back to article UK nuclear: Walking into darkness with eyes screwed shut

So the House of Lords Science and Technology committee has reported on the state of the UK's nuclear industry and government plans for carrying it forward: and, as anyone who follows these matters would expect, the noble lords have reported on a situation of total, shambolic chaos. That chaos has come about, not by unavoidable …


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  1. Joe Desbonnet

    Cost of nuclear power should not be measured in "deaths"

    I don't dispute much of what you say in this article. I too am cautiously pro-nuclear. But I find that many in the pro-nuclear camp like to quote the number of deaths caused by accidents. That's like gauging the quality of a financial product based on the number of people it manages to bankrupt. The true cost of nuclear power must factor in the economic and quality of life damage caused by accidents. And unfortunately the supposedly once in a millennium accidents seem to be occurring once every few decades.

  2. Alex Gollner

    Does anyone have a reference for how much power generation costs change if you include the decommissioning of the generation technology.

    If the Romans had generated electricity using nuclear power here in the UK 1,900 years ago, would we still have to maintain secure sites for the resultant irradiated material, or would everything behave become safe hundreds of years ago?

    I'm not being facetious. For all I know, it might be cheaper to run a secure facility for 100 years (if that's all you need) than the environmental costs of cleaning up after coal- or gas-powered stations. In the case of very expensive wind power generation, the decommissioning costs per KWH must be very low.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Well said. I'm particularly interested in Fukishima because there's a country that doesn't have vast tracts of land it can forget about, is a democracy so the people won't just quietly go where they are told and is a technological super-power.

      If Japan can't restore everywhere outside of the perimeter fence back to pre-accident levels by the end of the decade then I say the pro-nuclear lobby should rethink things. If they can do that then fine - it's just a rather large industrial accident. Shit happens. But otherwise - no thanks. Permanently screwing up large areas of the countryside is a no-no in my book.

      1. Ben Holmes

        Nothing like a randomly arbitrary, uninformed deadline to get the drones working again, is there?

      2. Mark 65


        "Permanently screwing up large areas of the countryside is a no-no in my book."

        We don't get tidal waves or suffer massive earthquakes and I would also hope that we wouldn't be building 40 year old nuclear reactors and surrounding containments. I have very little issue with *modern* nuclear energy and would much prefer that the existing stock were replaced by it rather than inevitably allowed to go on past their use-by dates.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge

          @Mark 65:Some areas have had tidal waves and some areas have had quite large quakes. Not recently, no, but they do happen.

          I am broadly and generally pro-nuclear. I'm just not prepared to give it my blind allegiance. Where natural disasters are concerned above I'm talking distant history but more recent history - living memory in fact - has demonstrated that the nuclear industry is far from perfect. People said similar things to you after Chernobyl and the Japanese had plenty of opportunity to tighten things up. Instead they have a history of fudging issues and lying about them.

          Now the anti-nuclear brigade would point at that and say we shouldn't even go there. I'm not saying that. I'm a believer in the saying "You can't make an omelette without braking eggs". I'll accept that 'shit happens' but mainly the understanding that most of the time it can be cleaned up afterwards.

          Granted my 'decade' is an arbitrary figure as I think another poster wrote but I chose it on the grounds of 'how long would the average person in the street be prepared to live somewhere else before being allowed back to their original life' rather than scientific or engineering plausibility. The point being that the effect on the general 'unscientific and non-engineering' public is what matters.

          Stop icon because ElReg doesn't provide a 'proceed with caution' icon :)

    2. Mike Richards


      The UK bill for decommissioning our existing reactor fleet is heading towards £70 billion (albeit spread over a long time), excluding the cost of a long-term repository which hasn't even been designed let alone planned. These costs have been driving up our power bills for quite some time now - something which Lewis forgot to mention.

      And the cost of nuclear also has to include the liabilities taken on by the State as no private insurer will ever cover a nuclear plant.

      Yes it's green power and we should have it, but let's have an honest pricing for nuclear electricity.

      1. HMB

        Decommissioning and waste handling are actually negligible costs of nuclear power IF nuclear companies are forced to pay for them right away. The money then sits gaining compound interest for 30-40 years plus and is plenty to handle the decommissioning.

        This does require responsible attitudes and foresight, so I guess that means law and regulation around it.

      2. Tom Reg

        And even 70 billion is a bargain compared to wind

        At least the nuclear reactor will have provided useful energy for its lifetime. The cost of a wind fleet equal to a 1GW nuclear reactor (most sites have 4 or so reactors) is about 10x the cost of building the nuclear, and blights the landscape with 30,000 wind turbines. They are 5 million each. Even with 30,000 there would be 1/4 the time with no lights or hospitals, 1/2 the time with about enough, and 1/4 of the time with so much power as to have no where to put it.

        There are no alternatives right now to nuclear, unless you like pollution, or live in some hydro bonanza place like Quebec.

        I don't believe for a second the 70 billion mark. I think it can be done way cheaper.

    3. mark a.


      I don't mind what measure you use in particular, as long as it's consistent. For example, showing the number of deaths from nuclear against the number of deaths from coal is useful.

      Then do the same with illnesses, impairment, quality of life or whatever.

    4. HMB

      While I would be inclined to agree with a lot of what you've put there to one degree or another, stating that once in a millennium accidents are happening once a decade is nonsense.

      We've had 2 nuclear power accidents in 60 years that have made entering the radioactive zones around them "a bit risky".

      The Soviets didn't let safety concerns get in the way of a reactor design that could be refuelled online and run off uranium without having to bother with enrichment.

      The Japanese made the tragic mistake of underestimating how high a tidal wave could be.

      I think the Fukushima incident is a valid concern, everyone thought it would be safe and while it hasn't caused any deaths and most likely never will, it has caused disruption on the land. As fir Chernobyl, it's simply not representative of a safe approach to Nuclear. The UK's CEGB assessed the RBMK reactor design in the 80s and found it dangerous. I'm pro Nuclear, but I don't think we should start building inherently unsafe reactors.

    5. Douglas71

      I think equal reporting should be done for "life damage" caused by the mining and burning of coal when comparing to existing nuclear technologies.

    6. Peter2 Silver badge

      The problem is that depends on many things. The level of fear about radiation is really, really absurd. At the moment, your allowed to wear a old fashioned glow in the dark watch which uses radioactive elements to get the dials to glow in public.

      On a nuclear plant, that watch would set of radiation detection alarms and be treated as high level radioactive waste.

      Most "nuclear waste" by all appearance is actually nothing of the sort. A desk that's sat in an office building near a reactor for 20 years? That's radioactive waste because it's marginally more radioactive than background levels. Some of the "high level waste" (ie, the actual radioactive stuff) would require thousands of years to return to background levels however this could be dealt with by geological disposal ie, burying it sensibly in the right sort of environment. This presents no risk, and we know this because the natural atomic reactions that have taken place at Oklo about 1.7 million years ago were contained this way despite having absolutely no shielding or containment for the reactions or the waste.

      If you applied the same radiation standards to a coal plant as a nuclear plant for radiation, the coal plant would have to close because a coal plant releases more radiation than a nuclear plant. That's because coal contains some uranium and thorium which gets concentrated in the ash by burning the coal, and the uranium either goes into the ash or up the funnel.

      Personally I would like to see more efficient 4th generation uranium plants to replace the aged 1st and 2nd generation plants we have running as a stop off until research into Thorium Salt reactors pays off. (Thorium Salt reactors produce waste which is at background levels within 300 years)

      However, we aren't doing any research into Thorium Salt reactors so we'll have to buy the reactors from China in a decade.

      1. philbo


        Last few years now (especially since Iran started kicking off), I have found it very hard to understand why there has been so little research into Thorium reactors: at the start, when governments wanted enriched uranium and plutonium to go into their weapons, it did make some kind of genocidal sense to develop uranium fission reactors; but I really don't understand why nobody (apart from China, and that only recently) is doing Th fission research.

        It won't create weapons-grade materials, it is naturally less liable to meltdown and the waste has a far lower half-life.. what's the problem?

        Mine's the one with the 232Th in the pocket

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "It won't create weapons-grade materials ... what's the problem?"

          The answer's in the question

          1. philbo


            > "It won't create weapons-grade materials ... what's the problem?"


            >The answer's in the question

            Not any more: we don't want loads of enriched 235U being made, even for us. We already have far more than we could ever use for nuclear bombs, and we're not looking to make current stocks into nukes.

            I realize you were probably being cynically sarcastic, but wouldn't it be the perfect way of calling Ahmadinejad's bluff, to say "well, if you're really wanting nuclear power, use Th - if you continue trying to enrich uranium, we'll nuke you from orbit (it's the only way to be sure)"?

        2. Peter2 Silver badge

          The problem with Thorium and existing nuclear is that it's a completely different process. Expecting the existing nuclear engineers to adopt or endorse Thorium is pretty much the same as trying to get a bunch of techs in a windows only shop to throw their experience out of the window and agree to scrap the win boxes and replace them with *nix.

          1. philbo


            Who cares if it's a completely different process?

            If existing nuclear engineers don't want to jump ship, then train up some new ones. They shouldn't be the ones dictating the direction of research, anyway.

