Bristol environmentalists should stop treating nuclear power as a solution


By Jack Price-Darbyshire, 3rd Year Politics & Philosophy

While the government continues to treat nuclear power as the solution to our energy demands, construction of a new plant near Bristol proves the need to look at alternative renewable energy sources.

No one would claim that nuclear power is perfect. Finding how to dispose of it safely and preventing disasters like Fukushima and Chernobyl are just some of the arguments against attempting to provide nuclear power.

However, in the UK the overriding opinion of many politicians, scientists, and ordinary people has been that nuclear energy, despite having such potentially catastrophic flaws, is the only viable alternative. It is thought of as a necessary path to produce an affordable and reliable carbon neutral energy system, which can still supply our energy demands. In other words, nuclear power is considered a necessary evil to combat climate change.

However, contrary to this opinion, new evidence on renewables as well as an array of disasters in the construction of a new nuclear plant 45 miles from Bristol suggests that nuclear power may be an impending avoidable disaster.

Hinkley Point, when built, will be the first nuclear reactor in the UK since 1995. The plant is to the south of Bristol on the west coast,just a few miles from Taunton.

If the construction of Hinkley Point has told us anything about building new nuclear power-stations, it is that it is a costly, administrative, health and safety nightmare.

Yet, for some reason the Government still seems to be investing in a nuclear future with as much vigour as ever.

When it is eventually completed, Hinkley Point will be most expensive power station in the world, with current estimates suggesting the total to be £20.3bn - twice as much as the 2012 Olympic games. This estimate is constantly rising, with suggestions made in July 2017 that it could mushroom to as much as £50bn.

This immense cost to the British taxpayer has all been for an entirely new, untested design, which we have no guarantee will even work. Known as a Small Modular Reactor, there have been plans suggested to build a further six more after Hinkley.

However, as if this was not bad enough, the program has also been severely delayed with no chance of significant operations beginning before 2025, as was originally intended.

It does not have to be this way and the Government should not be treating it as the only option.

A number of reports have come out showing that renewables, like offshore wind, could potentially be far more affordable. The added benefit to this economic saving is that these forms of energy also come without having to worry about nuclear waste.

In fact, two firms have said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23. In comparison, the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant has secured subsidies of £92.50 per megawatt hour. Not great.

This fits in with other evidence that shows the production of renewable energy has plummeted in price, with global investment in these alternatives now already greater than for all other conventional generating technologies put together.

Yet despite this, the UK Government gives nuclear energy 12 times as much funding compared to alternative renewables. Perhaps this is because many still believe that nuclear provides a larger proportion of energy, which is more reliable and that renewables cannot produce enough for the country’s needs.

However, this is simply not in line with figures released by the energy analytics firm EnAppSys. These show that renewables have already overtaken nuclear for the next energy generation.

In particular, the figures provide evidence detailing that wind, solar and biomass power stations supplied 28.1 per cent of energy across April, May and June in the UK with nuclear at 22.5 per cent. This was the third quarter in a row that renewables have outstripped nuclear energy, all while receiving a twelth of the funding from the Government. When we also remember that power from nuclear generators will have been halved by 2025, due to a number of reactors needing to be retired like the two in Hartlepool, we can be certain that this proportion will only increase.

Many people automatically believe nuclear to be the only viable solution to our energy problem. This however is a view not shared by many in the rest of the world and one not backed up by our own domestic evidence.

Standing in a city that is proud of it's commitment to clean energy, we can look across at the economic, environmental and efficiency mess of Hinkley Point and know that one thing is clear.

It is time for a change in our approach to nuclear energy.

Featured image: Unsplash/Frederic Paulussen

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