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Academics kick off nuclear power war of words

Greens see red over Brown's reactor plans

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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

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