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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.


Yes renewables don’t produce all the time, so what we need is a method of short term storage.
The problem of supply at peak demand already exists even with fossil powered electricity generation.
In Wales there is a facility called “electric mountain”. During periods of low demand water is pumped from a low lake to a high lake. When extra power for the grid is needed the valves open and as the water decends hydro-electric generation provides the needed power.
A few facilities like this could smooth intermitent renewable supply.
So the wind wouldn’t have to blow all the time, although with well sited turbines off the west coast this wouldn’t be very often.

Sophie Gilbert says:
17 March 2011

The unquestionable problem with nuclear power is that we will never be sheltered from human malevolence, error, or stupidity (including building nuclear plants in earthquake zones), never mind the to date unsurmountable problem of nuclear waste. When disasters happen with nuclear plants, I think that they are farther reaching than with fossil fuel plants, even if the other 99 out of a 100 nuclear plants are still up and running.

I wouldn’t advocate that we shut down all nuclear plants at once, but that we phase them out one by one as we introduce renewable energy plants and other devices everywhere possible. I refuse to believe that the brain power doesn’t exist out there to make renewable energy (other than nuclear) entirely viable. What we need to do is to invest money in this brain power rather than continue to pander to the fossil fuel and nuclear power lobbies.


Completely agree – I have never agreed with the building of Nuclear Power Stations since the first one was built in the UK.- due mainly to the inability to safely disposing of the waste produced – the radiation of which lasts for 1000s of years. In addition when there is an accident the effects can range 1000’s of miles. They should be phased out as rapidly as possible.

The technology for various renewable and sustainable power generation have been around for many decades.

To answer the specific question posed by John – about “standby” or ” peak” reliable power supply – The answer has been around for years – it consists of two underground ‘reservoirs” one higher than the other. The top reservoir contains water (as this is many feet underground it is effectively impervious to temperature changes in temperate zones such as ours – this feeds the generators to generate electricity – used either to “top up” peak demand or to act as a “back up” – the water used is collected in the bottom reservoir. When the demand drops the generators are reversed and act as pumps to refill the top reservoir with the water from the bottom reservoir. A completely closed system – and could be built with virtually no ecological or environmental impact – far less than wind farms though initially more expensive.

The problem like all alternative energy solutions is the reluctance of official bodies to support such technologies until it is virtually too late. For instance all buildings built in the last 20 years with suitable roofs.should have been fitted with solar panels when built – not added on as an expensive after thought at the owner’s expense.


Very interesting comments and views! Aside from the bigger question as to whether we should be building more nuclear power station or not, there is the question of reducing electricity demand.
If our Government (in a quite unrealistic scenario) was to ask all of us to reduce our electricity consumption to avoid building new power plants, would you be ready to do so? To what extent?

Phil says:
17 March 2011

Your target is 40% which how much our generating capacity will be cut by once the current nuclear stations and the older coal fired stations close and if we don’t build more power stations to replace them pretty soon.

It’s going to mean more than switching to low energy light bulbs.

We suffered a 17 hour power cut last month, believe me it was no fun. If power has to be rationed because of a shortage of capacity much of the opposition to nuclear is going to melt away very quickly.


Apart from the push to low energy lightbulbs, almost nothing has been done to help reduce electricity consumption. Lots of items on sale still use power 24/7 and have no real off switch – I even discovered I had a coffee-grinder that was using power all the time – it didn’t even have a light or display! I don’t need a glowing clock on my cooker, microwave, gas boiler and hifi. Digital TVs and radios use more power than the old ones, big tellies more than little ones. Fridges are getting better – hooray! Shops still have a row of fan-heaters over open doors, warming the pigeons in frosty weather, and street lights still light up the clouds. We are so very far from even trying to reduce electricity consumption that we could easily cut consumption, but the government would have to bring some direct pressure on manufacturers. I have tried to get info on standby consumption for recent purchases. From set-top boxes to my glowing cooker display, retailers had no idea. The commonest response was ‘too small to measure’. My cable TV box uses about £20 of electricity a year on standby, when it is recording or showing a picture it uses about the same as the TV.

Simon says:
17 March 2011

I’d be pleased to see us move to more renewable energy sources. However, many of the people who are anti-nuclear are also those who strenuously oppose things such as wind farms on the grounds that it spoils the view from their house or is in other ways damaging to their immediate environment. You can’t have it both ways!


