"A clever man solves a problem;
a wise man avoids it." Einstein
Exposing the myths
The nuclear industry is hoping that
concern over climate change will result in support for nuclear power. However,
even solely on the grounds of economic criteria it offers poor value for
money in displacing fossil fuel plant. Further, with its high cost,
long construction time, high environmental risk and problems resulting
from waste management, it is clear that nuclear power does not offer a
viable solution to climate change. Rather a mixture of energy efficiency
and renewable energy offers a quicker, more realistic and sustainable approach
to reducing CO2 emissions.
Exposing the myths 1: Nuclear
power is economical and cost effective
The full costs of nuclear power have
been seriously underestimated by all countries which have the technology,
and it is only recently that the true costs have begun to come to light.
The hidden costs of waste disposal, decommissioning and provision for accidents
have never been adequately accounted for, resulting in a massive drain
upon economies. This drain will continue for many years to come as the
expensive and dangerous task of nuclear decommissioning gets underway.
Privatisation and liberalisation
of the market in the UK, has led to the true costs of nuclear power being
exposed. It has become clear that nuclear power cannot exist in a competitive
energy market without significant subsidy from Government. This process
is now being followed around the world with investors being unwilling to
accept the high cost and risks associated with nuclear power. Moreover,
if fully comprehensive insurance was required to cover all of the risks
of nuclear accidents, the cost of electricity from nuclear power would
increase many times from the present level.
Reactor decommissioning costs also
remain a major uncertainty. In the UK, for example, the cost of dealing
with the unwanted debris of the nuclear industry is officially estimated
at about US$70 billion. Of this, just US$22 billion is covered in secure
funding arrangements, with the remaining US$48 billion (almost 70%) likely
to be paid for by taxpayers. The nuclear industry's claim that, "In most
countries, the full costs of waste management and plant decommissioning
will be funded from reserves accumulated from current revenues"  is
Countries, particularly in Central
and Eastern Europe, are continuing to build new nuclear plants even though
it has been shown that investment in energy efficiency measures is the
quickest and safest way to tackle their energy crises. For example, the
nuclear power plants proposed to replace the remaining reactors at Chernobyl
have consistently been shown not to be the least-cost option.
Also, in terms of cost-effectiveness
in reducing CO2 emissions, nuclear power fairs very
poorly. In 1995, after a year-long, exhaustive review of the case for nuclear
power, the UK Government concluded that nuclear power is one of the least
cost-effective ways in which to cut CO2 emissions.
In the USA improving electricity efficiency is nearly seven times more
cost effective than nuclear power for obtaining emissions reductions .
Nuclear power one of the least
effective and most expensive ways in which to tackle climate change.
Table 1: CO2
abatement options, in order of cost-effectiveness (10% discount rate) 
|1 Fuel switching
sector space heating
|9 Water heating
Exposing the myths 2: Nuclear
power does not produce CO2
Nuclear power is not greenhouse friendly.
While electricity generated from nuclear power entails no direct emissions
of CO2, the nuclear fuel cycle does release CO2
during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is
one of the most CO2 intensive industrial operations
and as demand for uranium grows CO2 emissions are
expected to rise as core grades decline.
According to calculations by the
Öko-Institute, 34 grams of CO2 are emitted per
generated kWh in Germany . The results from other international research
studies show much higher figures - up to 60 grams of CO2
per kWh. In total, a nuclear power station of standard size (1,250MW operating
at 6,500 hours/annum) indirectly emits between 376,000 million tonnes (Germany)
and 1,300,000 million tonnes (other countries) of CO2
per year. In comparison to renewable energy, nuclear power releases 4-5
times more CO2 per unit of energy produced taking
account of the whole fuel cycle.
Also, with its long development time
a nuclear power programme offers no short-term possibility for reducing
Exposing the myths 3: Nuclear
power is safe
Problems of security, safety and
environmental impact have been perennial issues for the nuclear industry.
Many countries have decided against the development of nuclear power on
these grounds, but radioactive contamination is no respector of national
borders and nuclear power plants threaten the health and well-being of
all surrounding nations and environments. There is also the very serious
problems of nuclear proliferation and trafficking.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) view is that if nuclear power were to be used extensively
to tackle climate change, "The security threat ... would be colossal".
