In favour of nuclear power

Here are the views of Malcom Grimston, an expert on nuclear energy at London’s Chatham House think tank:

We need three things from our energy and electricity. It’s got to be as cheap as possible, it’s got to be reliable – power cuts are very expensive – and it’s got to do as little damage to the environment as possible.

We’re in trouble on all three fronts. Oil has reached $100 a barrel – in 1998 it was less than $10 a barrel – dragging gas, coal and electricity prices up with it. Britain now imports more gas than it exports and the main gas (and oil) reserves are in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union – not necessarily the most reliable suppliers for the long term. And despite growing fears of climate change the world is using a lot more energy and getting more of it from the main culprits, oil, gas and coal, than it did at the time of the supposedly groundbreaking Rio Conference in 1992.

Things can only get worse. As countries like China and India develop their economies, based largely on coal unless we find alternatives, we’ll see world energy use double by 2050. Yet we have to cut releases of ‘greenhouse gases’ like carbon dioxide by perhaps four-fifths.

It’s impossible to believe there is a single simple solution to all of this. We need to use energy as efficiently as possible. We need to look for ways of capturing the carbon dioxide from coal and gas-fired power stations. We also need to use more renewables – though when it comes to the electricity needs of our most vital services we can’t always rely on the wind blowing, or the tide being in, or the sun being out, at the right time. We need a lot of our electricity from reliable sources that don’t depend on the weather.

So why nuclear? It’s probably the cheapest option, certainly at current gas and coal prices – if it isn’t then nothing the British government said yesterday will force anyone to build new stations. The fuel, uranium, is widespread – countries like Canada and Australia are major producers. And it doesn’t add to serious releases of carbon dioxide. Is it perfect? No. Are its problems minor compared to energy shortages and climate change? In my view, resoundingly yes.

32 Responses to “In favour of nuclear power”

  1. January 11, 2008 at 18:08

    Nuclear energy is the future for energy thirsty countries that can’t afford the rising oil bill. Currently nuclear energy doesn’t satisfy the bulk of energy needs even for industrialised countries, with the exception of France whose electricity production is mostly nuclear. There can be factories that can use nuclear energy for its production. But country the greatest pollutants, vehicles and planes are unlikely to be run by nuclear energy as the technology has not evolved in this direction yet.

    It remains to see how oil lobby will react as declining independence on oil will threaten its future and the futures of the hundreds of workers employed in the sector.

    For third world countries, they need political allies in the developed countries to provide them with it. They can buy as much oil as they can without being asked what they can do with it. But acquiring nuclear energy means their being under constant scrutiny for fear of using it for military purposes. Iran is a vivid example, whose nuclear program is at the centre of worries from countries opposed to its regime, mainly the USA.

    While nuclear energy can be a solution. It is still a dream to see it totally replacing the other sources, mainly oil. At least when there is an oil disaster, like explosions, fire or leak in the sea, the damage is limited. When there is a nuclear disaster, the damage can be of greater magnitude transcending borders as it happened with Chernobyl.
    So acquiring nuclear energy remains both a political and a health concern for the time being.

  2. 2 Charles Bird
    January 11, 2008 at 18:12

    We must always talk about human population. It is the force moving the sustainability target. I say yes to nuclear energy and to discussing population. Ask the question how many people is the optimal number.

  3. 3 Charles Bird
    January 11, 2008 at 18:15

    It is our responsibility to discuss human population. What is the optimal number of people for the planet? Nuclear energy is only a small part of the solution. I challenge you to open a discussion of world human population and all of its aspects. This will take several programs.


  4. January 11, 2008 at 18:26

    Morocco is considering the use of nuclear technology to produce electricity by the year 2017. http://www.apanews.net/apa.php/ecrire/administration/apa.php?article50351 It will be possible for it thanks to France its key economic and political partner. So the question isn’t if it is good to have nuclear energy, but if it is possible for all countries to acquire it as easily as acquiring any ordinary item.

  5. 5 Edward Blackburne
    January 11, 2008 at 18:28

    People keep saying nuclear is the main alternative to fossil fuel. What is the case against geothermal power?

    Geothermal power needs no significant new technology. You can utilise existing power station sites. It will outlast everything except wind, wave, tide and solar by millions of years. It should be cheap to build and fast to build. It is less unsightly than wind, wave, tide and solar and would need less of the earth’s resources to build. It is more reliable than wind, wave, tide and solar. It has the least environmental impact.

    It has one massive drawback. If it becomes established, it will completely revise the global economic system which is currently based on expensive energy from oil.

  6. 6 Fred Greatorex
    January 11, 2008 at 18:36

    I’ve been listening to the broadcast and about half way through, it seems that people are very pro, or very anti nuclear, wind, solar and not willing to give a little on their position.

