The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) warmly welcomes and endorses a detailed report by leading environmentalist Jonathon Porritt which outlines why, in seeking to get to ‘net zero’ carbon emissions and tackling the climate emergency, there is no need for new nuclear power stations.
Jonathon Porritt is a former Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth and of the Sustainable Development Commission. His detailed report published today seeks to look at an issue NFLA has been heavily involved in for some time – can new nuclear provide any positive assistance in the critical endeavour to mitigate and adapt to the challenge of climate change? His ringing answer is a clear and concise ‘no’.
The report starts with the need to keep an open mind on nuclear power, but in delving into the issue shows abundant evidence that new nuclear has core challenges that are difficult to overcome. In addition, renewable energy alternatives have improved so quickly as to make new nuclear largely irrelevant, and the ‘baseload’ issue has simply moved on. Porritt welcomes the ‘Just Transition’ movement that brings in core issues over fairness, whilst noting the ongoing links that remain between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. (1)
An interesting point in the report is why so many UK politicians have supported new nuclear when the evidence is clearly to do the opposite. As Porritt notes:
“All three major UK parties are still pro-nuclear today. Which leaves me more than a little baffled. As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, the case against nuclear power is stronger now than it’s ever been before; over the last 15 years, many of ‘the facts’ regarding nuclear power really have changed, further disadvantaging nuclear power when compared with other options. At the same time pro-nuclear advocacy in the public domain, and targeted lobbying within government circles, has significantly ramped up. And is undeniably having some effect, as we’ll see.”
Porritt sees the ‘army of lobbyists and PR specialists’ as being instrumental in helping support a pro-nuclear narrative in the UK. He also strongly challenges several well-intentioned (and some not well-intentioned) but mistaken environmentalists who suggest that new nuclear could play some role in the challenge to mitigate climate change.
Porritt’s 8 core reasons against continuing with nuclear power are:
- Cost – Every year, the investment bank Lazard produces a comparison of generation costs on what is known as a Levelized Cost of Energy methodology. Its 2020 estimates for relative costs per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced had nuclear power as the most expensive at £121. Large-scale solar by contrast was just £27.
- Build Rate – it simply takes too long to build a large new nuclear power station.
- Waste – there remains huge challenges in finding a long-term solution for managing the UK’s existing stocks of radioactive waste.
- Decommissioning – according to the NDA, it will cost current and future generations of taxpayers £132bn to decommission all civil nuclear sites in the UK, with the work not being completed for at least another 85 – 120 years.
- Proliferation – “The only fail-safe way of ensuring that the technologies necessary to create a civil nuclear industry do not simultaneously facilitate a nuclear weapons capability is to stop building nuclear power stations.”
- Safety – Porritt notes that the nuclear industry has a reasonable safety record. However, as both Chernobyl and Fukushima (and, to a lesser extent, the disaster at Three Mile Island in the USA) demonstrate, the nuclear industry is peculiarly vulnerable to ‘high-impact, low-probability’ events, with devastating consequences.
- Radiation – The health impacts of different levels of exposure to radiation remains a highly contested area of medical science. However, there have been far too many examples of poor management practices over the last 50 years, and such reassurances from the industry will never allay the wholly legitimate concerns of anti-nuclear campaigners.
- Security/Cybersecurity – Although industry leaders are (perhaps understandably) reluctant to talk about security issues, any assessment of the potential contribution from nuclear power to a ‘Net Zero’ economy must take into account concerns on both physical security and cybersecurity.
In terms of the ‘big hope’ for the nuclear industry in developing ‘small’ modular nuclear reactors (SMRs), Porritt notes that the reality is that there is no design available at present, even though the Government has already invested £18m in producing such a design. There are no agreed sites for deployment either. There is nothing at present on the order book and, without the Government guaranteeing an order book of up to 16 SMRs, it is highly unlikely that Rolls-Royce will even complete the design phase, let alone start investing in such an ambitious production line. Finally, there’s no recognition in these discussions that the economic case for SMRs only works if it is possible to use the waste heat from the electricity generation process – meaning that they would need to be sited near urban areas or industrial parks. There is little chance of that taking place in the UK.
After a detailed analysis considering whether new nuclear can contribute positively to the challenge of carbon reduction, and concluding it cannot, Porritt ends his report by stating:
“So, shouldn’t everyone in the environment movement just accept that reality, and double down on the only realistic strategy we still have for getting to Net Zero by 2050? And in so doing, celebrate the prospect of the enormous economic and social benefits that will flow from a policy and investment framework finally decluttered of any lingering nuclear fantasies. In other words, Net Zero without nuclear.”
NFLA find it refreshing to have such a cogent analysis of such issues from a figure like Jonathon Porritt, who has carefully considered the huge challenges in tackling the climate emergency and clearly concluded that the answer does not lie in building more nuclear power stations.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn, said:
“I welcome this detailed report from Jonathon Porritt that demolishes much of the hyperbole over new nuclear power stations. The report confirms much of what NFLA has been consistently saying since new nuclear was raised again by Tony Blair in 2006. We are 15 years on and all we have to show for it is the beginnings of a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in Somerset. With the very limited time to tackle the major effects of the climate emergency, Porritt’s report makes it clear that new nuclear is not the answer to deliver net zero carbon emissions over the next two decades. I urge politicians from all political parties to read this cogent and detailed report and take on board its central narrative that the UK needs to focus rather on developing renewable energy alternatives with energy efficiency and energy storage back-up. It is time to move to a new energy consensus if we are going to achieve the net zero carbon emissions that are so desperately required over the next two decades.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 07771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) Jonathon Porritt – Net Zero without Nuclear, April 15th 2020