Published on Friday, May 19, 2006 by the Independent/UK
The Nuclear Option Would be Reckless and Wrong
Tony Blair needs to appreciate that it would be expensive and dangerous
by Ken Livingstone
A decision to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations would be the great misjudgement of our generation. Tony Blair and every politician who can influence this decision needs to appreciate that it would be an expensive and dangerous mistake to go back down the nuclear road, and one that will not even solve the stated problem of climate change.
Vast resources will be consumed on a project that will do little to tackle global warming, but which will saddle our children and grandchildren with the additional dangers of nuclear disaster and radioactive waste.
We have run out of time to make further mistakes in tackling climate change. The danger is now too great. That means we can only consider solutions that cut the most carbon, as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
Our existing nuclear power stations provide just 8 per cent of Britain's total energy (nuclear power cannot fuel transport, and gas is largely used to heat homes) and will have finished their working life by 2025. Even on an aggressive timetable it is highly unlikely that we can do more than replace existing capacity over the next 20 years. Even doubling the current nuclear capacity, it would contribute only an 8 per cent cut in Britain's carbon emissions.
We need emission cuts at least three or four times as great if we are to play our part in preventing a scale of global warming that will make catastrophic climate change inevitable. Most of the public are rightly fearful of nuclear power. Only yesterday there were media reports of 57 alerts at nuclear power stations in Britain in the last decade. Fallout from Chernobyl is still claiming lives and contaminating land, 20 years on.
A recent poll in London showed over two-thirds of Londoners opposed to the transport of nuclear waste in the city and nearly three quarters opposed to building nuclear power stations in their locality. I am sure these figures would be substantially higher in areas anywhere near where nuclear power stations might actually be built.
There is no country in the world where nuclear power is, or has ever, been a commercially viable proposition. Indeed, the UK has never built a nuclear power station on schedule or within budget, and all with huge public subsidy. And the public also has to pick up the bill for cleaning up nuclear waste, now estimated by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority at £70bn.
The single biggest cause of carbon emissions in Britain is centralised power generation. Two- thirds of the energy inputted into our centralised power stations, including nuclear, is wasted in the form of heat energy emitted as steam through the huge cooling towers that dot the countryside, and in the process of transmitting energy from rural power stations to the towns and cities where it is largely needed. But by generating heat and power locally through "decentralised" energy systems (often referred to as Combined Heat Power and Cooling), we can slash energy losses to just 10 or 15 per cent. This works by reusing the heat that is generated as a by-product of electricity generation to heat and cool buildings.
Sweden and Denmark have been using decentralised energy widely for over 30 years. Last month, I published research that showed how London could relatively easily cut carbon emissions by over 30 per cent in 20 years by employing decentralised energy.Even when energy arrives in our homes and offices, a large proportion of it is wasted. Over 40 per cent of carbon emissions in London comes from homes. If it gets too cold, we simply turn up the heating, and if it gets too hot we increasingly turn on the fan or air-conditioning. Electrical appliances are left on or on stand-by, unused for hours on end.
The best new homes, designed by architects such as Bill Dunster, are zero carbon. I will shortly be announcing details of a major zero carbon development in the Thames Gateway, which I intend will be the blueprint for all new build in the capital. There is no reason why this approach could not be adopted nationally.
Finally, Britain probably has more opportunities to utilise renewable energy than just about any other country. As an island, we have vast untapped wave, wind and tidal power. And contrary to popular perception, our sunshine patterns are conducive to the widespread use of solar power. In London, we now require that renewable energy is used in all new developments.
After a decade of fine rhetoric on climate change, the Government now has to take real steps to implement these kinds of measures. To instead lurch into a reckless decision to build more nuclear power stations would be an expensive and dangerous mistake for which our children and grandchildren will pay a heavy price.
Ken Livingstone is the Mayor of London.
© 2006 The Independent