Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nuclear Power is no solution to Climate Change

Today is Blog Action Day 2009 and I want to argue that Nuclear Power is no solution to Climate Change. The nuclear industry is hoping that concern over climate change will result in support for nuclear power. However, even solely on the grounds of economic criteria it offers poor value for money in displacing fossil fuel plant. Further, with its high cost, long construction time, high environmental risk and problems resulting from waste management, it is clear that nuclear power does not offer a viable solution to climate change. Rather a mixture of energy efficiency and renewable energy offers a quicker, more realistic and sustainable approach to reducing CO2 emissions.

Nuclear power produces CO2

Nuclear power is not greenhouse friendly. While electricity generated from nuclear power entails no direct emissions of CO2, the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2 during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations and as demand for uranium grows CO2 emissions are expected to rise as core grades decline.

According to calculations by the ├ľko-Institute, 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per generated kWh in Germany [4]. The results from other international research studies show much higher figures - up to 60 grams of CO2 per kWh. In total, a nuclear power station of standard size (1,250MW operating at 6,500 hours/annum) indirectly emits between 376,000 million tonnes (Germany) and 1,300,000 million tonnes (other countries) of CO2 per year. In comparison to renewable energy, nuclear power releases 4-5 times more CO2 per unit of energy produced taking account of the whole fuel cycle. Also, with its long development time a nuclear power programme offers no short-term possibility for reducing CO2 emissions.

Nuclear power is unsafe

Problems of security, safety and environmental impact have been perennial issues for the nuclear industry. Many countries have decided against the development of nuclear power on these grounds, but radioactive contamination is no respector of national borders and nuclear power plants threaten the health and well-being of all surrounding nations and environments. There is also the very serious problems of nuclear proliferation and trafficking. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) view is that if nuclear power were to be used extensively to tackle climate change, "The security threat ... would be colossal"

Nuclear power is unsustainable

Nuclear power plants produce extremely long-lived toxic wastes, for which there is no safe means of disposal. The only independent scrutiny of a Government waste management safety case [NIREX in the UK] led to the cancellation of the proposed test site for nuclear waste disposal. As disposal is not scientifically credible, there is no option other than interim storage of radioactive wastes. This means that the legacy of radioactive wastes will have to be passed on to the next generation. Producing long-lived radioactive wastes, with no solution for their disposal, leaving a deadly legacy for many future generations to come is contrary to the principle of sustainability, as laid out in Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit.
In 1976 the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution warned that it is, "irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future". Over twenty years on, still no such method has been found. Nuclear waste management policies are in disarray and there is growing public opposition to the transport and storage of nuclear waste - as has been demonstrated by the scenes at Gorleben, Germany. Under no circumstances can nuclear power be considered to be sustainable.

Uranium Mining in Meghalaya will violated International Law

Having argued that nuclear power in no solution to climate change I now want to address the hot topic of uranium mining in my homeland Meghalaya in North East India. I am very concerned by the Meghalaya government cabinet decision to allow the Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) to initiate "pre-project" development programmes in uranium-rich West Khasi Hills in the name development by creating jobs for the poor in my state Meghalaya and to reduce climate change - it really does not make any social, environmental and economic sense to me.

Furthermore, the large scale open cast mining of high grade uranium in West Khasi Hills, Meghalaya is only 5 kms north of international border with Bangladesh. Once the government owned UCIL starts mining on the slopes of our native land it will contaminate the air and water system from our hills that flow down into the productive rice fields that feed millions of poor people in Bangladesh.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna which is the UN's nuclear watchdog facilitates the establishment of international conventions that address environmental issues which may relate to uranium mining and production facilities such as:

1. The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context.

2. The Convention on access to Information, Public Participation in Decision Making and access to Justice in Environmental Matters.

3. The Convention on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law.

If UCIL still goes ahead with uranium mining away then they will violate International Law of cross boundary water and air pollution that will impact the people of another sovereign nation south of our border. But the people of Bangladesh can use International Law to protect themselves and hold the Government of India, the Government of Meghalaya and UCIL responsible for transboundary air and water contamination.

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