            1. Peter2 Silver badge

              To be clear, as my first post hopefully shows I am in favour of Thorium development. That said, I think that it's important to recognise that many people trained on uranium fission have little to no idea about thorium based fission, given that even the principles involved are different.

              On a side note, as a bonus Thorium reactors should also be able to burn up much of our existing stocks of high level waste as part of their process. However, despite appearing technically perfect we aren't going to use them, because Green groups are irrationally anti nuclear and would rather we expend all of our resources on wind/solar. It should be noted that building wind actually results in more gas plants being built to provide power when the wind is not blowing.

              More wind and less nuclear is actually demanding that more fossil fuels are burnt. You won't hear Greenpeace saying that however. Seemingly they view the process of fighting against damaging the environment to be more important than the outcome of their actions.

              1. philbo


                For someone in favour of Thorium development, you're remarkably pessimistic about it :-)

                I'm not sure that many green groups understand the significance or the difference between fissioning of different heavy elements: I didn't myself, until catching something recently and reading pretty much everything I could find on Thorium fission, trying to work out what the catch is. I have managed to convert an out-and-out "nuclear is BAD" greenie to the idea that if Th fission does what it looks like it should be able to do (usual caveats apply), even nuclear fission can be a good thing. Maybe it's an idea that just needs to reach critical mass..

          2. YetAnotherBob

            You don't scrap the computers

            In replacing Windows with LInux or BSD Unix, you don't scrap the boxes. the other systems will run just fine on the old hardware, maybe better.

            Similarly, in switching from Uranium to Thorium, you don't scrap the old engineering concepts, you just have to change the input variables. The same physics works. the same dangers are there.

            Thorium is harder to get to go through the cycle, but it does go through it. basically, Uranium has more bang for the buck. Just as gasoline has more bang for the buck than CNG. That's why a gasoline fueled car goes farther than a natural gas fueled one.

            Oh, and the Thorium cycle DOES potentially produce some fissionable by-products. But, just as the proposed thorium reactors will 'burn' many of the byproducts, a Uranium reactor can also be designed to 'burn' the plutonium produced in the reactor.

            There is a lot of discussion on these topics which should go on before a national course of action is selected. The discussion should go through from a physics based level to an engineering level before the politicians ever get involved.

            The Lords seem to be listening. That's good for the UK. I wonder if Commons will be as logical and level headed?

      2. kwhitefoot

        You might be able to buy them from Norway instead

        I know this isn't exactly the kind of reactor you mentioned but if Aker Solutions can pull it off it should be a very clean and safe reactor.


      3. elderlybloke

        UK nuclear: Walking into darkness with eyes screwed shut


        A nice change to see a rational ,coherent argument about this emotive subject.

    7. Andydaws

      A few numbers, if you want.

      So far, eight light water reactors of the types proposed for UK new build have been comprehensively decommissioned - including the original Shippingport PWR, Trojan (a near 1,000 MW unit), Haddam Neck (BWR) and others. In these cases the entire reactor has been removed, the containment and ancialliary buildings removed and the site released for unlimited use. In some cases, however, some dry-cask storage for spent fuel remains on site. The fuel should have been removed to Yucca Mountain, but the political paralysis around the repository means it remains on the original site.

      Decomissioning costs have been in the range $600-1000 per KW of capacity (the smaller plants tend to cost more). Note LWRs are much cheaper to decomission than the gas cooled designs we built, not least because there's not a 2,000 tonne graphite core to dismantle and dispose of.

      We'll take the mid-point - $800/KW - and not make any assumptions about learning curves, or the fact that new designs are "decommissioning friendly".

      An EPR is 1600MW - so, £800M, if we assume a $1.6:£1 exchange rate. Assuming the EPR hits the same through life capacity factor as Sizewell B's managed so far - about 88% - it's make something like 740 million megwatt-hours over it's 60 year design life.

      That's about £1.08/MWh. A MWh currently trades (wholesale) at about £50.

      If you assume 2% interest rates (i.e. German Bonds), you actually need to set aside about 1/4 that amount.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        I prefer "realistic". The UK is never going to put any realistic amount into Thorium research with the ignorance, apathy and stupidity of the general populace. If it ever came down to it, the benefits would never be discussed. The greens would scream NUCLEAR!!! CHERNOBYL!!!! and politicians, having long ago given up with rational debate in favour of sound bites would drop the program to protect their public support figures.

        Not only that, but any programme of this kind would need to be a decade long project. Can you see a politician funding something that is:-

        1) In the national interest, but against the politicians personal interest.

        2) Likely to require billions in research to create a usable reactor and train the people to build and operate it.

        3) Take so long to complete that their political opponents would get the benefits, and take the credit.

        No? I didn't think so. All of which shows how badly our system lets us down when China is putting $30 billion into their thorium program. Their rulers aren't worried about short term popularity. I find it deeply humiliating watching China planning rationally to out compete us over a long term. Nobody is going to wake up to what China is doing until we are buying engineering expertise from China as well as all of our manufactured goods. But hey, it's more than 5 years off. Why bother about it?

        1. Andydaws

          Sorry, where does this $30Bn number come from?

          Let's be clear about what the Chinese are doing.

          The origin of this story seems to be something in "Wired" magazine back in FEbruary. It reported a speech at the Chinese National Academy of Sciences saying that they'd do some planning and lab-level studies on Thorium systems. It didn't mention any sum at all, much less something like $30Bn.

          That seems to be an internet myth.

          What they're actually committed to building is about 70 - count them, 70 - conventional reactors. They'll be a mixture of derivatives of the old Framatome PWR design, and an uprated 1400MW version of the Westinghouse AP1000. Conservatively that's $100Bn or so. They're investigating further upgrades to 1700 or even 2100MW, if the passive cooling capabilities can be scaled up.

          They've signed deals to build sodium cooled fast reactors, based on the Russian BN-300. That's probably about $10Bn.

          They're building a near-commercial scale HTR - gas/graphite - using a derivative of the old pebble-bed concept; that's probably a $billion or two.

          The reality is, the thorium stuff is at best a sideshow, to a programme that's going flat out on conventional nuclear technologies.

  3. TheOtherHobbbes

    As usual

    Lewis Page thinks cancer only matters when it doesn't happen to him personally.

    Fact is - and facts are thin on the ground here, once you wave away the 'cretinous' rhetoric - Chernobyl cancer cases are easily into five figures. And deaths would have been so very much higher without a mass evacuation and an exclusion zone.

    But apparently a mass evacuation doesn't count as a health effect. (Who knew?)

    As for Fukushima - we'll see what happens when you get the same amount of radiation released with a much smaller exclusion zone.

    The first post-meltdown births will be happening any day now. And the cancer clusters will be happening for decades.

    But touting an idiot technology that shits all over your living room when there are cheaper and cleaner alternatives still makes perfect sense to some people.

    Who knows why?

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      >Chernobyl cancer cases are easily into five figures

      No, four figures. And most of those have been cured.

    2. BenR

      I'm curious about this statement

      What are the cleaner and cheaper alternatives? Seriously - I'm cautiously pro-nuclear, but I try to keep an open mind, but I can't see anything else that has the generation potential with such ease.

      The options as I see them are thus:

      Wind - expensive, not reliable, can't be used for baseload. Only works in certain conditions. Changes the weather downwind of the site, requires enormous amounts of space.

      Solar - panels are a nightmare to manufacture, the energy budget in creating them is huge to the extend that 1m² of high-quality polycrystalline panels has a whole-life breakeven after 14 years, and require enormous amounts of space. Extensive maintenance requirements.

      Geothermal - has potential, but widescale applications would require a lot of wells to be sunk, and deep, which would be expensive. There is also the concern about the amount of hot steam released into the atmosphere through cooling having climate effects surely? Would be ideal for baseload otherwise.

      Tidal - has potential, but again expensive. Needs development to arrive at best solution. Long-term environmental effects from restraining free water flow around the world could be a problem (you're taking energy out of a system).

      Hydro (pumped storage or otherwise) - Proven technology, and allows to come online at periods of high power. Not really a long-term solution without significant inflow into reservoir. High expenditure in terms of both budget for construction, and required land-take.

      Nuclear - proven technology. High capital expenditure in both commissioning and decommissioning, but when you amortise cost per kWh over life then much more reasonable. Relatively low carbon power. Issue with long-term storage of waste, but correct infrastructure can 'burn' waste to reduce toxicity. Safety issues (ref Chernobyl et al), but number of directly-attributable deaths still probably much much less than from coal mining / oil drilling etc. Newer reactors much much safer than 30-year old ones in Japan.

      Fossil fuels - proven technology. Well developed, but not as efficient. Creates massive amounts of CO2, and even worse when considering CO2e. Coal (both in mining and burning) release significant quantities of radiation into the atmosphere.

      For my way of thinking, nuclear to provide a significant proportion of base load, with other 'sustainable' options providing back-up, with wind available but used to top-up pumped storage for high demand periods would be the best balance. Excess energy (ie overnight base load) could be used to crack hydrogen from seawater or create hydrocarbons for transport etc.

