In an age of global terror, the nuclear industry is unsafe - at any price

Related Topics

Unless the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior and the other members of a small armada of vessels succeed in stopping them, the Pacific Teal and Pacific Pintail will safely dock this morning at Barrow-in-Furness. The eco-friendly naming of those ships belies their cargoes: five tons of nuclear fuel from Japan, en route to the British Nuclear Fuels facility at Sellafield.

The fact that the material, originally from Sellafield, was rejected by the Japanese when it was discovered that safety records at BNFL had been falsified, should only heighten BNFL"s embarrassment. But no. The complacency and arrogance that has characterised the British nuclear establishment shines through: "We've been carrying out these kind of radioactive transports for 30 years in complete safety and security." That may be true, but it does not mean that those transports are desirable, or that they are a risk worth taking in an age of globalised terror.

Indeed, it may not be too much to claim that the viability of the whole nuclear industry, never very great, has been virtually destroyed by the events of 11 September. We have heard few assurances that our nuclear installations are, or could be, protected against a Jumbo jet full of fuel crashing into them. How would British Energy, virtually bust as it is, pay for such safety measures?

It is certainly relevant to note that so much of the current anxiety about Saddam Hussein's Iraq and other 'rogue states" stems from the ease with which they can obtain weapons-grade nuclear material, a situation that the British enthusiasm for international trade in radioactive material can only make worse. These are matters that must be given a proper airing in the Government's forthcoming white paper on energy policy. Given Downing Street's reputed enthusiasm for all things nuclear, however, that will probably prove to be a vain hope.

But the immediate question remains the international trade in this particular material – mixed uranium and plutonium oxide fuel, or Mox. The central argument against the Mox reprocessing facility at Sellafield is that, even ignoring for a moment safety concerns, it is wildly uneconomic. Mox comes in the form of inch-long ceramic pellets that are slotted into stainless steel rods, which are loaded into a nuclear reactor. An alternative fuel, however, is uranium, which is now much cheaper than it was when the decision to build the Mox plant was taken.

Moreover, the £150m that the Sellafield Mox plant is expected to earn over its life will not cover the £473m cost of building the plant, a state-of-the-art operation where lasers and computers control the making of Mox fuel rods from reprocessed nuclear fuel. Nor do the profits take into account the enormous costs of decommissioning the contaminated components of the Mox plant when its working life comes to an end within the next 20 years.

The last consultation on the project, by the accountants Arthur D Little, concluded that "there is a robust economic case for proceeding with the Sellafield Mox plant" – but only by leaving aside the costs of building the plant in its financial analysis.

The truth, of course, is that the British nuclear programme is supported mainly because of its military importance and because it offers a superficially easy way to cut carbon dioxide emissions. Neither argument is remotely compelling if the effects of a serious accident or terrorist action are taken into account. Nuclear power is unsafe, at any price.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice