Labour has in several energy reviews that nuclear will have to be a significant part of our energy mix in the future. However any new nuclear power plants should be privately financed, which reduces the likelihood of their being many built as nuclear does not compete very well on price with fossil fuels. A new emphasis on climate change created by CO2 emissions that are produced by traditional fossil fuels however has potentially given nuclear power a new purpose. Nuclear power has been controversial for decades and is likely to continue to remain so while it has so many potential problems.
All the Yes points:
- Energy demands are increasing
- Renewable sources are still unreliable
- We import energy so it is a security issue
All the No points:
- Nuclear energy use makes very little difference to CO2 emissions
- Nuclear power is not cost effective
- Dangers of nuclear power
- Peak Uranium
Energy demands are increasing
Although Britain along with other EU countries are using energy more efficiently, demand for energy continues to rise. The demand for electricity is expected to rise by 8-9% by 2020 meaning more need for generating capacity.[[Update of the nuclear illustrative programme in the context of the second strategic energy review, 13th November 2008, Brussels, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0776:FIN:EN:HTML%5D%5D At the same time World energy consumption is projected to expand by 50 percent from 2005 to 2030 leading to high oil and gas prices making these less desirable for electricity generation.[[International Energy Outlook 2008, Energy Information Administration, June 2008, Chapter 1, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/world.html%5D%5D The production of renewable energy is not growing at a fast enough pace to replace the desired decrease in usage of environmentally unfriendly fossil fuels. Nuclear power is a cost efficient and reliable source of power in the EU, and as the first generation of power stations are decommissioned, new stations must be built in the near future to ensure that the sizeable contribution of nuclear power to the energy mix is sustained. The next generation of power stations produce cleaner energy, more efficiently and safely. Additionally nuclear plants must be kept online in order to bridge the time gap until new generations of power plants like fusion reactors come up an replace them.
Despite increasing demand the amount of that electricity being generated by nuclear is projected to fall not rise. The share of nuclear energy will decrease from 30% to between 25% and 26% in electricity generation and from 14% to between 12% and 14% in total primary energy demand by 2020. According to current projections, the nuclear generation capacity in the EU would fall by as much as 33 GW by 2020. This fall would mostly have to be met by dirty power plants using gas, or particularly coal.[[ Update of the nuclear illustrative programme in the context of the second strategic energy review, 13th November 2008, Brussels, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0776:FIN:EN:HTML%5D%5D
Renewable sources are still unreliable
Wind, tidal, and solar power are all affected by issues of reliability. The tendency of wind power, in particular, to be a volatile source of energy, means that other power sources such as fossil fuel power stations have to make up the shortfall when wind levels drop. Power stations need to be switched on and off to compensate, causing higher inefficiency [[http://www.renewable-energy-foundation.org.uk]]. Tidal power technology is still in at an early stage and may take years to become profitable. It also has the potential to cause environmental problems in the marine environment. And in Britain solar power is not ideal as we are quite far north so during the winter have short days and we are often cloud covered.
Whilst they may be unreliable, not enough has been done to make use of all the natural energy sources that do not create the kind of damage nuclear power generation causes. Yes we need to develop more efficient ways to capture wind, water and solar power, to explore other options and to reduce the level of power required. This is not an argument for nuclear power but one for greater resources to be applied to developing natural energy sources and help protect the planet for future generations. [[ Update of the nuclear illustrative programme in the context of the second strategic energy review, 13th November 2008, Brussels, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2008:0776:FIN:EN:HTML%5D%5D
We import energy so it is a security issue
The European Union is a net importer for energy, and as such is reliant on Russia and Norway, predominantly, for oil and gas supplies. At the moment this affects Britain to a much lesser extent as we produce our own oil and gas however our production has already peaked with North Sea output is declining at between 9 per cent and 10 per cent per year so we will rely on ever more imported oil and gas. This year for the first time we are having to import significant quantities of natural gas, both from Norway and from Qatar.[[Carl Mortishead, Gas imports leave North Sea supplies in the Cold, The Times, December 22nd 2009, http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/natural_resources/article6964542.ece%5D%5D Events such as the dispute between Russia and the Ukraine over gas supplies in January this year demonstrated that Europe’s energy supplies can easily be disrupted by political situations beyond our control. But it also means that the EU countries, including Britain, could be drawn into disputes between Russia and neighbouring countries such as the Ukraine, because European gas supplies flow through the Ukraine. This could set a dangerous precedent, where the EU, especially Eastern European countries and Germany, could be intimidated by Russia, because the EU relies so heavily on Russian gas. Building more nuclear power stations would ensure a more secure supply of energy, thereby avoiding the potential for energy supply to become a politically charged issue on an international scale.