      I fully expect to get heavily downvoted for this, so let the flaming commence. It just bothers me when people from ALL sides of the argument can't see that the only way we can realistically achieve what we have said we will is by significant efficiency improvements and a good, balanced mix of supply sources.

      It's either that, or we all go back to the Dark Ages.

    3. Alex King


      Just no.

      Even if Chernobyl cancer cases are well into five figures (and it's extraordinarily difficult to prove a causative effect), it's still chicken feed compared to the fossil fuel industry in terms of overall health impact. Nobody is pretending that nuclear is 100% safe, but neither is any other means of generation. The main difference is that fossil-fuel related deaths, injuries and illnesses tend to happen in far away poor countries. With nuclear we have to take on board the (tiny) risk ourselves.

      I think you may be disappointed when it comes to spotting cancer clusters after Fukushima too - standing outside Fukushima town hall would have given you the same dose as driving a lorry full of bananas. If you happened to be driving those bananas around Cornwall then you'd clearly be truly screwed, by your estimation.

      Chernobyl was clearly the worst nuclear energy accident that has ever happened - but the chances of such an accident happening again are miniscule, with proper current safety regimens and reactor designs. How many significant nuclear accidents have happend in majority-nuclear France since they started building reactors there? Clue: none. When was the last time there was a Tsunami hit the UK? Prehistory.

      Chernobyl was bloody awful, but stopping nuclear energy because of it would be like banning water because sometimes people drown in it.

      Oh, and mass evacuations are a social effect, rather than a health one.

      1. Daren Nestor

        Chernobyl is a red herring

        Chernobyl is a red herring because it was a number of things that simply don't apply today, or to anywhere outside the Soviet Union. It was an inherently unsafe design where they turned off all the safeties and blew themselves sky high. That's not a "nuclear accident", it was deliberate failure. Chernobyl was as bad as it gets but it was done on purpose.

        <quote>When was the last time there was a Tsunami hit the UK? Prehistory.</quote>

        Pedant cap on. It was 1755 (see: Lisbon Earthquake)

      2. Scorchio!!

        Re: I'm curious about this statement

        The Japanese are already doing trials on this:

        I have no idea why Chris Huhne has done so little with it. After all, this is a form of renewable energy that is reliable. It only takes a few acres of land.

        1. YetAnotherBob

          Pumped Hydro

          This is a proposal for using wave energy to set up a pumped hydro scheme. The problem is that it requires a lot of wave energy generators to get the output. A working gigawatt version will probably never be built. Plan on getting around a couple of liters per second from each wave generator.

          It's the old saying. "There is as much strength in a million fleas as in one ox. Did you ever try to harness up a million fleas?" It looks good, but it will be very expensive to implement. Also, the pumped seawater will contaminate the water table with salt.

    4. Steve 48
      Thumb Down

      Whilst the figures on health are "economical with the truth" in the article, we don't know how many cancers and deaths etc have been caused by burning fossil fuels - it wouldn't surprise me if an accurate factual study could be undertaken it show it roughly even across most forms of energy production. And if you can provide clear accurate factual evidence of these "cheaper and cleaner alternatives" then I might drop support for nuclear!

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Figures with sources are easy to find

        Coal - world average: 161

        Coal - China: 278

        Coal - USA: 15

        Oil: 36

        Natural Gas: 4

        Biofuel/Biomass: 12

        Peat: 12

        Solar (rooftop): 0.44

        Wind: 0.15

        Hydro - Europe: 0.10

        Hydro - world including Banqiao: 1.4

        Nuclear : 0.04

        (I did not check the biofuel. I expect that if you include the coal/oil needed to make the fertiliser required to maintain soil quality then the death rate will increase to match the coal/oil. Intensive agriculture is powered by chemicals not sunlight.)

  4. John I'm only dancing
    Thumb Up

    It has ever been so. Rather than calculating the cost to the country of nuclear by the costs of decommissioning reactors, they should realise that these costs will be miniscule when compared to meeting our energy requirements from all the other sources put together.

    I have always maintained the only viable option is nuclear and this only serves to strengthen my belief. UK government needs to wake up and smell the coffee, while it still can before they're making it on a wood burning stove.

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    The wrong sort of argument

    Lewis, Lewis, Lewis!

    While I admire your passion and you may even be right, you won't win any arguments. The problem is that to get public opinion in favour of an idea, that public has to lose something they value. It's no good promising "jam tomorrow" or "a bad thing might/will happen". The various financial crises we've been enduring for the past 3 years shows that nobody is prepared to suffer now for advantages later. Not us, not the greeks: nobody.

    if we are going to blame the government (and to be fair, it's parties on all sides, colours, beliefs and abilities) for short-term policies, bowing to NIMBY-ism, prevarications or even carelessness it's because these are the politicians that we have decided to give power to. They reflect us.

    Sadly the only way to get some action on energy security is for the country to experience its loss. Not to have the price screwed forever upwards like the mythically boiled frog. It needs a SHOCK to kick-start a new initiative, not a gradual phasing in or gradual price increases. However when that shock happens, just like it did for the economy it will (no doubt) be unexpected, severe and blaming all the wrong people for it's causes (and therefore looking at all the wrong remedies for its solution).

    When that happens you may well have a schadenfreude moment, for all the good it will do. Though I'd advise you to have all your evidence printed out and a torch handy, as the lights will be off and the computers won't work.

    1. Captain Thyratron

      But if he tells them now...

      So he shouldn't make an argument at all? If your country can't learn by any means other than injuring itself, then at very least now is a fine time for him to secure his "told you so" rights. The schadenfreude's free!

      Besides, there's a tiny chance somebody might even listen.

  6. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      All the anti-nuclear arguments in a single post!

      Thankyou for taking the time to explain all the valid anti-nuclear arguments complete with citations of the evidence needed to back your position. Please post more like this so everyone can understand why we do not have much nuclear capacity.

      PS - why don't you start a company that sells only sustainable power that is not from fossil fuels and nukes. Remember to wrap up warm, go everywhere by bicycle and keep well away from the rest of us: Without hot showers and a washing machine you will smell awful.

  7. Exarsere

    I may have to print this article out and start hitting people over the head with it.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't agree more. Wish i was in a position to make it happen, alas, i'm not...

  9. Jusme
    Thumb Up

    Here here!

    This excellent site (no connection...) shows a very stark picture today - coal and gas FTW, the windmills are doing nothing but looking pretty:

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward article by Mr P that I'm almost in agreement on! AC 'cos I don't want to be known as a LP fanboi!

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But is it safe!

    Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!

    And will the nuclear plants devalue my property if built anywhere near me? I thought so!

    Give me death by hypothermia and decent house prices until we all die out.


    A. Nimby

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      >Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!

      No but we can guarantee that someone will be killed by the mining of fossil fuels. Several thousand every year I believe.

    2. Anonymous Coward 15

      As opposed to the devaluing of your property

      caused by having no reliable electricity supply?

      Mine's the lead-lined one, I'm off to Dungeness.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      FFS people.

      Serious sarcasm failure there, all of you downvoters (and the two commenters above)...

    4. elderlybloke

      But is it safe! →

      Quote- Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!

      No- Can you guarantee that thousands of miners will not continue to die every year in China?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    Agreed 100%

    Problem is if it was left to Central Government to sort, nothing would be done but it would cost Billions; if it was left to Private Industry corners would be cut in the name of Profit/Share Dividends; experience tells me a colaboration between the two would result in the worst of both worlds (high costs and cut corners)!

    Maybe we should just hand it over to the French, they seem to be far better than us at running a Nuclear Industry.

    1. Dave Bell

      Given the standards of contemporary corporate culture, and the recent record of the Civil Service, it is hard to trust either of them.

      And nuclear power is a long-term project. So what examples do we have for stable administrative systems, not dedicated to short term profit, known for the building of large structures and their long term maintenance?

      Maybe we should give the Archbishop of Canterbury the job of sorting all this out.

  13. Magnus_Pym

    long term government policy making

    "And yet the government says it will cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by the year 2050" is the same as saying " I won't be prime minister then so who gives a fuck".

    In government terms long term means 'not right now but before the next election'

  14. MrXavia

    The problem is education

    The young generation have had their minds polluted by false information, until someone puts out a decent publicity campaign for nuclear power, they wont know anything better and they will oppose nuclear.

    Nuclear is our ONLY option unless we want to loose our gadgets...

    And as for nuclear waste... the volumes are minimal, and in actual fact I am sure much of it is radioactive enough to be of use in RTG's or similar!

    Nuclear now I say!

  15. Peter 39

    Time of secure storage

    Alex, if the Romans used uranium as we have done then we'd still have many tens/hundreds of thousands of years to go.

    On the other hand, if they used thorium then it would have been safe well before the time of King Arthur.

    The Chinese are moving quickly into nuclear power and it's no surprise to me that they've selected thorium for fuel.

    1. AVee
      Thumb Up

      Thorium looks like the way to go.

      Investing in thorium based nuclear power is probably the smart thing to do. It means getting rid of quite a few disadvantages of uranium while keeping the benefits. Also, thorium is more widely available, while uranium will run out at some point as well.

