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back to article UK nuke-power plans leak early

Prime Minister Gordon Brown insists that the UK government has not made up its mind yet on a new generation of nuclear power stations, but that the decision will be announced on Thursday. However, it is now virtually certain that Brown intends to permit atomic energy to continue in Britain. The Prime Minister's press spokesman, …

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Wither the nuclear physicists?

If there is to be a new generation of nuclear power stations who will actually build and work on them? With the recent cuts to physics funding, including nuclear physics and related fields such as particle and astrophysics, there's likely to be a grave shortage of the experts needed for nuclear power.

Perhaps some linked-up thinking is needed here.

The No 10. petition on physics funding is <a href="http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/Physics-Funding/"> here</a> if you want to sign.

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Bronze badge

Power generation

... Nuclear generates ~20% of our power at the moment. The current plants are coming to the end of their lives.

Its kind of required to build at least some more nuclear plants even if we reduce the amount of power generated by nuclear by building a lot more wind/tidal generating capacity.

If we don't, the lights will go out at some point in the future.

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Anonymous Coward

derr

We're buying them from the French!

Britain doesn't invent anything anymore - like our suggested contribution to an international space station... a £600,000,000 empty room. We may include a table... I'm sure the government would be up for it if they said a ten billion pound offsite ID database. I also assume we'd get the Chinese to make our £600,000,000 empty room.

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Reality check

Sod all to do with nuclear weapons and everything to do with base load generation. Let's face it, renewables just aren't ever going to provide the energy we need in a consistent way. Hydro generation is already well exploited and coal and gas burning plants, aside from leaving us at the mercy of whoever now produces those two because it's sure as hell we don't any more, are a no-go because of the pollution they produce.

Of course, the greens are up in arms. They always are. They need a crusade somewhere to justify their existence, despite the fact that one of the founders of Greenpeace is also a founder member and officer of SONE (http://www.sone.org.uk/content/view/42/31/ - the officer list makes very interesting reading). If they had their way we'd be using renewables to light our homes and coal and wood to heat it. Can you imagine the CO2 output that would generate? Amazingly short-sighted. Ground loops just aren't economically viable or even practical given Britain's postage-stamp sized gardens and personal micro-generation only works if you're out in the middle of nowhere. Ask the Germans. They are, by law, able to sell energy back to the grid at ABOVE cost, so they could in theory make a profit on micro-generation. That they don't and that the energy companies still turn a profit should tell you all you need to know.

Nuclear is safe. The older Magnox reactors had a shine simply because the pressure vessel didn't enclose the entire primary loop (the heat exchanger was outside the pressure vessel). The later Magnox plants, such as Wylfa on Anglesey, don't shine much at all and they're now considered obsolete. We're now on AGR plants which are safe, clean and even these are only second generation reactors. And before anyone points to the leaking pipe at the reprocessing plant at Sellafield in 2005, let me just point out that the sump, which was designed for that eventuality, contained everything properly and safely.

People have been screaming "do something about global warming" for most of this decade, but when the government do something constructive and practical like this, the uninformed start bashing it because of what happened due to bad design and stupidity on the part of the shift supervisor in a Soviet-era built plant with the primary raison d'etre of producing Plutonium [1], not generating electricity. Let's be completely honest here, the mention of nuclear to Joe Soap in the UK immediately gets you the retort of "Chernobyl" without a second thought. Perhaps we need education rather than ecologists. Or just get a grip and THINK.

[1] The reason I mention this is not to bash the Soviets, just to point out that some of the design flaws in the Chernobyl RBMK reactor were due to the need for direct access to the fuel to remove Pu-239 at short notice. There was, after all, a reason why RBMK reactors were so perilous. If you want an in-depth analysis without knee-jerk reaction, see http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/chernobyl.html

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they will be outsourced

Just like programmers or other tech slaves. Pakistan is a good source of physicists who aren't too fussy about who they work for, or what they do.

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Better nucular than bird-chopping windfarms. Even Don Quixote new that...

I see nuclear power generation as a much more credible effort at reducing emmissions and slowing the global warming than the windfarms scam and other "green" bandwagons (repressions on aviation, mandatory luminescent lamps, private home energy "certificates" to name a few).

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Nuclear *is* safe, when used for power only...

Good post by Chronos - but the problem here is that the reason why there is so much waste is that up until the new builds in the late 60's, the power generated by nuclear power stations was a by-product. The primary purpose *was* to generate material for Nuclear Warheads, with the waste that goes with it.

When you look at current modern generations of Nuclear Power Stations that are designed to *just* generate power, they're safe, clean, and much better for the environment. Plus the fuel is cheap and plentiful too, on the scheme of things. And if you look at the future Thorium type reactors, even better because they can't run away.

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Joke

@ D L Clements

'..nuclear power, ....wither,......grave shortage...'

Is this a coded warning message?

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Boffin

Safe? What about ILW?

Intermediate Level Waste. There's tonnes of it. And there's going to be tonnes more. It's too hot to just leave lying about, and it remains hot for too long to just store. But there's too much to encase in glass pucks and bury under the Lake District. And guess what? There is NO PLAN, NO SOLUTION to the disposal of it. Still.

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Coat

@ Chronos

Very eloquent, very informative and very useful. Sadly, our government is neither eloquent, informed or useful.

Indeed we do need Education. Sadly, that is funded in the same way as our Health service and our Science forums.

So, roll on subsidised uNclear power, administrated by accountants who can't find their own a55holes with both hands. Where's ma labcoat?

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Anonymous Coward

In for a penny in for a pound

Why wouldn't we go with fast breeder reactors if we're already a nuclear state? Are we afraid we might make nuclear weapons for us? Yeh, we're quite shifty, I wouldn't trust us with our fast breeder reactors. ;)

Can we get a realistic estimate of how much electricity we'll need please?

