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Fukushima should end any nuclear revival in Britain

Angela Merkel rightly called Fukushima “a turning point for the world”. It is. This was no glitch in an unsophisticated backwater of a State that could be explained away by poor design or low operating standards; this happened in one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world with an unsurpassed reputation for detail and precaution and a commitment to a major industry with 55 reactors. Yet still there were still no back-up diesel generators, the boiling-water reactors needed huge amounts of cooling, 4 of the reactors were built too close together, the cooling ponds containing spend fuel were unwisely built immediately above the reactor cores, and there were dangerously too many fuel rods (over 11,000) bunched together on site. Of course no other country would now make the same mistakes, but if this all happened in top-tech Japan, how can we be sure that there aren’t other equally unpredicted (or unpredictable) flaws with similar catastrophic potential at other sites, whether in the UK or anywhere else?

The industry’s answer is: “We’re learning the lessons and anyway we’re a low carbon technology that is necessary if the UK is to achieve its climate change targets”. Significantly, after Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the only reason that nuclear emerged from its status as a doomed technology  (remember Blair’s “nuclear is back with a vengeance”, though in the event not quite in the way he intended) was the arrival of climate change as a major global concern. But is nuclear really necessary for this purpose?   Huhne himself is reported as saying “We can do the 80% reduction in emissioins by 2050 without new nuclear, but it will require a big effort on carbon capture and storage and renewables”. Is that feasible?

It certainly is.Germany has already iustalled more wind power capacity than the entire current UK nuclear capacity and is now adding to it at a rate equivalent to more than one new reactor a year. In 2009 alone Germany installed solar photovoltaic systems with capacity equivalent to about 4 nuclear reactors. The 2010 figures are expected to be higher still.

In fact Britain has more renewables capacity than any other EU country, but we are nowhere near fully deploying it – the UK generates only 6% of its electricity from renewable souces of energy, compared with 15-25% in France, Germany and Italy, and 35-50% in Scandinavia. Last year’s Offshore Valuation report showed that the UK has enough offshore wind potential not only to satisfy all our own electricity needs, but also to become a net electricity exporter.

Blair got a lot of the big decisions wrong – Iraq, nuclear, GM. We need to reverse those decisions: Britain’s clean energy future is not nuclear, shale gas (which is increasingly being talked about, to extend the life of fossil fuels) or oil imported from repressive regimes, but a huge development of renewables for which we are ideally placed.

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