Plan for new nuclear programme approaches meltdown after report

A A A

Tony Blair's backing for nuclear power suffered a blow yesterday when the Government's own advisory body on sustainable development came down firmly against the building of a new generation of reactors.

Despite the Prime Minister's well-known support for the nuclear industry, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) concluded that a new nuclear programme was not the answer to the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply. In a hard-hitting report, the 15-strong Commission identified five "major disadvantages" to nuclear power:

* The lack of a long-term strategy for dealing with highly toxic nuclear waste

* Uncertainty over the cost of new nuclear stations and the risk that taxpayers would be left to pick up the tab;

* The danger that going down the nuclear route would lock the UK into a centralised system for distributing energy for the next 50 years;

* The risk a new nuclear programme would undermine efforts to improve energy efficiency;

* The threat of terrorist attacks and radiation exposure if other countries with lower safety standards also opt for nuclear.

Nuclear power generates 20 per cent of the UK's electricity but, by 2020, that will have shrunk to 7 per cent and, by 2035, the last of the current generation of stations will have closed, potentially leaving the UK highly dependent on imported gas.

But instead of sanctioning a new nuclear programme, the SDC urged Mr Blair to back a further expansion of renewable power, fresh measures to promote energy efficiency and the development of new technologies such as "carbon capture" to tackle the environmental threat posed by fossil-fuelled stations.

The commission's report comes just three months before the Government publishes the results of its latest energy review, which is widely expected to pave the wave for a new generation of nuclear stations.

Sir Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the commission, said:"Instead of hurtling along to a pre-judged conclusion (which many fear the Government is intent on doing) we must look to the evidence. There's little point in denying that nuclear power has its benefits but, in our view, these are outweighed by serious disadvantages. The Government is going to have to stop looking for an easy fix to our climate change and energy crises - there simply isn't one."

The commission said that even if the UK's existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only lead to an 8 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from 1990 levels. By contrast, renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, solar and biomass, which are zero-carbon sources of energy, could supply 68-87 per cent of the country's electricity needs if fully exploited.

Sir Jonathon added that opting for the "big-bang fix" of a new nuclear programme would jeopardise public-sector support for renewable power. It would also undermine efforts to improve energy efficiency, which the report estimates could reduce UK energy demand by as much as 30 to 40 per cent and cut carbon emissions by 20 million tons a year - equivalent to the output of 27 power stations.

Sir Jonathon said, that among the commission's 15 members, eight had come down against nuclear power, five had concluded it was not yet time for a new programme and two had said there was "maybe" a case for more reactors. He also took a sideswipe at other well-known environmentalists such as James Lovelock who backs nuclear power. "No one person should be accorded that over-arching credibility in the face of the evidence before us," he said.

The environmental pressure groups Friends of the Earth welcomed the commission's findings. Its director, Tony Juniper, said: "Tony Blair and his Government must now seize the historic opportunity presented by the energy review to set the UK on course to becoming a world leader in developing a low-carbon, nuclear free economy."

The Energy minister, Malcolm Wicks, who is leading the review, gave a guarded reaction, saying: "As the commission itself finds, this is not a black and white issue. It does, however, agree that it is right we are assessing the potential contribution of new nuclear."

Philip Dewhurst, chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, voiced his "disappointment" at the report's findings but said he was pleased that the commission had confirmed nuclear as a low carbon source of energy, recognised its improved safety record and only voted by 8-7 to rule out new reactors.

Meanwhile, London's Mayor Ken Livingstone unveiled plans to revolutionise the capital's energy supply system to fight climate change. London is to spend many millions of pounds "decentralising" its electricity supplies - switching from giant power stations to much smaller units, generating power locally - by joining forces with the energy multi-national EDF to develop local electricity generating sites and networks across the capital. The commission's report warns that this is just the kind of development that would be compromised if the UK went down the nuclear route.

The five key objections

Waste

No long-term solutions for the disposal of nuclear waste, such as the spent fuel from atomic power stations, are yet available, let alone acceptable to the public, the report says. Nuclear waste is dangerous, hard to manage, and long-lasting in its effects. For example, the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. The pressure group Friends of the Earth once produced a poster showing a Roman centurion with the caption: "If the Romans had had nuclear power, we'd still be guarding their waste."

Cost

The economics of building new nuclear power stations are highly uncertain, the report says. It adds there is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if costs escalate there's a clear risk that the taxpayer will have to pick up the tab. The capital costs of building stations are colossal and can swing wildly with project overruns and increases in interest rates. And do you factor in the enormous costs of decommissioning the stations at the end of their lives, or not?

Inflexibility

A new generation of big nuclear power stations would lock the UK into a wasteful, centralised electricity distribution system for the next 50 years. What is needed is the much less wasteful micro-generation (small local power stations) and local distribution networks. Micro-generation is an idea whose time has come: only yesterday, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, said the capital would seek to combat climate change and cut CO2 emissions with a massive switch to generating power locally.

Security

If the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, we cannot deny other countries the same technology. With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks. The security risks of any given nuclear power programme are hard to quantify, but no one would deny that they exist - for example in the movement of reactor-grade fuel or spent fuel, which might be seized by terrorists for potential use in a "dirty bomb".

Efficiency

A new nuclear power programme would send out a signal that a major technological fix is all that is required, says the report, and hurt efforts to encourage energy efficiency. This has largely been the approach of the Bush administration to climate change. Environmentalists would contend that this is a dangerous delusion, and that technical fixes such as nuclear power do nothing about the long-term problem. Only changing the energy system profoundly will make a real difference.

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
tvReview: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
Review: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
Sport
Luis Suarez celebrates after scoring in Liverpool's 3-2 win over Norwich
Football Vine shows Suarez writhing in pain before launching counter attack
News
People White House officials refuse to make comment on 275,000 signatures that want Justin Bieber's US visa revoked
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Sport
Lukas Podolski celebrates one of his two goals in Arsenal's win over Hull
football
Arts & Entertainment
Quentin Tarantino, director
film
News
The speeding train nearly hit this US politican during a lecture on rail safety
news As the saying goes, you have to practice what you preach
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit