Sunday, 13 April 2008

The Nuclear Business

I posted recently on another blog about Marilynne Robinson's essay 'Mother Country', that argued the utter immorality of the UK's nuclear reprocessing business at Sellafield. But the nuclear trade is certainly a political matter so it belongs here too, and particularly topical as our 'green' government is keen to persuade us that it would be best if we get a new generation of nuclear power stations asap. The nuclear decision the government has reached typifies their approach to so many issues; better the short-term solution than the long-term one, particularly as they don't anticipate being the ones who have to sort the mess when it all goes wrong.

So it wasn't the happiest news for them when they learnt this weekend that the European Pressurised Reactor being built over in Normandy has already been identified as having serious structural faults, with both it's concrete base and the weld for it's steel liner developing cracks. Worse still, exactly the same faults have occurred in a similar reactor being built at Olkiluoto in Finland, causing long delays and costs to spiral out of all control. These are the only two reactors of their kind, and they are the sort that we seem to be on the verge of buying from that nice Monsieur Sarkovsky who popped by a couple of weeks ago. It doesn't look good, does it?

This though is the way the nuclear industry works - reassuringly promising that the next new (and untried) generation of reactors will provide us with safe, cheap electricity to our hearts content. Last time around it was the fast breeder reactor, the one that miraculously produced it's own nuclear material so it never needed refuelling. If they were so good, and they certainly made them sound good, why aren't we getting them now?

More trouble at Sellafield too... The THORP reprocessing plant, which reopened after a two year closure, only lasted a couple of weeks before they had to close it again, with more safety 'incidents'.

And a committee of MPs have just slammed the 'unsustainable' costs of nuclear decommissioning, with the government only budgeting over three year periods, which leaves the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's funding at the mercy of the Treasury. The Treasury's main priority at the moment is of course to bail out the financial institutions that have come a cropper with risky mortgages. And to encourage them to keep lending so that property prices stay high. Because that's what people seem to worry about unfortunately - their ability to borrow against the inflating value of their home rather than the risks inherent in pursuing means of getting 'cheap' electricity that flirt with risk of devastation for all life on the planet.

Are there any politicians able to see sense on this? If there are, they don't seem very visible. So, no more mealy-mouthed promises about 'green' policies, please.

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