    All I have to say is that here in Oregon we use a combination of Hydro, coal and wind for our electricity. when the wind stops blowing then the coal plants fire up to keep the “base load” I’m sure that the UK could develop a similar program that if the wind dies down, you can fire up a less carbon friendly sort of power station just to keep up the “base load” at least when the wind is blowing, power is coming from a renewable resource.


    Fred from Portland

  7. 7 Mark
    January 11, 2008 at 19:25

    The alternative solution is to reduce the world’s population by four fifths. The current technology cannot sustain 6 billion people, there will be a drastic reduction whether it is part of a rational plan to limit childbirth to balance what can be sustained at a reasonable level of life comfort for everyone or whether it comes as the result of unplanned catastrophe which is the direction it is headed in now. Either way the world’s population will not reach 9 billion people. The ominous track we are now on will see the four horsemen of the apocolypse wreck havoc on a massive scale again and again not by any divine intervention but by sheer human indifference to the limits our planet can support.

  8. 8 George
    January 11, 2008 at 20:02

    No Nuclear is not the only option but clearly you are being told it is.

    Renewable energy can be placed in operation throughout the UK and USA rapidly and successfully, all it takes is deciding to do it.

    When WWII threatened your existence you had Chamberlin tell you the only alternative was to appease the Nazis.

    That did not work and the alternative was slavery.

    Churchhill said, we will never give up, we are going to win.

    The nation was mobilized, it was tough, and you won.

    What will it be UK?

    A rerun of doing what you are told is the only alternative?

    Or doing what you must because there is no alternative in what you have been told?

    Forget Nuclear power plant monopoly slaves, mobilize and go renewable now as if your existance depended on it, just as you did in your finest hour.

  9. 9 Mike Atkinson
    January 11, 2008 at 20:25

    Just finished listening to the show at 5:30 am here. Unfortunately, your “experts” ignornace was exposed when they started talking about High Voltage DC interconnects being the things of science fiction, I think one was even overheard to say “it’s all getting a bit Startrek”, and the caller was unsubtley cut-off. If your “experts” don’t even understand the technology of efficient low-cost power transmission as used for example in the Basslink interconnect (www.basslink.com.au), then what weight can be placed on their knowledge of complex generation techniques such as nuclear energy or the risks and benefits of any form of electricity generation?

    Embarrassing for them, no doubt, but I’m looking forward to the guffaws from my colleagues when I play them the podcast. Thanks for providing some professionals with a good laugh.

  10. 10 Addy
    January 11, 2008 at 20:28

    Does anybody know about this site ( http://www.earthlab.com ) ? I have seen other environmental sites with carbon calculators like yahoo and tree huggers, but I am wondering what the deal with earthlab.com is? I saw they also published a list last month of the top ten greenest cities ( http://www.efficientenergy.org/Top-Ten-Green-Cities-in-the-United-States ). Does anyone know if this site is better than the others? Fill me in!

    I took their carbon foot print test and it was pretty interesting, they said that I put out 4.5 tons of carbon, does anyone know about any other tests?

  11. 11 haider meghjee
    January 12, 2008 at 04:16

    only Iran should be allowed to have nuclear energy!!!!!!!

  12. 12 Will Rhodes
    January 12, 2008 at 18:12

    Fred – Margaret Thatcher did a good job of obliterating Britain’s coal mines, in the name of progress of course.

  13. 13 loridani
    January 12, 2008 at 23:10

    What this world needs is a safe and reliable way to store and transport electrical energy. Seriously, what we need is a cheap, reliable, long-lived battery. Something with the characteristics of a capacitor would be nice.

    Just imagine using them as regulators for solar and wind generators. Or having them charge from the grid at night and discharge during the day – how much could a business – or your home, for that matter – spare in terms of energy costs from that alone? Or even plugging one in your car – 1000 km range, and 3 min charge time. The only oil you’ll be talking about then would be the one in your Greek salad.

  14. 14 Joel Indrupati
    January 13, 2008 at 12:39

    We cannot deny the benefits of nuclear energy because nuclear power plants consume less fossil fuels, pollute the atmosphere less, costs less on long-term use, and yet produce much more energy that the conventional oil and gas methods.

    However, I feel, we should not be in a mad rush to speak in its favour. Because we know that the nuclear energy generation process produces radiation which must be effectively contained. How can we easily forget that, in 1979, the radiation leakage on the three-mile island nuclear reactor in pennsylvania had tens of thousands fleeing for their lives? How can we easily forget that, in 1986, the radiation leakage from Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exposed hundreds of thousands to severe harm. Several have died and many more are still suffering and will certianly die due to cancer caused by its radiation.

