The Fukushima disaster in Japan has made us all think about the safety of nuclear power. But have our opinions actually changed? Do we still think nuclear is an essential energy source to slow climate change?
Despite the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, more than eight in ten Britons either support nuclear power as the best way to tackle climate change, or think it might have a role in the UK’s energy mix, according to a survey from Populus. Only one in five are opposed to nuclear under any circumstances.
A solution to climate change
The Committee on Climate Change has told the government that nuclear is currently the cheapest low-carbon option. The UK has a very ambitious target: to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050 in order to alleviate climate change. This means that we either need lots of renewables, nuclear or both.
But are we forgetting about the dangers of nuclear in a rush to limit climate change?
It used to be that nuclear risks (Chernobyl anyone?) and the issue of what to do with its waste were enough to drive public opinion against nuclear power. But these concerns seem to have been overshadowed by the urgency to deal with climate change.
Nuclear doesn’t burn gas or coal, so it emits very little carbon. But in concentrating on carbon reduction, are we taking shortcuts and leaving future generations with toxic waste and obsolete nuclear reactors that will need (costly) decommissioning? And what if an earthquake or tsunami did hit our shores…
Nuclear opinions split on Conversation
When we first asked whether we should stop building nuclear power plants in the UK, opinions were split. Tommo argued that ‘only nuclear can provide the future self-sufficient energy needs of this population.’ And Fat Sam agreed:
‘If you look at the safety record of fossil fuel sources, the nuclear industry is positively safe! 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 the UK.’
However, Marylin Dismore contended that ‘nuclear is a 20th century response to a 21st century problem’, with Sophie Gilbert adding:
‘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.’
Are we safe in the UK?
Sir David King, ex-government adviser, has said that nuclear is historically the safest form of generating electricity. Besides, chief inspeactor Mike Weightam has argued that extreme natural events like the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami are not credible in the UK. Is that enouigh reassurance to think nothing will ever go wrong with our nuclear power plants?
Something has to give. Either we concentrate on avoiding climate change by building more nuclear power plants, or we avoid potential catastrophic nuclear fallouts by building more coal and gas powered stations to meet our rising demand for electricity.
Or do you think renewable energy is a viable solution to not only meet our power demands, but to avoid climate change and a potential nuclear threat?