Tony Juniper: Global warming can be averted without nuclear power

We must, with regret, accept Hugh Montefiore's resignation as a trustee of Friends of the Earth
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The Independent Online

The global threat posed by climate change is a serious issue, and there is an urgent need to look at how we respond to it in the UK. Yesterday, the former Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore, reopened the debate, putting forward his view that the nature of the danger is such that the UK must resort to nuclear power to cut emissions of carbon dioxide.

The global threat posed by climate change is a serious issue, and there is an urgent need to look at how we respond to it in the UK. Yesterday, the former Bishop of Birmingham, Hugh Montefiore, reopened the debate, putting forward his view that the nature of the danger is such that the UK must resort to nuclear power to cut emissions of carbon dioxide.

Friends of the Earth has looked very carefully at this issue, and after consideration of the facts concluded that nuclear power does not at the current time provide an adequate or appropriate solution. This view is based very much on a careful evaluation of the options we have to fight climate change.

As the former bishop states, the dangers of global warming are greater than any other facing the planet. We need to urgently reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide to tackle this threat. Friends of the Earth has modelled how these reductions could be made. Our evidence shows that the Government's target of a 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2010 can be achieved through modest reductions in demand for electricity, reductions in emissions from transport and from industry, Government support for renewable technologies and market intervention to clean up emissions from coal. In the longer term, the Royal Commission has shown that Britain can cut its emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 without recourse to nuclear power.

Non-nuclear alternatives are preferable because, contrary to Bishop Montefiore's claims, nuclear power is not "a reliable, safe, cheap, almost limitless form of pollution-free energy". Nuclear generation is polluting. It produces radioactive waste which remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years.

Nuclear power also results in the radioactive pollution of the natural environment. Radioactive material is discharged into our oceans, and pollutes our atmosphere. The long-term impacts of this on marine life, on wild-life and on human health will be felt by generations to come.

Nor is nuclear power cheap. Billions of pounds of taxpayers' money has been spent propping up the nuclear industry, including the cost of managing radioactive waste. It does not offer any financial benefits when compared with the development of renewable energy.

What is more, nuclear power is not neutral in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide. Research carried out for the European Commission, looking at the overall impacts of building and operation, suggests that new nuclear power stations would produce around 50 per cent more greenhouse gas emissions than wind power.

Nuclear power currently generates about one quarter of our electricity, and overall electricity generation is responsible for less than a third of the UK's emissions of carbon dioxide. If we doubled the amount of nuclear power so that it provided 44 per cent of our electricity needs, we would reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by no more than 8 per cent.

Our efforts to tackle global warming must be based on an overall assessment of all the sources of emissions and not just emissions of carbon dioxide. Nuclear power may offer small savings in terms of electricity, but it is costly, dangerous and polluting, and as such is an inadequate solution to the problems we face.

What is more, the technology used to generate nuclear power is intrinsically linked to nuclear weapons. That is why the UK originally embarked on a nuclear power programme. Indeed, in recent years a number of countries have used nuclear power as a springboard for producing nuclear weapons.

The threat of global warming requires international action. If one country decides nuclear power is a suitable solution to climate change, we must accept other countries may also demand this technology. This would raise the risks of nuclear proliferation - at a time when concerns about international terrorism have never been higher.

On the basis of a careful evaluation of this evidence, Friends of the Earth concluded that it is right to continue to oppose new developments of nuclear power. That is why we feel we must, with regret, accept Hugh Montefiore's resignation as a trustee of Friends of the Earth. Nuclear power is not the solution, and Friends of the Earth will continue to campaign against it for the foreseeable future.

The writer is executive director of Friends of the Earth

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