On why we don’t need nuclear power

In today’s Grauniad, George Monbiot discusses safety and other issues relating to nuclear power, and argues that even though the technology has advanced much since the early days, and is unlikely to produce another Chernobyl disaster, we still don’t need it in order to meet our atmospheric carbon emissions targets.

I tend to agree with George about nuclear energy. Others commenting on his article have raised the question of renewables, but the problem here is that the power grid we have at present is simply not up to dealing with large numbers of intermittent generators. There are lots of arguments about how much it would cost to develop a “smart” electricity grid, and how long it would take, and I fear that vested interests on all sides are combining ignorance with spin.

Until we have a smart grid and a well developed and diverse renewable generation system in place, we will still need reliable, non-intermittent and large-scale generators, whether they run on fossil or nuclear fuels. Oil and gas will be with us for some time yet, but we can to a limited degree lessen their environmental impact through technological means. The biggest problem is energy supply. With our increasing dependence on gas, Russia could cause us massive problems, so I guess we’d better stay good friends with the Norwegians. We’ll all be eating brown cheese yet, you mark my words.

George Monbiot refers to reports published by Greenpeace, the New Economics Foundation and the Sustainable Development Commission, who all argue that we can meet the government’s 60% target cut in CO2 emissions without recourse to nuclear energy. I’d like to see expert commentators precis these arguments in the mass media, as it’s clear that there’s a strong public interest in the subject, and people want to understand the detail without having to wade through reams of material.

Renewable energy is the future, but for it to work will take more than the planting of windfarms and the installation of solar panels. We need to fundamentally rethink and rebuild the entire energy infrastructure, and radically decentralise the network.