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Should we stop building nuclear power plants?

Nuclear power plant and dark cloud

As the world is bracing itself for a nuclear catastrophe in Japan, should we stop building nuclear power plants in the UK? If so, would you be willing to minimise your electricity consumption to avoid going nuclear?

No one can be left insensitive to the footage of entire villages being swept away by the tsunami after the recent earthquake in Japan.

And, if an earthquake and a tsunami were not enough, Japan now braces itself for a possible nuclear disaster. So while we’re all watching the events unfold, should our government reconsider nuclear power?

Changes have already been made, with an announcement today that there will be a crackdown on safety tests at European nuclear plants. But should we stop investing in nuclear power?

A vicious circle

The more electricity we need, the more electricity we have to produce. Conventional electricity production, based on fossil fuel, creates greenhouse gases which in turn are responsible for climate change.

Climate change means rising temperatures, which lead to more extreme weather conditions and more frequent and violent natural disaster like typhoons, flooding, droughts, etc.

In turn, these extreme events, like last week’s horrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan result in death, displacement, and even a threat from nuclear power plants.

Is this Mother Nature taking her revenge on climate change and rectifying the balance?

More nuclear plants?

While nuclear power is deemed ‘low carbon’ in comparison to more conventional fossil fuel based power generation, the risks attached to nuclear when things go wrong are very high.

At the same time, our governments, in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and alleviate climate change, are proposing to build more nuclear power plants. With more natural disasters likely to happen all of us could be at a higher risk of nuclear catastrophes.

One rational solution would be to stop building nuclear power stations altogether, but this would in turn require more investment in renewable energy and a reduction in our power consumption. So how far are we actually prepared to go to reduce the electricity we all use?

Do you think we should stop building nuclear power plants in the UK, or should we continue building them as we are, albeit with a greater concentration on safety?

Fat Sam, Glos says:
16 March 2011

In a word, ‘no’.

If you look at the safety record of fossil fuel sources the nuclear industry is positively safe! Not to mention the carbon benefits, even taking into consideration construction, waste storage and decommissioning.

I notice Germany have responded with a positively-knee-jerk reaction to the crisis currently unfolding in Japan. But politicians, and human nature, seem to forget one thing: making decisions based on reason rather than emotion.

The crisis in Japan was caused first by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Now, I’m no expert but I think both are highly unlikely in Germany, or indeed in the UK.

This is a typical reaction to a major news story. More people probably die falling off a roof each year or down the stairs – why don’t we ban roofs and stairs?


Tommo,Northants says:
18 March 2011

We are on an island which will soon be supporting 70 million souls.
Sorry, windfarms and solar panels are a naive diversion; only Nuclear can provide the future self sufficient energy needs of this population.
The longer we delay, the longer we put ourselves at the mercy of the unpredictable foreign states pumping gas or shipping oil to the U.K.


One paragraph says it all:

“One rational solution would be to stop building nuclear power stations altogether, but this would in turn require more investment in renewable energy and a reduction in our power consumption.”

To me, that is absolutely the answer – we have the natural resources (including hundreds of miles of hydro-electric-and-windfarm-friendly coastline), as well as the technical knowhow to be world leaders in renewable energy production. It just takes a bit of long-term planning and support from the government. With the risk of nuclear meltdown as ullustrated in Japan, together with political uncertainty in oil- and gas-producing countries – surely we have no other choice?


Can we control nuclear power if something goes wrong?

Then what on Earth are we doing building more of what is beyond our control & runs the risk of SEVERELY damaging not just us but all of life around us.



Completely agree with Martyn.

The government need to invest, and create incentives for the energy industry to invest, in renewable energy. Investing in nuclear is like bailing out a leaking boat – ultimately it doesn’t fix the problem. What happens when we run out of Uranium, last I heard stocks weren’t running sky high.

The Government need to stop being so short-termist with their long-term targets – making targets for 2020, 2050 or in some cases, 2080 (!) is pointless as there is no incentive for them to meet them. They may not be alive, let alone still in power, to see whether their targets have been met.

SimonT says:
16 March 2011

I understand that investing in renewable energy alone is impractical – wind turbines with only 5-8% efficiency etc – therefore the UK, being a small and over crowded island, has to invest in nuclear power or the population better start stock piling candles.

Anonymous says:
18 March 2011

Ha! This comment about stock piling candles was lifted straight out of the (ahem) most reliable of educated news sources, the Daily Mail!



INteresting that so far the comments and agree / disagree thumbs, suggest a strong majority saying invest in renewables and stop nuclear.

I’ve always been anti-nuclear, but not (I hope) unthinkingly so.

Martyn makes a superb point about all the renewables that we could be investing in and which successive governments have failed to do so. Simon T asserts that investment in renewable alone is impractical and indicates a poor efficiency rating for one renewable (wind turbines).

If renewables are so ineffective why do so many other countries invest so heavily in them and how do they get such massive amounts of power from them? Indeed, if they are so ineffective why is our own government, and the last one of the opposite political view, want us all to have our own renewable generation systems in or on our homes and offices?

