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How is this nuclear obsession explained?

The case against nuclear is overwhelming, yet it is a fair bet that after Fukushima and after carrying out all due ‘reviews and consultations’, the Government will still go ahead with a major new nuclear build programme. Why? It says a lot more about the political networking of the nuclear industry than it does about their engineering or technological proficiency. For not one of the big put-offs about nuclear have been satisfactority answered – the catastrophic potential, the nuclear waste mountain, sharply rising costs, radiation and cancer risks, decommissioning costs, vulnerability to attack, flooding and climate change risks to reactor coastal locations, uninsurable accident liabilities, nuclear proliferation threats, the link to nuclear weapons, and many others. So how does nuclear survive?

It’s not just Fukushima where we now know that a month after the catastrophe there is still a risk of meltdown at a nuclear site which contains 230kg of plutonium (one of the most toxic and dangerous substances known), nearly 500 tonnes of uranium, and an additional 1,800 tonnes of spent fuel stored on site. We would never have heard of Fukushima if the earthquake hadn’t occurred: how many other sites across the world, including perhaps in Britain, contain a potential nuclear bomb waiting to go off if an unpredicted conjuncture of events were to occur?

That risk, however unlikely, cannot be eliminated. But there are many downsides to nuclear which we can already predict and calculate. The cost of building a nuclear reactor (in Finland and France) has already doubled in the course of construction. Clegg for once was correct when he said that the rfecommended higher safety standards in the light of Fukushima would make them too expensive. Decommissioning and nuclear wast management of the existing reactors in the UK is now estimated to cost this country £80bn.

Is nuclear then really necessary? It clearly isn’t. Germany has already installed more windpower capacity than the whole UK nuclear output, and is adding to that by an amount equal to more than one reactor a year. In one year, 2009, Germany, without being located in southern Europe or north Africa, installed solar PV capacity equal to 4 nuclear reactors.

Nor does the usual anti-renewables jibe about intermittency have force any more. The £500m BritNed cable linking Britain for the first time into the European super-grid opened two weeks ago. It is a high voltage direct current power transmission project which allows electricity to be transmitted over much greater distances than existing alternating current lines which start losing power after 80km. Britain is now part of the HVDC network which is the key to ‘weather-proofing’ the large-scale use of renewable energy.

So how can nuclear survive? Two reasons, both deplorable. One is the vice-like grip of the nuclear industry on Whitehall, particularly the top civil service ranks of the Department of Energy. The other is the mindless panic induced in politicians by the canard, so often used, that without nuclear the lights will go out.

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