There is absolutely no rational justification for nuclear power, once ‘whole life’ costs have been accounted for – and not just in pounds and pence.

– Governments are massively subsidising nuclear power, which means they’re using our taxes – then the power companies charge us for the electricity. This doesn’t happen with other methods of power generation.

– The problem of what to do with nuclear waste simply hasn’t been solved. I have been reading about the legacy of nuclear waste (see ‘Nuclear Semiotics’ on Wiki). We need to find a way of safely storing the waste for 10,000 years and more. No-one has even thought of a way of communicating with future generations in a way that could be understood that far in the future.

– There is a lot of legislation around nuclear power and how plants should be built. But equally, events and accidents are unpredictable by their very nature – as we are seeing in Japan. You cannot legislate for every eventuality – and the consequences of a nuclear accident are unacceptably serious.

– The UK has a terrible nuclear safety record: (5x Level 4 incidents and 1x Level 5 since 1950s). What makes anybody think we are going to be any better in the future?

– The safety of the plants will ultimately fall to those who built them, which won’t be UK companies – it will be the French, by the looks of things.

– I accept the nuclear safety statistics vs coal mining or other forms of generation. But the legacy point is sheer foolhardiness and must not be allowed to continue. What will future generations think of our dirty habits?

– As Sylvia suggests, we need to stop using electricity as if there is no limit. Some countries operate a current limit – so you can use one appliance at a time. This would make people think harder about their power consumption, and spread the power demand around the clock – which would help overall effective capacity.

Chris says:
18 March 2011

What is the “whole life” cost of Global Warming?

“… communicating with future generations… ” – don’t you talk to your children?
– or are you imagining some “Planet of the Apes” scenario where apes/evolved worms uncover a buried nuclear site?

Anonymous says:
18 March 2011

How tragic that my sadness at the recent Japanese loss of life, the expulsion of raditation into the environment and the potential for massive future catastrophe is dismissed by some of the above readers as a “knee-jerk reaction”….

Fred says:
18 March 2011

Comparing the safety of a plant built now to that of a plant built in the early ’70s is rather like comparing the safety of cars or planes from then and now. Modern reactor designs will not suffer catastrophic failure when electric power is removed, and the last earthquake of any magnitude in the UK is before recorded history. Of course the design and maintenance of any large industrial plant is critical! Think of the Flixborough disaster or the Bunsfield explosion. I don’t hear calls for the removal of all industry from the UK. We must have a sense of proportion about risks and rewards. Radiation frightens people because they don’t understand it and it is invisible and ‘secret’. The most dangerous thing would be to put off the design and planning for future, modern reactors until it has to be rushed and bodged because the old ones begin to crumble and the ‘alternatives’ like windpower are shown to be the illusions that they are


Your examples undermine your own arguements. People are people – we always let safety standards slip; in the case of the nuclear industry complacency gives us a disaster roughly once a generation, the chemical industry rather more often. After a Flixborough, life returns to normal within months. After Chernobyl there are thousands of square miles where it never will.


The direct answer to the question is ‘No, not yet’. Alternative clean power generation technologies are evolving but not yet sufficiently mature to replace the current mix of carbon/nuclear generators. With increasing risk of political instability within the major oil-producing countries and with the potential for conflict amongst customers over constrained supplies, the UK needs to take urgent steps to contain our consumption, diversify our current sources of energy and invest heavily in research for future sources, efficiencies and technologies. An off-shore island blessed with powerful tides and winds should be able to create and even export naturally derived sources of energy.

The risks associated with nuclear generation are, mathematically, already quite small and can be reduced further with careful choice of location and design. We mustn’t allow ourselves to be blown off course by the emotional aspects of nuclear dangers. The final report on the current problems in Japan will reveal some quite inexplicable elements of both design and response, as was also true of Chernobyl. Failure to take note of these will simply mean that Russians and Japanese people suffered in vain. There is absolutely no doubt that nuclear generation can be made safer, and it will provide an essential stop-gap until we develop more sophisticated alternatives.