    And another reason why we should not be hasty in favouring nucear energy is because the nuclear disposal systems are not yet secure. The nuclear waste from the power plants emit dangerous radiation, and how long can the waste be stored in special cooling pools of the nuclear reactors? How can we easily forget that, in 1957, at a dump site in Russia’s Ural mountains, some buried nuclear waste mysteriously exploded killing many people?

    So, unless we have strict and strong methods to contain harmful nuclear radiation, and unless we have secure and safe nuclear waste disposal systems, we cannot be sure of the success of nuclear energy. Yes. WE need to help combat climatic change problems. But, in a haste, let us not create more. We must be very very careful in embracing this seemingly new friend.

    Joel, Kingdom of Bahrain, 39451182

  15. 15 Mohamed Azeem
    January 14, 2008 at 15:30

    As a people who love the world and the environment I convinced that nuclear power is the answer to all world issues. So we must prepare our lives to live in a better future without any polutions and climate change.

  16. 16 Francis Banks
    January 14, 2008 at 15:51

    It’s not quite true that wind power cannot supply base load electricity. You just have to add energy storage. There is pumped water storage, where water is pumped up to a reservoir to run a hydroelectric plant. There is also electrochemical storage, which amounts to a big rechargeable battery.

  17. 17 Jim Maliniowski
    January 14, 2008 at 15:51

    In the US we get 80% of our energy from fossil fuels (11% from nuclear). It is crazy to argue that we can solve the global warming problem if we do not include nuclear power as part of the solution.

    We should be developing all the non-fossil fuel options including all cost effective conservation, cost effective renewables and nuclear if not to reduce global warming then to save our fossil resources for future generations.

    Jim Malinowski

    Clark College

    Power Utilities Technology Instructor

  18. 18 Jon Kiparsky
    January 14, 2008 at 15:52

    Would the nuclear PR men (sorry, can’t remember their names) have argued in the 1950s for the use of the Chernobyl-style reactors? At the time nobody had been hurt by them, the danger was potential. Presumably not – so why should we wait for a disaster before we think about the dangers of nuclear waste?
    -Jon Kiparsky
    Portland, Oregon

  19. 19 Ayo
    January 14, 2008 at 15:52

    Isn’t it folly to replace one danger with another? Jump from fry pan to fire. That’s what Nuclear energy looks like to me.

    Ayo in US

  20. 20 Dr R.M. Watson
    January 14, 2008 at 15:53

    No one who has spoken so far has understood the problem. Its a generation and distribution problem,. Nuclear is proabably necessary to maintain national grids without aggravating carbon problems. However the solution for energy use in the long term is the dispersal of generation; the use of the existing grid in small community trading units, and the development of local storage systems (pumped hydraulic storage, compressed air, batteries etc.). Energy will become much more expensive and users will adapt and share. Economicsand financial constraints will be meaningless when global warming effects kick in.

    Dr R.M.Watson
    Resource Management & Research
    Renewable Energy Feasibility Planners

  21. 21 Lloyd Johnson
    January 14, 2008 at 15:53

    How would we feel if ancient civilizations thousands of years ago, had left us saddled with tons of nuclear waste which needed to be monitored for thousands of years. We do not have the moral right to impose nuclear waste on future generations.

    Lloyd Johnson
    Senior Designer
    Hutchinson Sealing Systems Inc.

  22. 22 Andrew Stone
    January 14, 2008 at 15:54

    First, every human contraption will eventually fail. Somewhere, eventually, a nuclear reactor or waste facility will fail. How many people die or get cancer when a wind or wave turbine fails?

    Second, your pro-nuclear guest claims a modern society CAN NOT function without huge amounts of electricity. Let us be clear. Ipods, TV’s, electric heat, even refrigerators and electric lights are modern conveniences – in other words luxuries. I am not suggesting we give these up altogether. I am saying we should be honest about the fact that we are leaving our waste (CO2, nuclear, etc.) for future generations to deal with so we can have our luxuries now. We should enter the conversation from that perspective.

    Third, how about focusing on birth control and planned parenthood to reduce the rate of increase of demand? Where is the focus on human population in this debate?

    Andrew Stone
    Portland, Oregon, USA

  23. 23 Jazen
    January 14, 2008 at 15:54

    Nuclear power is not the answer, the waste and risk are clearly catastrophic. Please discuss the fact that there are at least three categories of new energy sources which are being significantly suppressed as they don’t offer monumental profits to the few elite in the way current power sources including nuclear do.

    The first is new hydrogen physics or “cold fusion.” Much information on this topic is available online, and the reality is that one gallon of water holds the energy equivalent of 300 gallons of gas.

