Dispelling the Nuclear Danger Myth

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, is today promoting the case for more nuclear power build in Scotland, arguing that it is vital for our future energy requirements whilst reducing the massive carbon output from our current energy generation systems.

Now, and it’s been a while since I’ve said this about a New Labour minister, I completely agree with him.

Of course the SNP have quickly lambasted him with the Greens not far behind and Scottish Labour aren’t rallying to his defence because here in Scotland there is a widely held belief that Nuclear power is dangerous.

This belief is wrong and due only to ignorance brought about by unjustified fear.

I encourage you to read Charlie Stross’s piece about Torness power station. It is an engineering marvel and though the design principle is too expensive to reproduce this is a clean and safe plant.

The top ten myths about nuclear power are:

  1. Uranium is running out
  2. Nuclear is not a low-carbon option
  3. Nuclear power is expensive
  4. Reactors produce too much waste
  5. Decommissioning is too expensive
  6. Building reactors takes too long
  7. Leukaemia rates are higher near reactors
  8. Reactors lead to weapons proliferation
  9. Wind and wave power are more sustainable
  10. Reactors are a terrorist target

Each of these myths are carefully debunked in this article. I encourage you to review that too.

Our fear is not without some grounds, of course, the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 lingers in the memory. A disaster caused by a known design flaw in the control rod mechanism which had gone unfixed largely due to bureaucracy. Radioactive spills at UK nuclear plants also weigh heavily on our minds but all of these are caused by legacy issues, we’ve been working on nuclear power since 1956 and it is now much much better understood.

When Sellafield first started operating, if they wanted a tool or instrument they had to design and build it themselves. These days everything can be bought “off the shelf”. The age of fission experimentation is over, mistakes were made but we’ve learned from them.

The Canadian AECL company can build you a CANDU reactor in five years flat to a design that is known to be safe. One of their 1200 MWe reactors would save 14.5 million tonnes of CO2 per year compared with the equivalent from coal fired or 8.8 million tonnes compared to gas fired.

By contrast, the most powerful wind turbine produces 6 MW so you’d need 200 of them (and for the wind to blow) to get an equivalent amount of power however that particular model is truly massive. The UK currently generates 2 GW from wind at peak, but in 2004-2005 a total of 1,734 GW·h (an average of 198 MW) was generated: we’d need six times the 2005 amount of turbines to match the output of one reactor. More of our new wind power is off-shore where there is more wind to be had and the generators are becoming more efficient but this source of power still isn’t even in the same ball park as even one shiny, new, cheaper (in pence per kwh), lower carbon impact nuclear reactor.

There shouldn’t be any question about whether we should or should not get more nuclear plants under construction. The answer is: we should. Only fear is holding us back and it is a fear that is no longer justified.

Politicians who peddle the myth are doing a disservice to their people.

Jim, of course, has little influence up here and the Scottish parliament has a veto on nuclear build. The SNP’s manifesto ties them to a commitment to use this veto. Frankly I’d much prefer them to climb down on that one rather than their taxation policy.