The suggestion by nuclear power corporations and a number of trade unions that nuclear power is safe and an essential component of future energy supplies is false. This is not an ideological statement of “outdated prejudices and pickled dogmas” as suggested by Gary Smith, General Secretary of the GMB trade union in the UK – read full statement here. Current science and economics identify three big problems with nuclear power.
- There is an unbreakable connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. All the processes at the front of the nuclear fuel cycle, i.e. uranium ore mining, uranium ore milling, uranium ore refining, and U-235 enrichment are still used for both power and military purposes. For example, the UK factory at Capenhurst that makes nuclear fuel for reactors also makes nuclear fuel for nuclear-powered (Trident and hunter-killer) submarines.
Nuclear reactors are used to create tritium (the radioactive isotope of hydrogen) necessary for nuclear weapons. And the UK government is using the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to subsidise Trident (Sussex University research), where Hinkley will ‘maintain a large-scale national base of nuclear-specific skills’ essential for maintaining Britain’s military nuclear capability (using billions of pounds tax-payers money in subsidies).
- Nuclear power facilities centralise power production, expertise and money. It is highly capital intensive and takes power away from individuals and communities.
- Nuclear power is extremely expensive, and has always required substantial public (government) funding to stay relevant. To get this it employs an army of lobbyists – many who have been through revolving doors between politics, the military and industry.
Of course the nuclear industry sees climate change as an opportunity to promote their wares by spreading the idea that nuclear power is ‘low-carbon’. and ‘a renewable’. This is far from the truth if the massive fossil fuel inputs into mining, processing, transportation and enrichment of uranium are taken into account. But the nuclear spin-doctors and others who want to believe their narrative conveniently ignore all that.
The impact on the environment from nuclear pollution and accidents is immense. The huge devastation caused by accidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima are well-publicised, unlike the continual smaller scale accidents at both commercial and military sites where radioactive leaks and fires cause considerable environmental damage and threat to life. The Fukushima accident forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes permanently, and vast areas of agricultural land have been contaminated. Radioactive water, well beyond storage capacity, continues to be generated, with many children now suffering from thyroid cancer. Massive amounts of the country’s resources and wealth have been lost, with the on-going clean-up now exceeding $1 trillion.
Then there is the issue of storing radioactive waste; some highly toxic elements will require to be stored for 20,000 to 100,000 years.
Around a fifth of UK electricity is currently generated by nuclear power, but that is set to fall by half as ageing reactors are switched off by 2025. Internationally, ‘Nuclear Phase-Out’ is real, not imagined, a fact, not fiction. Nuclear energy is being phased out by countries that already have nuclear power. If it was remotely possible as an option, those with nuclear infrastructure would be in the best position to make it work. However, the decline in the nuclear fuel industry has ignited a sales push into less developed countries.
Nuclear Phase-Out is real, not imagined, a fact, not fiction. Nuclear power is now seen for what it is: economically and environmentally unviable, making excessive use of water, causing radionuclide pollution, and with indefinite storage needed for waste and these are just the main reasons among many. Germany and other leading nuclear reactor nations in Europe took the lead in phasing-out reactors because of well-known public health issues and the lack of economic viability.
There is a fast-growing list of countries with nuclear reactors in 2021 who have declared public policies, phasing out nuclear fuel, as unviable, despite $US billions invested in the infrastructure: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, the solar and wind industries are replacing other energy systems due to innovation efficiencies, rapid development and deployment, recycling ease and fully factored life cycles.
While natural gas has already been cheaper than nuclear fuel for four decades, wind turbines and solar PV reached parity with natural gas late in the 2000s. Now both renewables are far cheaper than natural gas-generated energy, and cheaper by decades than any nuclear fuel system. Innovation efficiencies are continuing to bring the cost lower and lower, wiping out any need or argument for the development of either carbon or nuclear fuel systems.
We must now organise for full investment in renewable energy – wind, wave and solar power – utilising every possible resource and wasting not a penny on outmoded energy sources such as nuclear power. The deepening climate catastrophe demands reductions in the emissions of global heating gases on a scale and at a speed impossible to be aided, let alone met, by nuclear power.