Just one month after The Economist,
a British magazine, had declared in its lead article that the technology
was "as safe as a chocolate factory" (1986), there followed a catastrophic
nuclear accident at Chernobyl. The accident caused an immediate threat
to the lives of 130,000 people living within a 30 kilometre radius who
had to be evacuated (and who have been permanently relocated) and 300-400
million people in 15 nations were put at risk of radiation exposure. Forecasts
of additional cancer deaths attributable to the Chernobyl accident range
from 5,000 to 75,000 and beyond. The nuclear industry argues that the problems
in the former Soviet Union are different to those in developed countries,
but the United States itself had a serious accident at Three Mile Island
in 1979. Whilst the new European Pressurised Reactor and the fusion programmes
are being promoted as offering safer operation, no form of nuclear power
technology is totally without risk of a major accident. With public opinion
strongly set against nuclear power, it would be far better to invest in
renewable forms of energy which have widespread public support. The development
of new nuclear technology would mean spending huge amounts of money going
down another nuclear road, with the prospect of finding the same type of
problems and public opposition.
Recent in-depth studies in the United
States challenge the claim that exposure to low-level doses of radiation
is safe. The health and safety of employees, local communities and the
contamination of the environment are genuine risks. A recent study (completed
August 1997) funded by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety
and Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examined
the health and mortality of 14,095 workers from the Oak Ridge National
Laboratory. The study found "strong evidence of a positive association
between low-level radiation and cancer mortality" . As of 1990, 26.9%
of deaths were due to cancer.
The exposure risk to workers in the
uranium mining industry is also great.
Exposing the myths 4: Nuclear
power is sustainable
Nuclear power plants produce extremely
long-lived toxic wastes, for which there is no safe means of disposal.
The only independent scrutiny of a Government waste management safety case
[NIREX in the UK] led to the cancellation of the proposed test site for
nuclear waste disposal. As disposal is not scientifically credible, there
is no option other than interim storage of radioactive wastes. This means
that the legacy of radioactive wastes will have to be passed on to the
next generation. Producing long-lived radioactive wastes, with no solution
for their disposal, leaving a deadly legacy for many future generations
to come is contrary to the principle of sustainability, as laid out in
Agenda 21 at the Earth Summit.
In 1976 the UK Royal Commission on
Environmental Pollution warned that it is, "irresponsible and morally wrong
to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a
massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that
at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the
indefinite future". Over twenty years on, still no such method has been
found. Nuclear waste management policies are in disarray and there is growing
public opposition to the transport and storage of nuclear waste - as has
been demonstrated by the scenes at Gorleben, Germany.
Under no circumstances can nuclear
power be considered to be sustainable.
Exposing the myths 5: Nuclear
power can provide an endless source of energy
With the virtual demise of the Fast
Breeder research programme and no foreseeable commercial development of
fusion reactors, the belief that nuclear power can supply an endless source
of energy is fast disappearing. The Japanese Monju Fast Breeder reactor
has been inactive since a serious accident in December 1995, whilst the
French Superphoenix and the breeder reactor programmes in the UK have been
Diminishing uranium supplies and
the failure of the breeder reactor programmes mean that nuclear power will
not be able to make a long-term contribution to meeting the world’s energy
Exposing the myths 6: Nuclear
power makes a vital contribution to energy supply
The assertion by the nuclear industry
that, "It is essential that nuclear generating capacity is maintained if
emissions from power generation are to be successfully limited over the
next 10 to 15 year and beyond"  is fundamentally untrue. Emissions can
be cut without building more nuclear power plant. In October 1997, the
US Department of Energy released a report in which they concluded that
the US could cut CO2 emissions to 1990 levels by 2010
with no net cost to the economy. Shell has forecast that renewables could
meet up to 50% of the world’s energy demand by 2060 . Nuclear power
only supplies 17% of world electricity supply at present.
Nuclear power is seeing its role
in the world's energy mix diminish. Since 1986, according to the IAEA,
only three nuclear power stations have been ordered annually. In Europe
fourteen out of fifteen European nations have no plans to develop nuclear
power; the majority of the countries within the European Union have, "little
desire to launch, or to re-invigorate, nuclear power programs" ; and
nearly half of the EU countries are nuclear free and others are planning
to decrease or phase out nuclear power completely. It is clear that the
vast sums of money being spent on research and development and on subsidising
the industry are in total disproportion to the contribution nuclear power
is likely to make to Europe’s energy supply in the coming decades.
With a limited amount of funding
available for research and development, reallocation of funds from nuclear
power and towards renewable energy and energy efficiency would reduce the
costs of these technologies, making them even more competitive. However,
funds are still being wasted on nuclear power programmes, which are opposed
by most people, are more expensive than other alternatives and require
a long development time.