Assuming we need to replace transport oil aswell as gas, since it's depleating fast.

http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ene_oil_con-energy-oil-consumption

Uk consumes 1,827,000 bbl/day

1 bbl is an abbreviation for 1 barrel I think?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrel_of_oil_equivalent

1 Barrel of oil is approx 1.70 MWh of energy.

So I think thats 1133 Terrawatt hours a year? On top of the 405 terra watt hours we use now in electricity?

So if the oil crunch happens, we need about 1500 terra watt hours of generating capacity. If it doesn't we need 405 plus whatever growth (hopefully efficiency saving will keep growth down, or even negative).

Allow for renewables.

Assuming we can dam 25% of Britains rivers, and using the Chinese 3 gorges dam as a reference (192 terra watt hours for 1 million km2 catchment area our catchment area is 25% of 1/5th that area, i.e. 1/20th of that)... just short of 10 terra watt hours of hydro electric is possible.

I don't know if solar is possible here, but lets say the same for that since evaporation/rain is basically a solar process. Another 10 terra watt hours (about 6 million 1m2 mirrors normal to the sun for 1/3rd of the day, with 50% average cloud).

Geothermal, we're not on a fault line, so I don't know what we could get from that but can't imagine it's much.

Wind, say 3000 of those 5Mw mega sized offshore windowmills could be made thats worth quite a bit 131 terra watt hours, (either the big ones or 7500 of the smaller 2Mw ones).

Tidal, don't know, but assuming the severn estuary barrage goes ahead, that's 25 terra watt hours, maybe three more of those (Humber? Amberdeen? Solway?) to give 100 terra watt hours.

100+131+0+10+10 = 250 terra watts of renewables.

I'm assuming power cuts, people going hungry and dead frozen old people will encourage people to put aside their objections to mega tidal/wind/solar/dam projects.

I come to the same conclusion, nuclear, lets build em quick or sign a long term deal with the French and let them build them and send us the electricity. Build the renewables over the next 50-100 years and hope we can figure a cleaner source of energy in that time for the other 85% of the energy we'll need.

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"UK nuke-power plans leak early"

I rather worryingly read that headline as meaning that they were planning a nuclear leak early.

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Fission Reactors

I hate the words Nuclear (or Nukular as GW likes to say it), Nuke, and Atomic. All 3 are "SCARY" words for those who know nothing about them.

If you add up ALL the deaths from Fission Power over the last 50 years (and you can include Chernobyl)and then compare it to the deaths from Coal Power (and you can include Aberfan) you will see that Fission is WAY safer. More die every year in coal mining around the world than have ever been killed by Fission.

For the long term environmental damage, well, at least it can be localised (unlike greenhouse gas emissions) and managed.

Short term environmental damage is comparatively minimal compared to anything, even windfarms, and is again localised and manageable.

The only real problem with Fission is where do we get the fuel from. The UK has no decent deposits of Pitchblend to extract Uranium from so we will have to source our raw materials from overseas.

As to Chronos's comments on UK reactors, you are forgetting Sizewell B. Pressurised Water Reactors have the best safety record in the world and are far more efficient than anything the UK has designed. And what's wrong with us buying a design from elsewhere if it's better and cheaper. Do you drive a British car? Even if you do it probably uses German designed electrics and French/Austrian/Japanese tyres. This whole "Buy British" thing is shite. We have no manufacturing industry left.

New design PWR reactors are the way to go. I know of a nice site just east of where I live that would welcome 2 new PWR's. Bradwell in Essex. At the moment there are the shells of 2 closed Magnox reactors there and a museum.

I would far rather live next to a Fission Power station than a gas/coal/waste burning one and those wind farms are the worst blot on what little landscape we have left.

If you don't want Fission power then we can turn off your electricity and you can go live in a cave. Until Fusion gets practical, it's all there is so live with it.

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Wind is no substitute for Nuclear

Germany is the greatest global wind power by far with around 10x installed capacity of the UK producing about 6/7% of their electricity. In other words their policy of replacing nuclear with wind will *increase* their fossil powered needs!

Oh and nuclear power is best at base load. Gas is best for predictable fast power wind-up & wind-down. Wind is best at gas fuel substitution (when the wind blows - the gas-fired stations won't emit any gases).

I really wish the nuclear/wind camps would stop shooting each other in the foot and turn on the true enemy of carbon emmissions - coal fired station. We need nuclear, we need renewables and we will need gas powered stations to manage peak loads.

Oh - and unproven technology tends to deliver late and short. So not a good choice as a major part of our plans upto 2025. Hopefully after that they will be in shape to replace nuclear. Nuclear is not nice but the waste issue is only an issue if we succeed in avoid catasttrophic global warming. The consequences of fossil waste gases is rather nastier and less easy to avoid.

I hope Gordo's plans are for some sensible nuclear technology. The Finn's are having problems with next generation stuff. Lets get some proven technology sop we get it on time and on cost. Leave it to the French to sort out the future - then nick it (as they did the reverse with our aerospace industry)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In for a penny in for a pound

AC wrote: "I'm assuming power cuts, people going hungry and dead frozen old people will encourage people to put aside their objections to mega tidal/wind/solar/dam projects."

You assume wrong. All that will happen will be people condemning the government of the day for not saving them or for safeguarding our power future.

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Coat

Just a bit of business ....

We've clearly established that nuclear power is not economic in the UK (since if it were, the generating companies would have been queuing up), and that's why the Government needs to subsidise the blasted stuff.

However, like a lot of people, I'm really not that convinced by the argument that we should simply be splurging cash on more plants that nobody wants to live anywhere near. Whilst no-one's done a very good job of making the case for non-nuclear, non-coal, non-oil, non-gas generation, that doesn't of itself make a case for nuclear.

Chronos veers between being interesting and compelling, and purely misanthropic: most environmentalists aren't queuing up for the burning coal and wood at home argument (in fact I'm not sure I've heard that one from the environmental lobby at all), but they do believe that we can do better than just accepting that there's nothing anyone can do except build more nuclear capacity.

