Sunday, 11 March 2012


A year ago today, Japan was visited by three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. An earthquake, followed by a tsunami and a nuclear meltdown which - but for several massive strokes of luck - very nearly wiped Tokyo off the map. Tens of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes. It is unclear when they will be able to return.

Before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear had been enjoying something of a renaissance. Not so since. Germany responded to public pressure by voting to phase out nuclear power. Switzerland and Italy similarly turned their backs on nuclear. Even France, which relies on nuclear for 80% of its electricity (which has meant that, whenever rising summer temperatures force the closure of nuclear plants, France has bought its electricity from the UK), the frontrunner candidate for the presidency has vowed to shut down nearly half of France's 58 reactors by 2025.

Britain has decided to forge ahead with new nuclear, even though successive governments have had to misrepresent the need for these accidents-waiting-to-happen to parliament. And even though the government has a report of its own which indicates that most of the civil nuclear sites in the UK are at risk of flooding and coastal erosion caused by climate change.

The government insists that the new nuclear power stations will have to be constructed entirely with private money - but this is a smokescreen. Should anything go wrong, it will not be the shareholders who cover the costs of the emergency. It will be the taxpayer. Nuclear developers can, in fact, only build nuclear power stations these days where there is a strong central government (like in China, where no new nuclear plants were commissioned last year) and where the public will pick up the tab in the event of a catastrophe, like in Britain.

All the same, the start-up date for the proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset has already been put back two years, from 2017 to 2019, partly because of safety concerns. It's also worth pointing out that two other nuclear power stations currently being built by the French-owned EDF are years behind schedule and massively over-budget.

Hinkley Point is in fact the new front line in the battle to oppose the most expensive and dangerous source of electricity around. Protesters there are currently fighting EDF's attempts to cut down trees in preparation for the groundwork. Apparently, it's okay for the immediate environment to be wiped out by nuclear power station developers (and Donald Trump with his crappy Scottish golf resort), but windfarms are not allowed to affect anything. No, nothing at all. Ever.

Double standards? You bet. But then, there are still plenty of fantasists willing to claim that nuclear power is "cheap" and "safe" - and to make outrageous claims about wind energy being "expensive" and "unreliable". The United States suffered more nuclear power station outtages than ever, last year. A couple of years ago, the UK's newest nuclear facility produced absolutely no electricity at all for more than seven months. When Japan was hit by the tsunami, only one wind turbine stopped working. And there are some freaks and frauds out there who want you to believe that windfarms are dangerous!

The reality is that - as various recent headlines in the Telegraph (the native habitat of the lesser-witted Delingpole and the purveyor of silly anti-windfarm stories which then have to be retracted), the free-marketeering Economist magazine and the Guardian, for example, make clear - nuclear is now a mug's game. Japan, which knows more about nuclear catastrophe than most, wants rid of the reactors. The British government is trying to induce private investment in nuclear by artifically raising the carbon floor price. But even so, the costs of nuclear energy are growing all the time. Additional safety measures are just part of the reason for this. The simple fact is that nuclear has always been enormously more expensive than its proponents were willing to admit - as the French government recently let on.

Nuclear therefore joins the other fossil fuel sources of electricity (message to Vince Cable: nuclear is a fossil fuel-based source and is not renewable!) in being an ever-increasingly expensive form of electricity generation. It's not reliable, it's certainly not safe, and it's only going to get more expensive. Scotland won't accept any new nuclear power stations. As is so often the case, Britain (i.e. England) seems to be flying the flag for a dying source of energy.

This has to stop. More importantly, the entire balance of our electricity generation needs to shift. It is atrocious that new nuclear power plants can be foisted on communities when windfarms - which do no harm, cost a tiny fraction of what nuclear costs, and then run practically for free - can be successfully opposed by a handful of demented, selfish nimbies who are willing to whip up a barking mob by spreading lies about wind turbines. Such a situation - so very British in its perversity - is absolutely at odds with the national interest.

All over the world, renewable energy technology is advancing. New developments in this country - such as a computer programme that resolves the difficulties radar could experience with turbines - offer to clear away many of the obstacles to a sustainable future. Multiple reliable reports have been published indicating that we in the UK could be getting at least 80% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2030. Scotland plans on being 100% renewable sooner than that.

The answer is staring us in the face. Plans for new nuclear should be put on hold indefinitely. Old nuclear stations are being decommissioned (Oldbury in Gloucestershire shut down last week), the costs of which currently soak up more than half of the Department for Energy and Climate Change's budget. Whoever said nuclear was "cheap"? We're paying vast amounts of public money to shut the damned places down!

Instead of investing trillions in delayed, overpriced, expensive and unreliable nuclear power plants, we should be making use of the fantastic natural resources we enjoy in the UK. 40% of Europe's wind passes over our isles. The sea around us offers oodles of wave and tidal power. A broad mix of renewables - onshore and offshore wind, hydroelectric, solar PV, tidal, wave, biomass and geothermal - would easily provide for all our needs while doing no significant harm to the planet (something that no "conventional" source can claim). Private homes and local communities can generate their own electricity from these abundant, free resources and sell the surplus on to the National Grid - after all, most of Germany's renewable energy is generated, not by utility-scale developments, but by communities.

Anyone who tries to make out that this is cloud-cuckoo-land is a liar. It is do-able. It just needs the political will. Which means that the cretinous, treacherous, devious and evil nimbies who automatically oppose any wind turbine because it might affect "their" view need to be silenced, once and for all. The lobbyists for oil, coal and nuclear (yes, Lord Lawson - we're looking at you) need to be silenced, too. Any right-wing rag like the Telegraph, the Mail and the Express, which wilfully spreads ludicrous anti-windfarm stories purely to stoke up fear and loathing should be heavily penalised.

The British government should do what the French do: just build the windfarms. Protracted planning delays caused by mindless nimby liars need to be curbed. Britain has promised to hit ambitious targets for reducing CO2 emissions, and renewables are one of the ways to do it.

So stop flapping, Britain, and get real. If a mad, deluded nimby tries to tell you stupid lies about wind power, shout them down. Do it for your country, for your kids, and for this wonderful natural world of ours, which the nimbies - and the nuclear power they pretend to love - will only destroy.

Let's get serious about renewables, before it's too late. Let's do the right thing. Let's abandon the nuclear nightmare and invest in windfarms.

It's the sensible thing to do.

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