C.J. at M.P. says:
18 March 2011

Great Britain needs nuclear power for elctricity generation – there is currently no viable alternative. Global warming and the strictures laid down by the E.U. together with the desire to have less dependence on the oil and gas producers have been the drivers for producing the renewable generation systems but as everyone knows, their achilles heal is that they do not produce electricity on demand. We have spent huge sums of money investing in these systems and they will at times reduce the load on the non-renewable generators but we still have to have extra generating capacity in the non-renewable systems of generation to cover all of the generation capacity of the renewables for the times when they won’t work.
To hope/expect our demand for electricity to be reduced by some kind of unwritten common agreement to save the planet is, in my view, similar to hoping/expecting people to stop driving their cars for the same reason – not a cat’s chance in ****! Our lives and the standard of living that we enjoy are totally dependent on a 24 hour non-stop supply of electricity and at this time, in Great Britain, we have no option but to include nuclear reactors as energy sources for electricity generation.
My hope for the future (longer term) is (and has been for the past 25 years) for the equatorial countries to produce electricity for the world using solar generation. They are, in the main, poor regions of the world with the highest incident solar radiation and generating the planet’s electricity there would be of benefit to us in terms of energy supply and of benefit to these poorer regions in terms of a source of finance. There is more than enough energy from the sun to power the world – we must learn how to capture it and transmit it and maybe one day we will. I guess that the only downside to this will be that instead of trading with oil barons who currently have us by the throat, we will have to deal with a new breed of sun merchants unless the world really can pull together for once. Well, I can dream….


Chris – we cannot understand the writings of civilisations from 3,000 years ago, much less communicate the dangers of nuclear waste to future generations 10,000 years hence. Do you think a signpost in the ground is sufficient?

Fred – there will always be a failure mode we haven’t thought of. The rate of nuclear accidents hasn’t declined since the Fifties, and I think we can all agree that technology has moved on a little since then. The safety issue is not only a technological one – it’s a human one. Humans will always make mistakes, occasionally with very dire consequences. On-line reactors will always be ‘out of date’ according to your argument, as their design life is always at least twenty years.

The Buncefield explosion did not kill anyone, nor did it cause any lasting environmental damage. This is a misleading counter-argument. Likewise, Flixborough was a chemical plant, not a power station or coal mine.

Believe me, I *do* understand radiation, and I am very frightened of it. There are plenty of places on this planet that have been rendered uninhabitable due to nuclear accidents. This is not reflected in bare ‘safety statistics’, but is a legacy that most nuclear proponents choose to ignore.

The argument that runs: ‘we must build nuclear reactors because renewable energy won’t fulfill our needs’ is flawed: why must we choose nuclear to fill the gap? Why not use less electricity? Or invest more in renewables? Why not make existing generation methods cleaner and more efficient?

We are investing plenty of tax dollar in nuclear power – why can’t this money be spent on improving renewables? As has been stated on this page, there is plenty of energy in and around the UK in wind, tidal and solar potential. Not to mention geothermal.

And the argument that states nuclear power produces ‘no CO2’ or ‘less CO2’ is also flawed. What about the uranium mining process? What about the concrete used to build the plants? What about the transport of waste? What about the decommissioning procedure? I advise anyone using this argument to really study the ‘whole life’ nuclear power CO2 emissions in detail.

I agree with the anonymous comment – mine is not a ‘kneejerk reaction’. I was already emotional about nuclear power before March 11th! And I do not think events in Japan alter the argument significantly; nuclear power problems are long-term, not transient.


“Why not use less electricity?”

Therein lies the problem. I wish some people could grasp this simple problem! Just because individual households may reduce their domestic energy use that doesn’t mean the overall energy demand of the nation will go down! No amount of low-energy products is going to help until you remove all the other factors that contribute to the increase in TOTAL energy use of the nation – which isn’t helped by population growth, increased car use, increased industrial and business activity, etc.

To illustrate, in simple terms, for example, I can use a 7W bulb and buy a fuel-efficient car to reduce my own use, but what can I do about 100 NEW households all using 7W bulbs and all buying fuel efficient cars? Whilst energy use per household may have gone down, the TOTAL energy use has still gone up! And that’s the problem we’re trying to resolve.

Longley Shopper says:
18 March 2011

Interesting to see that the NIMBY brigade are all alive and well.

