Renewed push for nuclear power

Below is my letter to The Guardian on the threatened resurgence of nuclear, written with Dr Paul Dorfman (Nuclear Consulting Group) and John Sauven (Greenpeace UK), published on 8 February, 2012. To see the collection of other letters to The Guardian on the same subject follow this link.

Proponents of integral fast reactors have so far failed to answer three key questions: do these reactors work, how much do they cost, and how long to build? There have been many unsuccessful attempts to build a working fast reactor. The Japanese spent four decades and $13bn trying. A UK fast reactor at Dounreay was a costly failure which we are still working out how to decommission. No one has built a fast reactor on a commercial basis. Even if these latest plans could be made to work, prism reactors do nothing to resolve the main problems with nuclear: the industry’s repeated failure to build reactors on time and to budget. Even the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s scientific adviser, David MacKay, says “it isn’t the nuclear fuel that’s the expensive bit – it’s the power stations and the other facilities that go with them.”

We have a very small window in which to get a grip on our greenhouse gas emissions, but despite proven green technologies existing we are being asked to wait while an industry that has a track record for very costly failures researches yet another much-hyped but still theoretical new technology. You can make paper designs for anything, but that is a long way from sorting out the real world engineering and economic issues that will actually deliver affordable and low-carbon energy. That is why ideas like fast reactors work much better in the headlines than they do in fine print.