The Convenient Solution

Posted by bex — 18 July 2007 at 5:00pm - Comments

Update (09/04/2008): The Convenient Solution has been chosen as an Official Honoree in the Public Service and Activism category The 12th Annual Webby Awards.

A short film about climate change and energy

We all know that, to stop climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. The government says we need nuclear power to do this. Our new film explains why nuclear power can’t stop climate change – and lays down a better, cheaper, more convenient solution:

Right-click on these links and select 'Save link as...' to download the film as a Quicktime (30MB) or Windows Media (27MB) file.

Convinced? Find out what you can do to make sure the UK gets a genuinely clean and efficient energy system.

Not convinced yet? Read on.

The single biggest use of fossil fuels in the UK isn't for electricity or for transport, but for creating heat to warm our buildings and power our industrial processes. So any solution to climate change needs to contribute to heating, as well as to electricity generation.

Nuclear power contributes almost nothing to our enormous heating requirements. In fact it contributes less than four per cent to our overall energy needs. And building new nuclear power stations (as the government wants to do) won't increase that share.

So what is the solution? Well, in the same amount of time and for less money, we could implement an energy system that will do far more to stop climate change and ensure energy security than nuclear power: a combination of renewable energy, efficiency, and combined heat and power:

Renewable energy
Our windswept island has more than enough wind, wave and tidal power potential to meet all of our energy needs many times over. Between them, wind, wave and tidal power could deliver more than twice as much electricity than the proposed new fleet of nuclear reactors in the same timeframe - and the renewable energy sources would come online more quickly, require no fuel and won’t have the danger or cost of the nuclear waste.

"Energy efficiency isn't just a free lunch," said Amory Lovins, "it's a lunch you are paid to eat." Because of inefficient buildings and appliances, every year we throw away more than eight times the amount of energy supplied by all of the UK's nuclear power stations combined. Simple efficiency measures can reduce our need for both heat and power, lowering our dependency on gas imports far more than nuclear power ever could, while saving consumers £12 billion every year. Implementing these measures would save more money that it costs.

Combined heat and power (CHP)
But most of the waste in our electricity system happens before it even reaches us. Our power stations throw away two-thirds of the energy they generate – they throw out enough "waste" heat to keep every building in the UK nice and warm, and to provide the hot water too. If power stations are sited near towns and cities or on industrial sites, then this heat can be captured and used in the nearby homes or on the factory site.

These combined heat and power (CHP) plants provide both heat and power, only take a few years to build and just a relatively small number of the largest scale units can provide the same electricity as the proposed new nuclear power plants.

We've sent DVDs of The Convenient Solution to every MP - ask your MP to watch it, and find out what else you can do to spread the word about the real solution to climate change.

Because CHP can run efficiently off all sorts of fuels, they’re crucial for our transition away from fossil fuels towards clean fuels like biomass. This is where the beer bit comes in. While the government dithers, companies like Manchester’s Royal Brewery (home of Fosters) are taking the initiative by installing CHP to generate their own heat and electricity. The brewery is upgrading its CHP plant, so that it can be fuelled entirely by biomass, including the spent grain used in the brewing process.

The future
The way we generate energy right now is downright crazy – we’re using inefficient and archaic technologies that mean we end up throwing away far more energy that we actually use. The government’s energy consultation is a chance to introduce a rational, clean and efficient energy system that will stop climate change and ensure energy security. But instead of taking the opportunity, the government seems to want to push us into an even more irrational and archaic system that will do almost nothing to stop climate change or ensure energy security: nuclear power.

Getting a genuinely clean and efficient energy system in the UK has never been more important. We don't have time to make mistakes. Our volunteers have been visiting MPs across the country for months to get the word out but now we need your help to pile on the pressure before the energy consultation closes.

We’ve sent every MP a DVD of this film; please write to your MP now asking them to break out the popcorn and watch the film – and please help us to spread the word.


Find out more:

see decentralised energy in action
renewable energy | energy efficiency | combined heat and power case studies | nuclear power | climate change
what you can do


Great film with some good points, but can renewables really fill the gap? I thought they could only supply 20% of demand.

Also, I wonder if the proposals for more tidal mentioned in the film include the controversial Severn barrage scheme.

Government isn't pushing nuclear just out of their own initiative. There must be some enormous lobbying pressure going on as well from whoever stands to gain from all the billions that the movie talks about. It's one thing for us to write to our MPs (who Government pretty much ignores anyway) but it would probably also help for us to turn on the power companies involved (who're all desperately trying to tell us how green they are). Come on, give us names and addresses.

Alistair McKechnie

Very good point Alistair, and rest assured we are researching the companies and investors now and preparing to take on the money behind the madness. Watch this space in the next few months and we will give em up.


In fact, we have enough renewable resource in the UK to meet our electricity needs many times over.

