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Nuclear mayhem

Posted 01/06/2011 by KatieJ

While Germany and Switzerland have both committed – some might say foolishly - to the elimination of nuclear power within their borders, other countries are going public with their recognition that without nuclear power, they will not be able to meet their emissions targets. In Europe, Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia have all confirmed their commitment to nuclear power, however, Italy is to hold a referendum, which could result in a total nuclear ban. But it is among the emerging economies that nuclear power is seen as a panacea for reducing emissions; Saudi Arabia, for example, is planning to build 16 plants over the next 20 years.

At a carefully chosen moment during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to India, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh underlined his country’s commitment to nuclear power. ‘One thing which is quite clear,’ he said, ‘is that if India is to meet its emission targets, then nuclear energy along with renewable sources of energy is a combination which we need.’

While something of a slap in the face for the chancellor, who up until the last moment before the German decision had been championing nuclear power for Germany, Merkel attempted to save the day by offering to help India on nuclear safety issues and also in its development of alternative energy sources; Germany is, of course, the world leader in adopting solar energy.

One question haunting the UK is whether its government will continue to maintain the decision to support the drive for new nuclear power plants, or will it bow, like Germany, to environmental pressure groups, which so far have failed to use joined up thinking about energy – something that is often leveled at government. The problem is that one cannot have it all. Compromises are essential in every aspect of life, whether personal, national, or even international.

If we believe that climate change is due to carbon dioxide emissions and that the main source of these emissions is power generation, then we need to look at the alternatives to conventional power generation using fossil fuels. For details of the expected increase in German carbon emissions, see the next issue of C&I.

But some of the main alternatives on offer, such as wind power, have been shown to be inconsistent. The wind doesn’t blow all the time and environmentalists and the general public do not like to see wind farms in areas of natural beauty where the wind does blow more frequently.

Solar energy is a different matter, however, as power can still be generated even on a dull day as Germany’s experience more than demonstrates. But rather than building solar farms of photovoltaic panels, strong decision making is required to ensure that all new roof constructions incorporate solar panels, for example. Not difficult in itself but that decision must come from the top.

Going nuclear, as France has shown, is a very credible alternative route. But nuclear power, say its critics, is hazardous; just look at Japan’s recent crisis and the problem of waste disposal. Certainly the Japanese disaster has focused attention on safety but building anything in an earthquake zone will always increase the risk. The waste issue should not be dismissed out of hand, but if people in Northern Europe do not wish to spend their evenings in candlelight, then knee-jerk over-reactions to nuclear power must be resisted.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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