Thursday, 29 October 2009

The case for nuclear power

Welly welly welly welly well, unfortunately the hippies have scuppered the chances of Britain having a sizable amount of our power needs met by nuclear means, this means we are left with one impossible choice. We can forget our pledges to reduce carbon emissions and rely on the unreliable coal and gas resources. But do these costs outweigh the dangers of going nuclear.

Like me, most people reading this will not remember the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown because we were all but glimmers in our then fancy free parents eyes (some possibly potent embryos nestled snugly in the womb). Suffice to say, it was a big disaster and a lot of people died from radiation poisoning and lead their lives with a higher propensity to develop thyroid cancers (ie. now, twenty-three years later). The entire city of Chernobyl had to be abandoned and the neighbouring town of Pripyat had to be evacuated, the fallout from the explosion has lead to a 17mile exclusion zone around the city with experts suggesting up to 200 years before the land would be safe for re-use and 20,000 years for the area housing one of the nuclear reactors. I think this probably outlines the catastrophic dangers of nuclear power, but in the interests of integrity I shall go a step further. Radioactive material was first detected the following day as far away as Sweeden when Sweedish nuclear workers arrived to work and were found to have radioactive particles on their clothes, it was at this point that the outside world became aware that a large scale nuclear disaster had occurred somewhere within the Soviet Union. Although "nuclear rain" was detected as far away as Ireland, some 60% of the nuclear contamination fell on Belarus due to weather conditions, again leaving some areas uninhabitable.

Presently, 15% of our power needs are met by nuclear sources (compared with gas 45% and coal 35%) from ten nuclear stations, however four of these stations will be out of action by 2015 and the rest by approximately 2020 unless they are given brief life extensions.

Gas is the favoured source of energy for the UK, plants are cheap and relatively fast to build however they have one glaring drawback; they are wholly reliable on gas to operate and we are about to run out of that, which makes us entirely reliable on foreign sources. North sea gas production peaked in 1999 so from then on we have been officially running out, therefore garnering more unreliable Russian sources, this reliability on gas leads to unstable energy prices as gas is often linked to the cost of oil. One of the main sources of European gas is Russia and they are notoriously unreliable and often use gas supply as a political tool, they often reduce supply to countries that make unfriendly decisions, by 2015 we could be importing up to three quarters of our gas as the North sea runs dry.

Coal is our next option but the carbon emissions it produces are contrary to our climate change agreements, it also upsets the same groups that disapprove of nuclear power. Failure to meet our carbon reduction targets could unsettle international agreements on carbon reduction most notably with developing countries that we are trying to discourage from fuelling their growth with the same power sources that we fuel ours.

As our power needs grow so must our energy production, by 2016 we will inevitably have gaps between these two points and a gap between these two points can mean only one thing, lights will start to go off. We are currently running so close to capacity that in 2008 when two power stations failed at the same time (one gas and one coal) the country experienced nationwide blackouts, experts say this unequivocly points to a system under stress.

The choices are undeniably simple, gas or nuclear. Both have drawbacks but for me the political issues raised by Russian gas make the choice an easy one, Britain needs a long term, carbon friendly and reliable solution to our energy needs and nuclear meets this criteria, whilst the redevelopment of our nuclear system will be slow it will ensure that the lights stay on once the infrastructure is there.



  1. Hope you don't balk at critical analysis, trying to be helpful.
    Started off very well, then covered some very well known facts about Chernobyl. Then, didn't say a word about how things have changed since then, nor that that plant should not have been live, as its design was one that had been deemed too dangerous for use many years before the accident.
    I don't think you went into the Russian Political issues quite enough either; these are much less understood than that about Chernobyl so should've got more explanation.
    Incidentally, I wholeheartedly agree with you that Nuclear is the only practical choice we currently have for energy (although again disagree with you regarding emissions; there's an enzyme in the stomach of a kangaroo, and a concrete substitute called megacrete, that would stop over 50% of our emissions, if only we bothered to develop them).

  2. it was more supposed to be a brief overview of everything, i didnt want to get too technical about the chernobyl thing, like going into the reason for the explosion and the nature of the plant, it was more supposed to facilitate the fact that although it is potentially so dangerous it is still a price i would be willing to pay.

    and again with the russian thing i felt that going too much into the ukraine situation would detract from the main point i wanted to make, that the lights are about to go out.

    didnt know about that enzyme though, il look it up now.

    I also deliberately ignored renewable resources as they currently make up less than 5% of our power output and although this is being increased there are so many contesting figures as to what amount they will actually produce due to so many varying factors, i felt that it would be detrimental to add information that was not set in stone.

    cheers for the feedback though!