However, what the film intends to demonstrate is not that renewables will meet all of our needs, but that nuclear power is not the solution to climate change - the government's plan to replace our reactors will not noticeably reduce our emissions. Instead investment in nuclear power is getting in the way of development of more efficient and renewable technologies.

It's probably worth watching the first film we did last year about decentralised energy (isn't as dull as it sounds) because the most affective way to cut our emission right now is to use less energy. We currently waste two thirds of the energy we put into a power plant through wasted heat.

What we are advocating is a mixture of energy sources including local combined heat and power networks which are up to 95% efficient alongside renewable energy and better energy efficiency at its point of use. These things will get us much further than a new generation of nuclear power stations, and in a timescale that can make a difference.

The film isn't addressing specific renewable projects like the Severn barrage, what we need to do know is get the government to support a plan and investment in decentralised energy, renewables and energy efficiency rather than a new generation of nuclear plants. Then, of course, individual projects need to be evaluated for their benefits and the risks and impacts they present alongside proper public consultation.

Great video and nice reference to our hero Lovins.
The above reminds me of ZeroCarbonBritain. An Energy blueprint for Britain which is completely powered by renewables by 2027. Demonstrating that the variability in demand can be met from a variable supply such as renewables by a well designed mix of generation technology and location combined with demand management systems. Therefore completely avoiding the need for Nuclear.

I seriously reckon you've got the right idea there! Obviously if you had been able to make the film longer, you could have given more evidence to support the very strong and well presented points that you made. A very inspirational video...

Today the Guardian reported that the government doesn't think it has a hope in hell of meeting the EU renewable energy targets even though Blair just signed it in the spring. But instead of embarkin gon an ambitious plan to meet the target ( and lets face it if we want to do something about climate change we are going to have to be a bit ambitous), ministers have been advised to do everything they can to "wriggle" out of it.

More appalling behaviour my our so-called leaders.

I've also tracked down a few more facts for mrchrismason which also show pathetic the government's current stance on renewables is.

By 2025, wind could provide over a quarter of today's electricity demand, and wave/tidal another 12.5 per cent (the government's figures which they are not going to try to meet now).

That's more than double the output of the proposed new nuclear programme. It’s also roughly the proportion of renewable electricity that the European Commission suggests would be needed to hit the recently agreed binding EU Renewable Energy target for 2020 (which covers electricity, heat and transport).

Meanwhile 2025 is the earliest year the controversial new nuclear power stations would all be up and running, by the way; they won’t generate a single watt before 2017 either and will take years even after that to reach even the same level they are now – and that’s the industry’s timetable.

Renewables and large scale CHP on the other hand are much easier and quicker to build, so we’d start to see the benefits (emissions drops) immediately and see really big gains long before 2025.

And there's no reason to stop at 2025. In the longer term, there's nothing to stop us from meeting 100 per cent of our electricity demand from renewables. Nuclear power on the other hand is a dead end. For it to generate more electricity than the 20 per cent, we’d need to build a lot more nuclear power stations. This isn't going to happen, because of cost, siting and waste management issues (there just aren't that many suitable places to put reactors and waste).

While renewables are being built, we can do a huge amount to reduce our total electricity demand. If the government introduced minimum efficiency standards for all electrical products, we could massively reduce the amount of electricity we use. (Changing just light bulbs to energy efficient ones across the UK would cut our demand by the equivalent of two nuclear power stations).

More on tidal: yep, the Bristol Channel is included in our tidal proposals - but not necessarily the barrage. The Sustainable Development Commission is doing a study at the moment into the best way to harness tidal power there, and it turns out there are several options – we should of course go for the best of them.

Hum! Very interesting reading all this but as usual nobody seems to be offering any real workable alternatives.
It's all very well saying that wind power could provide our energy requirements but I personally don't believe it. We have now had several days with nothing much more than a very gentle breeze which ain't gonna turn a wind turbine no matter how much you want it to, what do we do during these windless days? Store the unused energy from windy days? How? In nasty great big toxic batteries? And who's to say there will be any left over energy. How many of these wind turbines will it take to replace a power station like Drax? I've not seen that mentioned anywhere, apologies if I missed that bit.
Wasted heat and energy is also mentioned, again there have been no real solutions to this problem offered. Nuclear power stations are placed near coastlines because of the vast amounts of water needed to cool the reactors, are you suggesting that we should be building housing estates next door to these sites? Is there enough room for the million of houses that would need resiting? What about the coal fired stations, do we spend billions of pounds moving factories and industrial estates next to them or even more rebuilding the power stations next to industrial estates? And what about when a problem occurs and all of a sudden millions of people are gassed by toxic fumes that have escaped into the heating systems of these houses? Accidents do happen and so does human error and I for one would rather not be on the end of something like that.
Money has also been mentioned. There is always going to be money involved, there is always going to be somebody that makes huge profits thing, that, unfortunately is the nature of the beast.
As usual only half an answer has been given to the problems, half an answer is no good, if you are going to convince the majority of people that these ideas are going to work then then answers need to be thought through properly to a sensible conclusion. I am not convinced that wind or wave power will supply all our energy needs especially as more and more people 'emigrate' to this country.
Unfortunatley the major culprits for wasting energy are the consumers and that I believe is where you should first be tackling the problem. Until consumption is reduced drastically to a point where nuclear and coal fired power stations can be closed down and the energy production switched to 'renewable' sources then I cannot see that very much is going to be accomplished by lobbying goverments and power companies.
I'm pretty sure I will probably recieve some flak over my views and opinions but just remember I am not disagreeing with the views held by greenpeace or any other campaign groups, what I am saying is that proper answers need to be given so that normal people are convinced on the way to go and what needs to be done.