(Sigh) Still, anyone got an update on how the Swedes are doing with their commitment to get renewable and not use nuclear power?

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Agreed - "In for a penny.."

has it about right but the nuclear component is way too large. I'm not certain about the numbers but I won't quibble here. I wouldn't rely on our continental cousins for energy. When/if the crunch comes contracts wont mean much and will be re-negotiated at the point of a nuclear weapon.

Energy is cheap at the moment. We are postponing the costs of Nuclear & Carbon. Methane from waste, product design for low(er) energy manufacture/living, improved insulation/energy use as well as a lot of renewables is the sustainable future as the cost of energy rises. (maybe insulation wont matter as much as global warming kicks in)

But, what the hell, I'll be dead before it matters (probably?).... Ooops, I've children!

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At last, some common sense

At last, some common sense. We've had the Government messing about for far too long trying to appease the lentil-chewing brigade who apparently believe that 60 million people can live in this country in some sort of rustic agrarian paradise with no transport and no power. We've created a society that needs large-scale bulk power generation, and it now turns out to need it with zero CO2 emissions. So we need to deal with that requirement. Nuclear is the only option.

It's going to cause a big problem of disposal. We'll have to deal with that too. That's uncomfortable, but not half as uncomfortable as doing nothing. Meantime, we should plough money into Fusion reearch too.

Excellent posts from Chronos, Big_Boomer, Stuart et al

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Unhappy

It's perfectly safe...

And to demonstrate this fact the country's next nuclear power station will be built in central London, as close as possible to the Houses of Parliament.

You can tell when a government policy is going to be a cock-up - The private sector are either fighting like cats in a sack to get a slice of the action or they won't touch it with a barge pole unless they get a huge subsidy. As the governement was unable to privatise of any of the existing nuclear industry without taking on the liability of the clean-up, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1681213.stm, this latest push for nuclear will be another expensive gravy train funded by the tax payer.

Out of interest, can anyone tell me what the world's reserves of fissile material are and how long they are projected to last?

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Problem is...

The UK is a democracy. Great for short term decisions, useless at anything beyond the length of a government term. Nuclear is what we need for the mid to long term.

The general public is short term thinking too. Why do people use their cars for walkable or non-essential journeys or where there is a public transport alternative? Why not think and save the oil for when we really need it? Simple, people don't take into account the long term future in any real sense. It's just not tangible. Evolution made us to exploit the present because it may be all we have and boyo are we good at it.

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Unhappy

save energy rather than needless production

Halfords, PC World, Currys, Mothercare (and many others) - if you turned off the lights of your big retail park superstores after you close (and I mean *fully* lit inside too - not just the signage), then perhaps demand would be a little lower?

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There is a reason...

...that "nuclear power is not economic in the UK", and that is how the power stations are paid.

Each power station sets a price for it's energy.

Assume we are in a low-spot of power consumption. The very cheapest power is used, which tends to be the gas-fired stations.

When demand increases, the next cheapest stations are used, but all are paid at this higher rate.

Nuclear stations tend to be more expensive, however they have to run all the time. Gas stations can be run up very quickly, and when load peaks they get the same money as more expensive sources anyway. Therefore, the grid must be managed differently. Let the nuclear stations run constantly, providing our baseline power needs, use whatever renewable energy is available at the time, then top it up from gas-fired stations. And pay them a particular rate, or charge more tax based on CO2 emissions.

Simple solution, but will they do it? People will complain that we dont have fair competition. Companies with gas-fired stations will loose money. Not that this matters if we kill the planet, but companies dont look that far ahead.

As for nuclear waste, that is an even longer term problem than global warming. Deal with CO2 first, and we may have a solution for nuclear waste before it becomes a real problem.

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Anonymous Coward

Whatever happened to a penny saved is a penny made?

Assuming some social norms (no frozen grannies, dead babies in incubators etc.), there are some non-discretionary elements to our energy usage. But everything else is a question of supply and demand.

For nearly any activity, there will be an energy-intensive way of doing and a similar (but not identical) more efficient way. Taking making a cup of tea: boil a full kettle or boil a cup. Going from London to Glasgow: go by 'plane or go by train or go by car/bus (foot, bike and horse are sufficiently different in journey time to ignore), each with a different energy intensity per passenger mile. The simplest measures would be things like not illuminating empty buildings at night (and causing light pollution).

It strikes me as very odd that we are not first looking to reduce our energy intensity further (the Japanese use somewhere around half the energy Europeans use per unit of output) before we look to spend billions (public or private) on *any* large-scale power stations.

Except where the cost of switching infrastructure is prohibitive and competing modes do not exist, this will happen naturally if energy is repriced. Energy intensive industries will relocate, to be close to cheap suppliers of constant power, e.g. to Iceland (geothermal, mind the tremors), Norway (hydroelectric) or - tada! - the UK (wave power).

Other changes may require regulation, to get them over the "activation energy". Suburban living generates structural demand for road transport. A proper urban environment enables people to walk to the shops on a daily basis, getting some exercise with their groceries. The Americans have built an entire country on the car and suburban living, they will have to rip up the USA and start again if ripping up the Middle East and starting again doesn't work out for them. Old Europe still has urban centres, our neo-mediaevalist competitive advantage....

Another point is that, while "base-load" is indeed the reason wind is USELESS as a power source, base-load is hardly environmentally friendly in the absence of any efficient system of energy storage. The real base load, overnight, is much lower than the installed constant generating capacity (i.e. nuclear plants, because it takes a month to turn them on or off) - hence the nonsense of Economy 7 electricity, trying to stimulate(!) demand and distort energy choices by cutting the price for overnight electricity. This is the reason the Dinorwig energy storage plant (pumping water up to a higher reservoir at night and releasing it through turbines at peaks) was built, but it is the only one of its scale in the UK.

