Saturday, 20 July 2013

The claim that building a new generation of new nuclear power stations will solve our energy problems and in the process reduce CO2 emissions is a flawed prospective.  There are several key issues that need to be examined which the Government is deliberately refusing to face up to despite its so-called "consultation".

The excessive costs

Nuclear power can be described as a very expensive way of boiling water.  There is no "rocket science" in the technology, the principle is to create heat by the fissioning of radioactive materials in a nuclear reactor, and to use this heat to turn water into steam to drive generators to create electricity (the James Watt principle).  In the fissioning process, intense radioactivity is created.

Building a single new nuclear reactor will cost upwards of £2 billion.  If 10 are to be built, this will be a considerable financial outlay, (some estimates have even suggested the final figure may be close to £50 billion, plus massive insurance premiums renewable annually).  Government claims that not a penny would come from the public purse seem absurd.  Do they honestly believe that private investors would provide such sums knowing that it would be 20 years or more before returns could be expected on their investments, not forgetting that the only private nuclear company had to be saved from bankruptcy by the Government in 2002?  Years ago, France decided to go down the nuclear route.  In the process France became the second largest debtor nation in the world (next to Brazil) and for many years the French economy was crippled. In 2012 the French President said that France is to end its reliance on nuclear power and move to renewables.    

France is a large agricultural country and it was soon realised that nuclear electricity could not drive tractors (or pick grapes) and rather than reduce its dependency on oil from the Middle East imports continued to soar.  A Channel link with the U.K. for its surplus electricity was established but there have been unforeseen problems within the nuclear industry and today France relies on nuclear power for just 70 per cent of its electricity generating capacity.  France has had its share of nuclear accidents, what could have been most catastrophic occurred at Le Havre.  It came close to enough radioactivity being released to wipe out most of the population south of The Wash.  Should a major nuclear accident or a terrorist attack occur anywhere in Europe or America during the building process it would certainly cause the whole project to be abandoned creating the biggest white elephant in history.

Building a Nuclear Power Station

What seems to be hidden from public scrutiny is the huge consumption of fossil fuels, over many years, required to build and operate a nuclear power station.  It is a massive undertaking considering the intricacies of the job, the total reliability required of every single component, plus the safety factors to be put in place.  Thousands of tons of top quality steel would be needed.  As the U.K. is totally incapable of providing this requirement where would this come from?  Much of it could come from China, which uses cheap coal in its many furnaces with further fossil fuel consumption being required in bringing it all the way here.  If, as is claimed, other countries are going down the nuclear route where will all the steel supplies come from?  Are we to rely on the efficiency of foreign economies for us to achieve our goals?

There are far too many imponderables.  All we can be sure of is that at every stage of building nuclear reactors there will be considerable release of CO2 into the atmosphere, and a giant question mark will remain over the reliability of foreign steel imports, plus of course the efficiency of plants during their working life.  American sources have claimed that it would require 40 years of operation, with nil discharges of CO2 , and no further reliance on fossil fuels to balance a reactor's consumption during the building process!

The life of a nuclear reactor is a relatively short one, and as we already know, huge problems emerge at the end of its working life.  The Government has committed massive amounts of money for this, £45 billion for cleaning up the mess, and a further £85 billion to deal with the waste.  The cutting of CO2 emissions by creating new nuclear power stations is simply a delusion.  If the Government believes that it will help their own CO2 reduction targets it will certainly not do so globally.

Fossil fuel consumption during operation

An operational nuclear reactor does not rid us of fossil fuel usage with the associated CO2 production.  The route to providing the processed fuel for feeding a nuclear reactor is a long and winding one.  The raw fuel, uranium, which of course is radioactive, is dug out of the ground mostly in Australia, Niger and Canada, and has to be brought all the way to this country using fossil fuels.  Conditions in the Australian mines are appalling with radioactive finings blowing around in the desert air.  The work is done mostly by Aborigines.  They are well paid, but only engaged for a few years due to serious health problems.  On arrival here, the raw fuel has to be cleaned, processed and enriched, in a series of elaborate procedures before being transported to the reactor.  The removal of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods and their transportation to storage sites often far off from the source adds considerably to the costs, and all these procedures require total dependence on fossil fuels.  The simple fact that nuclear power stations are situated well away from centres of population also means that staff and supplies have to travel long distances to get there.

Real alternatives

If it were to be the case that the billions required for a new generation of nuclear power stations were invested instead in renewables, we would achieve all our goals in much less time.  To start with, a huge saving in energy usage could be achieved by a national house insulation programme.  A bold step of passing a law requiring solar panels to be incorporated into every new property built, perhaps even into every property about to be sold, would produce rich dividends.  The U.K. has several assets unavailable to most countries, in particular wind and wave power.  Floating platforms of windmills off our western seaboard and real investment into wave energy have been proven scientifically to be achievable, all that is lacking is the political will by the Westminster Government to do this.  Such platforms could be towed to areas where the strongest winds are predicted, it is rare in the Western Atlantic close to our shores for wind to be an absent commodity.  Wave energy is the most neglected untapped source for providing totally pollution free energy.  The sea produces 2 tides per day, 365 days a year, and the power of the incoming tide and outgoing tide are equally proportioned.  These tides are a powerful source of potential energy, capable of providing a large slice of our energy needs, yet this source has been subject to massive neglect, probably due to our reliance on North Sea Oil, and the powerful nuclear lobby. If a fraction of the proposed spending on new nuclear plants was transferred to developing tidal power, all our energy needs could be met.

A new source of providing heat which could greatly reduce our energy needs is to draw heat from the soil beneath our feet.  The procedure to do this is very simple.  Called "The deep bore brine circulation", a plastic geothermal energy probe is inserted into a bore hole in the ground below a property.  Brine flows through this deep into the ground and back up, bringing free heat from the earth.  It can easily be installed in old properties as well as new. Whilst currently local authority approval is required for this it is not expected to provide many obstacles as the system is invisible from outside the property.  Approximately 65 to 75 percent of the energy needed to heat a home can be obtained free of charge from the soil.  Whilst electricity is required to operate the system it produces five times its own power in the heating process.  The small number of firms involved in providing this source of heating are reporting full order books, and much expansion is expected in the next few years.

See also:  More blogs by John Jappy