The anti-nuclear NIMBY’s are protesting about nuclear for all the usual reasons and the anti renewables NIMBY’s and doing exactly the same.

For me the bulk of this particular thread simply goes to emphasise my deepest fears about Which?:” it attracts the more than averagely well off, predominantly right-wing, NIMBY brigade, who all want to shout about what’s best for the rest of us but don’t want to live with it themselves

I have a suggestion: let all the pro nuclear posters have a nuclear waste storage facility built within sight of their homes, let all the pro-wind lobbyers have a wind farm built within sight of their homes, let all the solar campaigners have a solar array farm built within sight of their homes. When this is complete ask the same question again and see what the responses are.

My bet is that each campaign loses over half it’s support, though I have to say I have a gut feeling that he Nuclear one would lose more support than the others.

As for the original question, many posters have already made my point for me and that is that we should invest in ALL types of generation, including clean-coal (which, incidentally, was PROVEN in the 1980’s, so sorry John Fitz-Hugh, I’m afraid you are not completely correct with your comment on carbon capture). The proportion invested in each technology should be inversely proportional to the riskiness, thus Wind, Solar and Hydro / wave would get greatest investment, gas, coal and oil the next greatest and nuclear the least – not because of the dangers like Japan is facing now, but because as Richard states, the waste product is unstable and unsafe for periods up to millions of years, so nuclear creates an ever-growing time-bomb.

But remember, if you are NIMBY about any one of these technologies, don’t be two-faced and advocate it!


I’ve read through all the comments above and I haven’t seen one where a pro-nuclear supporter doesn’t want a power station in their back yard, so I’m not quite sure where you got your info from.

When our family moved to Gloucestershire we lived up-wind of 2 nuclear power stations within 20 miles (both have since been successfully de-commissioned). For the record, I’d be far happier to see the French build a brand new nuclear power station down the road on the banks of the Severn Estuary than see a tidal barrage built across it.

I’m not totally against renewable energy sources – I just don’t believe that they alone can solve our energy needs.


Fat Sam – I see your point about this particular board and I agree that I can’t see anyone saying they support Nuclear but not in their own back yard, but then I also can’t actually see anyone saying that they support any renewable but don’t want that close to home either.
However, I think you may be missing LS’s point: isn’t he or she saying that it’s all fine and dandy for us on here to pontificate about our favoured generation option, but most likely none of us will actually live close to the relevant plant? After all, even though you lived quite near to Nuclear power stations, there physically isn’t room for *Most* people to live near to a power station of any type, and be fair, many people would object to one being built near to them (of any type).
Equally for the record, just like you would rather see a reactor than a tidal barrage, I’d be very happy to live near to (indeed right under) a wind farm, or in the immediate vicinity of a tidal barrage, but I would be less happy about a field full of solar arrays and I would most certainly never countenance living near to a nuclear reactor; and yet, I am a staunch advocate of solar (as well as wind and wave) and have said in an earlier Post that if push comes to shove even I would support some limited nuclear, so if I’m quite honest I’m a bit NIMBY and so are you.
I think that’s the point LS is making and I have to say that I agree and it’s made me think.


Dave D, thanks for thoughts and viewpoints but I can confifm that, purely on principle, i am NOT a NIMBY! I would have mo problem if they wanted to build a nuclear power station close to me – tho perhaps not quite literally in my back yard!

Dave R says:
18 March 2011

No potentially lethal technology should ever be used unless the human means of controlling or limiting its known dangers are also known or worked out in advance (as part of the R & D process). The George W Bush-type optimistic and ignorant belief that new technology will always provide a solution to anything (presumably ‘if the market conditions are right’) has been proved hopelessly wrong (pouring sea water by helicopter onto the reactor to try to prevent meltdown – god help us!). This view is as naive as my childhood justification for starting to smoke of being certain that a cure for lung cancer would be found by the time I might need it.
Fossil fuels will need to continue to be used – alongside the newer, safer technologies – for quite a while, together with drastic international reductions in energy use. This is not achivevable under the current form of capitalism that can only survive with continual economic growth. On the other hand, a steady-state economy is possible – but only with much greater equality within and between societies. Unfortunately, major steps towards equality have tended to follow major wars or other catastrophic events. Let’s hope it doesn’t take a nuclear holocaust to reverse the rapid increases in inequality of the past thirty-odd years.

