Blair nuclear announcement scuppered

Feature story - 30 November, 2005
Greenpeace climbers scuppered Tony Blair's nuclear announcement by delaying the UK Prime Minister's planned pro-nuclear speech at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference.

The British Prime Minister gets a message from Greenpeace: no nukes.

Two Greenpeace climbers scaled the ceiling above the speaker'spodium holding banners saying 'nuclear - wrong answer' and thendropping down 'radioactive' confetti, preventing Blair from speaking inthe main gallery.

The speech has been widely promoted by Blair'sspin doctors as being a vehicle for announcing a further energy review- and for Blair to indicate his personal support for more nuclear powerstations being built across the UK.

Stephen Tindale Director ofGreenpeace UK said, "Today Blair is trying to launch a new nuclear ageand we are here to stop him. Nuclear power is not the answer to climatechange - it's costly, dangerous and a terrorist target."

"Justthree years ago Blair conducted the biggest energy review in 60 years -which concluded renewable energy and energy efficiency, not nuclear, isthe way forward. Today's new review is simply a smokescreen for pushinghis new-found enthusiasm for nuclear power. It's like Iraq all overagain Blair makes his mind up then tries to spin his decision to theBritish people."

"The real solution to climate change and energysecurity is a mix of efficient, safe and clean energy technologies likewind, wave, and solar."

He concluded, "Nuclear power is simply adangerous red herring in this debate. Even if the UK replaced all 23 ofits operating reactors, we would only save 10 percent of our carbonemissions. In contrast the 56 billion pounds of tax-payers money beingused to fund the clean up of the UK's current nuclear sites could buyand install enough wind turbines to meet 20 percent of the UK'selectricity needs."

Nuclear power: wrong answer to climate change

Nuclearpower has justifiably had a bad press in recent years. It's expensiveto the point of being uneconomic without massive government subsidies,produces dangerous radioactive wastes, and the consequences of aserious accident or terrorist attack on a nuclear plant could bedevastating.

The industry claims that nuclear reactors emit virtually no CO2 at the point of electricity generation.

Delvea little deeper though, and the logic of this pro-nuclear argumentbegins to unravel. While it's true that most nuclear reactors do notemit carbon (although some nuclear plants actually do release CO2 gasbecause it is used for cooling), they are a small part of a nuclearfuel chain which most certainly does. The preparation of uranium forthe reactor involves a host of CO2 -emitting processes, including:mining and milling the ore; fuel enrichment and fuel-rod fabrication.Then there's the construction of the power station itself. At the otherend there's reactor decommissioning and the treatment, storage,transport and disposal of nuclear waste. All of this involves CO2emissions, which in some areas - such as fuel enrichment - aresignificant.

Once this whole life-cycle is taken intoconsideration, the claim that nuclear power is a 'carbon-free'alternative to current fossil-fuelled power stations doesn't stand up.That's one of the reasons that the Kyoto treaty negotiations rejectedcarbon credits for nuclear power plants. The most recent studiesindicate that, for the richest uranium ores, CO2 emissions across thenuclear cycle are about 33 percent that of fossil-fuel plants. So farso good - but the fact is that very little uranium ore is of sufficientquality to produce such a result. Poor grades of ore have a content ofless than 0.02 percent uranium-235 (this is the uranium isotope whichis necessary to sustain the chain reaction in fuel in a nuclear powerplant). As the high grade ores are used up, the industry will becomeincreasingly dependent on lower grade ores - which will mean using moreand more energy to 'enrich' the level of uranium-235 in the fuel to alevel where it can be used in a reactor.

Uranium is not a renewable resource

Knownuranium reserves will last for roughly 50 years at present consumptionrates, but the 438 plants operating world-wide produce only 16 percentof global requirements. If the world's entire electricity needs were tobe met by nuclear power, then reserves of high-grade uranium ore wouldbe used up within three to four years. Some estimates predict thatusing the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reactors could produce moreCO2 emissions than burning fossil fuels directly.

So as a seriouslong-term energy source, nuclear power is a non-starter. But it haspowerful vested interests behind it which are sucking up funding thatwould be better spent on renewable solutions and energy conservation.As in the 1950s when the first generation of nuclear plants wereconceived, governments seem mesmerized by the glamour of nuclear power,and blinded to its obvious drawbacks. Any attempt to positionmainstream nuclear production as a solution to climate change would bea massive miscalculation, just at the time when we need to focus allour attention on the real solutions - energy conservation and renewablesources like wind, tidal and solar.