      Having said that, in the longer term electricity needs to come from renewable sources. I'm all in favor of loosing all nuclear power when there are better alternatives. The problem is the lack of alternatives which still work on a large scale.

  16. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge


    Not to worry, fusion is just around the corner in 20 years, or was that 50? I can never remember.

    1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      That's odd

      For as long as I can remember the joke has been that fusion has been 30 years away for the last fifty years but just lately it seems the 30 has changed to 20. Does someone know something I don't?

  17. cnapan

    Not so much as anonymous, as stupid

    "Can you guarantee no one will ever die or be injured by a nuclear accident? I thought not!"

    Of course not. Nuclear is like all other forms of power generation. Some people die from time to time.

    It may be deaths from pollution.

    It may be deaths from uranium emissions from a coal fired power station.

    It may be some poor old bloke trapped in a mine.

    The thing about nuclear is that isn't as deadly as people make out.

    1. proto-robbie

      or it may be

      Al-Queda flying a jumbo jet into a nuclear power station.

      1. AndyC


        A jumbo has about the same structural integrity as your average car. How much damage is done to a concrete wall when your car hits it?

        Have you seen the test of a Phantom being thrown into a reactor containment vessel?

        Remember that the only really solid objects in a plane are the engines. The Phantom had two, closely spaced. The Jumbo has 4, widely spaced, therefore the impact energy is distributed over a larger area.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          >Have you seen the test of a Phantom being thrown into a reactor containment vessel?

          Lordy, yes. That video puts meaning into the word 'disintegration'.

          Jet mounted on rocket sled.

          Jet fired into wall.

          Jet no longer present in observable universe.

        2. proto-robbie

          It's still a risk,

          and one unlikely to be calculated for a coal-fired power station! I used to work in "nuclear" twenty years ago - plane crash is a known and calculated risk for a power station. How the calculations have changed since 9/11 I do not know.

  18. robin48gx
    Thumb Up

    Well done LEWIS

    Brilliant stuff !

    Right on the nail!

  19. Philip Hands

    Just out of interest

    How is one supposed to tell the difference between bogus justifications for nuclear power that were touted in the past when we were in the cold war, and it had been decided that we needed reactors to make weapons regardless of any down side, and real actual scientific justifications that we might see today, that sound eerily familiar?

    Also, I note that we don't have much in the way of tidal generation, despite it being a power source that surrounds this country. I would assume that that is because it's too difficult to extract and not close enough to where it was needed if I didn't know that those lobbying for nuclear had been sabotaging funding for alternative energy sources for decades.

    My suspicion is that nuclear is something we probably need more of, but it's really difficult to trust any of the evidence from those on either side of the argument given the history, and extreme articles of this sort only serve to polarise opinion.

    All it takes to kill the private sector's enthusiasm for nuclear is to suggest that they pick up the clean-up costs -- interesting that, eh?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Severn Barrage

      That was proposed, costs and generation capacity worked out.

      Trouble is, it wouldn't have generated all that much and would have totally destroyed the estuary as a wildlife habitat.

      Turns out that almost all tidal is basically a non-starter assuming you like coastal wildlife.

      Tidal on a very small scale works, but we're talking about ponds the size of a yacht marina, with max drops about two-three metres.

      Useful? Maybe. Profitable? Probably not. Significant to the energy mix? Definitely not.

    2. Sean Baggaley 1

      Tidal energy...

      ... cannot provide base load supplies. Tides happen when the moon says so, not when we actually need that energy. The UK needs a minimum "baseline" electricity supply all day long, with *additional* supplies available on demand. Neither tidal nor wind generators can supply this without massive storage systems.

      Tidal energy makes a lot more sense in places where hydroelectric generation is possible—i.e. lots of lovely mountains and valleys. You can then use tidal generation to refill the reservoir at the top of the system, ready for when it's needed—it effectively "charges" the hydroelectric power station, which acts as a gigantic battery. Obviously, the Home Counties—where a full 25% of the UK's entire population lives—are somewhat lacking in such conveniently crinkly topology.

      Storing electricity is probably the biggest obstacle to renewable energy systems. Short of piping water around with massive reservoir systems, the electricity they generate *has* to be shovelled onto the National Grid, whether the National Grid needs it or not.

      Solar panels—if they can be made much more efficient, and manufactured rather less painfully—are arguably of more use: the sun shines every day in the UK. Even with cloud cover, it should be possible to scrape some of that energy out of the aether and convert it into electricity.

      The problem is that, during the day, said electricity is primarily of interest to commercial entities—businesses, factories, etc.—rather than homeowners, as the latter are mostly out at work! So the present approach of partially subsidising solar panels on *private* homes is something of a con: it's a way to build additional daytime power generation without all that tedious mucking about with NIMBYs. Once the Feed-in Tariffs fade away—and they will—having a solar panel on your roof won't have much effect on your electricity bills, and you'll still have to maintain the damned thing and keep it clean. A dirty solar panel isn't very efficient.

      (Solar thermal *heating* does make a lot more sense, however. It can reduce your heating costs dramatically, even in winter.)

      Nuclear fission really is the only viable option from a cost : benefit standpoint. If you want minimal CO2 emissions, you'll have to replace all those fossil-fuel burners with *something*, and neither wind, tidal nor solar will cut it for baseline power generation on that scale. It *has* to be nuclear.

      What specific form that nuclear generation takes is open to debate, but the Thorium system discussed earlier appears to be the best so far. Other new designs also exist.

      The appalling lack of investment in R&D in the nuclear energy sector is, I feel, going to bite future UK governments hard. And it's going to bite hard sooner than many people think: the promised HS2 railway line is going to require gigawatts of energy. Add in all the other electrification schemes, and you're looking at a lot of power. Where is that power going to come from?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Tidal energy cannot provide base load supplies" (etc)

        Maybe not, but the tides around the UK occur at significantly different times in different places, and with the right design (eg something lagoon-based rather than barrage-based) you can even get to combine tidal generation with the pumped storage you've already mentioned, so that if there is surplus power on the Grid it can be stored in the lagoon for later use. What could be better? Maybe you could even put something in the Thames estuary, to be close to all those electricity-guzzlers in the City?

        "Nuclear fission really is the only viable option from a cost : benefit standpoint."

        Your opinion, not shared all that widely. As a retired physicist, I trust the technology, but I do not trust the likes of Tepco (and BNFL and their successors) to run it on a for-profit basis without getting themselves, and ultimately the rest of us, into more trouble than I am willing to pay for.

    3. YetAnotherBob

      Tidal Power

      to generate appreciable amounts of power with the tides, you need to contain a LOT of water. It's a fairly low head process, usually less than 2 meters. A good hydro site will have over a hundred meters of head. That means that you have to move a lot of water to make up for the relativly low pressure.

      There are really not very many sites in the world that can generate a lot of tidal power. I am aware of one in France, and two in the US. It takes a very long bay subject to very high tides. Also, this is a very intermittent power source. Half of the day you are filling up, and 1/4 of the day discharging. The remaining 1/4 of the day, the head is too low for effective electrical power generation. This has all been studied in detail around 20 years ago.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Fukushima, or Chernobyl had occurred in the UK... large parts of the mainland UK would become uninhabitable for decades.

    Living within the area of likely fallout from an accident at Hinckley, personally, I would rather not suffer that kind of unpredictable risk to my home thanks.

    And before you claim that a Fukushima style tidal wave couldn't affect Hinckley... Bristol Channel floods, 1607, flooded 200 square miles, with water reaching 8 metres above sea level.

    I'm not convinced Hickley would survive that event happening again, and I'm not prepared to trust the assurances of an industry that has lied over and over again about the supposed absolute safety of its technology.

    1. James Micallef Silver badge


      ... my auntie had bollocks, she'd be my uncle.

      Chernobyl was a combination of inherently unsafe design with soviet-era complete shambles operation. It's a complete outlier, and the chances of it happening in the UK is, frankly, nil.

      I'll grant you the concern about Hinckley even if the possibilty is extremely remote. But surely the point of this article is about the future rater than the past - new generation reactors shut down automatically in the event of an accident and do not require external cooling, like Fukushima did.

      So, fair point, decommission the current previous-gen reactors, but they need to be replaced with more modern reactors, because the slack sure won't be taken up by wind.

    2. blackcat
      Thumb Down

      "Fukushima, or Chernobyl had occurred in the UK... large parts of the mainland UK would become uninhabitable for decades."

      Look up the 1957 windscale fire. There are no uninhabitable parts of the UK as a result and it was much closer to Chernobyl than Three mile or fukushima could ever be. Windscale was an uncontrolled fire in the core just like Chernobyl, the difference being the lid didn't blow off it.

  21. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Well said, Lewis

    But you'll never win the argument against the existential threat of Nuclear Armageddon while deaths and damage caused by non-nuclear is simply ignored or swept under the carpet.

    It appears many are prepared to accept the negative and often terrible consequences of industrialisation - Bhopal, Seveso and others - but not when it's nuclear. We tolerate no end of deaths and injury from driving, drinking, smoking, drugs and even war but with nuclear it's got to be guaranteed zero risk or we're not having it.