Marilyn Dismore says:
18 March 2011

Of course.
In the time and for the money it would take to build new nuclear, we could do much more with renewables and proper insulation. Nuclear is a 20th century response to a 21st century problem.

Phil says:
18 March 2011

There are plans to build a tidal power farm in Scotland which I see will produce a mere 10MW at a cost of £40 million, the new 1.2GW nuclear powers station will cost £2.8 billion apiece which per unit of output is 40% less.

The argument that nuclear power stations are not really carbon neutral is also true of renewables, the materials for them also have to be mined, processed and brought to site.


I see the balance of pro and anti nuclear has tippd dramatically since I last looked at this thread.

However, despite the large number of “disagrees” on my previous comment, I see that no one has attempted to answer the questions I posed about why governments want us all to have renewables at home if they really are, as lots of people are now posting, inadequate and inefficient; why we are forced to have things like CFL lamps if they are clearly not reducing demand; or the fact that Nuclear is vastly expensive – not, as some posters are still suggesting – cheap.

Anyone got any answers to these points?

Interesting that on “Any Questions?” last night none of the politicians, pro or anti, had answers for them either.


I’ll Try.

CLF bulbs do reduce the demand for electricity – take a couple of examples – A standard 11w CLF saves approx 5 times the electricity in comparison to the 60 watt incandescent lamp it replaced – these are called direct replacement though the light output is lower – but an 18 watt saves around three times the electricity as a 60 watt – and the 18 watt is a direct replacement. CFL are more efficient than .incandescent lamps

Renewals at home – I’ll restrict this to solar panels – every single solar panel will generate electricity for that home for however long the sun is shining strong enough to generate (this can be cloudy days too) This will save the need to generate electricity elsewhere (Note this has nothing to do with the construction cost to the houseowner) A net saving of centrally generated electricity.
Please note the majority of homes (millions of them) could actually have roof solar panels generating electricity for each of their homes – Each KW generated by a house means 1000 houses generate I mega Watt – Taking the numbers of suitable houses is in the millions – the saving in external energy generated is very considerable. Obviously at night no electricity is generated – but with batteries and inverters the surplus power generated during the day could be stored for use at night.
The technology is here but not used mainly because there is no real stimulus from the Electricity Boards who have nothing to gain (in profits) by encouraging home electrical generation. Every kW generated at home is one less kW needed to be generated elsewhere,

The cost per kW produced by Nuclear Stations is cheaper that gas or oil produced kW – BUT this does not take into consideration the costs of storing the radio-active waste for 1000s of years. Sadly the vast numbers of pro Nuclear supporters don’t care about this – or that any accidents – however infrequent can be massively and permanently toxic.

The reason for reluctance about the use of Gas or Oil has nothing to do with the safety of the power stations – but only the fact that the supplies of these fuels are produced by unreliable countries. The technologies for the safe capture of the “toxic” emissions have.been around for years but again expensive to build (not run) – The Power Companies are very reluctant to invest in the technologies. Remember our Power Companies are private and obsessed by profits.

There are several renewals that are not inconsistent in output – Hydro – tidal – and wave – but tidal and wave have never had the investment needed to build them – Hydro is the only one that been used (as it is ‘easy’ to construct) The others just haven’t had the proper investment

I makes me laugh really – the Nuclear Industry took less than 10 years to develop because of the massive investment in WW2 – IF Whittle’s jet engine had a similar investment the Meteor would have flown operationally in 1941 not 1944.

No investment – no progress.


Thanks Richard: I’m really glad that you have posted such a detailed answer, most of which is entirely what I have always believed and said myself when appropriate.

Let’s hope that some of the pro-nuclear lobby stop posting hopeless denials of these facts …. but I don’t hold out much hope.


That’s OK John! 🙂

“Electrical Power Generation” was my major at Uni while reading Physics in the early 50’s – Interestingly the Technologies were all known then – yet only now – 60 years later -are small scale renewables being built – except for the least efficient inconsistent of them Windmills. Even these only because some Americans decided to exploit the wind generation (mainly because wind powered water pumps were considered normal).

