The future of UK energy

I recently, along with a lot of people from work (cake acted as a great bribe) watched a few short movies about climate change as part of  The Climate Coalition campaign #showthelove

We watched the following clips:

Cakes / bribes continued the 'Show the Love' green heart theme
Cakes / bribes continued the ‘Show the Love’ green heart theme

I was thrilled to be asked a few questions around the subject. I don’t claim to be a climate expert but I do have a passion for it and my passion has, over the years helped me to get enough knowledge to answer some basic questions. Among the questions were a few about nuclear power. I provided a few points around the topic but felt that it would be good to research more and write about this area.

Of all the ethical subjects i’ll ask my clients at work nuclear energy is by some distance the most contentious. Some believe that it’s the only viable source of energy as fossil fuels run out, whilst others are very concerned about this type of energy and would not wish to support investment into this area.

Advantages

Less uranium is needed to produce the same amount of energy as coal or oil, which lowers the cost of producing what accounts to the same amount of energy.

Uranium is also less expensive to obtain and transport, which further lowers the cost.

When a nuclear power plant is fully functional it can run uninterrupted for over a year. This would result in fewer power cuts.

While nuclear energy does have some emissions, the plant itself, unlike fossil fuels doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide.

Disadvantages

Like fossil fuels, nuclear fuels are non-renewable energy resources. And if there is an accident, large amounts of radioactive material could be released into the environment. In addition, nuclear waste remains radioactive and remains hazardous to health for thousands of years. It must be stored safely.

The UK has 15 reactors generating about 21% of it’s electricity but almost half of this capacity is to be retired by 2025.

The newest addition to the UK in over 20 years will be Hinkley Point C which has resulted in much controversy and objections by locals and environmental campaigners. EDF energy state that it will provide over 25,000 job opportunities and 5,600 are expected to work on the construction.

In 2013 Friends of the Earth commissioned the Tyndall Centre at Manchester University to independently review the evidence for and against nuclear power.

The report ‘Our Position Paper- Nuclear Power’ found the following key points:

  • The health impacts of coal and gas are worse than nuclear power, even with carbon capture and storage (CCS) in place.
  • The health impacts for renewables, according to Tyndall, are broadly comparable to nuclear; however, this assessment did not account for all health impacts resulting from nuclear accidents (for example, mental health impacts as a result of relocation).
  • Nuclear waste management remains an “unresolved issue” in the UK, with no safe repository in place. A new nuclear programme would increase the overall radioactivity of nuclear waste stores by around 265%. Any safe storage for this waste is decades away at best.
  • According to Tyndall: “claims that nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon options (including CCS and wind) are unlikely to be borne out in reality”.

As far as I am concerned I still err on the side of caution. I don’t feel confident that the questions around nuclear waste have been satisfactorily answered and worry that by using nuclear power we are just storing up problems for future generations. We should be urging the government to put more effort into moving towards a 100% renewable energy mix. This is the overall aim of The Climate Coalition who say that they want “a world with 100% clean energy within a generation”.

Renewable UK reports that offshore wind is on target to become the lowest-cost, large scale clean energy source.

I implore anybody reading this to do your own research on nuclear power, make up your own opinion and I would love to discuss it with you either in person or on twitter @HelenTandy.

Hopefully I’ll be getting back on track with the regular blogs, I have plenty of ideas at the moment so watch this space for future blogs.

 

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