We should be looking to reduce our absolute use of energy and match it better to an efficient supply mix. This would happen natural through price signalling.

If there was a demand on a sufficient scale for power stations that ran all the time, nuclear could pay its own way - the French have managed to cut the costs of nuclear power by building so many identical plants but I would be interested to see what it has done to their (and their neighbours) baseload power pricing.

As it is, a new generation of nuclear power is a very expensive way to leave the lights burning all night. I suppose the hydrogen economy fabulists could split their water while they sleep....

(perhaps the storage question could be addressed, e.g. redesign domestic plumbing so that water was pumped up water towers / into attics at night and released for microgeneration of peak load?)

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jai
Silver badge

@Tim Lennon

"However, like a lot of people"

i'm not sure you're views are like a lot of people any more. you're the first one to post here that isn't for these plans for new reactors.

"but they do believe that we can do better than just accepting that there's nothing anyone can do except build more nuclear capacity"

there is - we can build wind farm.... except the environmentalists object to them because they spoil the views

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/3548100.stm

and we can build hydro barriers..... except the environmentalists object to those as well because there's a chance they'll affect the indiginous spieces of the area

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/10/01/green_plans_tidal/

you can't have your cake and eat it too. either we have lots and lots of renewable energy sites (and we'll need an awful lot of them) or we need some nuclear reactors. ideally we need a mix of both.

the alternative was shown well enough in the BBC half-drama-half-documentry If....

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/if/4989146.stm

blackouts - chaos - riots - recession - suffering - death

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tired old arguments, just like the nuclear industry

Please, Please, stop bringing out the old tired pro-nuclear, anti-wind arguments.

If you can't be bothered to research this area at least keep your misinformation to yourself and stop spreading the coal/nuclear lobby propaganda for them. Or are you that lobby?

Some examples from above:

"renewables just aren't ever going to provide the energy we need in a consistent way"

- Yes, tidal.solar aren't 'consistent are they? I guess the sun and moons tidal effects aren't expected to last that long! Also stop conflating baseload with overall generation. Wind power up to 20% of Grid requirement does not appreciably affect the National grid stability (that was stated by National Grid themselves).

"They need a crusade somewhere to justify their existence"

- Stop telling Greens what they think. Straw Man arguments are a weak way to present your position.

"Ground loops just aren't economically viable or even practical given Britain's postage-stamp sized gardens"

- So you've not heard about vertical drilled group loops then? Anyway, no-one argues a one-size fits all solution do they? Oh sorry, straw man arguments again!

"And before anyone points to the leaking pipe at the reprocessing plant at Sellafield in 2005"

Yep, the one that's going to cost how many BILLION to clean up? That buys a few offshore wind turbines doesn't it? Then on top of that due to Thorp being closed we have to ship our stockpiled fuel to other countries to cover Thorpe contracts so they don't renege on their processing contract. How much does that subsidy 'cost' the UK?!

"I see nuclear power generation as a much more credible effort at reducing emmissions and slowing the global warming than the windfarms scam and other "green" bandwagons"

- Details please? Evidence please?

"those wind farms are the worst blot on what little landscape we have left."

- the whole landscape around you is ártifical' other than a few remote mountain tops in Scotland. Sorry we can't keep the world frozen so you have a nice view out of your window.

"In other words their policy of replacing nuclear with wind will *increase* their fossil powered needs"

- Really? Care to explain logically why. And you cant use the already refuted argument that you need to ''backup'' 1MW of wind with 1MW of coal, as that argument was laughed out of the room years ago. Doesn't stop people continuously raising it from the dead though.

"We've clearly established that nuclear power is not economic"

Finally some sensible observation. Nuclear is dead in the water without massive subsidy. Nuclear got 95% of the governments 'renewable' subsidy' during the 80s and what did that kickstart the industry? What if that had been invested in REAL renewable energy technology. We wouldnt be buying wind turbines from Scandinavian countries, we'd have built up our own industry by now and be able to export. But hey, there's the big business lobby to please isn't there. And before you say Renewables need subsidy, they DESERVE the SAME kickstart subsidy as Nuclear had. In fact NUCLEAR HAS HAD SUBSIDY ALL ITS LIFE. Once the industry is primed and the technology is matured the subsidy can drop. Do you think the Nuclear industry would exist if it wasn't for the original 'subsidy' from the military to generate nuclear weapon material? Don't make me laugh!

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Dead Vulture

ICBMs, Fast Breeding

The UK COULD make the ICBMs to carry our nuclear warheads, but the cost would be phenomenal for such a small number of weapons. If our foreign policy is to be forever closely aligned with that of the USA, there's no reason to spend all that cash. As for fast breeder reactors.... it's not quite as simple as our dear correspondent would have us believe.

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Why the govt. is so keen on new nukes

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (www.awe.co.uk) has been advertising for tritium processing specialists since before the official decision to build a new generation of nuclear weapons. (Check out their web site and many of the previous editions of "New Scientist".)

Tritium is absolutely required for advanced nuclear weapons but it decays with a 12.3 year half-life. So the bombs require constant topping up. Tritium is made by exposing lithium to a large neutron flux - i.e. in nuclear reactors.

The new generation of nuclear "power" plants are required as tritium factories.

It is no coincidence that the decision to build a new generation of nuclear reactors was announced less than a week after the announcement of the decision to build the new generation of nuclear bombs.

The higher electricity price of nuclear power and waste managment problems are simply disguised subsidies for the MOD.

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Go

Re: ILW - Intermediate Level Waste

Chronos - excellent information supply, and well-balanced. Cheers.

Hayden Clark - there is a massive program of work to reprocess ILW, and reduce it to LLW (Low-Level Waste), which is easier and even safer to deal with.

We really do need to educate more people, and explain why Chernobyl happened, and how it works nowadays. There are so many safety features and processes in place, it does make is a much safer option. And by building multilpe sites using the same model will mean management and improvement can be modular across the board, and it will help to make Britain 'Great' again! :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Why is the waste an issue anyway?

