art nuclear reactors. Plans have recently been announced to use the Sahara desert as a solar farm that will help power Europe. The first results from new wave power technologies are expected before the end of the decade.

2. The industry is extremely accident prone.

The number of nuclear incidents and accidents over the last 50 years are countless. You say ‘each nuclear power station kills nobody’ but that just isn’t the case. Remember Chernobyl? That accident will continue to kill people for some time to come, with more and more people having to deal with the consequences.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission estimates there have been almost 200 ‘near miss’ reactor meltdowns in the US since Chernobyl. The law of averages surely dictates that our luck is going to run out some day. (The new generation of nuclear reactors also give cause for concern – EPR reactors being built in France, Finland and China have all shown the same construction defects and safety faults).

The World Health Organisation says:

‘The statistics show that between 1944 and 1999 in 405 accidents worldwide, approximately 3000 persons were injured, with 120 fatalities (including the 28 Chernobyl victims). During the last few years the number of accidents and incidents involving radiation sources has increased. Often the victims of such occurrences are unaware that they may have been exposed to radiation.’

Quantifying the risk to health from leaks can be difficult. The effects of long term exposure to radiation may not manifest for years whereas the acute symptoms of short-term exposure can be alarming but (hopefully) cause no long term damage. This simply adds to the uncertainty that surrounds nuclear energy.

Specifically on the French leaks, the actual radiation leaked is secondary to the fact that these incidents should not be occurring at all if we are to have any confidence in the industry promises of nuclear being clean and safe. Regardless of whether the 18,000 litres of uranium solution spilled at Tricastin were radioactive, the chemicals were toxic enough for local residents to be told not to drink well water, swim or fish in the contaminated rivers, or irrigate crops. Uranium found in the water was found to be from a previous leak.

Radioactive isotopes are already out there and accumulating in our bodies. A 1997 UK study into teenager’s teeth showed that they contained plutonium. Those young people living close to the Sellafield nuclear plant had twice the amount. A 2001 report showed that there is an increased incidence of Leukamia amongst under 25 year-olds living within 10 kilometres of France’s La Hague reprocessing plant. Those living close to Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant will receive a collective dose of radiation in the next 40 years half that from the Chernobyl disaster.

3. The very nature of nuclear waste means we lack the data and expertise for disposing of it safely.

The planet is now littered with sites that are going to be radioactive for a very long time. The human race simply has no experience supervising a legacy as long as the one nuclear waste presents. It will take hundreds of thousands of years before nuclear waste could be considered safe. Geological changes over the timescales we’re talking about cannot be estimated or modelled making deep burial of radioactive materials an extremely uncertain ‘science’. US government measures attempting to communicate the dangers to future generations have failed. Nuclear power may give us mere decades of energy but leave a legacy far, far longer than that.

The world is not the same place when Greenpeace has started to campaign on nuclear energy, it has changed; so has Greenpeace. The nuclear industry however has hardly changed other than in some improvement in reactor design. It still has the problems that we have outlined above and furthermore it is now distracting us from solutions for climate change. This is why we continue to oppose nuclear power, campaigning for clean, safe solutions instead.

Update 6/8: The numbers by WHO and IAEA respectively are incorrect and

misleading on the effects of Chernobyl. Taking into consideration the

increase in cancer and fatal cancers in long term, 52 respected

scientists agreed that the number will be close to 100,000.