Nuclear energy not sustainable says leading institute

Posted: 28 March 2006

With nuclear power back on the political agenda, in Britain and elsewhere, the influential Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) says that nuclear energy is not the answer to the UK's energy needs. It calls instead for the development of a long term strategy towards a carbon neutral economy.

In their new position statement, CIWEM emphasises that Britain could meet its climate change targets and growing energy demand without building new nuclear power stations.

Nick Reeves, Executive Director of CIWEM, said:"It may well be cheaper and easier to make the necessary savings in carbon dioxide through well targeted efficiency policies before building a new raft of nuclear power stations. Some renewables can now compete on price, and carry with them no stigmas of waste, contamination or an unwelcome legacy for future generations. We need a new approach to energy use that is rooted in environmental sustainability."

Existing nuclear stations generate 20 per cent of the UK's electricity, yet all but one are scheduled to close by 2023. With soaring oil and gas prices, dwindling domestic fossil fuel reserves and pressure to tackle climate change, proponents argue that a new generation of reactors has to be considered. Particular emphasis has been placed on nuclear being a technology which would help the UK to meet the UK target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050.

CIWEM says that it recognises that nuclear power stations may produce less carbon dioxide pollution than those burning coal and gas, but analysis of the carbon footprint of nuclear, from extraction, through to decommissioning and waste storage, shows it to be more carbon-emitting than initially apparent. Concerns over uncertain costs, terrorist threats and the long-term disposal of radioactive waste also outweigh any theoretical benefits.

Renewable future

CIWEM believes investment in new nuclear capacity could undermine the drive for greater energy efficiency in homes and businesses by focusing on meeting existing demand rather than trying to reduce it. Massive investment in new nuclear infrastructure would also lock the UK into a centralised system to distribute electricity for the next 50 years, threatening the growth in microgeneration technologies such as small-scale wind turbines on people's houses.

Because of intergenerational as well as technical issues concerning management of nuclear waste, the wider carbon emissions of uranium extraction and processing, and a lack of clarity regarding the availability of economically extractable uranium reserves, CIWEM does not regard nuclear power as a sustainable solution.

In a statement, Nick Reeves said: "Nuclear is based on a finite resource, cumulatively polluting and perpetuates the current inefficient pattern of electricity generation.

"The nuclear option would deflect scarce resources and attention away from the real solutions: renewables and energy efficiency, while simultaneously sending the wrong message to the developing world on future energy paths. The volatile situation in Iran is a good example of this.

"Our aim should be a secure energy mix, which delivers a sustainable supply over a set timescale. And it will be essential, if new nuclear plants are to be built, that the public is kept fully informed about the pertinent issues and decisions to be made."

  • In a separate development Church leaders have backed a new report that describes a low consumption, non-nuclear, energy strategy as a "moral imperative." The report, entitled 'Faith and Power', urges an energy strategy informed by Christian principles of wise stewardship, peacemaking, justice, love for neighbours and moderation in consumption.

    Launched on March 30 by the leading church-based environmental organisation Christian Ecology Link, the report states that these principles "require much greater attention to promoting energy efficiency and restraining consumer demand, a bold switch from using fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and the phasing out of nuclear reactors in electricity generation."

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) is the leading professional body for the people who plan, protect and care for the environment and its resources, providing educational opportunities, independent information to the public and advice to government. Members in 96 countries include scientists, engineers, ecologists and students. Its Policy Position Statement on Nuclear Power can be found online here.