Time to consider the nuclear power option?
This opinion piece by Robin McKie in the Guardian newspaper warns "we are heading for a power supply meltdown". The more I've read and the more research I've done in recent months the more I'm inclined to agree with him. Seeing British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, recently before a parliamentary committee sidestepping questions about how we are going to meet future energy requirements here in the U.K. did not inspire confidence.
However the quote which was widely reported by the media at the time from Tony Blair, "I am NOT ruling out the nuclear option" sounded a lot like politician speak for "I want to build lots of nuclear power stations but I don't want to say so."
So is it time to consider the nuclear option?
One of the difficulties in my opinion is there seems to be no middle ground. The anti-nuclear side is convinced that nuclear power is fundamentally dangerous and therefore can never be an option. The pro-nuclear side is convinced that nuclear power is the answer to our energy problems if only the environmentalists could be silenced.
At the moment I'm closer to the anti-nuclear position but perhaps for different reasons. Putting safety, environmental and economic concerns aside I'm concerned from an energy standpoint. If we include all the energy costs of mining uranium, building expensive power plants and then storing the waste indefinitely does nuclear power actually contribute significantly more energy than it uses?
Another important point is that uranium is a limited resource. According to some sources there are less than 40 years worth of uranium reserves in the United States. There seems little point in investing in nuclear technology if it isn't going to be a long term solution.
The problem in assessing the argument is finding unbiased information as there seems to be a lot of propaganda from both sides of the divide.
The article points out that if all the world's wind turbines were relocated in Britain they would still only provide 10% of our electricity requirements. However to me this is not an argument for building nuclear power plants rather it shows how underutilised renewables currently are and how much more we could be doing.
I think we do need to invest in nuclear research particularly in the areas of breeder reactors (which recycle uranium) and nuclear fusion (an area which has received lots of money and decades of research however we need to keep trying).
Firstly we need a big push to increase our utilisation of existing renewable technology like wind and solar power. Currently for example the United States generates less than 1% of its electricity from these sources. We can and must do better.
Guardian News Article