John Couzin in Scotland commented in our recent post about nuclear power that it is problematic in the UK. I emailed him asking for more information. Here’s his reply.
All nuclear power stations have leaks of some kind, some internal some external, some pass without comment others create news. They also have “glitches” which don’t result in a leak but a shutdown, which in a normal power station is a nuisance but in a nuclear it could be the start of a disaster. The Sellafield problem is two fold it is a nuclear reprocessing plant as well as a power station, hence the big problem with the clean up there. It has had several leaks over a long period of time, at least one rather nasty fire. Several areas of the beaches around it are contaminated. Even the water that they discharge into is contaminated, Norway and Ireland have complained to the British government about the radio active contamination of their waters. The very use of radio active material means that what it comes in contact with also becomes radio active this in turn creates problems in containment and decommissioning.
I don’t have any information on the French situation but going by historical evidence in every other country they must have had leaks and/or problems of some sort and nobody has said they have found the answer to the decommissioning problem or surely we would be doing something similar. Don’t be fooled by thinking that you can run a nuclear power station for years and not have a radio active problem on the site. Everything man made breaks down, aircraft fall from the sky, ships sink, bridges collapse but we are suppose to believe that it won’t happen in a nuclear power station, (Three Mile Island). All of these other accidents are a tragedy, in a nuclear case it can be a catastrophe for years and/or generations to come over an incredible distance, (blowing in the wind).
All the information that I have is easy available from the British broadsheets The Independent, Guardian, Herald, The Times, etc. all on line now, and what I can find on the web.
While nukes could keep the lights on until we figure out what comes next, an alternative is energy conservation coupled with massive renewable energy development. We can certainly do both. Conservation doesn’t mean we all have to live by candlelight, but with smart grids, use of CFLs and LEDs, and other such measures, we could probably cut energy consumption 10-20% without much noticeable difference in our lifestyles.
The question is, can renewables provide enough clean non-carbon-emitting power to keep the grid going? Keep in mind that China and India are developing fast and will use coal if other low-cost alternatives aren’t available. Even an industrialized country like South Africa says they need up to twelve new nuclear plants because their electrical production is woefully short of what’s needed, causing ongoing rolling blackouts everywhere.
There are no easy answers here.