Fred Pearce: A closure that won't help the environment

The skids are under the nuclear industry. The big recycling plant at Sellafield is to shut down because its only customers, Japanese nuclear power stations, are closing following the Fukushima accident. Good riddance? Not so fast. Ask this: should we fear nuclear power more than climate change?

I grew up hating nuclear power. For four reasons. It looked unsafe in operation; its waste disposal problems looked even scarier; it was, whatever our masters claimed, linked to nuclear weapons; and I didn't want the kind of surveillance state that keeping nuclear fuel safe required.

Now the nuclear landscape looks different. Safety is better: even the multiple layers of incompetence and bad luck visited on the clapped-out Fukushima plant won't end up killing many people. Radioactive waste is more containable than the carbon emissions from coal and gas that are sending our climate haywire. The end of the Cold War has reduced our angst about nuclear weapons. And the surveillance state? Well, thanks to the war on terror, we've lost that battle.

However many roofs we cover in solar panels and hills with wind turbines, less nuclear means more coal and more climate change. That's what I fear now.

Fred Pearce is an author and environment consultant at 'New Scientist' magazine