Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lucas: lessons on nuclear power from the Japan disaster

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The lesson from the Japanese disaster is that you can never design out every possible human error, or natural accident, or unpredictable event. The problem with nuclear power is that it’s just so inherently risky. If a catastrophe does happen, then the impacts when we’re dealing with nuclear power are uniquely catastrophic, if you like, in a way that they’re not if we were dealing with the alternatives around renewable energy and energy efficiency, and so on. Of course, all of our thoughts are with the people of Japan, and particularly with those incredibly brave people who are at the plants now trying to bring them under control, but I just think that when we’ve got alternatives that are safer and cheaper, it does raise the question as to why we would run the risk with nuclear.

-“Wave and wind energy can’t be cheaper than nuclear, can it?”

Yes it can, and it is. If you look at the documents, that’s quite clear. Sometimes it doesn’t look that way of course, because nuclear’s very clever about not putting on its books the cost of decommissioning nuclear power at the end of its life. But if you add in those nuclear decommissioning costs, then nuclear is a lot more expensive. If we’re looking in Britain at the best way of being able to meet our carbon objectives, in terms of getting our emissions down to deal with climate change and keep the lights on, then it’s far cheaper, and government’s own statistics show this, to be investing in renewable energies and energy efficiency rather than nuclear. Of course the nuclear industry right now is engaged in a massive fight-back, trying to present itself as this nice clean energy of the future. I think the situation with Fukushima just shows us that that’s not the case, and it’s never been the case.

You can’t design out unforeseen circumstances. When they built those nuclear power stations 40 years ago, they never expected an earthquake of that size. Here in Britain, just back in the 1950’s, we had storm surges which were extraordinary and killed 300 people in East Anglia – you cannot predict what’s going to come in the future, and if there are alternatives, we should be using them. If it were genuinely the case that we had to make the choice between climate change and nuclear power, then of course the situation would be different, we’d have to look at it again. That’s not the choice we’re being faced with right now. You can never “design out,” whether it’s a terrorist attack, whether it’s human error, and when you’re dealing with something that’s as inherently risky as nuclear, it doesn’t make sense to take that risk.

Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party leader, on BBC Radio Sussex – 16 Mar 2011