Mind you – fairly obviously Germany and China are now re-examining the true viability of Nuclear – I think they were surprised that even in such a high technologically advanced country as Japan would have had such a design flaw in their Nuclear Plant Design. In these days there is a real chance of terrorist attacks on Nuclear Power Plants causing widespread and permanent toxic damage. They should be turned off.


Dave D – see point above about why ‘per household’ energy reduction has little effect on the total energy demand of a nation.

Richard – re, your point about design flaws, see point above about comparing technology from 40 years ago to today. You simply can’t compare.

Also, some sources of renewable energy, such as large dams and barrages, aren’t completely immune from the threat of terrorism. Neither are they completely immune from having an impact on the environment.


I’d like to consider this from a non technical angle as a non engineer-bloke in the street.
Energy rationing would mean (among other things) not being able to put the kettle on when there’s a need for tea, cold houses, restricted use of freezers and food storage in Supermarkets, limited food choices, limited mobility and commuter journeying and a general reduction in the quality of life that we ‘enjoy’ today. It would also seriously compromise the ability of the country to run efficiently. Somehow, I don’t think Jo public will accept deprivation anywhere near this level before they make themselves felt. It is impossible to step back in time. Coal fires are environmentally damaging and ,at present, for the majority of us, there are no other forms of energy, since this all comes from a central universal source via grids and gas lines. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t use our energy as carefully as possible with insulation and conservation as a priority.

So to the alternatives. Every house, or group of houses having its/their own independent energy source via deep earth heat transference, solar/voltaic cells and wind. Leaving the national grid to run the country infrastructure. How many years/ decades would it take to do this, even assuming it became a national priority? Has anyone done a feasibility study on cost and whether this idea is economically sound? Would it make sense in terms of effort and use of energy, or is the central system we already have better at providing power where it’s needed?

Alternative energy seems to be a minor player in this field despite being heralded as a planet saviour. No one has yet tamed the sea, gathered enough cash and good will to build a Severn barrage or built enough Dinorwic power systems to use water power and gravity as an energy source. These, of course, use more energy than they create. Solar power is very thin on the ground in the U.K., though there are more sun farms on the way. We seem to be playing games with this type of power source. How many years/decades would it take to harness nature effectively, even if this was a national priority?

Traditional power stations are said to cause global warming, they use finite sources of energy and some rely on unreliable countries for this input. Carbon capture seems a great, but expensive idea and no one has said that woodchip and other quick grow fuel crops would answer our energy needs either. Not sure why this is, as they would appear to be as carbon neutral as anything else. Perhaps it’s the vast tracts of land needed to make them effective.

Last of all there’s nuclear. Great energy source, good carbon credentials but, like every genie, fatal if let out of the container vessel and, of course the indestructible waste is a moral problem we pass on to successive generations. But, can we do without it?

So far none of the alternatives on their own can supply the power we need and we seem to be at a crossroads of decision making. While we make decisions and implement them we need to sustain reliable power. A present every option plays some part in this. The government is going to have to decide, (and bring the public with them) that they will spend money on the power system of choice. While they, and future governments (who must still agree on the same strategy) do this we actually need nuclear power. Whether this is a few stations with a limited life or a whole block af them as a future, depends on what else is done. We can be horrified at nuclear accidents and, maybe wiped out by one of our own, but there are other mass death scenarios out there that will do the same thing on an equally probable scale. Man is a creative animal. Let’s embrace this creativity and not run away from it. There will always be dangers, what ever we do. This is a nuclear world now, that won’t change any time soon.

phil says:
21 March 2011

I am totally surprised at the Japanese.

They live on a fault line, an earthquake belt if you prefer. They know that from time to time they are subject to Tidal waves. Tsunami is the internationally (english speaking) name for Tidal waves. It is a Japanese word.

Why the **** did they build their nuclear power stations at sea level. Arrogance is a word that comes to mind. Not only do they endanger their own people by doing so but the rest of the world too.

To think I once thought of the Japanese as being smart. Obviously time for a rethink on that.


Yes, because building a nuclear power station half way up a mountain away from a huge source of water for cooling makes so much more sense.


Lots of interesting comments and, incidently, nuclear is driving quite a lot of comments on renewables.

