Open letter to the 38th Annual Symposium of the World Nuclear Association – 12th September 2013

12th September 2013

Why nuclear is finished.

We are here today to correct the apparent misapprehensions of the delegates to the World Nuclear Association annual shindig.

First off, a quote from your own, World Nuclear Association, website.

‘The cost of electricity generation from many renewables tends to be higher than other forms of generation.’

Let us free you from this misapprehension. Maybe you could argue that 2 decades ago, but not any more. The clearest indication of that is right here in the UK, where EDF seems unable to think of building a new nuclear power station for less than a guaranteed £100 MWh, fixed for 40 years, while onshore wind has a strike price of £80 MWh, fixed for 15, and offshore is projected (by DECC) to be under £100 MWh by 2020, which is long before EDF’s nuclear plant would be up and running. And all the commercial companies seem to have pulled out of EDF’s planned machine in Hinkley Point; only the French, Russian and Chinese states are still involved. As another example, Warren Buffett just cancelled plans to build a new nuke and decided instead to build a solar panel farm. The way he put it, construction costs are $4 watt for solar, $6 for nuclear, and production costs are near $0 per watt for solar and $26 for nuclear. And solar produces power when you need it, during the day, when factories are running and electricity spot prices are highest. No need to burn lights on highways all night to shed the power produced by nuclear, like the UK has done since the 50’s.

Anyway, you industry insiders should be aware that if the true cost of insuring a nuclear power station was included, instead of being covered by the government/taxpayers, the strike price needed for nuclear would be over £200 MWh, so you guys are well outside the ball park if the costs are honestly reckoned. Fukushima clean-up is headed for a total cost of 500 billion dollars, and even that won’t leave Japan very clean..

Which brings me to my next point. After 60 years, not one nuclear plant has been built anywhere without massive government subsidy. Not one. C’mon, you are a mature industry. Should manage better than this by now.. Too cheap to meter? Not turning out too well, is it? Your constant refrain of ‘it’ll be better next time’ is wearing a bit thin.

And the main trouble with nuclear is that for 60 years you’ve been saying ‘Soon they will come up with a nice, safe, permanent disposal site for the thousands of tons of waste that we produce’, and you are still not even close. From the IAEA website, you’ve produced about 255,000 MTHM (Metric Tons Heavy Metal), and treated about 85,000 tons. So about 170,000 MTHM remains, lying around and threatening our lovely planet should some mishap occur. Which, lets admit it, they do. In the USA, you have stacked it higher in the spent fuel pools, often up on the fourth floor, till these are holding 4 times what they were designed for. Yucca Mountain permanent disposal site has been called off, as the mountain is cracked, but then so is everywhere else on a tectonically active planet, one with permanently shifting plates.

The other thing that worries us a lot, out here on this side of the fence, is that you keep having huge accidents, even though you promised at the beginning of all this that you had built in so much safety that nothing could go wrong. You seem to be averaging a meltdown every twelve years. Windscale, Three Mile Island, Tschernobyl, Fukushima x 3… And each time we get a bit more plutonium and other nasties shoved up our nostrils, and we are getting grumpy about it. It’s like a compulsory, permanent experiment in genetic manipulation, carried out on us humans out here so that a few of you can have smooth career paths. It was maybe a sincerely held belief that this stuff was good for the human race back in the fifties, but events have shown that not to be the case. (Actually, it seems to us that our society went down this road because our society wanted to breed up lots of plutonium for bombs, but that’s a separate argument.)

However, you’ve had a lot of success lately getting various ‘famous environmentalists’ to say we need nuclear power, because of climate change. Let me drive a truck through that argument. Nuclear produces about 4% of the worlds energy. To make a significant contribution to slowing global warming, it would need to be producing maybe 20%. That would involve replacing the current 400 nukes, and building 1600 more. That is 2000 nuclear power stations, which over 20 years would be 100 a year. That’s 2 a week. That is not going to happen, as they cost a lot and take decades to build. So we humans will have solved our energy problems by the time nuclear can possibly influence events. By using technologies that don’t destroy a thirdof your country if they have a bad day, like wind, solar, tidal, wave, geothermal etc.

And as a last point, let me again say ‘Fukushima’. Nail in the coffin of your industry, I’m afraid. By doing little for 2 years , as they couldn’t dare admit the size of the problem, Tepco and the Japanese state have made a machine for producing hundreds of tons of radioactive water each day and chucking it into the Pacific. It has no ‘off’ button. And should something untoward happen in the next two years, spent fuel pool 4 is likely to collapse, possibly causing its contents to burn uncontrollably, causing the loss of Tokyo. Why take such a crazy risk to produce electricity, when it is more expensive than the alternatives?

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