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Nuclear – Waste or Answer to Britain’s Energy Problems?

With the unveiling of 11 proposed sites for new Nuclear Power Stations announced by the UK government last week, a period of public consultation has now begun to get feedback from the British public about their thoughts and feelings regarding the locations put forward.

The sites, which include one in Anglesey, Essex, Suffolk, Somerset and 3 proposed locations in Cumbria, have been put forward by EDF Energy, EON, German producer RWE and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency (NDA).

The Department of Energy and Climate Change provides downloadable documents explaining each nomination and invites comments and feedback from the public, which will be considered at the time of finalising decisions for the power stations’ locations. Feedback must be submitted by 14th May and can be done either through the website or by completing a paper comment form to the relevant council. Details are available on the individual location pages of the website.

Nuclear power has received mixed support in the UK, with the government believing it to be the answer to Britain’s energy problems; that nuclear will provide a secure power source for the nation, however organisations such as Greenpeace, remain resolutely against the installation of a new generation of nuclear power stations, dubbing them as ‘The Convenient Solution’.

As well as being a controversial answer to Britain’s energy needs in terms of its true ability to satisfy the energy demands of the population within the time-frame we have, additional controversy is caused by the huge cost implications of installing, and then decommissioning nuclear plants once their use is over. Sellafield in Cumbria is a prime example of this; taxpayers are committed to funding a multi-billion pound clean-up operation at the location of Britain’s first attempt at nuclear power.

The Guardian has reported that two of Sellafield’s buildings have been named the two most hazardous industrial buildings in Europe, due to the huge amounts of dangerous highly radioactive material contained inside them. And with above ground pipes channelling radioactive liquid waste around the site, and crumbling concrete linings of cooling ponds thanks to the place being put to the back of politicians’ minds until now, this has now become another embarrassing tale for the government.

The problems at Sellafield are contributed to greatly by action taken by the government at the time of the 1972 miners strike which saw the plants producing power to keep the country going, but did not leave enough time for the waste generated to be processed correctly. Well considering the pressure that will be on the government to keep enough power in the grid as fossil fuels run out, how can we be sure that the construction of these new power plants will be done to the high standards required, and that waste will be dealt with correctly this time?

Executive director at Manchester University’s Dalton Nuclear Institute commented that,

“The taxpayer now has to pay around £1.5bn a year to clean up Sellafield’s waste problems and will have to maintain that investment for years to come. Modern reactors are indeed very different creations compared to the first reactors that were built at Sellafield in the 1940s and 1950s. New ones produce relatively little waste, will be easy to decommission and are intrinsically clean and safe. Convincing the public of these points will not be easy, however.”

With the results of nuclear disasters having been proven in the past, it is only right that the public are suspicious of new nuclear plants. Arguments that nuclear is safe as long as plants are run at capacity are all well and good as long as this is actually the case. Let’s hope that the final decisions made by the government are not taken lightly and that they don’t end up being the government’s final decisions altogether…


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