I guess one of the main challenges is that there isn’t really one technology alone that will solve our future energy supply. Maybe it is around a mix of technology and a switch for a cebtralised system to a decentralised one: renewables where it makes sense – like tidal and offshore wind on our costlines, solar PV in the South of the UK, and then topping up with a few nuclear power plants and fossil fuel ones? It would make sense too to have as much renewables where it is easy and cost-effective to generate and when it is used near the point of generation to limit transmission loss and expensive transmission infrastructure.

And of course, reducing our needs for energy would massively help . We all have a role to play: industry and individuals. There a easy steps we can all take to, at least, stop wasting energy.

Gordon Thompson says:
24 March 2011

How many people have died or been injured in the production, distribution and use of fossil fuels since, say 1945? My guess is far more than those from nuclear power, including the toll from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is not a plea for “burn as usual”, but more one for a rational and calm assessment of the risk/benefits of the various energy alternatives including nuclear. Electricity cannot presently be stored, so some form of rapid generation to meet sudden demand is always going to be necessary, be it fossil or nuclear. Solar doesn’t work at night, and not very well at our latitudes anyway; wind does not always blow, or blows too hard for wind turbines sometimes, and harvesting and burning renewables is simply impractical due to the distinct shortage of sufficient land area. We MUST be able to generate our own energy within the UK to avoid over reliance on imports, be it oil, gas or solar from Africa etc or from areas with less than salubrious regimes. Or are we to fill up our valleys with pumped storage reservoirs so we can use wind.solar power? What will the nimbys have to say about that, let alone all those nasty wind turbines!
Yes, let’s get really efficient in our use of energy, but don’t rule out nuclear because of ill informed scare stories on t.v. or in what passes for our National Press. After all, France generates 70% of its electricity from nuclear, with one of their largest reactors sets at Gravelines, just a few miles from our coast. But do we lose sleep about it? No.
There has only been one major release of radiation from a nuclear station-Chernobyl, and that has had far lower consequences than feared, although I don’t minimise the damage and disruption both there and across Europe, nor the crass stupidity of the staff operating a poorly designed reactor.
3 Mile Island killed no-one and there was no catastrophic melt down, despite all the hype.
Windscale was serious, but adversely affected few, and was not from a commercial power station but a clandestine Plutonium production plant pushed beyond its limits by a stupid, vainglorious government intent on keeping its place at “the top table”.
Nuclear should be a part of our energy mix and it can be run safely too.

John Fitz-Hugh says:
28 March 2011

I notice that on 18/3/11 “Longley Shopper” commented that I was not completely correct when I stated on 16/3/11 that “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.”

“Longley Shopper” states that “clean-coal was proven in the 1980’s.

The work on clean-coal in the 1980s was concerned with burning coal in such a way that the efficiency of power production could be increased and that the products of combustion produced by the burning of the impurities (e.g.sulphur) in the coal could be safely recovered and not released as contamination into the atmosphere. It did not address the problem of capturing and storing the CO2 produced. Indeed, in the 1980s it was not appreciated that releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere was such a significant problem.

The phrase “clean-coal” refers to a different process from carbon capture and storage and it is this latter process that remains unproven at present at any commercial scale.

It should also be particularly noted that the use of carbon capture and storage will very significantly reduce the efficiency with which electricity is produced.

I apologise for being pedantic, but these are important points.


One thing not mentioned yet ( I think – there are a lot of comments!), but part of the argument here questioning the likelyhood of electricity usage reduction.
Unless hydrogen cells or some other form of fuel is made safe and cheap, electricity is the future for vehicle power. However much we save in our homes, conversion of most vehicles to electrical power is going to put significant pressure on generation in the future. One possbile future is of < 19th Century-like 'staging posts' where instead of changing horses, we change batteries.

Personally, I used to be very anti-nuclear, like many, conflating the anti-nuclear weapons stance with anti-nuclear everything. Reading (and to some extent finding myself agreeing) with Lovelock has changed my mind on this. Nuclear is very far from perfect. Microgeneration can help a lot. But I can't see any other way to sustain a technologically advanced civilisation.

On a side note, there's some comments in the Solar PV thread asking why microgeneration isn't being promoted and subsidised in a way that benefits the end user as opposed to 'suppliers'.


Interesting – Japan raised their disaster to Level 7 the same as Chernobyl – Yes I know it wasn’t a nuclear explosion but…….Long term contamination is admitted etc……… So much for Eight day contaimination!

