The assessment in your editorial (15 March) that “the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear [power] in a month’s time” is not just premature but ignores a number of important factors. Most worryingly, terrorists will have seen the devastation, disruption and fear that can be caused by an attack on a reactor’s cooling system, which presents a much easier target for them than the containment vessel surrounding the core.
Secondly, your claim that the renewable alternatives are “illusions” is at variance with the facts. Germany has installed more wind power capacity than the entire current UK nuclear capacity, and is adding to it at a rate equivalent to more than one new reactor a year. Furthermore, in 2009 alone Germany installed solar photovoltaic systems with capacity equivalent to approximately four nuclear reactors, and it looks like the 2010 figures will be much higher.
The coalition should reverse Labour’s dangerous decision to go for new nuclear build and use the money saved, firstly to strengthen our current nuclear facilities against terrorist attack, secondly to solve the long-term nuclear waste problem and thirdly to support renewables.
Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
• You say offshore wind “remains so costly that market forces would simply push pollution overseas if it were taken up in a big way”. Not so. As the Offshore Valuation report pointed out last year, the UK has enough offshore wind potential to become a net electricity exporter, and gain from the jobs, intellectual property and energy generated. A clean energy future lies not in nuclear, shale gas or oil imports from repressive regimes, but in developing North Sea wind. If it is to seize the winds of change, the government needs to unlock this potential by creating a strong green investment bank in next week’s budget.
Director, Public Interest Research Centre
• You suggest UK ministers need to apply rationality and not emotion in judging the reopening of the nuclear energy option, but they are already well down the road to a monumental nuclear decision based entirely upon politics, convenience, and a cynically breathtaking manipulation of local democracy.
Rather than pursue the search for the safest place in the UK for nuclear waste, which has to be found a vault for thousands of years, the government last year asked local authorities to volunteer, certain that only those desperate to keep their sole large employer happy would do so. The authorities with few options but to be in thrall to Sellafield – Copeland, Allerdale and Cumbria – have duly agreed to “volunteer”. So the process is already wholly skewed, with the safety aspect hardly visible. (Years ago Cumbria was ruled out for such a “repository” because of its unstable and watersodden geology.)
UK nuclear cannot proceed until the waste mountain is resolved. A few local politicians desperate for the jobs they think it will generate, and the votes they will expect to earn, will be making that decision not only on behalf of the whole UK, but on behalf of future generations who will have to bear the consequences.
• In the light of current terrible events (Race to save the reactors as Japan fears nuclear meltdown, 15 March), it is surprising that there is little or no discussion of thorium-based nuclear power (albeit the Guardian did mention it back in 2009). Thorium has several advantages over uranium, not least that fission stops if not maintained, so loss of power results in natural shutdown. Other advantages are higher efficiency (many times the usable energy output per unit extracted from the ground), much greater natural reserves of thorium, much lower environmental impacts of extraction, no need for costly enrichment, dramatically reduced byproducts and the much greater difficulty of obtaining fissile material for terrorism. Thorium power was tested successfully in the 50s in the US, and sporadically elsewhere, but was generally abandoned as it did not produce material for nuclear weapons. Recent reports suggest China may be considering thorium. We might be sensible to do likewise.
University College London
• I am truly shocked by John Vidal’s piece (Nuclear is never safe, 15 March). Of course nuclear is never safe; neither is crossing the road. Indeed annual road deaths and lasting injuries in Britain alone comfortably exceed those of Chernobyl. It’s that dreaded word “nuclear” that gets people going, because of panic merchants like John Vidal. The present Japan problem is not (yet) “catastrophic”, so don’t say so. Experts who give a balanced view of what is going on without the hype are drowned out by the doom merchants and a public eager for that prejudiced “disaster” story.
Dr Nick Wrigley
• Given the Swiss and German authorities’ rapid suspension of the replacement of their nuclear power plants (Report, 15 March), I wonder why it was that their hydroelectric schemes weren’t similarly curtailed when the Banqiao dam failed in 1975, killing 26,000 people directly, and 145,000 subsequently from disease and famine.
A considered analysis of the long-term impact of different energy sources will show that populist responses to nuclear emergencies are ill-fitted to an informed and rational energy policy.
Dr Steve Bennett
• Where I live in Suffolk we have Sizewell. This is on a rapidly eroding, unstable coastline posing possible long-term problems for the site. But of more immediate concern to me, and others, is the very real risk of a man-made disaster. For me the costs are just too high. Surely there is another way?