I've never understood why (except to pander to the green fruitcakes, of course) its been considered necessary to spend billions on a few tons of waste. I dont believe the French do.

Just clean out the core, then lock the doors and leave it. Its not as if anything other than another power plant will be built on the site. If you're worried about people stealing it, pour concrete over the door...

Even if we decide to bury it in a hole, whats the big deal? So we end up with a (quite small) hole somewhere that isnt safe. In the entire COUNTRY.

Coal fired plants produce far more radioactive waste, and they pour it unfiltered into the air (coal is, slightly, radioactive, and they burn megatons of the stuff).

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Unhappy

Greedy pigopolists

"We've clearly established that nuclear power is not economic in the UK (since if it were, the generating companies would have been queuing up), and that's why the Government needs to subsidise the blasted stuff."

That might be evidence enough for you, but you seem to be ignoring the fact that the generators are thinking short term profits and PR and need the permission of the Government to initiate new fission reactors which hasn't been forthcoming until now.

Nuclear power *will* become (?more?) economically attractive as the price of hydrocarbons climbs, and the generators will at that point "rush to nuclear", but that will be too late. Free markets and profiteering do not promote long term thinking.

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Uranium Reserves

"Only 35 countries worldwide possess reported uranium reserves3 (11 low-income, 13 middle-income, and 11 high-income). The developing countries possess 54% of these reserves, with major reserves located in Niger (0.19 million metric tons), Brazil (0.16 million metric tons), Kazakhstan (0.43 million metric tons), Russia (0.16 million metric tons), and South Africa (0.24 million metric tons). Only industrialized countries possess large reserves: Australia (0.59 million metric tons), Canada (0.54 million metric tons), and the United States (0.32 million metric tons)."

Extracted from:

http://www.rff.org/rff/News/Features/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=10686

As for how long it will last:

http://www.nuclearfaq.ca/cnf_sectionG.htm#uranium_supply implies from 50 to 200 years roughly

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Anonymous Coward

Dam half of england and stick a few windfarms in the middle

Every element has a major flaw in it:

1. Windpower, only effective for less than 50% of the time, and you're unable to build them within the location of certain areas geographically, which leaves very few places to put them other than off shore.

2. Gas, expensive and has to be supplied from other countries

3. Water, not enough land mass to dam areas and create hydro farms well in less you fancy daming the midlands / kent / west country / scotland (delete as appropriate).

4. Coal, other than the emissions, it's a finite resource that's going to run out sooner than later.

5. Nuclear, where to start, AGR's were not as efficient as they were billed as being, producing only a very small amount of energy when they worked at all. The suggested fast breader re-uses fule but produces weapons great dodgey stuff. The good news is that there's not been anything proven about living near them causing cancers, apparently that was down to a large amount of inbreeding that occurs nearby them.

Chronos makes an excellent argument.

At the end of the day, nobody, in less you're a true green crusty, can live without electricity, and in less something is done about what we're going to do now... you had better start hoping iPod's come with solar chargers in ten years time. I can't honestly see everyone being happy whatever the outcome. Personally, I'm happy with nuclear power.

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No fast breeder reactors?

"Much spent reactor fuel, at present classified as waste, could be turned into useful fuel once more by the use of so-called "fast breeder" reactors, which have not yet been built"

Really? Then what was that thing at Dounreay that operated for several decades.

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Flame

Are we jumping from frying pan into fire

We already have concerns about releases from the nuclear industry into the environment – so will the next generation be as worried about the effects of nuclear energy on the world as we are of burning fossil fuels?

To those who think we can solve the issues with modern design – well if you can design in politicians and management who will never skimp on maintenance no matter the cost, ensure the staff are always fully efficient, ensure the buildings can never catch fire or be hit by earthquakes, flooding etc. – then maybe we'll be halfway to safe

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Happy

Good debate

It's nice to see a good debate on a topic for once in the "Comments" section of El Reg - especially on an important topic like power generation. It's almost enough to give me a warm fuzzy feeling

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Bronze badge

Nuclear Power - no thanks?

Unfortunately, in the UK were caught between a rock and a hard place, as we cant currently generate enough power from either coal, gas or natural ie wind & water then we have to consider nuclear power as a stop gap until other technologies catch up.

Our older (AGR) plants were built on technology developed in the UK & wasnt widely adapted for a number of reasons so were still playing catch up in terms of PWR design and operation for power.

However as far as operators are concerned the UK has a plentiful supply of experienced PWR operators and maintainers as all our submarines use this technology albeit in a smaller plant size.

The fusion reactor may be a viable proposition but without the necessary funding into research then its not going to happen.

So we have a choice, turn the lights out or more nuclear power whether you agree with it or not.

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@Peter Sage

I don't really understand what you are trying to argue here. You seem to support wind power and be very strongly against nuclear, but then you say that we can cope with about 20% of our power coming from wind. Where do you propose to get the other 80%?

I do not claim to have any significant knowledge on the subject, but from what knowledge I have gathered, it seems that nuclear is the only viable source of power.

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Anonymous Coward

Is inaction an option?

"We already have concerns about releases from the nuclear industry into the environment – so will the next generation be as worried about the effects of nuclear energy on the world as we are of burning fossil fuels?"

Do we? I always thought that was overblown. The French have proved Nuclear energy as a viable option, since they sell us their surpluss via that maxed out DC cable and have no intention of switching away from it to any other fuel source. So we should copy whatever they've learned from it and do it that way.

I don't think the world is as obsessed with CO2 as people make out. I think they're more obsessed with the huge cost of oil and gas in their lives as it runs short. We do nothing about it now, but the price keeps going up anyway.

We should also continue with renewables, and energy efficiency, etc. but wait and see isn't working.