What price now for the Japanese??? I wonder if the Japanese will build another n such a place – or if at all? – far better on a stable mountain and with better water supply system. Different technology is required.

To build a nuclear power station in an earthquake region the height of folly – the design was flawed – 40 years ago or not. Why wasn’t it upgraded during it’s lifetime as “design criteria” improved??

There are far more intrinsically safe power supply systems available that do not have the financial support of nuclear and yet far more is needed. The quantity of generation depends on that financial support. Coal Fired Electrical Generation was small to start with.

Rather like flying – ten years before the Wright Bros – it was generally accepted that sustained flying was impossible – 10 years after Trans-Atlantic Crossings were contemplated. .


The Japanese now say it will take NINE MONTHS to “make safe” – while still allowing irradiated water to still contaminate the seas. And posters still say nuclear power is safe?????

What we need is proper concentration on alternative power generation that are renewable and sustainable many of which are known and tested – plus micro generation – Solar energy is sustainable in the UK – yet no decisive action by the Condems.


Interesting – It is now known that defects in the construction of the Japanese power stations were already known and protested about in 1998 – but were rejected by the company – seems a little like the UK doesn’t it?

In addition, the effects of the Tsunami on the construction were known and protested about but were ignored by the Company – even though similar sized earthquakes and Tsunamis had been known for millennia

It was an “accident” waiting to happen.

So much for Nuclear Power construction being safe

Stop building Nuclear Power Stations


Is this the story that said “the [Fukushima] reactor…*may* have been relying on flawed steel…” and the engineer who reported it is quoted as saying “Who knows what would have happened if that reactor had been running?” and “I have no idea *if* it could withstand an earthquake like this”.

So, still pretty inconclusive.

I love newspapers.

I just can’t stand journalists 🙂


Although opinions are split in the comments section here, a recent survey has found that the Fukushima disaster in Japan hasn’t really changed our opinions. Brits still, as a whole, support nuclear power as a way to slow climate change? Do you? Join our new Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/energy-home/japan-nuclear-power-plants-energy-fukushima-uk/


Think you lot who agree with it should live in japan….

give me a solar pannel on my house any day…


Funny how people say polls say the british dont mind nuclear power. ive never been asked an opinion for a poll…. its rubbish…
its from the same place that wants to build the nasty things. whats worng with your brain? been sniffing rods? 🙂


If you’ve never been asked it’s probably because it’s a poll. The clue is in the word ‘poll’.

Mordenman says:
25 October 2011

Having tried to read all the comments thus far, I have a few perhaps unconnected observations.
The French reactors (PWR) are all almost upwind of us and have been operating for years as far as I know without signifcant problems. We import a little of that energy ourselves and so, ironically, will the Germans if they shut down their nuclear plants.
By far the most significant energy consumption domestically is heating, both space and water. The best way to use the fuels presently employed is in the home itself. Not electricity ! Gas used in electricity generation is scandalous when you realise that two thirds of it is thrown away in the process. I know about district heating schemes but have yet to hear of one that is a success, because I guess the companies price it too highly and maybe use it as a way of raising their efficiency figures. Even so, I would be surprised if they ever get much above 40%. A modern domestic boiler is much more efficient
Geothermal energy on the other hand seems the best bet for a CO2 free source of low grade heat siutable for such schemes when the heat itself would be the main commodity and not a by product. Much more investigation into the subject is needed I feel sure. A comment from someone in tthe business would be interesting.
Of course we should concentrate on reducing electricity consumption all the time and efficient lighting is important, but thermal insulation is more so, and on a simpler level, draught proofing is, in an old house like mine, more effective than double glazing.
I guess my comment boils down to this. If we heat our houses from the direct source and reduce our electricity consumption to a lower level, we would need fewer nuclear power plants that people are so nervous about.
The safety issue is a legitimate concern, but they are a different beast these days. I remember when there were crashes involving jet airliners quite regularly, but we are happy enough to use them nowadays. Most if not all of the nuclear plants having errors were built and designed in those days too and yes…..I would be happy to live close to a modern nuclear station, I wouldn’t want to sit and look at it all day, but proximity would not concern me other than the risk of it being run for profit by a private company financed by a bunch of venture capitalists…. but thats another argument.