    I suspect people will only change their minds when the atomic >kaboom< they fear is countered by showing them the reality we will have without nuclear. It really is a question of a lesser of two evils and when people understand that their opinion will change.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "It appears many are prepared to accept the negative and often terrible consequences of industrialisation - Bhopal, Seveso and others - but not when it's nuclear."

      Thanks for projecting offensive attitudes onto other people to make your feeble argument. I doubt that there's more than a handful of people who would say that Bhopal was acceptable regardless of whether they like nuclear power or not.

      You just have to see how the nuclear "experts" are suddenly fully qualified actuaries when any matters of death or disablement are raised to understand why people are reluctant to listen to their repetitive advocacy pieces. And whether nuclear facilities are safe or not depends on whether one can believe claims that "we won't do that again" when such people are confronted with the endemic poor practices of the nuclear industry in times past.

      It's such a shame: maybe there's a case for a substantial investment in nuclear power, but it isn't made by wailing about the skeletons in other people's closets.

  22. Zmodem

    do not need nuclear, 1000th time i have posted this, you just need self powering dynamo`s, current wind farm dynamo`s produce 1000kw when the wind hits 25mph, if you replace the wind turbines with a electric motor a few dynamo`s would be producing maximum electric at a constant RPM 24/7..

    the dynamo`s just need to be upscaled to the size of a house and have a few in a power station carpark

    1. BenR

      What on EARTH are you talking about?

      1. Zmodem


        wind farm turbines... >

        big dynamo`s that generate electric while being turned by the wind, if you replace the hub and blades with an electric motor, each dynamo would be producing 1000kw contantly 24/7 while the electric motor being used to turn the dynamo would be using 5 or 6 kw of the dynamo`s power generated, while the rest goes to the national grid

        no company would make a modern dynamo the size of a house that would generate 100.000 + kw, as they would last 10 years with a new motor being needed 1 or 2 times a year, so power companies would have to make them themselves

        you could have 10 big house sized dynamos in a carpark of a power station or 400 wind farms scattered around the land

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Seriously? You actually are suggesting using an electric motor to power a generator?

          Has no-one ever explained about the law of conservation of energy? Put simply: There is no way that such a system could generate as much electricity as it consumed.

          I /suppose/ there might be some kind of balancing trick that a hybrid wind/electric turbine could use to optimise its output. Maybe an electric motor could flatten out the bottom of its performance curve a bit but frankly I doubt it.

          If you can post a link to a design or explain it better it would help but otherwise I'm going to class your suggestion as 'utter bollox'.

          1. Zmodem

            no, but how much electric wind farm currently add to the national grid using a little bit of wind, could be made 40% of national grid power, using electric motors to turn dynamo`s at a constant RPM instead of waiting for some wind, and wind farm would no longer be needed

            there are alot of of stupid and massive machines that have been made to get the job done, a few industrial dynamo`s the size of houses put 100.000 + kw onto the national grid every few mins would add more carbon free electric to the pie chart

            nuclear power will always be needed, just not as much, and as a back up power supply for the populations usage

          2. Zmodem

            you dont need a hybrid, and you dont need to use wind at all, you dont need a cute fibre shell to house the dynamo for envriomentalists to say they look nice

            if you cant picture a wind turbine where the blade are replaced using a motor then all the comments and article is a waste of time

            instead of a dynamo`s power going straight to the national grid, some of the power can pass through a AC convertor and loop back to the motor

            when massive house sized dynamo`s get made, electric motors are the only type of motor with infinate torque and can turn massive axles, so it all falls into place anyway

            1. AndrueC Silver badge

              Sigh. I don't know why I bother but here we go:

              >if you cant picture a wind turbine where the blade are replaced using a motor then all the comments and article is a waste of time

              Of course I can picture it. I also know that it will use more energy that it generates. What you are proposing is powering a generator using an electric motor. /You cannot do that/. The laws of physics and basic principals of the universe mean that you will fail. The dynamo won't generate enough power for the motor even if all of it is routed back round.

              If what you are suggesting was possible then there'd be no energy crisis. We could just wire motors to dynamos and that'd be that. No need for a grid, batteries or anything else. We'd have had infinite electricity for over a hundred years.

              What you are suggesting is a perpetual motion machine. No, worse than that. It's a perpetual motion machine with enough spare energy to do external work.

              Now read this:


              And give it up.

              1. Zmodem

                a motor uses hardly any energy Vs the dynamo output, you do not need 1000kw motor to turn the dynamo at the pace and force of 25mph wind

                1. Andydaws

                  This has to be taking the p*ss

                  Let's get this think I could connect a 1000KW motor to a suitably sized generator and get out MORE than 1000KW from the generator?

                  Here's a funny thing - that's exactly how the shore stations for the UK=France electricity interconnector used to be set up (anyone guess why it was needed?)

                  That sure as hell doesn't get more power out than goes in!

                  1. Zmodem

                    you do not need a 1000kw motor to mimic 25mph wind, a wind farm dynamo generates 1000kw when the wind is 25mph and the blades are spinning turning the axle, which spins the dynamo which generates electric

                    using a electric motor instead of "wind" you can generate a constant 1000kw, instead of twiddling your fingers for a random day when the wind is 25mph or more

                    1. BenR

                      Mate - give it up.

                      It won't work. You're talking nonsense that is outside the laws of physics.

                      1. Zmodem

                        so how would it not work, a motor has a contant RPM, wind is random,

                        loosing a small % of generated power from a constant source is more efficient then a small random amount of power generated by a random wind source

                        having massive industrial dynamo`s powered by electric motors, is the only real world solution to cutting down CO2 and having a 100% green energy supply

                        simple to remove the blade that spin the axle which turns the dynamo


                        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

                          Zmodem, you genuinely have no idea what you're talking about.

                          (Originally I thought you were a troll, but you kept at it long enough...)

                          Here's an idea, why don't you build a small one?

                          All you need is a small electric motor and a bike dynamo (or two small electric motors).

                          Connect their shafts together and connect their terminals together.

                          Now start the contraption spinning - if you can't turn it, try crossing over the terminal connections.

                          You will find that it stops very quickly, and that you *cannot* keep it spinning without something external - such as your hand.

                          Now, put your thinking cap on - here's the science bit:

                          When the dynamo is spun, it converts rotational kinetic energy into electrical energy and heat. Let's say 90% is electricity and 10% heat (it's usually more like 60-80%)

                          So now we've got 90% of the original energy.

                          Feed that into the motor. That turns electrical energy into rotational kinetic energy and heat. Again, let's say 90% kinetic and 10% heat.

                          So one cycle and we have 90%*90% = 81% of the original energy.

                          Another cycle, we have 66%, then 53%, 43%, 35%, 28%...

                          Pretty soon there isn't enough electrical energy to turn the shaft, and it stops. It's all turned into heat.

                          Now, let's say you use superconducting materials, amazing magnets and superb bearings, giving you 99.9999999% cycle efficiency. It will *still* stop - it'll just take a bit longer.

                          This is all before you try to power anything at all.

                          1. Zmodem

                            i dont do math, but a bike dynamo only generates 0.3 of a watt, thats never enough to actually have a bright beam, most small motors like remote control car motors are 12v

                            a dynamo that generates 1000kw which is around 200 volt can keep a motor that is 110volt running to mimic 25 mph wind

                            and more efficient self powering dynamos in production can power mighty ships instead of running diesel, and so on, aswell as big industrial size dynamo`s connected to power stations instead of having to waste a billion on every new wind farm

                            1. Anonymous Coward
                              Anonymous Coward

                              So, you really are an idiot.

                              If you're so sure it'll work, build one.

                              Then apply for a patent for your perpetual motion machine and see how fast you're laughed out of the room.

              2. Zmodem

                ++ you can probaly take off the blade on a domestic wind dynamo and use a remote control car motor instead to have a constant 1.5kw for you home and being paid with excess going to the national grid

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      (The mind boggles.)

  23. Douglas71
    Thumb Up

    China is doing it...why can't the rest of the world?

    There is another nuclear technology that needs the world's attention, Liquid Fluiride Thorium Reactors (LFTR). LFTR has the potential to burn thorium to provide everyone with all the energy we will ever need. We will never run out as its 4x more common than uranium, it's 1,000,000x more energy dense than the carbon-hydrogen bond in oil and the LFTR nuclear technology releases 99% of it's energy during the process, unlike the 0.5% with today's nuclear technology.

    There are so many other benefits:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "We will never run out as its 4x more common than uranium"

      And uranium is infinite divided by four? I just love these unquestioning chorus performances from people who have just "discovered" thorium.

  24. ForthIsNotDead

    Personal Generation?

    I'd be interested to hear the arguments for/against personal power generation. Okay, that won't help much for road transport etc, but I'm thinking about a combination of solar and wind installed in each *house*.

    It seems to me that personal power generation, much like personal water collection, is the elephant in the room that the government just doesn't want to even think about. Of course, the power companies don't want us to think about it either!

    It might be that it's a non-started. I admit I know nothing about the subject. But to me, it seems that it should be something that should be considered.