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@Tim Lennon

"We've clearly established that nuclear power is not economic in the UK (since if it were, the generating companies would have been queuing up), and that's why the Government needs to subsidise the blasted stuff."

Nothing about the economics of power generation is clearly established. We've never had a level playing field and don't look likely to acquire one anytime soon.

Fossil fired plants have *never* had to pay for the environmental damage they cause. We wouldn't be having this discussion if the majority of people didn't now accept that they cause an unacceptable level of damage and must be pretty much phased out of existence over the next couple of decades.

In a rather feeble attempt to do so, the government introduced a levy on coal, oil and gas generators. Sadly, the dolts chose to penalise non-renewability rather than emissions, thereby penalising nuclear power plants for contributing to global warming.

The "cost" of a tidal barrage or wind-farm is a matter for (heated) debate. I'm not sure any objective answer will ever exist. How do you price a wetland or a view?

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Go

There Is No Alternative None. Whatsoever. None None None.

Of course there is no present or forseeable alternative - a few windmills are never going to be enough, whatever the environ-mentalists say.

BTW Are all the recent energy price increases part of the softening-up process (as well as a VAT and PRT windfall for Brown and his Jockia of course)!

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Stop

Closed minds

"you had better start hoping iPod's come with solar chargers in ten years time."

...Solar chargers for iPods and mobile phones are already on the shelves in Maplins.

Why do all you pro-nuclear 'fruitcakes' (sub for any other ridiculous term routinely thown at anyone thought to be expressing a slightly green point of view) point to the demise of the Chernobyl power station and subsequent advances in technology as a dismissal of any argument for avoidance of nuclear power?

The serious issues lie elsewhere, but you've got your heads in the sand. I'm not going to waste time raising those issues here, others already have but the pro-nuclear lobby have made their decision based on flawed and incomplete information (propganda) and closed their minds.

For those of you who can't see the problem with simply burying nuclear waste - don't forget that this country is already struggling to continue to find places to bury harmless domestic waste (harmless only relative to nuclear waste!).

As already expressed by others, renewable energy has been held back for decades by refusal to invest thanks to military driven hidden agendas. If it had been given proper investment, significant technological advances could have been made by now, spawning a new domestic manufacturing and development industry - sorely needed with the demise of the car and ship manufacturing sectors!

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Flame

wood is the future

personally, so I moved to a country where there is a very large sustainable forest next to my home, I bought 4 tonnes of Beech wood in August to season for the winter; the price this year was 13 euros per 100 kilogrammes. (about £95 per tonne), did I mention that the price was unchanged from last year, oh and from the year before , and the year before that?. My supplier says he sees no need to raise prices next year either! So that's house heating solved - though I do enjoy a bit of background Methane in the morning before we've stoked the highly efficient fireplace-insert into life. The electrical power is a bit dear here, I suppose I'll have to invest the 2kWpeak PV system for about 13keuro (£9500) with a feed-in tariff of 0.45euro/kWh in the near future, before the feed-in tariffs are decreased too much. Solar hot water would give a much faster payback than the 9yrs to estimate for the PV.

I have 3 nuclear reactors at work, 1 totally removed, one being decommissioned and the third being de-fuelled. Do I have to mention the hidden secret stories of the Nuclear Industry, the colleague who 'lost' some Pu in the car-park at Harwell, the (ex-)workers who used to wash in D2O?, (A.C. it is then). maybe N-Power is safe, maybe the latest french or more likely US designs will not try and use 3500 tonnes of liquid activated Sodium as a cooling system. Superphénix was designed to have a risk of Sodium leaks less than 1 in 100 thousand years, and it was a great pity that the (inevitable) leak occurred after only 6 months operation.

Well if French engineering isn't good enough - how about wonderful Scandinavian design, say Forsmark-1 in Summer 2006, a 'close meltdown' according to some - 'nothing in particular' according to the entirely reliable "what grafite fire?" trustworthy nuclear industry who , to me at least seem to under-report things.

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Go

A hole in the ground IS the BEST answer to ALL waste problems and the World is BIG

If you live in London or the Home Counties it is easy to convince yourself that the UK - or the world - is nearly 'full' and that there is nowhere to put our waste, be it domestic or nuclear. Actually the UK, in common with the rest of the world, is mostly EMPTY SPACE and there are plenty of places to dig a big hole where it will not bother anyone. The problem urban councils are having is the cost of trucking the waste to a suitable site, when it is cheaper to bully people into sitting on their own waste heaps (which they call 're-cycling' - actually - 'sorting and storing') in response to mad EU recycling policy.

The whole EU recycling thing anyway is a result of German environ-mentalist extremists who only get a hearing because of their bizzaare coalition government. And don't believe that recycling is 'green' because it usually uses MORE energy and produces MORE CO2 to refabricate from used materials.

Hysterical overreaction to low-level nuclear waste is mostly an issue because of fears engendered by 50's B-movie Sci-fi, Spiderman and the Incredible Hulk.

Relax there is still plenty of the world left for mankind to consume - the entire world population could still stand inside the M25 - best place for them some might say!

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Wind? It's a load of hot air!

Okay, so I work in the nuclear industry (Me? Biased? Never!) but I can appreciate the use of renewable energy and having a balanced energy mix. However, even the most die hard renewables supporter must agree that the renewable energy sources we have are "low density" energy sources.

For example, I think the biggest wind turbines are rated at 5MW. So, to replace a power station of the size of Sizewell B (1100MW) requires 220 of these turbines. Assuming that each turbine requires a "footprint" of 100m2 to me most efficient, that equates to a wind farm the size of a small town. Also, wind turbines are only 30% efficient anyway (the wind is not a constant supply), so you have a supply problem that needs to be plugged by something.

Taking Sizewell as the example, the station operates at 100% power for 17 months in an 18 month fuel cycle. Even taking the occasional outage into account (the safety systems are very sensitive to the slightest fluctuation in plant operating parameters) it is reckoned that Sizewell will have a load average of over 90% by the end of it's operating life.

