Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Why Lovelock is wrong about nuclear power

Lovelock announced in The Independent on May 24th, 2004 that “Nuclear Power is the only green solution”, adding in a somewhat derisory tone “We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources” because “civilisation is in imminent danger.”

Wave and tidal power may still be at the design stage in Britain, due to lack of investment on the part of the government, which has chosen to put most of its eggs into one nuclear basket, but photovoltaics and wind power were already well established when Lovelock wrote this. In 2010, the European Photovoltaic Industry Association expects to be able to provide 12% of Europe’s electricity needs just from solar PV. Similarly, the Chief Executive of the British National Grid, Steve Holliday, says that 15% of the country’s electricity production could come from so called “embedded generation” in homes and offices by 2020 as micro-generation becomes increasingly viable after the £9 billion rollout of “smart meters” for every home in Britain. (1)

Lovelock said “we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources”.

This assertion is quite untrue and is an indication of the depths of Lovelock’s nuclear obsession. We simply do not need 50 years to develop wind, tide and water power. Huge steps are already being taken in almost all European countries and in the US and Canada: unfortunately Britain lags behind but this is often due to renewable doom-mongers like Lovelock.

With adequate investment in research and development, these sources, together with solar and geothermal, could provide us with all the energy we need within the next few years, especially if insulation were installed in Britain’s unsatisfactory housing stock in order to reduce our energy requirements.

Lovelock says that “only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy”.

Oh dear, wrong again. Sometimes one wonders which planet Lovelock is on. Let’s look at the reality of the matter, rather than Lovelock’s imagination.

First, nuclear energy is not “immediately available”. Indeed it’s the other way round: nuclear has by far the longest lead time of any energy option. It takes ages to consult, draw up safety plans, get them approved, build and test nuclear power stations, as consistently seen in the past. The few nuclear power stations being constructed at present amply demonstrate this. Olkiluoto in Finland, under construction for four years, is now nearly four years behind schedule! Similar construction problems beset the Flammanville reactor being built in France.

Second, nuclear power stations costs billions and its predicted costs are always under-estimated. Olkiluoto in Finland and Flammanville in France are both currently running $4 billion over budget. Money thrown into nuclear’s black hole starves finance for alternative energy strategies.

Third, replacing the UK’s old nuclear reactors would only save between 4% and 8% of the UK’s carbon emissions, depending on one’s assumptions, because most carbon emissions emanate from transport and industrial/domestic heating.

Lovelock says that “Opposition to nuclear energy is based on irrational fear fed by Hollywood-style fiction, the Green lobbies and the media. These fears are unjustified, and nuclear energy from its start in 1952 has proved to be the safest of all energy sources.”

This is simply gobbledy-gook.

The respected New York Academy of Sciences has recently published a major study “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment” in which the authors (Alexey Yablokov, Vassily and Alexey Nesterenko) estimate that nearly a million people around the world died from exposure to radiation released by the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.

Unlike Lovelock, who clearly has not studied the safety of nuclear power in any detail, these scientists examined more than 5,000 published articles and studies, mostly in Russian and Ukrainian, previously unread in the West. They concluded that "No citizen of any country can be assured that he or she can be protected from radioactive contamination. One nuclear reactor can pollute half the globe. Chernobyl fallout covered the entire Northern Hemisphere." They added "For the past 23 years, it has been clear that there is a danger greater than nuclear weapons concealed within nuclear power. Emissions from this one reactor exceeded by a hundred-fold the radioactive contamination of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki."

But according to Lovelock “We must stop fretting over the minute statistical risks of cancer from chemicals or radiation.” Does he consider the deaths of nearly one million people a minute statistical risk?

Nuclear industry apologists counter that Chernobyl was in the former USSR and nuclear reactors in the West are safer. But what about the nuclear disasters at Windscale in Britain in 1957 where a fire similar to Chernobyl resulted in very large releases of radioactivity? And what about Three Mile Island in the US in 1978, where the reactor underwent a partial meltdown? Human error can occur at any time at any nuclear power station, anywhere in the world.

Lovelock says “(nuclear power’s) worldwide use as our main source of energy would pose an insignificant threat”

Wrong again.

Nuclear reactors are the only source of the fissile material plutonium-239 used in nuclear weapons. Stringent precautions have to be taken to ensure that spent nuclear fuel from commercial reactors does not fall into terrorist hands. Nuclear proliferation is a serious threat to world peace and security (witness the struggle between the West and Iran over the production of another fissile material uranium-235). Is Lovelock unaware of the dangers of nuclear proliferation?

James Lovelock is an independent scientist, the creator of the Gaia hypothesis which considers the Earth as a self-regulating organism, and a member of EFN - the association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy -

(1) Times 4th December 2009

Pickets against new nuclear power plants were held in Vilnius.

Three pickets were held simultaneously in Vilnius on 26 April 2010, the day of the 24-th anniversary of Chernobyl nuclear disaster. These events were organized to protest against the plans to build new nuclear power plants in Astravec(Belarus), in Visaginas(Lithuania) and in Baltic, Kaliningrad region(Russia). The pickets were held near the Embassy of Belarus, the Embassy of Russia and House of Lithuanian Government. Activists handed their petitions to the officials. Major aim of these public protests is to stop the plans to build the nuclear power plants and to call for the development of the new nuclear free strategies of energy development within the the above mentioned countries .

Participants of the events were members of civil society organizations and activists from Lithuania, Belarus and Russia, namely Atgaja, Ecohome, Anti-nuclear coalition, Green Party of Lithuania and EcoDefense.

The Head of the Lithuanian environmental organization Atgaja, Saulius Pikshris said: “We wish people understood what nuclear energy really is – it is very dangerous and doesn’t provide energy independence, despite what people from the government say. While authorities declare that nuclear energy is safety, we, environmentalists, are sure that every nuclear power station pose hazard to life. And our primary goal is to stop them progressing with the plans for three nuclear power plants. We are for nuclear free future and for renewable energy development.”

Belarusian and Lithuanian public activists were in a picket near the Embassy of Belarus in Vilnius. Gintaras Songajla, deputy assistant at Lithuanian Seimas, was accompanied by the picketers who held 10-meter-long banner that said: “Nuclear power plant in Astravec – thanks, we don’t need it”. They also declared their demands to Belarusian government and President Lukashenka: to keep in mind the aftermath of Chernobyl disaster, to dismiss the plans to build the nuclear power plant and to make progress with a strategy of sustainable non-nuclear energy development.

Members of Ecohome Irina Sukhy, Tatiana Novikova and Irina Kapariha were grateful to environmental activists from Lithuania for being invited to join the picket, since all efforts from nuclear energy opponents’ side to obtain permission for a picket in Belarus were disregarded by authorities.

During the picket a Petition was given to ambassador of Belarus.

The picket near the Embassy of Russian Federation was aimed against building the nuclear power station in Kaliningrad region just 12 km away from the Lithuanian border.

Photos from the pickets can be found on the web page of antinuclear campaign in Belarus


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New Nuclear – The Economics Say No

UK Green Lights New Nuclear – Or Does It?

 Green lighting new nuclear? — The UK government today announced a fast-track planning process for new nuclear power stations. 10 sites have been approved for possible development. The government is presenting today’s announcement as providing the green light for a major new nuclear programme, which it says is needed to meet climate change and security of supply targets.

 But no financial support has been offered — The government has not announced any direct financial support for new nuclear. The government still seems to expect the private sector to take an unacceptable level of risk, in our view.

 The five big risks — Nuclear power station developers face five big risks:

Planning, Construction, Power Price, Operational, and Decommissioning. The government today has sought to limit the Planning risk. While important for encouraging developers to bring forward projects, this is the least important risk financially.

 The three Corporate Killers — Three of the risks faced by developers —

Construction, Power Price, and Operational — are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially. This makes new nuclear a unique investment proposition for utility companies.

 No where else in the world — Government policy remains that the private sector takes full exposure to the three main risks; Construction, Power Price and Operational. Nowhere in the world have nuclear power stations been built on this basis.

 Nor will they be built in the UK — We see little if any prospect that new nuclear stations will be built in the UK by the private sector unless developers can lay off substantial elements of the three major risks. Financing guarantees, minimum power prices, and / or government-backed power off-take agreements may all be needed if stations are to be built.
9 November 2009  14 pages