It is a myth that "Nuclear power
is the only fully developed non-fossil fuel electricity generating option
with the potential for large-scale expansion" . Nuclear power plants
take 10 years to build. Over the next 12 years the European Union is aiming
for 10,000MW of wind power and 10,000MW of biomass to be developed. This
is a just part of the solution and is equivalent to about 15 nuclear power
1. Joint Implementation and the
Clean Development Mechanism should not be allowed to be used as a smoke
screen for new nuclear power development. Western governments must
not be allowed to use nuclear power technology in Eastern Europe and in
developing countries to obtain greenhouse credits in return for "reducing"
future emissions in those countries. Canada had been proposing a system
of credits for low carbon-intensive fuels including uranium and natural
The World Bank has made a decision not to finance new, or the upgrading
of old, nuclear power plants based on the following rationale: i) in almost
all cases, nuclear is not the least-cost solution to the power supply problem;
ii) environmental risks are high and require specialised agencies for their
2. Governments should not be fooled into believing that nuclear power
is acceptable IN ANY WAY as a technically viable, economically feasible
or publicly acceptable solution to climate change. The nuclear industry
in the developed world, particularly Western Europe and the United States
is on its last legs due to its consistent technical problems (accidents,
construction errors, unreliable operation), economic failures (cost overruns,
non-competitive with renewables in an era of increased deregulation, rising
waste storage costs) and dramatic public disaffection (communities in the
US, Western Europe and now even Japan, are vehemently opposing the siting
of a new nuclear reactors).
3. Developed nations' governments should not be encouraged to support
nuclear power construction abroad under the mask of a climate solution,
in order to support their own failing nuclear industry. There are real
fears that Central and Eastern Europe will become an electricity generating
centre for the rest of Europe, producing cheap electricity based upon lower
environmental and safety standards and lower public opposition to highly
polluting and dangerous energy infrastructure.
Further, Western corporations have targeted energy-hungry China,
where public awareness of nuclear's environmental, economic and public
health disasters is virtually non-existent, as an economic goldmine and
saviour of their dying industry. Exploiting public innocence of the Chinese
people is cruel and unusual punishment. The health and safety of the Chinese
people, as well as the ecosystems and peoples of other nuclear industry
targeted countries must not be sacrificed on the altar of a nuclear industry
Japanese Government delegates to the preliminary conference for COP-3
climate change negotiations in Bonn proposed that expanded use of nuclear
energy should be referred to in the draft policy protocol to be signed
at COP-3. The proposal had to be withdrawn almost immediately due to opposing
4. Governments need to increase financial investments and incentives
in renewables, conservation and energy efficiency. Such measures will create
more jobs per unit of energy than traditional fossil fuel and nuclear power
industries. For example, while also being cheaper than nuclear power, wind
power provides four times as many direct jobs as nuclear power per unit
of energy produced.
Under no circumstances can nuclear
power be considered to be a solution to climate change:
- It is one of the most expensive
ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The nuclear industry does contribute
to carbon dioxide emissions.
No proven strategies exist for
the permanent safe storage of nuclear waste.
- Nuclear power poses a very real
- Nuclear power is uneconomic, unsustainable
Climate change is a serious problem
which needs to be tackled in a way which safeguards the future for generations
to come. Tackling climate change through the development of nuclear power
is both expensive and just swaps one serious problem for another. Nuclear
power cannot be considered to be a "clean source of electricity" .
The nuclear industry is hoping to
use the Climate Change negotiations to save itself, because the economics
of nuclear power has meant a rapid decline in the industry's fortunes.
This is a desperate attempt to generate business from the misfortune of
the problems we all now face.
 Foratom and the
Uranium Institute, 'The contribution of nuclear energy to limiting potential
global climate change'.Nuclear power
is one of the least effective and most expensive ways in which
to tackle climate change.
 Energy Policy,
 Jackson, T., 'Efficiency
without tears - 'No-regrets' energy policy to combat climate change', Friends
of the Earth, London, 1992.
 Lim Sui-San, 'Comparison
of greenhouse gas emission and abatement cost from nuclear and alternative
energy resources from lifecycle perspective', Öko-Institut, Germany,
 Richardson, D.
and Wing, S., Department of Epidememiology, The University of North Carolina.
 Royal Commission
on Environmental Pollution, 'Sixth report: Nuclear power and the environment',
HMSO, London, 1976, p81.
 'Clearing the air:
nuclear power and climate change', Statement by the international nuclear
power industry to the Third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in
 Kassler, P., 'Energy
for development', Shell Selected Paper, London, 1994.
 Office for Official
Publications of the European Commission, 'European Energy to 2020 - a scenario
approach', Luxembourg, 1996, p80.
 Letter from Achilles
Adamantiades, Principle Power Engineer, The World Bank, Washington DC,
to Professor Mendelsohn, University of Melbourne, 25th October 1996.
@ Friends of the
Earth Scotland, January 1998
Friends of the
Earth Scotland, 72 Newhaven Road, Edinburgh EH6 5QG, Scotland.
Tel: +44 131 554 9977 Fax: +44 131 554 8656
Web site: http://www.foe-scotland.org.uk/