    Of course, the national grid would be vastly reduced in size, leaving conventional power stations to provide electricity for factories and the like (high power consumers) but average Joe Household would just create his own electricity and manage his own power budget himself.

    Of course, it wouldn't work, because the government would need to find some way to tax it!

    Also, I imagine that we would need to switch to DC power in our homes, so we'd all need new tellies...

    Just thinking out loud...

    1. AndyC

      And what do we do when it's dark and the wind isn't blowing?

      Batteries? Nah, have you any idea how big the battery would need to be to power the average house for 8 hours of darkness? Also, how much will it cost? 22 million homes with solar panels and wind turbines on every one?

      It'd bankrupt an already bankrupt economy.

      1. YetAnotherBob

        It's Been Done

        In the US, on the Great Plains, many farms were up until the late 1950's too far to get reliable electricity off the grid. Those farmers bought wind turbines and batteries and ran their houses and much of the in place farm equipment from the electricity. In modern terms, it took around $60,000.00 to run a typical house. If you want an electric car, then double it.

        The truth is that power off the grid is cheaper. And yes, batteries are the major cost. Plus, the life of most batteries is only around 5 years, so plan on replacement on a regular schedule.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Windmills on houses are decorative

      They are designed for met-office windspeeds - measured on top of a pole in the middle of a field. A windmill on a rooftop feels slower winds because it is too low an in a town. It will rarely turn fast enough to generate power. There is one on top of my nearest school. It does not generate power because the gear box is broken and they cannot afford to replace it again. There is an alternative energy centre near where I lived in London. The funding dried up when the local councillors change colour. The local school uses it as an educational resource. It has a windmill with a broken gearbox. Very educational.

      You could design a windmill to take advantage of the low windspeeds on a rooftop. You could design one strong enough to survive a storm. It would be more expensive and have a lower installed capacity rating (but would generate more power than existsing designs because it would get its minimum required wind speed more of the time). You could use them to run some expensive lightbulbs, but not to take a shower or wash your clothes. Forget about driving to work or heating your home.

      Solar voltaic is just as expensive and low power in this country. They can be cost effective in a desert.

      Solar thermal can pay for itself if you buy panels appropriate to your climate. Heat pumps are also a cost effective way to reduce energy bills. They both not enough to meet a reasonable energy demand. See:

  25. Dibbles


    Lewis, it's been too long, and I've had to concentrate on other sources of nonsense - I started on Lewis Carroll's nonsense rhymes but they made too much sense compared to this one-man crusade.

    >cretinous media coverage of Fukushima

    Yeah, cretins. The exclusion zone means that thousands of people have been relocated but have nowhere to live; TEPCO has no idea what it's doing and is hiring cheap labour with the minimum of skills for straight-up brickwork, let alone nuclear power-station cleanups, and not allowing anyone to talk to the press; and the government is washing its hands of the situation even while independent tests suggest that the radius of the exclusion zone should be rather larger than it is. But the REAL issue is the media, definitely. Unless in a self-referential piece of hilarity, you're actually talking about your own coverage of Fukushima?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Redundant tautology!

    "The noble lords have reported on a situation of total, shambolic chaos..."

    Really? I was hoping for neat, well-organised chaos.. :(

  27. AndyC
    Thumb Up

    Lots of uneducated FUD here

    Okay, for all of you out there that are dead against nuclear, I ask you a question:

    What will you use for reliable low carbon electricity generation in 10 years time?

    Wind? Nope, can't rely on it 24/7 and it takes up a huge amount of space for a large (gigawatt) installation.

    Tidal? Reliable, yes, but is the technology sufficiently advanced to build multi-gigawatt installations around the coast? And what about the environmental implications?

    Solar? Erm, we live in the UK, not Spain. You'll get about 50-60% of what Spain can produce.

    Hydro? Very reliable, but are we going to build new reservoirs? No, Greenpeace and FOE won't let you.

    Geothermal? Hmmm, how far will we have to drill and can you guarantee that there won't be any consequences when the high pressure steam 'lubricates' existing fault lines (see Blackpool Earthquakes and Fracking for more info).

    Wave? Maybe, but is the technology mature enough for gigawatts of installations around the coast?

    Nuclear? Yes, reliable base load generation with mature technologies. The risks are known, the environmental releases are (in the UK at least) heavily regulated, the operations of the plants have to be approved by the regulator and the cost of decommissioning the new plants is factored into the cost of electricity that they are going to produce.

    Now, I'm not saying that any of the above shouldn't be implimented. What I'm saying is that we need a mix.

    Wind is great when the wind is blowing, but the load factor is only 30% at best. So your 1GW installation over the course of a year, will only produce an average of 300MW.

    What do you do for the other 700MW? Fire up a gas fired station.

    The country, as LP rightly says, is going to become more and more heavily dependant on electricity. If they want to reduce the fossil fuel consumed in transport, then that means electric cars. How do they get the electricity for the cars? It has to be generated reliably.

    One solution, to reduce the number of new installations required, will be for every home/office/building in the country to have solar panels and microgeneration wind turbines installed by law. However, the cost would be astronomical, and the NIMBYs would come out in force against it.

    Face it, nuclear is the only, low carbon, high energy density, reliable base load generation option we have at the moment. It is needed and it is safe.

    Have fun flaming, I'll answer any flames as best I can.

    1. BenR

      I said exactly the same thing.

  28. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A few notes on renewables.

    UK energy generation is roughly 56-60GW and UK power stations have historically been in the 1GW range. 20-255 of it is Nuclear.

    The British Hydropower Association estimates the UK has 2GW of viable hydro power in terms of micro hydro systems (so probably eligible for renewable support). Some might freeze in the winter (but likely to be fast flowing enough not to) and likely to last as long as Earth has a viable weather system.

    In the late 70s Reading U looked at the problem of tapping heat from North Sea oil wells for on board power for the oil rig. They looked at the idea of using *single* wells (so even a dry well counts) with a down well heat exchanger driving an inert fluid driving a turbine(no noxious chemical being released or needing to be re-injected). Indications were each well could drive 500-1000 Kw.

    On shore a single well could probably supply 50 houses. No *big* Uk energy company will bother. However a business *could* be made which offered a package of drill well/install (and replace) generating hardware/system maintainence /billing, which might involve taking their costs off the top and any power not being used by the cluster of houses being "exported" to the national grid.

    It would mean *some* home owners would loose some of their property for the well head/generating package but this could be rented from them or offset against their bills.

    Anaerobic digestion is believed to be capable of supplying 1GW of UK power needs

    *But* if electric vehicles take off things get a *whole* lot worse.

    Molten salt reactors using thorium seem to be the only ones that can be designed *not* to depend on precision made fuel elements and to burn nuclear wast as part of their input mix, while tapping off the Xenon isotope which is the *biggest* poison whose accumulation is the main reason for fuel element re-processing. .

    As others have pointed out it's virtually impossible that *one* replacement (like wind) can meet *all* power needs (and wind is a *very* poor choice if you're going for just one) so a mix of renewable/sustainable (not sure if geothermal is renewable but with a life time in the *millions* of years I'd say it's sustainable).

    BTW I don't think PV's are that bad. The US with JPL as lead agency spent *lots* of money in the 70's to radically lower PV (Especially Silicon but various others as well) and I *strongly* doubt the payback period is now 14 years.

    1. BenR


      BTW I don't think PV's are that bad. The US with JPL as lead agency spent *lots* of money in the 70's to radically lower PV (Especially Silicon but various others as well) and I *strongly* doubt the payback period is now 14 years.


      The payback period might not be 14 years in terms of CapEx payback (ie to recoup your costs), but in terms of the embedded energy of the PV cell itself, it's somewhere around that area.

      The figures can be obtained from the University of Bath Inventory of Carbon and Energy database. 14 years is the figure for the best quality of panel with some hand-wavium, fag-packet, licked-thumb guesstimates about conversion efficiency, uptime, and the available power from Sol hitting the planet on a sq.m. basis.

      Anyway, the biggest problem is the ma-HOO-sive amount of space you need for a decent generation capacity. I completely agree with absolutely everything else you say though.

    2. Andydaws

      Molten salt reactors using thorium

      If that's what you've been told, you're much misled.

      Xenon doesn't accumulate in conventional fuel - it's removed by neutron capture (that's the point of it being a poison), and reaches an equilibrium level within a few days of starting operation.

      Conventional reactors aren't refuelled because of Xenon - they're refuelled because there's a progressive reduction in reactivity (as U235 is burned), and when other fission products accumulate - typically stuff with atomic weights in the 90-130 range - things like the strontiums and caesiums.

      Those are still produced in U233/thorium reactors (note, the fuel isn't thorium - thorium is a breeder material which is converted into U233 which then powers the reactor). They need to be removed.

      And that's where things start to get hard. In a coventional reactor, you start off by using enriched fuel. When the fuel is insufficiently reactive, you remove it, then store it for a couple of decades. Then, if you're inclined, you reprocess it. By that time, 98% of the radioactivity has decayed, as compared to when it first comes out of the reactor.

