NUCLEA R POWER: TIM E TO EN D TH E EXPERIMEN T
ed lifespan. I f BNFL gets permission to extend their lives for 50 years, as it has done already for Chapelcross and Calder Hall, the last of these decrepit old reactors will not close until 2021. Magnox spent fuel reprocessing, together with Calder Hall, cause the vast majority of the radioactive discharges from the Sellafield site to the atmosphere and the Irish Sea. Doses to members of the public living near Magnox reactors or to peo ple who frequently walk past the perimeter fence are often well in excess of the recommended dose constraint of 0.3mSv per year from any one [new] site.1 The doses from Chapelcross are particularly large, because of the vast amounts of tritium dis charged to the atmosphere caused by the manufacture of tri tium for Britain's nuclear weapons programme.2 On top of this, Magnox reactors are exceedingly inefficient and can only gen erate around one tenth of the electricity of a Pressurised Water Reactor for every tonne of nuclear waste produced.3
Meanwhile British Energy, the privatised operator of the UK's newer nuclear reactors, has teamed up with a US partner - Peco Energy - to form AmerGen. AmerGen aims to buy 'under-performing' US nuclear stations and improve their prof itability. The company is in the process of buying the nuclear power station on Three Mile Island and three other nuclear reactor sites in the US. Peco is now planning to merge with Unicom, another US nuclear utility, thus creating the biggest nuclear operator in the United States.
As well as extending the lives of reactors in the West, anoth er part of the industry's strategy is to gain work modifying East European Reactors to bring them up to so-called 'Western safe ty standards'. The safety of nuclear reactors in Eastern Europe has been a concern for over a decade. The continued operation
A nuclear reactor under construction
of the first generation of Soviet nuclear reactors represents a monumental failure of political will on the part of European Union governments. As far back as 1992, at the Munich G7 summit, it was agreed that they were dangerous, could not be made safe and should be closed as soon as possible. Yet seven years later they continue to operate, and may do so for years to come. Other reactors are slated for upgrading, at the EU's expense. Continued statements about upgrading Sovietdesigned reactors to 'Western' standards creates a false sense of security among the Western public, and glosses over the fact that dangerous reactors are being allowed to continue operating.
The industry, of course, has not given up all hope of build ing new reactors in countries willing to put their head on the block. Top of the list is Turkey, scene of an earthquake in August. Three consortia put in bids in October 1997 to build a plant at Akkuyu Bay on the Mediterranean coast. Westinghouse, now owned by BNFL, Siemens of Germany, Framatome of France and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd are all there as members of one or other of the consortia. Despite the advice of the International Atomic Energy Agency that reactors should not be built near active faults, Akkuyu is only 13 miles west of the Ecemis fault line.
A Nuclear Renaissance? The industry in the West sees climate change as its best hope for a renaissance in its home market (see box on page 394). It holds itself up as the supreme solution to global warming, as reactors do not emit carbon dioxide or methane. But that argu ment ignores the fossil fuels burnt to extract uranium and build nuclear power plants. It ignores safety, security and health
issues, and it ignores fundamental eco nomics in which it has been shown that 'buck for buck' renewable energy sources, energy conservation and even state-of-the-art modern fossil fuel plants wil l reduce carbon emissions far more effectively than recourse to nuclear power.4 British Energy has called for "tradeable carbon permits". I f these were introduced, it claims, "new nuclear build would rapidly become econom ic".5 But this claim is fundamentally flawed. The 'competitiveness gap' of new nuclear plant is too great. In other words, a carbon tax which was high enough to make new nuclear build com petitive would be prohibitively expen sive. Barker concludes that it "would be highly imprudent to assume that new nuclear build could make a contribution to achieving carbon dioxide reduction targets beyond 2010.".6
The Nuclear Legacy As long ago as 1976, the Royal Com mission on Environmental Pollution concluded that "there should be no com mitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future."7
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 7, November 1999