    The second is Vacuum Energy otherwise known as Zero Point Energy, which has been repeatedly scientifically proven.

    The third is Environmental energy, in the form of sensible thermal energy and molecular motion which is clearly possible through extensions in the second law of thermodynamics.

    We do not need nuclear energy, give clean autonomous energy its due recognition!


  24. 24 Nick Wehage
    January 14, 2008 at 16:04

    Let me first say that no source of energy is 100% safe. There are industrial dangers for any source, including renewable sources.

    However, Nuclear power has such a long range of potential radiation danger overwhelms the current danger.

    In addition nuclear energy is the only energy production which has a by-product which can be further refined for weapon grade products.

    Until there is a safe disposal of nuclear waste then we should devote our energies elsewhere.

    Nick Wehage
    Portland Or

  25. 25 Thomas Murray
    January 14, 2008 at 16:11

    Hey Buds,

    It’s startling to drive I-10 out of L.A. through the Morongo Valley and suddenly be greeted with the sight of scores of gigantic white modern windmills. But the wind isn’t constant. Neither is the sun. There is a limit as to how much hydroelectric dams we can build. Oil and petroleum will run out. And eventually the same will happen to coal. So what other options to we have. Fusion? Antimatter?

    Perhaps not all buy the ‘climate change’ argument, but it has happened before.

    Blue-green algae, the first successful lifeform on earth, thrived in the oceans for 1.4 billion years till their luck ran out about 2.4 billion years ago. They were pumping too much oxygen into the atmosphere — bad for them and their anaerobic friends, but good for the protozoans, who eventually evolved into the lifeform typing this message.

    Safety is a matter of personal integrity. And eventually some resourceful entrepreneur will finagle some multi-billion $$$ industry out of reprocessing spent fuel rods in to revitalized uranium and lead, completing the circle of the alchemist’s obsession.

    Till then, we’re going to have to drive less, walk more, plant more trees, and grow less children. Because…

    What happens when you set an air-conditioner in a sealed room, and turn it on? Does it get cooler? Or hotter?

    –Thoughts from Louisville, KY, USA. Cheers…

  26. 26 Ynda
    January 15, 2008 at 10:38

    So how do you make energy safe? Er.. you can’t!

    Do you know anything about safety critical software development? Do you know all the government IT disasters: NHS, National ID card, Social Security, Inland Revenue, Defence systems, CSA – all disasters and only the s/w in aircraft are considered safety critical. So add all the current IT software costs together and multiple by 10 (or 100, who knows) to get an approx cost for the safety critical software for nuclear power stations. (No, you can’t say the French have already done it because the new power stations will be “4th Generation”)

    How can you make the waste safe? Er… you can’t! Just passing the problem to future generations.

    How do you stop nuclear waste proliferation? Er… you can’t.

    So your argument is based on economics where most of the main variables are just not known!

  27. 27 Laura
    January 17, 2008 at 21:26

    Nuclear power sounds scary. I keep thinking of the impression of nuclear power that The Simpsons have given me.. gloopy green nuclear waste being dumped into our rivers is the thought I get whenever I think of nuclear waste. It certainly doesn’t sound friendly..

    Nuclear energy isn’t going to pollute as much as fossil fuels have, but if there will be green nuclear waste being produced.. where will we put it? Bury it under the ground as well as everything else?

    I say yes to solar, wind and anything else that isn’t going to kill the Earth.

  28. 28 Dennis Young, Jr.
    May 9, 2008 at 04:35

    Nuclear power maybe the best option for the future of
    our energy needs!

    Madrid, United States of America

  29. 29 Morrigan
    July 19, 2008 at 20:25

    Well if you want to live in the style you’ve got used to come up with a fantastic and safe energy source then.

  30. 30 okpowe omena
    June 30, 2009 at 13:41

    Despite the fact that there are over 436 functioning nuclear power plants in the world, i have rarely ever heard of disasters from them. America has over a hundred, france over 50, japan and so many other countries and yet they still maintain the highest standard of living in the world. its just like a robot. the way you handle it determines the results you get. Nuclear technology is it and we v got to embrace it but first with the right attitude towards it.

  31. July 6, 2009 at 14:33

    I am doing a case study on nuclear power and i think that the idea of new stations is a good idea. They are going to provide us with the energy needed and it is sustainable. The only problem is the disposal of nuclear waste but this is under discussion and I have every faith that it will be resolved in the near future. Many people are not thinking about the fact that this is the only way that will provide enough electrisity for the whole of the UK and that people are going to want to have that electricity. Renewable is a good idea but it is expensive and not 100% efficiant or reliable. People have got to start thinking not just about today but many years to come and what will be sustainable and better for the enviroment overall.

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