Gordon Brown’s great nuclear con trick

12 July 2007

Gordon Brown says expanded nuclear power is essential to cut carbon emissions and global warming. The Prime Minister is wrong. Roger Higman, Campaigns Coordinator of Friends of the Earth, discusses with Peter Tatchell the cheaper, greener and safer alternatives, such as energy conservation, wind, wave, tidal, hydro, geo-thermal and solar power.

Peter Tatchell writes:

The Prime Minister wants to build about 10 new nuclear stations, at a construction cost of around £30 to £40 billion; plus tens of billions more to decommission the reactors at the end of their working life and to store their toxic radioactive waste for 20,000 years.

There are viable, practical alternatives. The government’s Energy Review in 2002 advised that the UK could cut its energy needs by one-third through a comprehensive programme of energy conservation, including double-glazing, loft insulation, energy-efficient boilers and switching to low-energy light bulbs.

More efficient industrial motors in factories could enable us to save enough electricity to shut down four nuclear power stations. If the whole country switched to low energy light bulbs, we could save the equivalent of the electricity generated by one nuclear power plant.

The government’s own estimates, commissioned from the Carbon Trust, suggest that the UK has the potential to secure all its energy needs from renewable resources.

Off-shore wind farms could comfortably generate the same amount of electricity as 12.5 nuclear power stations. Wave power could match the electricity output of 8.5 nuclear reactors.

Tidal power is another major option. It could produce around 15% of our electricity needs. Just one project, the proposed Severn estuary tidal lagoons scheme, has the potential to fulfil 6% of the UK’s electricity demand. An additional 9% of UK demand could be met by tidal schemes in the Thames, Humber and Mersey estuaries.

Other renewable sources include solar power. Within five years, Germany will generate as much of its electricity from solar power as we currently generate from nuclear (around 20%). We could match and exceed Germany if we made solar tiles the universal, mandatory roofing material for all domestic, industrial, commercial and public buildings.

Another non-nuclear alternative is rolling hydro power, which involves placing turbines on river-beds to capture the power of river flows; mini-hydro schemes; and combined heat and power stations to capture and use the waste heat produced by energy generation.

A new frontier technology is hydro pressure from the gas pipe network. Mini-turbines in gas pipes could utilise natural variations and changes in gas pressure to produce electricity. This technology is already being trialled successfully in the US, Switzerland and Italy.

Geo-thermal power has some potential in the UK, but our best bet would to import from Iceland electricity generated from its geo-thermal (and hydro) sources.

One other possible import is electricity produced by concentrated solar power. This involves giant mirror farms in desert regions like southern Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and north Africa, which concentrate the sun’s rays to create intense heat to drive turbines and generate electricity. By covering less than 1% of the world’s desert regions with the concentrated solar power stations, we could produce enough power to meet the entire world’s electricity needs.

Say no to Gordon Brown’s nuclear con trick. It is not needed and not honest. There are safer, cleaner and cheaper alternatives – lots of them and they can produce all our energy needs in perpetuity.

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