Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Opinion: Nuclear is 'a spanner in the works'

Ben Ayliffe is head of Greenpeace UK's nuclear campaign.
Ben Ayliffe is head of Greenpeace UK's nuclear campaign.
  • Nuclear power offers "too little, too late" says Greenpeace campaigner
  • Nuclear option is dangerous because disposal of radioactive waste "remains unsolved"
  • Lack of focus by UK government has meant Britain's renewable industry remains tiny

Ben Ayliffe is senior nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace UK. He leads the charity's campaign against the construction of nuclear power stations in the UK, as well as promoting energy efficient solutions to climate change.

London, England (CNN) -- Nuclear power is inadequate, hugely expensive, unnecessary and dangerous.

It is inadequate because it offers too little, too late. At best new nuclear power stations will deliver only a very small emissions reduction at some unspecified point. In the UK, the government's best estimates are that new nuclear power stations will cut our emissions by four percent some time after 2020, yet our binding target is a 34 percent cut, by 2020.

On top of this, the track record of the industry in constructing new reactors on-time and to budget is lamentable. The show piece reactor at Olkiluoto-3 in Finland is years behind schedule and has become a byword for engineering incompetence on a grand scale. UK safety regulators openly admit we can expect the same problems were we to try and build them in Britain.

And, as is all too common with the construction of nuclear reactors, the Olkiluoto plant has soared over budget and left the parties involved openly squabbling over who's going to foot the substantial additions to the bill.

As eminent analyst Tom Burke noted: "There are only two honest answers to the question of how much it costs to build a nuclear power station. These are 'I don't know' and 'I'll tell you when I've built it.' Everything else is a guess."

And Citigroup recently said that the costs and risks associated with new nuclear "are so large and variable that individually they could each bring even the largest utility company to its knees financially."

And all of this is unnecessary. We can reduce emissions and keep the lights on using better technologies instead. In the next decade meeting our existing renewables and efficiency targets would safely close any "energy gap" we might face and cut emissions, while leaving plenty of potential to expand clean energy solutions like wind, tidal and solar even further later.

Nuclear is dangerous because the disposal of radioactive waste remains unsolved and because it increases the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation. No operating high-level waste dump exists anywhere in the world.

The site at Yucca Mountain, in the U.S. was recently mothballed by President Barack Obama, whilst Britain's attempts to find a solution have left us with a few boreholes in Cumbria and a public bill for waste storage escalating towards £100bn ($150bn).

But there is another danger: the danger of distraction. Clean renewables and energy efficiency technologies are booming in other countries, and could be the cornerstone of a green economic recovery, quickly secure our power and be a springboard for greater emission reductions in future.

But despite the UK's abundant wind, waves and engineering skill, lack of government focus and priority means Britain's renewables industry remains tiny.

Some see nuclear as an important "tool in the box." It's not. It's a spanner in the works.