Academics kick off nuclear power war of words
Greens see red over Brown's reactor plans
The anti-nuclear movement has fired an opening shot in the UK energy-policy debate, ahead of expected Parliamentary announcements from the Brown government this week.
The Nuclear Consultation Working Group, a small gathering of academics and activists, last week issued a report arguing that Britain should not build any nuclear power stations.
In the document, reported on by the Guardian on Friday, members of the Nuclear Consultation Working Group argue that recent government consultation exercises were unfairly loaded in favour of allowing nuclear generation to continue. They contend that nuclear power is unnecessary, and that the UK could meet its future power needs entirely from renewable sources such as wind, solar and tidal energy.
Frank Burnaby, one of the report's authors, also said that an established nuclear-power industry would inevitably move on to the use of fast-breeder reactors to manufacture plutonium for use as fuel. Plutonium can be used to make nuclear weapons, unlike current civil fuels.
The shortage of uranium ores ... will lead to the use of fast breeder reactors ... use of fast breeder reactors will carry with it the real risk that nuclear weapons will spread to new countries and that terrorist groups will eventually acquire plutonium, fabricate primitive nuclear weapons and use them in terrorist attacks ...
Burnaby was employed by the British nuclear-weapons programme until 1957. Since then he has been a tireless campaigner against nuclear weapons and power generation. He suggests in the report that the UK could power itself by offshore wind energy alone.
Another of the report's authors, Dave Elliott, professor of Technology Policy at the Open University, says that renewable power sources do not require "base load" backup from fossil or nuclear. It is often argued that base-load capacity is required to deal with power dips suffered by renewables during sunless, windless or slack-tide conditions.
We have become used to the idea that we need 'base load' supply ... However, as more and more renewables like wind, wave and tidal come on the grid system ... complimentary plants can be run up and down to compensate for the variable availability of energy from these sources.
Elliott goes further, saying that significant amounts of renewables and nuclear cannot coexist on the same power grid, owing to "operational conflicts".
The Group said that a recent government-run poll indicating that a majority of the British public were in favour of allowing some nuclear building to go ahead was biased against renewables.
Consultation briefing documents offer ... negative stereotypes. Thus solar power is 'unreliable unless you're in a very sunny climate' ... one policy might be to radically expand support for renewables, so making it unnecessary to consider nuclear ...
Other members of the Group include a former head of Greenpeace International, the former environment correspondent of the Guardian and academics from a variety of backgrounds: two geographers, a zoologist, a chemist, an archaeologist, a biologist, a mathematician and several social and political scientists.
The group's website, including the report, is here.®
Cooling the core?
"... As you start punching holes down towards the core and harnessing this heat, you remove the insulation and cool the core. While in small scale this may not have an effect for millions of years, on large scale it could be much faster"
Not really no. Using geothermal will have a cooling effect upon the earth's core of course (the laws of thermodynamics being what they are), but the quantities of energy represented by the core are so vast in relation to what we'd be taking that we *really* don't have to worry about it.
Locally cooling the 'hot rock' fields we drill into might be a obstacle to making geothermal a truly sustainable solution in the mid to long term. I'm by no means an expert on this sort of thing so, other than noting it's existance I can't give you chapter and verse on this as a potential drawback.
Britain isn't well endowed with low hanging geothermal fruit however, so we'd probably be better off buying geothermal energy from Iceland or something. We *do* have lots of wind resource (plus a fair amount of tidal potential) - so our failure to build turbines on the scale of, say, Germany or Spain is mystifying to me (or it would be, if I weren't deeply cynical about the capabilities and priorities of our governing classes).
Having said that I'm extremely doubtful that wind et al would be enough so, as an 'anything-but-coal' kinda guy, I'm for building wind turbines *and* tidal barrages *and* nukes *and*... well, you get the picture.
Geothermal / Base Load
People talk about the environmental effects of Wind/Water etc, and then state how great geothermal is, without thinking about the implications of mass use of geothermal. The earth's core currently is insulated fairly well. As you start punching holes down towards the core and harnessing this heat, you remove the insulation and cool the core. While in small scale this may not have an effect for millions of years, on large scale it could be much faster. Every action has a consequence, unfortunatetly most people tend to be biased towards what they think is the best idea, without weighing all the possible effects (be it nuclear, fossil fuels, or natural).
"We have become used to the idea that we need 'base load' supply ... However, as more and more renewables like wind, wave and tidal come on the grid system ... complimentary plants can be run up and down to compensate for the variable availability of energy from these sources."
In theory scaling up/down plants is a great idea. If you don't need the power just scale back or shut down the plant until you do need it. In practice you have a staff of people that you have to either pay to do nothing while the plant is down for a month where renewables are working great (upping the basic cost of energy), or you have to lay off that staff and hope they're still around when you need to scale the plant back up (potentially causing blackouts or saftey hazards with understaffed plants).
Build them Nukes High!
North Sea Oil will not economically viable within the next 30 years, we've virtually no gas left and will have to rely on Russian imports in the near future, they have already cut off supplies before now to their neighbours, do we really want to be totaly reliant on the ruskies for energy!?
If we opt for the 'environmentalists' solution (a solution that doesnt really exist) we won't see a skyline but for windmills! We have no viable solution other than nuclear, so building a many as we can is ok by me!
Get on with it!