9 March 2011

Nuclear power is too expensive

Nuclear has always been an expensive white elephant. UK taxpayers currently subsidise nuclear directly to the tune of more than £1bn per year. But the indirect subsidies such as decommissioning and insurance are far greater.

The cost of decommissioning old nuclear in the UK is now estimated to be at least £73bn. Surely therefore that anyone wishing to provide new nuclear should have to put that sort of sum into an up-front clean-up fund? But of course they won't. They can't possibly afford to.

If there's a nuclear accident in the UK, then who will pay? An insurance company? Not a hope. Existing UK reactors are insured to the tune of £140m each, which the government is talking about increasing to £1.2bn, but that’s still nothing like enough to cover a serious accident like Fukushima or Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.

Nuclear power is uninsurable. It's too risky and the potential payouts are too big. The government, meaning the UK taxpayer, will have to pay as we did to bail out the banks. The free market will never bear the true costs of nuclear.

A report published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists last month said nuclear power had never operated in the United States without public subsidies. The existence of an Office of Nuclear Development at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) makes a mockery of Chris Huhne’s claim that no public money will be spent on new nuclear.

Only two atomic power stations are under construction in Western Europe: one in France and one in Finland. The Finnish reactor, which was supposed to be the first of a new generation of "safe" and "affordable" units, has been subsidised by the French nuclear industry (and therefore the French state) as a loss leader in the hope that it will spark a new nuclear building boom. When the decision was announced Standard & Poor instantly downgraded to “negative” the stock of the Finnish utility commissioning the reactor. The project has been plagued with cost overruns and delays (it was due to open in 2009), is under investigation by the Finnish nuclear safety regulator STUK and is probably the single best reason why new nuclear is a mistake (Thomas 2010).

For nine more reasons why nuclear power was not the answer, even before the Fukushima disaster, see here: www.cuttingthecarbon.co.uk/peak-oil/why-nuclear-is-not-the-answer.