How governments have failed to tackle an £85bn problem

A A A


Why has the issue of nuclear waste come up again?

The Government is contemplating building a new generation of atomic power stations, and the highly radioactive and dangerous waste - mainly spent nuclear fuel from reactors - is an inescapable by-product of their operation.

But haven't we had nuclear power for 50 years? Why is this still a problem?

All British governments since the 1950s have dodged the issue of how to make a final disposal of our nuclear waste. It's a technical and public relations problem. Nuclear waste is dangerous for thousands of years. The half-life of plutonium, the time a given amount of one of the most dangerous substances produced in atomic power stations reduces in radioactivity by half, is 24,000 years.

Why is the Government thinking of building new nuclear power stations?

It is reviewing its options for supplying the country with energy over the next 20 to 30 years. The Energy Review to look at this was launched yesterday and will present results "by the end of the summer".

We know the greens never liked nuclear power, but hadn't it long ago fallen out of favour with the Government too?

New nuclear power stations seemed unlikely ever again in Britain after the privatisation of electricity in 1989, not least because of the enormous costs of decommissioning the stations at the end of their lives. But suddenly nuclear is back in favour with some people in Whitehall and Westminster and it seems that ways may be found around the prohibitive costs. Officially, the Government hasn't yet made up its mind, but many people believe it has and the Energy Review is just a formality.

So why is nuclear back on the Government's agenda?

The Government says for two reasons: security of energy supply, and climate change. Take security of supply first. Britain has 12 nuclear power stations providing just under 20 per cent of our electricity. But they are ageing and by 2020 it is likely that all but one - Sizewell B, in Suffolk - will be decommissioned and the nuclear supply will be down to less than 7 per cent. This loss in generating capacity will be matched by a similar loss in capacity from coal-fired power stations because of new EU laws on gas emissions. So Britain faces losing about 30 per cent of its generating capacity in the coming decades and will have to make this up from other energy sources. The likeliest candidate is gas. But that means we will have to import up to 80 per cent of the total needed, probably from Russia. Recent events in Ukraine have shown that Russia is not above turning the gas tap off when the mood takes it. Some analysts think this is too great a strategic risk for the UK to take.

What about climate change?

The advantage of nuclear-generated electricity is that it does not produce the large amounts of carbon dioxide that are an inescapable product of energy generation using the fossil fuels. Britain wants to cut its CO2 emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 and some influential figures in the Government feel that a new generation of non-CO2-producing nuclear power stations is essential in achieving that.

But can't that be done with renewable energy - wind, solar and wave power?

Environmentalists say it can, and see nuclear power as a dangerous distraction. While the Government is committed to renewables, it does not believe that new power generation from renewables would equal the loss of the nuclear generation by 2020. Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, calls this "the energy gap". He sees another generation of nuclear power stations as necessary.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam