Sunday, 27 March 2011

Chris Huhne faces legal challenge over nuclear link to cancer in children

Community worker who lives near proposed nuclear power stations in Lancashire launches unprecedented case

Rob Edwards The Guardian, Friday 25 March 2011
The government has ordered an expansion of the UK's nuclear programme without properly factoring in evidence that nuclear power stations cause an increase in cancer cases in children living nearby, according to a legal challenge in the high court.

The case alleges that the energy and climate secretary, Chris Huhne, did not properly review the evidence on cancer when giving the go-ahead for the expansion last year. Lawyers claim the action could delay, or even stop, the programme of new reactors.

Rory Walker, a 24-year-old community worker from Lancaster, has won legal aid to launch the unprecedented case.

Walker lives close to Heysham where two new reactors are planned, and says he is worried about having children who could suffer an increased risk of leukaemia.

"It is folly beyond belief, and almost genocidal, to build new nuclear power stations," he said. "Nuclear power is unsafe, uneconomic and a dangerous distraction."

Walker's decision to go to court predates the Fukushima nuclear crisis following the Japan tsunami, though Walker said it has reinforced his fears.

He is an active member of the Heysham Anti-Nuclear Alliance, and works on a project to help local people grow more food on a community allotment. Under legal aid rules, he has agreed to contribute 10% of his income towards the cost of the legal action.

Walker alleges that evidence from government-sponsored studies in Germany was not adequately taken into account by Huhne. It suggests that young children who live close to nuclear power stations are twice as vulnerable to developing leukaemia. The studies, known as KiKK (Kinderkrebs in der Umgebung von KernKraftwerken), prompted an investigation by the UK Department of Health, which has not yet been published.

Ian Fairlie, a consultant on radiation in the environment, is acting as an expert witness in support of Walker's court challenge.

"If the risks found following the KiKK study were applied to Heysham, infants and young children under five living within 5km would be exposed to increased risks of cancer, especially leukaemia," he said.

Huhne is accused of breaching a 1996 directive from Europe's nuclear agency, Euratom. Andrew Lockley, a partner with Irwin Mitchell, said: "The fundamental purpose of the Euratom directive is to make sure that a comprehensive and detailed assessment is made before new nuclear reactors are built."

"It does not permit an approach which appears generalised, generic and deferred. Justification requires that the health detriments should be considered and balanced against the economic, social or other benefits which may occur – but this doesn't seem to have happened here." The lawyers want a judicial review to rule that Huhne acted unlawfully, and to quash his decisions.

A spokeswoman for Huhne at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) said: "We are confident that the decisions were rightly and properly made. The safety of our nuclear power stations is the government's number one priority and the UK has one of the most rigorous and robust regulatory systems anywhere in the world."

She added: "The government have asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to produce a report on the implications of the unprecedented events in Japan and the lessons to be learned for the UK nuclear industry."

A spokesperson for the Nuclear Industry Association, which represents nuclear companies said: "This matter is now part of the legal process and we are not therefore in a position to comment."

The government has until the end of the month to make a formal response to the legal action, which will then go to a judge, who may order a hearing in London.

George Monbiot is wrong.

Nuclear power is not the way to fight climate change

Renewable energy is a safe, clean source which will become cheaper as we invest in it
Jeremy Leggett The Guardian, Thursday 24 March 2011

Article historyGeorge Monbiot argues of nuclear energy that the absence of less harmful alternatives has "converted me to the cause" (Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power, 21 March). He says he is driven to his new love by the imperative of battling climate change, and what he sees as the inability of renewable energy to run viable economies.

On the climate imperative, I agree. On the other assertions, I profoundly differ. I speak as someone who founded a renewable energy company because of my fears about climate change and the downsides of dependency on conventional energy. Since I did so, I have watched renewables industries become some of the fastest growing in the world. In 2008 and 2009 more renewables came onstream in both Europe and America than did all fossil fuels and nuclear combined. In Europe in 2009, wind and solar PV alone provided more than half all new generation.

"Energy is like medicine," Monbiot writes, "if there are no side-effects, the chances are that it doesn't work." Were he to visit the renewables frontlines, he would discover many views to the contrary. German government and companies have run a scaled national experiment showing that the modern economy could be powered by renewables. A sophisticated American modelling exercise has shown the same for the global economy. All it requires is systematic mobilisation, and the imagination to believe what Silicon Valley believes.

Ultimately we should be able to provide power far less expensively than new nuclear. As we grow, our costs fall. We do not need to hand open cheques for currently unknowable billions to the taxpayer for things like waste transportation, waste disposal, decommissioning, security at sites, or accident clear-up.

But like Spitfires and Lancasters in 1939, we need to be mobilised fast, along with our even more important sister industries in energy-efficiency. And herein lies the main reason why Monbiot contradicts his own objective to counter climate change. The nuclear industry does not want renewable energy to succeed. Indeed, they lobby to kill our chances.

The chief executives of EDF and E.ON are both on record as saying that renewables would spoil the chances for nuclear, and only a minor renewables contribution can be tolerated if ministers want a "nuclear renaissance".

"I still loathe the liars who run the nuclear industry," Monbiot writes. But he now confesses that Fukushima has made him love their technology. He falls in love with the false calculation that it is needed, that it can work economically, and that it can solve its horrific waste, decommissioning and proliferation-security pitfalls.

And then there are the safety, health and indeed human psychology issues. "The impact on people [of the current disaster] has been small," Monbiot asserts. My, how I would love him to have to face a roomful of Fukushima citizens with that argument. Or put on a suit and pick up a hosepipe at the plant itself.