TH E FINA L BOLTHOLE S
Climate Change By Bridget Woodman
Faced with worldwide stagnation, and possibly decline, the nuclear industry is spinning itself a new image; as an environmental saviour prepared to rush to the aid of a planet threatened by human-
induced climate change. Like its previous attempts at propaganda, though, this is based on false assumptions and shaky premises.
Technocrats have tended to view nuclear power in narrow terms, rather than taking into account its broader social and environmental costs. So, while they have recognised the industry's problems with safety or nuclear waste-management, they have also taken the view that techni cal solutions will ultimately be found if enough money and expertise are directed at them. This technocratic philosophy seems to underlie the recent UK Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering report on nuclear power's role in the cli mate debate.1 The report recognises the safety, waste and proliferation problems inherent in nuclear technology, but, despite this, concludes that energy effi ciency and renewables may not be able to make a sufficient reduction in carbon diox ide emissions quickly enough. So, a deci sion should "be taken early enough to enable nuclear to play its full, long-term role in national energy policy. This is likely to mean early in the next [UK government] administration if a damaging decline in the role of nuclear is to be avoided."
In both the UK and internationally, the industry will use the Royal Society's and similar reports to argue that efforts to reduce carbon emissions would best be met by the introduction of a carbon tax to target the use of fossil fuels and encourage the use of nuclear and renewables.2 The industry's ultimate aim here is to achieve a specific mention of nuclear power in the Kyoto Protocol, thereby achieving a degree of credibility for the technology and achieving official recognition of its claims to 'sustainability'. In the UK, the industry is also calling for broader changes to the regulatory environment to make the nuclear option less unattractive to investors: "the fate of nuclear lies in the hands of the policy makers ...What is required to make new build an attractive option is: a benign view from government and a more positive perception of the industry by the public; a streamlining of our planning laws; and the introduction of a carbon tax
the New Saviour of Nuclear Power?
or tradable permit regime..."3
The argument that nuclear power is the solution to climate change is a chimera. The idea that phasing out one damaging energy-production method (fossil-fuel burning) by increasing the use of another even more virulent one (nuclear power) is an absurdity in itself. But the industry, naturally, disagrees. In the context of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, it sees itself playing a role in the various 'flexible mechanisms' agreed as emission reduction strategies in the Kyoto Protocol - in particular the Clean Development Mechanism.4 Under the Mechanism, 'developed' countries are to help finance
been, and continue to be, spent on nuclear R&D, with little progress on its problems or its economic performance, while comparatively little has been spent on the development of renewables and energy efficiency.
In spite of the enduring differences in R&D allocations, renewables are being developed rapidly and costs are coming down; wind was the fastest growing energy source in 1998.5 In the UK, its price is lower than estimates of the cost of electricity from a new nuclear station and is falling rapidly towards the wholesale price of electricity.6 Even the Royal Society admits that "applying existing technologies to improving the end-use efficiency of domestic installations and industrial processes in the UK could reduce energy consumption in these sectors by 20 per cent to 25 per cent respectively, in cost-effective ways".7
The nuclear industry is facing a decline as a result of its environmental and economic problems. While technocrats may hope to reverse this decline, policy makers should focus on the explicit requirement in the Kyoto Protocol to pursue "advanced and innovative environmentally sound technologies".8 To consider a revival in the nuclear industry would be a dangerous distraction from the real issues of climate change.
Bridget Woodman is an independent consultant for the Climate Action Network UK. Contact CAN on tel: 0171 233 8233, or email: email@example.com
sustainable energy projects in 'developing' countries, and can claim 'carbon credits' for doing so. This assumes, however, that governments or companies in developed countries would be willing to undertake the risks of new nuclear construction abroad, when they are unwilling to do so in their own countries, and raises a number of questions: who would bear the liability in the case of an accident? Who would own the plutonium produced by the reactors? Who would bear the risks of cost overruns? Whatever the industry's claims to be relatively carbon-free (which in themselves are deceptive) these other issues cannot be forgotten in devising strategies to reduce emissions.
There is an additional irony in the industry aligning itself with renewable energy technologies, traditionally the poor relation of government research and development (R&D) programmes, in its appeals for a carbon tax. Billions have
References: 1. The Royal Society (1999), Nuclear Energy - the
Future Climate, London, Royal Society 2. See, for example, International Nuclear Forum
(1998) , Policy Statement November; Nuclear Energy Agency (1998), Nuclear Power and Climate Change, Paris, NEA 3. Hollins, P, Chief Executive of British Energy pic
(1999) , Science in Parliament, Vol 56 No 3, pp 6-7 4. UNFCCC (1997), Kyoto Protocol to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, FCCC/CP/1997/L7/Add.1. See, for example, the Uranium Institute (1997), Responding to Global Climate Change; the Potential Contribution of Nuclear Power, London 5. Flavin, C (1998), Wind Power Sets New Record,
Vital Signs Brief 98-7, Worldwatch Institute 6. In the latest round of the Non-Fossil Fuel
Obligation, the average price of large wind projects was 2.88p/kWh (DTI (1998), John Battle Makes Greatest Commitment Ever to Renewable Sources of Energy, press release 28 September 1998) 7. Royal Society (1999), Nuclear Energy - the
Future Climate, London, Royal Society 8. UNFCCC(1997), Kyoto Protocol to the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, FCCC/CP/1997/L.7/Add.1, Article II
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 7, November 1999