As to the expense of the waste, well, in the great finance grab of the 80's and 90's the government, in it's wisdom, decided that the cash that had been put aside by the Nuclear operators for decommissioning was really revenue to be used by the Treasury, hence the problems about funding the NDA at the moment.

I don't live anywhere near a nuclear plant (I work in Cheshire), but wouldn't have any problems living in, say Leiston (near Sizewell) or near the Sellafield site.

Oh, by the way, new nuclear builds are engineered to have a public and operator radiation dose of less than the recognised background radiation dose rate for the public (which is about 2.5microSieverts per hour). In fact, if airline cabin crew were subject to the same dose limits as workers in the nuclear industry, most of them would be grounded in 6 months for exceeding their dose limits!

Just some thoughts. Feel free to comment... :)

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Anon Cow and wood

Moving to the country and burning wood is not an option for most people. You'd be up monkey creek without a monkey paddle if we all moved in next door. How long would your wood last then eh?

Although we'll all be living in the country when the total fabric of society breaks down after oil hits $40,000 a barrel. We'll have guns and MadMax type things too. Hurrah. I don't believe this though.

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Nuclear fuel running out

The Energy Minister describes nuclear power as "home grown" and "indigenous" whereas we have no uranium mines. The "legacy" inventory in Sellafield and in storage ponds around the country is useless without a massive investment in re-enrichment centrifuges and then the lot could only fuel 3 reactors for their life-cycles (according to NDA).

Breeders would have to start up right now and need an initial charge of plutonium, a processing plant to separate the bred Pu from the U-238 blanket and the transuranics, plus a specialised Pu fuel plant.

With a down-payment to cover decommissioning and, if the Finnish experience is repeated, an unspecified build overrrun, the generators will be hard put to finance a new round, especially if the carbon credits they need for viability fail to be guaranteed by the government.

If fusion is dependent on the deuterium-tritium model, then there will never be enough tritium as it decays and comes from irradiating lithium in a reactor as was underway when Pile 1 caught fire.

Then uranium mining appears to have passed its Hubbert peak in 2005 and is in decline. Half the US nukes depend on Russian diluted ex-weapons HEU in a deal which ends in 2013 and will then be needed for Russia with a primary supply deficit. Whatever John Hutton announces on Thursday is immaterial - nuclear power is not going to continue in the UK.

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Black Helicopters

@ D L Clements

"If there is to be a new generation of nuclear power stations who will actually build and work on them? With the recent cuts to physics funding, including nuclear physics and related fields such as particle and astrophysics, there's likely to be a grave shortage of the experts needed for nuclear power."

The debate pro and con nuclear power is interesting but D L Clements has put his finger on a much deeper issue: society's devaluation of technical and scientific education, expertise, experience, and plain ol' talent. Can't have that nasty intellectual elitism, you know!

The prevailing attitude seems to be that a shipload of copies of "Physics for Dummies" will neatly fill the gap overnight.

OTOH I think the physics of nuclear power generation is actually very well understood; it's the engineers that design nuclear plants who will be in short supply. You may cue "Nuclear Power Plant Design for Dummies" as the Brownite cure.

In fact, it may be fair to say that there's always been a shortage of competent nuclear power plant designers. Such projects have repeatedly experienced enormous cost overruns as well as amazing operational malfunctions -- hardly likely to inspire confidence in the designers. Cue Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, the never-completed and now demolished Trojan plant in Washington state as examples.

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Green Lentil Eater

Peter Sage questions my statement "In other words their <German> policy of replacing nuclear with wind will *increase* their fossil powered needs"

Simple. Nuclear is about 28% of their current consumption. It has taken 6 years for the most enthusiastic windfarm builder to get to around 6% of power from wind (with 10x as many as the UK). Peter, the Germans own half the wind industry - do you really think they can up the wind percentage to even 28% before nuclear closure. Plus any growth in demand. And what percentage of extra (Russian) gas powered plant needs to be added as cover for low wind situations. Remember - there are very big unanswered questions of grid control when variable renewals go over 20%. There may be solutions but no-one has proved them yet (don't quote Denmark who are at 30% but whose small grid is covered by the more resilient German grid when the wind doesn't blow. It won't work the other way!)

Your inability to distinguish between pro-wind & anti-wind posts does embarrass me. I'm an ecotricity cuistomer and devotee. I campaign for wind farms. But folks like you undermine the wind message with your conception of an idealised green world that is just not practical.

Getting the UK to 20% affordable wind by 2020 is unrealistic atm unless the government gets itself sorted. 20% is not even going to handle the current ageing nuclear baseload - so where is the other 80% coming from? Adding all the proven renewable stuff together doesn't add another 20%. So your future looks like the majority of our electricity will be fossil generated. Not very Green. That's why we need to add nuclear into the mix. Nuclear & renewables displace fossil - not each other!

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Breeder Reactors &etc

Some things that I don't think people mentioned about breeder reactors... Though I just skimmed so maybe they did:

Plutonium is just about the most toxic substance ever ever ever. Even if it wasn't highly radioactive, it'd be toxic. Plus it is flammable. And the ash is also extremely toxic. This obviously makes the risk of an accident or stolen / lost nuclear material a lot worse.

Not that I think nuke power is bad, but breeder reactors are more dangerous, plus they have to run with... I haven't had enough coffee, but the idea is that the standard water reactor doesn't work, which leads to those fun liquid sodium leaks (plus loads of radioactive sodium) and generally an increased number of heat exchangers.

@Andrew Cannon:

For 5MW wind plants, 100 square meters each would probably have them hitting each other. That's only a 10x10 square, while the 5MW wind plants (They are designed to be deployed at sea) have massive rotors. I'm far too lazy to look up specs, but I'd imagine that they're on the order of 100m in diameter. I wouldn't be surprised if they were more like 150m. Wind plants create loads of dirty air behind them that has to settle, and I believe that the standard spacing is 10 rotor distances between each laterally and 20 in depth. Assuming that your wind direction never changes you've now got ~2 square kilometers.

