Friday, 11 March 2011

Japanese earthquake: A timely reminder of the dangers of nuclear waste storage in Cumbria

Anti-nuclear campaign group Kick Nuclear today urged the government to cancel its planned ‘nuclear renaissance’ following the declaration of a ‘state of nuclear emergency’ by officials in Japan.

Spokeswoman Nancy Birch said the dramatic shut down of eleven nuclear reactors following the Japanese earthquakes earlier today is a stark warning of the inherent dangers of the nuclear industry.

And Nancy added that Britain could be sitting on a nuclear time bomb:

‘Only last December, Cumbria was hit by an earthquake. The quake hit an area that has been earmarked by the government to store decades-worth of cancer-causing, high-level radioactive waste. The disaster in Japan clearly demonstrates that nuclear energy is too dangerous to be considered a sustainable form of energy in the 21st century. We want a future, not a disaster.’

Kick Nuclear opposes new nuclear for the following reasons:

Not Safe

Mismanagement of nuclear waste over the last 60 years has meant that radiation has already contaminated our environment(1). Radiation causes cancer and eventually kills.

March 2010: nuclear power station operator, Magnox, fined £250,000 for allowing 14 years of radioactive leaks from a holding tank at Bradwell nuclear power station in Essex (2).

April 2010: Sellafield nuclear processing facility exposed for dumping five bags of radioactive waste in a landfill site after a faulty scanner passed them as safe (3).

August 2010: Serious fire at Aldermaston nuclear weapons factory.

Since 2000, there have been near-disasters at reactors in Sweden (4), the Netherlands (5), Japan (6) and France (7).

The nuclear industry says that the new generation of reactors will be safer. But human error, earthquakes, floods or terrorism can never be ruled out.

Not Green

The Sustainable Development Commission estimates that a nuclear power programme will only deliver a cut in carbon dioxide emissions of 2.4% by 2020 (8).

Uranium (nuclear fuel) extraction and processing is one of the most dangerous and carbon-intensive forms of mining.

Nuclear waste from new reactors will be even more toxic than existing radioactive by-products (9).

Not Cheap

The current decommissioning and clean-up costs for the UK’s existing nuclear industry is equivalent to a bill of over £1,600 for every person in the UK (10).

Construction of the first new EPR reactor in Finland is 3 years behind schedule and more than £1bn over-budget.

UK taxpayers have always subsidised the nuclear industry to manage nuclear waste, insure against accidents and provide protection against terrorism.

When David Cameron says new reactors will be built without public subsidy, he means subsidies will be provided under another name.

It’s likely that the cost of building new reactors will be transferred to our electricity use - so we’ll be billed directly. Moreover, nuclear power only accounts for around 3% of our total energy use.

What’s the alternative?

Reports by respected organisations in both the UK and Europe have shown that there are more than enough renewable sources of power to meet present and future needs. Reducing our energy demand is the key.
Renewables are cheaper, can be built more quickly and have none of the dangers associated with nuclear energy. They could also create thousands of new jobs.

The development of smart-grids will allow a much more flexible supply of power from different sources to meet different demands. Nuclear energy is a dinosaur in the mix. It has no place in our future.

A few of the alternative strategies available can be found via:
Centre for Alternative Technology’s report: Zero Carbon Britain

Sustainable Development Commission’s report: Nuclear power in a low carbon economy

Greenpeace’s report: Decentralising Power: an energy revolution for the 21st century









8. The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy, Paper 2: reducing CO2 emissions – nuclear and alternatives, Sustainable Development Commission, p 29


10. Switching Power, Greenpeace, March 2006, p2 and

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