Nuclear Power

Why the UK should not replace its nuclear power stations

Britain’s first nuclear power station was opened at Calder Hall in 1956, on what is now the Sellafield nuclear site in Cumbria. We were told that it would produce “electricity too cheap to meter”, a claim which we now know was far from the truth.

Later, it was admitted that the real reason for opening Calder Hall was to produce plutonium for the UK nuclear weapons programme. There are now huge plutonium stocks at Sellafield, so nuclear power is no longer relevant to the UK nuclear weapons programme.

There was a fire at the nearby Windscale reactor in 1957. The seriousness of the fire and extent of the considerable release of radioactivity was kept secret.

The worst disasters at nuclear power stations were at Three Mile Island in the US in 1979, and Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986.

At Three Mile Island half the nuclear fuel melted. There was a small release of radioactivity, but a breach of the walls of the containment building, which would have resulted in the release of massive quantities of radiation to the environment, was narrowly averted.

At Chernobyl a reactor exploded. Further explosions and the resulting fire sent a plume of highly dangerous radioactivity into the atmosphere and over much of Europe.

The UK government is considering building new nuclear power stations, saying that this is a way to produce energy without increasing global warming. Although the carbon emissions from nuclear power stations are indeed small, the emissions resulting from the construction of such stations are huge.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) carries out regular safety checks on nuclear power stations. The inspection reports are often highly critical and are available from Health and Safety Executive.

Reasons for not relying on nuclear power stations for our energy supplies

  • Mining and preparing uranium ore for use in power stations could emit as much carbon dioxide as is saved by the production of nuclear energy.
  • Uranium ore would have to come from unstable countries such as Kazakhstan, so energy production would not be independent, nor would its reliability be assured.
  • Workers in the uranium mines suffer from severe health problems due to their exposure to radiation.
  • Nuclear power stations are potential terrorist targets, for attack or theft of nuclear materials.
  • The Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive, set up in 1982 to examine safe disposal of radioactive waste and now part of the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, has warned that existing nuclear power stations could be flooded by rising sea levels.
  • Every ten cents of investment purchases 1 kilowatt hour of energy from nuclear power, 1.2-1.7 kwh from wind power and 10kwh from improved energy efficiency.
  • No commercial insurance is available for nuclear accidents.
  • There is still no way of safely disposing of radioactive waste, dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • Nuclear power stations release dangerous radioactivity into the atmosphere.

For more information, see greenpeace.org.

Low Level Radiation Campaign, LLRC, www.llrc.org

Nuclear power dangers in the West Midlands

Highly radioactive materials are regularly carried on Britain’s railways. In the power stations, as the fuel rods burn, some of the uranium is converted into plutonium. The rods are then taken by rail to Sellafield on the Cumbrian coast, where the plutonium is extracted. This accounts for most of the nuclear materials on our railways.

Trains carrying nuclear fuel rods come through the West Midlands from two directions.

  • Some are from the nuclear power stations in Gloucestershire (Oldbury) and Somerset (Hinkley). They come through Bristol, Cheltenham, Barnt Green and the suburbs of South Birmingham, then, to avoid New Street Station, turn East to Water Orton, back through Sutton Park to Walsall, Wolverhampton and Stafford.
  • Others come from the nuclear power stations in Kent (Dungeness) and Suffolk (Sizewell), from London to Rugby, Nuneaton and Stafford.
  • At Stafford the trains join to continue the journey to Sellafield.