      In the MSR, you have to get this stuff out in "real time". You need the processing plant to run at the same or higher level of availability as the reactor itself. You then need the ability to manage and store this freshly extracted material while keeping it cool. The MSR protagonists usually suggest a vaccum distillation process.

      Then, if you want to fuel the reactor on Thorium, you've also got to be breeding. That involves a process of neutron capture trom Thorium 232 to Protactinium 233, which then decays to U233. You need to get it out quickly, because it's not only a strong neutron absorber which would screw the performance of the reactor, but if it captures a neutron, it's then got to be left in for two more neutron captures until it can produce U235.

      The only way that's identified, so far, to do that is to bubble the thorium/protactinium salt through molten bismuth. That in it's turn has the delightful property of activatiing to Polonium-210 - the stuff that was used to poison Aleksander Litvinenko!

      And you're doing all of this (and other things, like sparging out the Xenon) while handling a corrosive halide molten salt at 600-700C - and, should the flow be interrupted, and the salt goes solid, you've all sorts of problems.

      It means you've got to be able to build and run a complex chemical plant, dealing with some hideous material, in a highly radioactive environment (which buggers most ideas of repair and maintenance), at the same level of reliability as the reactor itself.

      I'm not about to say it can't be done - but anyone who thinks that's going to be done with simple and cheap engineering, or that the design and maintenance challenges are going to be any less than those of a conventional plant is fooling themselves.

  29. Philippe

    We forgot how to do Nuclear and it won't come back.

    In France and in Finland they are try to build 3rd Generation reactors.

    Well3 and 6 years later, 7 Billion euros later we still don't know when production will start.

    Yes they give you a date 2012, then it's 2014 then it's 2017 and tax payers forks out for the bill.

    there is no ennd in sight.

    As to operate one of those the day we even get them to work, we don't have anyone not close to retirement age willing to work in the nuclear industry.

    Nuclear might well be the best way forward but if nobody wants to work in a powerplant then what is the point in having one?

    1. Andydaws

      Which is what happens with first of a kind complex engineering projects

      The B787 was announced in 2003. It was due a first flight in 2007 - it actually happened in 2009.

      The Airbus A380 programme was started in 2000, for service in 2005. It was in 2007 - and instead of the development costing €11bn instead of the budgeted €8Bn.

      Does that mean that every future B787 or A380 will be delayed in construction, and over-budget?

  30. Antony Riley

    Author not qualified.

    Lewis, if you want anyone to listen to you you'll have to stop quoting the most conservative estimates of deaths, even the WHO quotes (an eventual) 4000 deaths from Chernobyl as a result of cancer related deaths.

    It would also have helped if your articles about "Don't panic there hasn't been a meltdown, and even if there was the containment wouldn't fail" regards Fukushima had turned out to be correct at any of the running reactors.

  31. bill 36

    Don't you mean

    "Britain fuelled by uranium from our good friends in Canada or Australia "

    Britain fuelled by Thorium from our good friends in India or Australia?

    Proven much safer with a half life counted in hundreds not thousands of years.

    They will all get it one day Lewis.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Didn;t bang goes the theory use bicycles to generate electricity for a household?

    Cure the energy problem and the obesity epidemic in one fell swoop.

  33. Paragon

    Invest in Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR)

    I really think the UK should at least invest in a feasibility study into Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR).

    This type of molten salt fusion reactor should be much cheaper, smaller, much more safer due to inherent built in safety feature. It runs on Thorium which is abundant and cheap and it can also eat long lived radioactive by products and waste and as a bonus it cannot not be used for military purposes.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      OMFG, Thorium!

      Again. Well 'turfed, that man! And, of course, nobody ever bred materials for a nuke from thorium...

  34. Richard Jukes


    It is pretty fucking simple really. If you do not want to be sitting in the dark in 5 years time blubbing about being cold. Then we need to build more nuclear power stations five years ago.

    Ah, shit - oh well I'll be alright on my boat with my solar panels and log burner.

  35. Bryn Evans

    Missing Link

    Missing from all nuclear debate since the birth of the atomic age is any mention of serious research or encouragement to research, into methods of removing or reducing the radioactive output and life of 'high level' waste. Long term storage or burial is only dodging the issue for a few generations.

    1. AndyC

      Erm, wrong

      Ever heard of vitrification?

      Thorium cycle?


      Fast breeders? (very small and high power density, didn't produce much HLW).

      All of the above were designed to reduce the amount of long lived highly active waste produced by the reactors. The new EPR and AP1000 reactors are designed to minimise wastes as much as possible given todays technology.

      They are designed with decommissioning in mind and the costs of decommissioning are factored into the costs of the build and operation. In fact, in the past, the nuclear industry had a decommissioning fund. I've heard that a certain chancellor turned PM raided it not long after coming to power. How true that is, I don't know, but I have heard the story from a number of sources.

      Let's face it, most of the stuff that is consigned as LLW (about 97% of the waste by volume) could go to landfill because it isn't radioactive anyway. It's just been in the reactor, or close to it, so it is designated as LLW automatically, "just in case".

    2. Andydaws

      A few generations is all that's needed.

      The overwhelming majority of the radioactivity comes from fission products, not the uranium or other actinides. And anyway, the latter is useful as fuel.

      Separate out the fission products - the strontiums, caesiums and so on - and you've got stuff that's broadly got half-lives between 2 and 50 years. Ten half-lives reduces radioactivity by a factor of 1000 - or, would take a fission product mix down to about the same level of activity that the uranium originally came from.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "*But* if electric vehicles take off things get a *whole* lot worse."

    There was a great deal of sense in that post, but I didn't understand this sentence.

    Electric vehicles charge off peak, when capacity is available and/or cheap.

    Electic vehicles not in active use on the school/supermarket run or doing round-town deliveries can also be used as localised feed-in supplies, photovoltaic style. With a big enough fleet of electric vehicles (nb not just cars but small commercial vehicles too) you can actually make this feed in concept at least as interesting as the use of demand management/load shedding via smart meters.

    That's what Mackay says about electric vehicles anyway. He may not be 100% right but he's an excellent place to start.

  37. All names Taken

    Strange ol' world innit!(?)

    Here we are in a UK that can spread details of UK civil and military nukes.

    Now, pray tell, why is it nigh impossible to discover what happens to the £billions received by local and central government in the form of social housing rents now vaulted to rise year-on-year-on-year-on...

    Why are those details and the Treasury's means of manipulation so very well hidden?

    Has go'd excelled again?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Too late to build sufficient capacity? Save energy now ...

    If Wiki has it right, then the UK has ~11000MW nuclear power generation capacity.

    It seems clear that energy planning is all too late and we are very vulnerable to increased demand, Russian and other Gas supplies, extreme cold weather, and the need to shut down aging reactors.

    But the obvious solution other than efficiency mentioned perhaps once is energy use reduction: insulation, draft-proofing, reflective surfaces to reduce summer heat gain, alongside all the energy standards that see electronic devices using negligible energy when in standby.

    Improved energy efficiency (eg. light bulb technology) and improved thermal insulation (to conserve heat, reduce summer heat gain, and lessen aircon use) might well be cheaper short-term than, and achievable short-term to avoid blackouts by reducing energy demand.

    Remind me why it is the Germans discovered that their initial solar feed-in tariffs were too high, how Brown-Blair copied that mistake without learning from them, and can anyone explain why we pay people 3x average market rate to use the 'green' energy that they have generated? Madness. It ends on the 10th December, or gets reduced, and not before time; energy saving is the first priority unless someone has a big source of energy to tap that will make a sustained difference; forget wind power. Prince Philip is correct for once!

    I don't mind subsidising draft-proofing & insulation - that is a long term proposition that could impact the need for new energy generation plants.

    What we should be doing is high quality insulation works (optimise the installation/spec. rather than be satisfied with 270mm as labour is the key cost - I read that 1m glass fibre equivalent is economically justified, and this will increase as energy costs either rise... or energy supply fails) and giving subsidy at 20% of the cost for 5 years.

    (looks more sensible than the crazy solar feed-in tariff across 25 years for the wealthy from the pocket of everyone else via their fuel bills)

    How much energy does one averagely insulated/heated house save when its insulation is optimised?

    How many houses could be insulated for the price of one nuclear power plant? (5m?)

    Which is better value: a new nuclear plant to push heat through thin insulation, or expertly insulating our worst insulated buildings?

    Shame on some energy companies whose literature still congratulates people on achieving the 'optimum' level of insulation at 270mm ... nope! 1metre depth glass fibre equivalent is approaching the optimum.

    And who is it that inspects double-glazing but yet never ensures that the surrouding gap has been neatly filled with low expansion foam?

    The Scandinavians and Germans do this stuff much better than the UK.

    How many lives are lost during installation of insulation and draft-proofing?

    How many more due to people living in drafty cold houses?

    How much money saved by better insulated householders would enter the economy?

    How many jobs would be created by a campaign to comprehensively insulate 5million homes by 2014?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Never mind just homes, make it "properties"

      Lots of good stuff in there but please don't focus exclusively on energy efficiency in homes, there are plenty other places it can be improved too (you do mention draught proofing, but how about non-residential buildings etc).

