The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy
The SDC report gives a balanced examination of the pros and cons of nuclear power. Its research recognizes that nuclear is a low carbon technology, with an impressive safety record in the UK. Nuclear could generate large quantities of electricity, contribute to stabilising CO2 emissions and add to the diversity of the UKﾒs energy supply.
However, the research establishes that even if the UKﾒs existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only give an 8% cut on CO2 emissions by 2035 (and nothing before 2010). This must be set against the risks.
The report identifies five major disadvantages to nuclear power:
1. Long-term waste ﾖ no long term solutions are yet available, let alone acceptable to the general public; it is impossible to guarantee safety over the long-term disposal of waste.
2. Cost ﾖ the economics of nuclear new-build are highly uncertain. There is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if estimated costs escalate, thereﾒs a clear risk that the taxpayer will be have to pick up the tab.
3. Inflexibility ﾖ nuclear would lock the UK into a centralised distribution system for the next 50 years, at exactly the time when opportunities for microgeneration and local distribution network are stronger than ever.
4. Undermining energy efficiency ﾖ a new nuclear programme would give out the wrong signal to consumers and businesses, implying that a major technological fix is all thatﾒs required, weakening the urgent action needed on energy efficiency.
5. International security ﾖ if the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, we cannot deny other countries the same technology*. With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks.
On balance, the SDC finds that these problems outweigh the advantages of nuclear. However, the SDC does not rule out further research into new nuclear technologies and pursuing answers to the waste problem, as future technological developments may justify a re-examination of the issue.