2 May 2006
Why Nuclear Power is a Non-Response to Peak Oil – Part 1. Do We Really Have to Argue All This Again?
An article in The Times last week looked at the fact that coal is starting to be taken seriously again as an energy source now that oil prices are so high. It quoted Gerry Spindler, UK Coal’s chief executive as saying “coal is the rich, drunken uncle at the family party. No one wants it there, but no one is going to ask it to leave because it is going to pay for the party.” If coal is the drunken, rich uncle, nuclear power is an over-exuberant Count Dracula. Every time he is safely dispatched with a stout stake throught the heart, he somehow manages to come back again, and the villagers have to once again start fashioning a new and hopefully sharper stake in order to sort him out for what they hope will be the final time.
I thought that when I was about 16 the arguments against nuclear power had been won. Seemed to me like most people had come to see that it really was a bad idea. It became deeply politically unpopular to advocate new nuclear plants and no new ones have been commissioned for ages. The UK Government’s 2003 Energy White Paper stated that no new plants would be built, a decision now being reconsidered in the current Review.
Now, with peak oil breathing down politicians necks, nuclear power has one again emerged from its coffin with a faintly disturbing twinkle in its eye, some referring, messianically, to nuclear power’s ‘Second Coming’. Even a number of previously reliable environmentalists are starting to argue that nuclear power is an option again, some moved to say so by Lovelock’s recent gloom-fest book “The Revenge of Gaia”, which is alarmingly appearing in lots of places as somehow being the definitive argument for nuclear power. Over the next few days I want to sharpen up a fresh stake and see if we can’t finish off this evil monster once and for all.
The best place to start is an excellent new briefing paper that has just been produced by FEASTA in Dublin, penned by David Fleming. I was in Dublin for its launch, which featured an excellent lecture by David, a feeble pro-nuclear response by John McGuirk from a right-wing think tank (surely an oxymoron there) called the Freedom Institute (I can almost smell the Margaret Thatcher posters from here…) and Green MEP Nuala Ahern. The paper, called “Why Nuclear Power Cannot Be A Major Energy Source”, sets out clearly what nuclear power is, and the reasons as to why it is not a response to peak oil. It can be downloaded from the FEASTA website for free, and it highly recommended.
Many of the points I will raise over the next few days are drawn from David’s analysis. The first argument, which I will explore tomorrow is that fact that any chance of a co-ordinated Powerdown response will effectively be scuppered once we commit to a new nuclear programme… clearly something of a ‘grave’ concern to Transition Culture regulars…. don’t miss that ‘tomb’morrow…