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Nuclear Energy: A Good or Bad Move?

Posted by: Alistair Reyland 19 Apr 16  | Energy |  Renewable Energy |  Sustainability
The growing interest in Hinkley Point C has spring boarded nuclear energy back into the limelight as of late, with the for or against argument definitely causing concern amongst officials, interested parties and the general public alike.

But what is all the fuss about?

Well, EDF Energy state that new nuclear power is a vital part of the future energy mix and with over 55% of the UK’s older nuclear power stations set to close by 2030, this calls for the production of Hinkley Point C; the first nuclear power station built in the UK in more than 20 years. But can we just take EDF's word for it? After all, we can't risk having another Fukushima or Chernobyl disaster.

EDF Energy believe that nuclear power could be the key to meeting Britain’s legally binding emissions targets, and with nuclear power providing low carbon energy, it will also help us reach a reduction in CO2 intensity of electricity generation of over 80% by 2030 (as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change). So is this really the case?

Electricity is produced from nuclear energy whenever, come rain or shine, and is completely abundant. Nuclear power is, however, a fossil fuel; whilst it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide, nuclear fuels are non-renewable energy resources. The concern lies mainly with nuclear power being radioactive and extremely hazardous to health for thousands of years if not stored correctly. It’s happened before (thousands are still paying the price for the Fukushima disaster), and it can happen again.

Officials, however, argue that nuclear power is the only low carbon option for providing this abundance of energy to meet the growing demand for power, working alongside renewables, gas and new technologies for the future. But it's a price, both financially and environmentally. Every nuclear plant in the U.S. is least $1 billion over budget and will need to consider health and cleanup costs for radioactive waste (2,000 metric tons per year), among other things.

Hinkley Point C is expected to be able to generate energy to power more than 5 million homes for up to 60 years, but will be the world's most costly plant. Maybe we should be looking at alternative, and cheaper, methods?

Unfortunately, support isn’t absent; in 2015 a poll was conducted by ComRes and found that 79% of MPs supported the construction of new generation nuclear power stations. Even a nuclear college has been opened in North Cumbria and Somerset to train and develop world class skills to accommodate the UK’s thriving nuclear industry.

That being said, the general public doesn't seem too happy about the new power point. Just look through #Hinkley on Twitter and you'll see a barrage of anti-nuclear tweets. This report found that less than one-third of people support the project.

And it's not just the UK public that are against nuclear power.

Public opposition in Italy has stumped any plans for nuclear power plant production and Germany are currently in the midst of phasing out all nuclear reactors by 2022. France have also recently announced plans to drastically reduce their dependence on nuclear power.

Nuclear power’s share of global electricity generation has fallen by 6% over the past 20 years. Yet still a number of countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are planning to build nuclear reactors.

Nuclear power might be an outdated method when you consider all renewable has to give us. Solar, wind, tidal, biomass, the list goes on and yet we are still looking to nuclear energy to provide with the golden key. Nuclear energy might have its uses, but you can't deny the power of renewables.

As we've previously mentioned, nuclear power plants are outrageously expensive to build. Hinkley Point C is expected to cost in excess of $36bn! Once built, however, it is relatively cheap to run; uranium is plentiful across the world, but given the risks and financial costs, is investing in renewables the more sensible option?

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