Miranda makes another outstanding point by mentioning how short termist governments and indeed many individuals seem to be.

Fat Sam mentions increasing energy demand. So why are we being forced to have energy saving lightbulbs and so on to REDUCE our power use? They can’t be working if demand is still rising!

WHEN, and only when, we see our coastlines, shores and suitable land spaces filled with turbines, solar arrays and tidal wave power generators, and when suitable rivers have hydro schemes built on them, AND there is still a proven shortfall in supply, I will be happy to give a reluctant, and cautious, welcome to further investment in nuclear generation. UNTIL BOTH of those conditions apply I am firmly in the no more nuclear camp, and Japan’s terrible misfortune, coming after Windscale (Sellafield) (1950’s), Three-Mile Island (1950’s), Chrnobyl (1980’s) and all the other (so called) minor accidents in between, does, I am afraid, only serve to make the point that Nuclear is not safe and not controllable.

As an aside, I strongly suspect that if the Nuclear industry had been properly funded from square 1 it would be far safer, but that would have been to admit the lie that was, and sometimes still is, perpetuated, that it is cheap. Unsafe nuclear may be cheapER, but no nuclear will ever be “too cheap to meter” as they used to try to tell us.

SimonT says:
16 March 2011

The trouble with this topic is we all have different views and we can all pontificate away happily. Both sides of the argument will twist the facts, consciously or unconsciously, to suit their case. Therefore what we need is the fuel security options with their cost, return and consequences laid out by some independent body to allow us all to make a rational decision.


Using more energy efficient products only has limited success in controlling our energy needs. Whilst some people may see a reduction in their domestic (ie, household) energy use the OVERALL energy use of the nation may increase. This can be down to things such as population growth, growth in industrial output, increased vehicle ownership, etc.

Phil says:
16 March 2011

The problem with the majority of renewable sources is their unpredictability and tendency not to be there when you need them most. Periods of intense cold are often accompanied by little or no wind (like last December) so there still has to be sufficient conventional capacity on standby. To the best of my knowledge no country that has invested in renewables has been able to close down one fossil or nuclear power station as a result. Renewables are a compliment to conventional generation, not a substitute, the possible exception being tidal which not only looks to be phenomenally expensive but unpopular with the eco-lobby too (see Severn Barrage).

Couple global warming with the increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, the possibility of continuing trouble in the middle east and burning coal and oil doesn’t look like a good option. With demand likely to increase with the widespread use of electric and/or hydrogen cars and I don’t think we have much of an option but to go for nuclear. We just need to be careful not to build them on fault lines and make sure the emergency pumps have adequate fuel.


Hi Phil, just to say we liked your comment so much that we’ve featured it as our ‘comment of the week’ on the homepage!


We must remember nuclear power stations have been around for a long time and in the main they have operated safely. Yes there have been one or two mishaps but technology moves on and mistakes are not generally repeated. There is bound to be a knee jerk reaction to the Japanese experience but rather than completely stop building nuclear plants we should incorporate the lessions learnt and make sure what we build is “super safe” and covers a wider range of dangerous eventualities.
Nuclear is the only short term way to significantly reduce Co2 and save us from the fossil fuel robber barons, so it must have a place in our future planning.
However there is no getting away from the fact that nuclear is inherently very dangerous. If things go wrong they go wrong in a big way. So I would only build as many as we really need and make sure they are tidal wave proof, earthquake proof and have automatic cooling systems that don’t rely on any outside services. And that is even for plants built in the uk where earthquakes and tidal waves are very very rare events, at least for now.
If we had more time to convert from fossil fuel we might be able to improve renewables in preference to nuclear, but we don’t, so there will have to be a nuclear element in our plans if we don’t want the lights to go out, we don’t really have any choice.
Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to make improvements to clean and inherently safer renewables, like wind, wave. tidal and PV, and perhaps gradually increase the proportion there of over time.

John Fitz-Hugh says:
16 March 2011

The problem with all the renewables is that they do not always produce power when we want to use it. At present, renewables rely on exising fossil and nuclear stations to make up the shortfall when renewables stop producing. This will not be possible once renewables contribute more than about 10% of total capacity. In the UK we do not have any more sites to build pumped storage hydro so we do not have any means of storing enough electricity whilst we wait for the renewables to start producing again after a lull in wind or at night or when the tide is neither rising nor falling. People forget that solar does not work at night. Intermittent generation causes problems with grid stability so you cannot have more than about 10% of total generation from intermittent sources. Germany has found this out the hard way. Denmark only manages to use so much windpower by making use of the hydro stations in Norway.
Sadly renewables alone will not meet our requirements. At present the only alternatives are fossil fuel or nuclear. Carbon capture for fossil fuel is unproven and will be hideously expensive and what are we going to do if the buried CO2 leaks in a few years. Sadly nuclear is a necessity and we have to face up to this inconvenient truth and do the best job we can with it. By the way, renewables are ruinously expensive. If you doubt this, read the House of Lords reports, or simply wait and see what happens to your electricity bill in the next few years as the cost of wind turbines and solar panels is added to your bill. Research on large scale batteries would help but I would not hold your breath and the cost will be high.