As I write, Sizewell B nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast is shut down. The news that a problem at Sizewell B, causing it to shut down again after its lengthy and expensive closure last year, must add to French parent company Électricité de France’s (EDF) woes. You could be forgiven for thinking that the on-going trouble at their Finnish and Flamanville reactor sites, and the failure to secure big international contracts, were dampening France’s ardour for a nuclear future. But you would be wrong.
The French Government is furiously lobbying the European Council to replace Europe’s goal of 20% “renewable” energy by 2020 with “carbon- free” electricity instead. Sounds good, doesn’t it? After all, anything that is carbon-free must be a good thing, mustn’t it?
And France is trying to persuade the European Union to ensure that all Europe’s electricity becomes nuclear too.
The picture of a gently humming nuclear reactor, effortlessly magicking electricity out of busy little atoms at no carbon cost, conveniently forgets the decades-long carbon haemorrhage that led up to that. Uranium mining, transporting, processing and enriching, plus the ten-year long station-building and pylon-erecting from remote sites, and the colossal carbon-belching nuclear office bureaucracy itself and the immense ministerial departments bulging with civil servants, not to mention the carbon that will continually be emitted in coping with the nuclear waste for thousands of years. This is what they call “carbon free”.
That is only one aspect of the lie. The fact is that benign renewable energy (which nuclear is not) is at present experiencing unprecedented growth in Europe, representing nearly 40% of new electricity generation in 2010. Meanwhile nuclear is declining precipitously; since 2004 18 nuclear reactors closed, only one became operational. Is nuclear energy worth resuscitating – with the £billions that would entail?
We know that nuclear only works if it is propped up by huge subsidies (however heavily disguised). So if the EU is tricked by this lie into scrabbling around to prop up nuclear with even more money, that will assuredly come from what is presently funding the many-pronged, resourceful and diverse benign renewables.
Because the carefully orchestrated anti-wind pack bays so loudly, we tend to forget that the renewables are not only for electricity; but also for transport, heating, air conditioning, agriculture etc. If the momentum being put into all those is spirited away, solely in order to produce nuclear electricity across Europe, what a colossal mistake our generation will have made – and what a mess we will have made for succeeding generations to grapple with!
If France wants to go on stifling its wind power and photovoltaic development by financial and legal barriers, that’s its problem. But it must not do the same across Europe, nor to us here in Britain. The ‘bottom line’ is that in its desperate attempt to save its nuclear industry, France wants to condemn the whole of Europe to a suicidal energy policy
As the French-owned Sizewell B idles on the Suffolk coast, perhaps the current down-time there could be usefully spent in checking whether there are man-made uranium emissions, accumulated over the years in the soil around the site. At Hinkley Point in Somerset, where EDF wants to build another new nuclear station (Sizewell C), an independent report by Green Audit (GA) has shown that EDF’s own data, used by EDF to claim that the site is safe from harmful deposits, are incorrect. Professor Chris Busby of GA has re-analysed EDF’s data to show that there may be 10 tonnes of enriched uranium splattered across the site, which could only have come from the neighbouring reactors, over the decades for which we have been assured they were all so safe. Raised incidences of childhood cancers downwind of Hinkley Point have long been known to GA, though hotly denied by the establishment. Uranium is not simple to check up on. If the establishment got it wrong in Somerset, they may have it wrong in Suffolk.
One last thought about the proposed Sizewell C nuclear reactor; this is a quote from Dr Colin Brown, Director of Engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineering on the dangers of building a nuclear power station and storing nuclear waste on a site vulnerable to climate change:
“The Sizewell B nuclear plant has been built on the Suffolk Coast, a site that has been earmarked for the construction of several more nuclear plants. However, Sizewell will certainly be affected by rising sea levels. Engineers say that they can build concrete walls that will keep out the water throughout the working lives of the new plants. But that is not enough. Nuclear plants may operate for 50 years, but it could take hundreds of years to decommission them. By that time, who knows what sea-level rises and what kinds of inundations the country will be experiencing”.
Photo: Sizewell A and B, Sizewell, Suffolk