Nuclear power has its own international security concerns, attempts to obtain yellow-cake uranium, which is mined but not yet enriched, is not in itself a cause for security concerns and in many cases is perfectly legitimate, however the more reactors there are the more enriched uranium will be moving around the world. Many countries have enrichment capacity, but it is often less than their overall fuel needs, and thus they rely on fuel imports to make up the difference.[[Toni Johnson, Global Uranium Supply and Demand, Council on Foreign Relations, 2nd November 2007, http://www.cfr.org/publication/14705/%5D%5D Enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear bombs, or for terrorists a ‘dirty’ bomb which is as much of a security concern as Russian control over gas supplies. It should also be remembered that like oil and gas Uranium needs to be imported, the two biggest suppliers are Australia and Canada, both considered reliable suppliers. However Kazakhstan aims to become the world’s number one supplier by sometime this year [[Kazakhstan plans to become global leader in uranium production by 2009, Silk Road Intelligencer, 23rd July 2008, http://silkroadintelligencer.com/2008/07/23/kazakhstan-plans-to-become-global-leader-in-uranium-production-by-2009/ ]] and other major producers such as Russia, Namibia, Niger and Uzbekistan may not be reliable.
Nuclear energy use makes very little difference to CO2 emissions
Britain wants to prevent a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees, this would involve limiting greenhouse gas concentration to 450 ppm of CO2-eq. World energy-related CO2 emissions would need to drop sharply from 2020 onwards, reaching less than 26 Gt in 2030. Nobuo Tanaka, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency has stated “We would need concerted action from all major emitters. Our analysis shows that OECD countries alone cannot put the world onto a 450-ppm trajectory, even if they were to reduce their emissions to zero”.[[ New Energy Realities – WEO Calls for Global Energy Revolution Despite Economic Crisis, 12th November 2008, http://www.iea.org/textbase/press/pressdetail.asp?PRESS_REL_ID=275%5D%5D This would mean that Britain and the rest of the developed world would need to take radical measures to get to this point.
Once the whole nuclear power cycle is taken into account including uranium mining, processing, transportation, power station construction and decommissioning Nuclear Power plants do not produce less CO2 emissions than gas. Moreover, due to declining quantities of uranium more energy is required to produce and exploit the uranium fuel than can be generated from it. Mining lower quality ore will increase carbon emissions because it is more difficult to extract and so requires more energy. Assuming world nuclear generating capacity remains at 2005 levels, after about 2016 the mean grade of uranium ore will fall significantly from today’s levels, and even more so after 2034. After about 60 years the world nuclear power system will fall off the ‘Energy Cliff’ – meaning that the nuclear system will consume as much energy as can be generated from the uranium fuel. So if new nuclear power stations are built then they will only be half way through their life cycle before they become useless.[[ Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen, Energy Security and Uranium reserves, July 2006 http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers/pdf/energyfactsheet4.pdf%5D%5D
The figures provided by van Leeuwen however are not the whole story because the coal and gas production cycle has been omitted from Mr. van Leeuwen’s calculations. His report is based on the currently known sources of uranium ore, which are most likely only a fraction of the total existing in the Earth’s crust.
The “energy cliff” does not account for any advancement in technology, and there is likely to be advances in extraction and refinement capability in the next 60 years, especially if there were to be a large swing towards nuclear power making there more incentive to come up with improvements.
Nuclear power is not cost effective
New nuclear power stations can cost up to £2.8 billion to build, and also take years to construct. Governments are also faced with the dilemma of whether to spend such an enormous amount of money something which splits public opinion so vociferously. In the meantime, billions are still being spent on decommissioning the old ones. The New Economics Foundation contends that these construction overruns and decommissioning costs are ‘hidden costs’ that are not included in the official statistics meaning that Nuclear is actually much more expensive than is claimed. According to British Energy and British Nuclear Fuels, the cost of nuclear generation is between 2.2 and 3.0p/kWh. But the NEF says that this figure is probably a severe underestimate, with the real cost being somewhere between 3.4 and 8.3/kWh. This means that at a cost of 3.0-4.0p/kWh for offshore and 1.5-2.5/kWh for onshore production, wind is a far cheaper option than nuclear.[[Cost of Nuclear ‘Underestimated’, BBC News, 29th June 2005, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/4631737.stm%5D%5D In comparison, building cleaner coal fired power stations and investing in renewable energy technologies and developing new methods for drilling unexploited oil reserves would be much less costly in purely financial terms.