And the same people that are against nuke power would be against the wind turbines because 3 or 4 birds would get killed. There is really just no pleasing some people.

And I think that Germany is nearly saturated as far as wind power goes, which is why they're looking at sea deployments, which are massively more expensive (something like 3x as much per KWh.)

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Long posts seem to be in fashion :(

@Chronos: A rather better informed and argued post than many, but still missing part of the picture. And we'll come back to "sod all to do with nuclear weapons" later.

You mention Wylfa on Anglesey. It's somewhere I'm familiar with (as a tourist).

Others have mentioned that nuclear (or coal, or something reliable 24x7) is needed to satisfy "base load" .

What hasn't been mentioned is the amount of "base load" demand which exists only because "cheap" base load capacity was available.

Wylfa is a 1GW station. Next door to it is an aluminium smelter which (iirc) uses about half Wylfa's output, pretty much 24x7. Without the nuclear station the smelter would not exist, because (a) the electricity would not be affordable (b) the grid does not have the capacity to supply the smelter. So when Wylfa closes, the smelter closes, AND THE BASE LOAD GOES AWAY. The smelter goes to some country closer to the raw materials, some country which still has a manufacturing industry to use the finished product, and rather than shipping aluminium ore half way round the world to the UK, a smaller amount of aluminium metal is shipped instead. Which all makes sense (unless you're employed in or around Wylfa, sadly).

Where else around the UK is there a huge "base load" which exists only because it has a "cheap" power station next door? How much does this distort the analysis? Does it matter?

"For the long term environmental damage, well, at least it can be localised (unlike greenhouse gas emissions) and managed."

A reactor blows up in Chernobyl and Welsh hill lamb is prohibited from sale as a consequence (and continued to be banned for YEARS after the incident)? Maybe the pollution wasn't as localised as you seem to think? Maybe the source of the pollution was a lot more local than Chernobyl? Trawsfynydd nuclear? Unlikely. Windscale/Sellafield, because of the hushed-up fire back in 1957 ? Now you're talking. Pre-Chernobyl, there weren't many physicists wandering the Welsh hills looking at sheep (not with Geiger counters, anyway)... how convenient.

Been on any beaches near Dounereay lately? Bit hot there, isn't it?

"We have no manufacturing industry left"

Correct. Consequently it needs no energy supply. How much energy do offices need? How many centralised offices (and the associated office power, and long commute) do we really need when a good proportion of desk workers can telecommute? If the work can be outsourced abroad, then it's likely capable of being done by someone in the same time zone with the same first language, but without a city centre/business park office desk of their own. How much energy does that save?

And thanks to everyone else who pointed out that energy saved is energy not needed to be generated.

"Sizewell will have a load average of over 90% by the end of it's operating life."

Might be that way on paper, but then that was probably said about today's nukes too, which iirc have a typical downtime of 30-40% not 10%, and sometimes lots of them are down at the same time (eg when someone discovers a common design-related flaw affecting more than one reactor). Does that change the economics and the need for diversity of supply?

"I don't live anywhere near a nuclear plant (I work in Cheshire)"

Former-BNFL sites in Cheshire include Capenhurst, Daresbury, Risley, any I've forgotten? They weren't all just offices either, there were (and are?) "nuclear plants" amongst them. Any of them near where you live or work?

Pop down the A55 and look to your right as you pass Rhyl. If you look really really really hard you'll see an offshore wind farm. More are proposed for further along the coast. It would be nice if they weren't needed and didn't spoil the view. But they are needed, and they don't spoil the view that much. Site them right and they won't harm too many birds.

Carry on to Anglesey and to Wylfa. Have a look in the visitor centre. Take a physicist with a clue with you, and together watch the video they show (including the excerpt from Casualty). It's so untrue I practically threw up. If there had been anybody there except me, there'd have been an interesting discussion. I was only there for the caff, which was fine.

Inland not far from Wylfa there are several wind farms which have now been there for a few years. I don't live near them but when I've passed by them (frequently) I've never found them troublesome or offensive. I've frequently stopped by to listen for the alleged sound effects, and haven't noticed any (they may obviously be present on other sites). The ones near Wylfa don't and won't generate enough power to run an aluminium smelter, or even (say) a hospital of any size, but hospitals could do very nicely with on-site generation using combined heat and power, and so could lots of other places. Onsite generation also gives places some independence from national supply disruption, which is only going to increase as capacity margins decrease and spending on distribution maintenance decreases.

"And the same people that are against nuke power would be against the wind turbines because 3 or 4 birds would get killed."

I'm not anti-nuclear, I'm anti-stupid, anti-liar. There are plenty of relatively safe sources of renewable energy, wind is just one of them, if we'd invested as much development money on them in the last few decades as we have on nuclear, today's picture would be different. But the allegedly civil nuclear capability hides a much darker purpose, it is really needed for the continued availability of the not so popular "independent" nuclear deterrent, as John Clarke already pointed out.

There's plenty more to say, e.g. about terrorism (the 9/11 factor), about commercial uninsurability of the nuclear industry (the insurance industry *knows* about risk), and various other things. But if you've read this far, you've read enough from me. Two more paragraphs and I'm done.

For my sins I'm a graduate physicist, member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, I've worked for many years in the safety critical computer systems sector, and with control systems suppliers to folks including the nuclear industry (and oil rigs, and...). And I've a lot of respect for James Lovelock, most of the time, though he does rather tend to get misrepresented. Anyway, the biggest "fruitcakes" I've met in and around the computer systems business, the ones least worthy of public trust, seemed to me to be the ones who were in the nuclear sector, which is a shame, because they were the ones who needed to be the *best*. But imo they weren't. Sorry guys.

The thing the nuclear industry is best at is lying. To itself, and to the public.

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