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two birds with one stone

    I'm converted. Nuclear power is perfectly safe. We should immediately convert the Tate Modern/Bankside Power Station from a pointless, navel gazing art gallery into a nuclear power station (and Battersea power station too). There's lots of cooling water from the Thames (you could also use the excess heat for heating local homes or water purification), they already have all the mains connections, good transport links and are close to the consumers so you minimise transmission losses. This plan may also have the added side effect of reducing house prices in central London and if there are any "incidents" it's handy for all the best cancer hospitals in the country. Oh, and since they are just opposite parliament rather than in the back garden of some rural banjo twiddlers no-one would dream of just covering it in concrete and waiting for 100 years with their fingers crossed as a decommissioning plan.

    1. Andydaws


      the only environmental regulation that would prevent that would be that the dumping of waste heat would raise the temperature of the Thames more than would be permitted.....

  40. Magnus_Pym

    How many deaths..

    ..will occur as a result of the return to the dark ages caused by the worldwide power famine that is waiting round the corner. We are not waiting for the Oil to run out only waiting for it to start to run out. If a bit of war in the Middle East can trigger huge price rises imagine what will happen when OPEC says 'By the way we lied about how much oil we had'. Can you afford to live if the price of everything doubles overnight?

    It's OK saying 'We don't want nuclear power' but only if you have a viable alternative or a way of living that will support the earth's population with out it.

    P.S. There is not enough suitable land for us all to become self-sufficient small holding farmers.

  41. graham crocker

    Can Someone Tell The BBC ?

    This disaster has been creeping up on us for a decade - I remember ridiculous renewable energy targets - "10% by 2010" was one, now "20% by 2020" . Utterly crack-pot numbers, pushed into the public domain in what amounts to a campaign of deception. Can someone out there get to the media luvvies, in their Norfolk farm cottages start to tell the truth?

    Help please.

  42. Scorchio!!

    Hoyle set the arguments out in mathematical detail, and I have yet to read a better account:

    As to yellow cake, we would have been mining it in the Orkney islands but for protests by the like of Eleanor Bron, and I have to ask myself why it is that we are so damned stupid about the matter. Coal has killed many people and has wasted large areas of Scandinavian forestry by means of sulphur emissions, to say nothing of the other political and economic considerations. We either institute a safe energy policy or we suffer. Listen to the screeching if we do nothing. People will want blood.

  43. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Andydaws

      At the risk of stating the bleedin' obvious

      Chernobyl took place in a "not for profit" electricity system. And the Windscale fire wasn't exactly on a commercial plant.

      You presumably don't mind climbing aboard a commercially operated aircraft, do you?

      Ultimately, it's not the plant operator who decides the standards under which the plant was licensed. It wasn't TEPCO that decide an eight metre sea wall was adequate - it was NISA, the Japanese regulatory agency.

      When, many years ago, I was modelling the risks from various incidents on the Heysham and torness plants, it wasn't the CEGB or SSEB who decided what constituted the 1,000 year storm against which we had to qualify - it was the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "It wasn't TEPCO that decide an eight metre sea wall was adequate "

        But it was TEPCO that hadn't followed the required maintenance and test regime on the backup generators. So regardless of the tsunami, if there had been any incident requiring backup power, they had no reason to believe they would actually have worked.

        They were in regulatory difficulties before the tsunami.

        1. Andydaws

          There's very good reason to think they'd have worked

          Since all but one of the gennies fired up and ran, until they lost aspiration and/or fuel due to the Tsunami.....

          Here's the most detailed timeline analysis of what happened at Fukushima

          download the document, and have a look for yourself. Ironically, the only one that didn't fire up was because it was down for scheduled maintenance.

          Incidentally, I've just had a look around for anything claiming the gennies weren't maintained. I can't find anything. Do you have a source, or is it "something you heard in a pub"?

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  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "power the average house for 8 hours of Darkness?"

    "have you any idea how big the battery would need to be to power the average house for 8 hours of darkness? "

    Get electric vehicles out there in quantity, replacing the 2nd car for the school/supermarket run, replacing the Escort/Transit round-town delivery run.

    Connect the battery in the electric vehicle(s) via the same kind of grid-tied inverter as supplies multiple kW per installation on a domestic-scale PV installation.

    Battery feeds grid during times of peak demand when vehicle is at base, grid feeds battery during off-peak when vehicle is at base. Given that these things are grid-connected you even end up with enough to run electric showers and the like (though whether multi-kW electric showers actually make energy sense when compared with stored hot water heated during off peak is a different question).

    Doesn't solve the whole problem, should make a worthwhile difference. That's not my opinion, that's the opinion of Prof Mackay FRS in his freely downloadable book "Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air". It's not perfect, but highly recommended as a starter with lots of Stuff in one place.

    Feel free to downvote, but please explain why, and don't forget to tell Prof Mackay why too.

    1. Andydaws

      And then, in the morning,

      come out and find you've only a few miles range in your EV.

      I have told Mackay, too. He didn't have an answer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "only a few miles range in your EV."

        No problem, the professor appears to have missed a couple of options (he's a busy chap, even when he's not being a professor).

        Did you see the bit where I said "school/supermarket run"? How far away is the typical school/supermarket?

        Mackay may be a professor, but you don't need to be a professor to know how many 2nd cars only get used for an hour a day or thereabouts.

        With a half decent charger, for something like the typical school/supermarket run it takes very roughly the same time to charge up as it took to do the travelling; an hour a day for the school run maybe? Certainly plenty of time to charge up overnight for two daily school runs and/or one weekly trip to the supermarket.

        There are maybe eight hours of off peak overnight (currently) when charging would be cost-effective.

        If you don't think eight hours of off peak is likely to continue (and you may be right), then the owner gets to tell the vehicle charge/discharge control computer the required minimum range for the next day, and the vehicle stops feeding the grid at the corresponding point in the discharge cycle.

        Once feed-in metering, smart meters, etc become widespread, you could even charge up at off peak prices (overnight or whenever the smartmeter says there is cheap spot-market electricity) and feed in at peak time feed in prices on the spot market. A smaller scale version of the Pool/NETA/whatever.


        If you want a real snag with this idea it's not the problem of limited range in the morning (that's relatively easily fixable as above). A bigger snag is the potential impact on battery lifetime of the frequent deep-discharge power cycling implied in this scheme. But off-peak-buy/on-peak-sell differential electricity pricing may help pay for the new batteries.

        Market forces etc. You can't buck the markets, they're more used to *ucking us.

        Makes more sense than stupid unmetered PV feed-in tariffs anyway.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I can't afford a second car.

          Can you?

  45. Andydaws

    "he's a busy chap, even when he's not being a professor"

    He would be - he does 4 days out of 5 at DECC, which is where I came across him.

    You need to do a few sums, or understand a bit more about the power system.

    If EV numbers were anywhere near sufficient to make the scheme worthwhile, there'd be no "off peak" to speak of - in fact, short of rewiring the distribution grids, you'd be limiting charge rate to a prevent overloading at night, rather than in the day. It's one of the few areas where smart meters look even marginally worthwhile.

    "Did you see the bit where I said "school/supermarket run"? How far away is the typical school/supermarket?"

    Well, that rather then depends on assumptions about what proportion of vehicles are used that way - which probably takes your available capacity down by rather a lot. We've something like 70% female participation in the labour force, so most people don't just need the school-supermarket run - they need a more useful range than that.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "You need to do a few sums, or understand a bit more about the power system."

    Maybe. I do realise it assumes a lot more electric vehicles tomorrow than we have today.

    For the sake of round numbers let's assume an unambitious 200,000 vehicles each feeding in 5kW for a couple of hours at peak time (10kWh each). That is, obviously, 1GW capacity, or 2GWh over two hours. Not massive, but better than nothing.

    Then recharge off peak. Same 200,000 vehicles needing to replace 10kWh or so, spread over (say) five hours off peak. It is indeed quite a load (an extra 2GW for five hours maybe?), but it's still massively less than the current difference between off-peak demand and daytime demand, and unless I've missed something there's no need to "be limiting charge rate to a prevent overloading at night,".

    E.g. This week we're looking at 30GW or so overnight, 45GW daytime, with an early evening blip to 50GW. At other times of year it varies a bit, but not hugely:

    (That daytime demand flatline ? Wtf is that about?)

    Double the number of electric vehicles and I still don't see a huge problem. Do you? I do see a challenge if we want to get dozens of GW out of it (it doesn't work).

    Those are my numbers, what about yours? I happily admit that for simplicity of arithmetic I have ignored all losses along the way.

    How much pumped storage does the UK have at the moment, in GW and GWh? How much did that storage cost, and how easy is it to build more ? Do we need more?

    Anyway, there we have it. 1GW of peak-hour power, for a couple of hours a day, just from a relatively unambitious number of grid-tied electric vehicles. Almost a proper power station's worth, but admittedly less than the existing French HVDC interconnect, and less than we might get from something like Desertec if we joined in, or from a Norwegian interconnect for pumped storage in the fjords. But probably a whole lot more than domestic PV will ever contribute in the evening peak :). Does that make it impractical or pointless or not cost-effective?

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