For nuclear power plants any cost figures normally include spent fuel management, plant decommissioning and final waste disposal. These costs, while usually external for other technologies, are internal for nuclear power (ie they have to be paid or set aside securely by the utility generating the power, and the cost passed on to the customer in the actual tariff), therefore if they are already included in the generation cost then the NEF is wrong and nuclear power is competitive. The cost of decommissioning is often overestimated, decommissioning costs are about 9-15% of the initial capital cost of a nuclear power plant. But when discounted, they contribute only a few percent to the investment cost and even less to the generation cost. Nuclear is actually increasing its competitiveness as gas and oil prices rise, new technology makes nuclear power more efficient and construction and decommissioning costs less. An OECD study in 2005 showed Nuclear overnight construction costs ranged from US$ 1000/kW in Czech Republic to $2500/kW in Japan, and averaged $1500/kW. Coal plants were given estimated costs of $1000-1500/kW, gas plants $500-1000/kW and wind capacity $1000-1500/kW.[[The Economics of Nuclear Power, World Nuclear Association, January 2009, http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf02.html%5D%5D
Dangers of nuclear power
Nuclear waste that has been building up since the 1950s has still not been disposed of safely, and must be kept away from humans for hundreds of thousands of years. Stories frequently feature in the news about nuclear contamination of the sea and areas surrounding power plants. A report by the Environment agency attacked Britain’s disposal system as many containers used to store the waste are made of second-rate materials, are handled carelessly, and are liable to corrode; computer models suggest up to 40 per cent of them could be at risk within as little as 200 years. Tens of thousands of containers of this waste, bound in concrete, are simply being stored above ground, mainly at Sellafield, while the Government and the nuclear industry decide what to do with them. On present plans it is assumed they will remain there for up to another 150 years before being placed in a repository underground, and then another 50 years before it is sealed.[[Geoffrey Lean, Nuclear waste containers likely to fail, warns ‘devastating’ report, The Independent, 24th Aug., 2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/nuclear-waste-containers-likely-to-fail-warns-devastating-report-907200.html%5D%5D This problem would only be added to if more nuclear power stations were built. There is the ever present risk of accidents happening, the after-effects of which can be spread across a wide area by wind, and last for decades.
When people think about the dangers of nuclear power, they think about the possibility of a terrible accident. Or occasionally of the nuclear waste. However there are also dangers of not using nuclear, the dangers of climate change are also imminent and occurring right now. There are already thousands displaced and studies have shown that this could increase to a hundred million. Lives are also going to be lost, not in some big explosion but to drought and floods and the famine that these cause. Rising sea levels will change the landscape as our coastlines change and the lowest areas, such as East Anglia and the Wash in Britain become flooded.
In addition nuclear power includes nuclear fusion, the ultimate energy source, nuclear fusion also is very safe.
We hear a lot about ‘peak oil’ however it is not mentioned that there is also a potential problem with the supply of uranium peaking. There is already a problem with demand and supply; “There is currently a gap in the amount of uranium being mined and the amount of uranium being consumed,” states Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) CEO Rob Adam. “The difference is made up of the down blending of military stocks, largely in Russia, and the reprocessing of spent fuel into mixed oxides fuel.” This means that uranium miners will have to double production by 2015 if they are to meet demand.[[Matthew Hill, Global uranium production will need to double by 2015 to catch up with demand, mining weekly, 25th June 2007, http://www.miningweekly.com/article/global-uranium-production-will-need-to-double-by-2015-to-catch-up-with-demand-2007-06-25%5D%5D This would potentially be ok if it did not look like we are approaching a uranium peak. Peak uranium seems likely to arrive sometime between 2030 and 2040 with uranium being almost totally gone by 2070 or 2120 at the latest. It is the peak that matters, at this point supply will not be able to keep up with demand. If you take into account that nuclear energy produces 16% of world electricity, and less than 5% primary energy supply, it seems impossible to me for nuclear energy with current technology to ever satisfy a big part of the world’s energy demand.[[ Uranium resources and nuclear energy, Energy watch group, December 2006, p.5., http://www.energywatchgroup.org/fileadmin/global/pdf/EWG_Report_Uranium_3-12-2006ms.pdf%5D%5D
There are two major counters to the Peak Uranium argument. Firstly the IAEA and NEA state that at least 14 million tones of conventional uranium in all categories are around. So it’s hardly like we’ll be running through that at warp speed if we cut energy usage. Secondly only around 13 billion has been spent looking for uranium deposits “compared to the trillions” spent looking for oil and gas deposits so there’s a lot of exploration including exploration (possibly out of this world to) do.[[M Crab “Comment on the Oil Drum”http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2379]] Thirdly oppositions point is a big incentive for companies to improve their nuclear technology and spend more money into doing research into fusion. This in turn could potentially improve efficiency dramatically pushing back the peak Uranium date.