Nuclear power: Ecologically sustainable or energy hot potato? A case study

This source preferred by Tilak Ginige, Ann Thornton and Frazer Ball

Authors: Ginige, T., Ball, F. and Thornton, A.

The key issue of the paper is to ensure that nuclear energy is truly sustainable and not simply shifting the economic and environmental burden of responsibility onto future generations to satisfy short-term political energy objectives.

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Authors: Ginige, T., Thornton, A. and Ball, F.

Journal: COBRA 2011 - Proceedings of RICS Construction and Property Conference

Pages: 831-843

ISBN: 9781907842191

"Man is here only for a limited time, and he borrows the natural resources of water, land and air from his children who carry on his cultural heritage to the end of time. One must hand over the stewardship of his natural resources to the future generations in the same condition, if not as close to the one that existed when his generation was entrusted to be the caretaker." (Delano Saluskin, 1991) We are now facing the prospect of fossil fuels running out. The magnitude of the hydrocarbon resource gap, lack of significant alternative energy sources and disastrous impact on society of energy shortfalls leave few choices. Any gap between supply and demand must be met through increased efficiency or increased nuclear/renewable energy production. With the proposed development of 10 nuclear power stations providing 16GW of new capacity, the government appears committed to obtaining a significant percentage of the country's energy from this source. The sustainability of this power source in comparison to other forms of low carbon energy is of paramount importance. The World Nuclear Association stated: '[nuclear power] is robust from a sustainable development perspective ...' Using the basic pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) this paper examines this statement using the proposed reactors at Hinkley Point, Somerset and Oldbury, (South Gloucestershire), as a case study. EDF Energy plans to develop two new reactors at Hinkley Point with forecasted construction costs in excess of £9bn to produce a capacity of 3.2GW. The Company believes this will boost the regional economy by over £500m, particularly through job creation, during the construction period and beyond. Horizon Nuclear Power is to invest £15bn to produce a capacity of 6 GW and again positively impact on the regional economy. These nuclear power stations will be located on the Severn Estuary, and thus enabling the abstraction of seawater for the cooling process. However, water is then returned to the sea at a 'slightly raised temperature'. Even small increases in temperature can create fluctuations in environmental conditions enabling the establishment of invasive/non-native or eurybiontic species that can rapidly colonise and threaten marine and coastal biodiversity. Studies have also shown a decline in phytoplankton and zooplankton abundance close to the discharged water with possible impacts upon the wider food chain and overall ecosystem services. Highly uncertain decommissioning and waste disposal costs are of key public and governmental concern when assessing the relative competitiveness and sustainability of nuclear power against other forms of low carbon energy. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority shows current discounted decommissioning and clean-up liabilities for existing nuclear facilities of over £45bn. If sufficient provision for costs of decommissioning waste from the new proposed nuclear facilities are not properly provided for, the burden will fall on the taxpayer (either directly or indirectly). The key issue here is to ensure that nuclear energy is truly sustainable and not simply shifting the economic and environmental burden of responsibility onto future generations to satisfy short-term political energy objectives.

The data on this page was last updated at 04:40 on November 22, 2017.