Finding a Gray Approach to Cutting Greenhouse Emissions
Tony Blair's backing for nuclear power suffered a blow yesterday when the Government's own advisory body on sustainable development came down firmly against the building of a new generation of reactors.
Despite the Prime Minister's well-known support for the nuclear industry, the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) concluded that a new nuclear programme was not the answer to the twin challenges of climate change and security of supply. In a hard-hitting report, the 15-strong Commission identified five "major disadvantages" to nuclear power.
The five objections are waste, cost, inflexibility, security risks, and distractions from energy efficiency.
A new nuclear power programme would send out a signal that a major technological fix is all that is required, says the report, and hurt efforts to encourage energy efficiency. This has largely been the approach of the Bush administration to climate change. Environmentalists would contend that this is a dangerous delusion, and that technical fixes such as nuclear power do nothing about the long-term problem. Only changing the energy system profoundly will make a real difference.
While the report is on the right track in that a long-term solution to global warming will surely require new and innovative solutions, we are unlikely to find a panacea anytime soon. Decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by any means, then, should be seen as a positive step. The report even notes that doubling the UK’s use of nuclear power alone would lower carbon emissions to 8% below 1990 levels. Although other truly clean energy sources have the potential to reduce emissions much further, this decrease would still be significant.
The commission reports that embracing nuclear power would distract the country from what should be the real focus: developing renewable energy sources combined with cutting energy use. Although this green strategy will be essential to truly combat global warming, it is unclear why nuclear power should be considered mutually exclusive with it. In fact, a truly comprehensive strategy would include both. The stakes are high, though, with the future of our planet in the balance. As global carbon dioxide levels continue to skyrocket, betting that an alleged loss of support for other solutions would cancel out gains from nuclear power is a dangerous gamble.