Sorry if this sounds blunt, Gandalf, but have you watched either of the films?

We are proposing alternatives - a mixture of renewables, CHP, and energy efficiency. Other European countries are already producing far more electricity from renewables than we are; they're also using CHP. I don't think anyone's saying wind power can generate all of our electricity but as Tracy points out about, it could contribute up to a quarter by 2025.

CHP is all about using heat that is currently lost in fossil-fuelled power stations, so the power plants can be small and fit alongside homes and offices. No one is talking about placing coal-fired or nuclear power stations in urban areas - mainly because we don't want to see anymore built full stop.

You're right that energy efficiency is crucial too - if we use less energy, we won't need to generate so much. That's why we've started our work on light bulbs which is just the beginning of a wider energy efficiency campaign that will roll out over the coming weeks and months.

web editor

I would be grateful if Greenpeace would supply a reference to any scientific papers that analyse the net energy contribution of wind turbines over their lifetimes. Such analysis to include embedded energy; erection; maintenance and disposal.

Thanks for the question, gorkitek. As you can imagine there are a huge range of variables to be considered when calculating EROI figures (which measure the amount energy delivered against how much it costs). Basically, the larger the turbine (both in blade size and power rating) the greater the EROI - the most recent wind farms are far more efficient, but the cost of manufacture varies widely around the world, making it hard to compare like with like. In all cases the production process itself has a greater influence upon the magnitude of input energy than site conditions or transportation.

One of the best recent studies was undertaken by Dr Cutler Cleveland of Boston University in 2006. He compiled a range of EROI studies on turbines produced between 1990 and 2003. Interestingly the REOI of modern turbines compares very favourably with other forms of power generation, comfortably beating coal, and nuclear, and running hydropower a fairly close second.

More information is available in downloadable PDF format from the reports section of Try the Gobal Wind Energy Output report for starters.

Hope this helps.

Jamie, thank you for your comments but it is still only half an answer, where are the figures to back up the claims - wrong word but it is the only one I could think of. You will not convince most people just by saying this and that, I, along with others want to see the facts and the figures to back it all up. You say that some european countries are already producing more power from renewable sources but you don't say which countries and what renewable sources. It is these facts and figures that people like me, ordinary people want so that we can be convinced about the alternatives.
Moving on to what you say about CHP I am now a little confused. What sort of power plants are you talking about that will be small enough to fit alongside homes and office buildings? What will these be powered by? Are we now talking about thousands of small power plants to generate our energy needs? And I would be interested to know how much heat would be generated from these, surely not enough to heat more than one room in the winter.
The real point of my comments was missed, half an answer to a problem, that is all I see in the original story and in your reply to my comments.
Ordinary people like me need to see facts and figures to backup the claims of renewable energy supplies.

Hi Gandalf

Jamie's not in the office today so I'm replying on his behalf. We have loads of facts and figures on renewables here, as well as a list of sources and references we use.

The data on European countries comes from The European Commission. Halfway down this page there's a table showing the share of renewable energies in primary energy consumption of EU countries in 2005 - as you'll see, only Belgium, Cyprus and Malta are worse than the UK.

On CHP, we're talking about two kinds of plants: industrial and urban. On industrial sites where huge quantities of heat are needed, CHP plants can be similarly big. For example, the Immingham CHP plant, supplying two refineries in Humberside with heat, steam and power, is about to be expanded to reach the same electricity generating capacity as the UK's flagship nuclear power station, Sizewell B (reference). In fact, on a relatively small number of industrial sites in the UK, there's enough CHP potential to provide the same electricity generating capacity as the whole of the proposed new generation of nuclear reactors combined.

On urban CHP (where smaller power plants are located near villages, towns and cities), we are talking about a larger number of smaller plants - our case studies on Southampton or Woking might be of interest if you'd like to know more about how these work.

If we combine the potential for CHP on industrial sites and in communities then, according to government figures, we could generate more than double the expected output of electricity from the proposed nuclear programme - in the same time frame, for less money and without the legacy of nuclear waste.

You ask what the CHP plants will be powered by. The answer is - pretty much anything, which is why CHP is crucial for our transition away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable energy sources. So, in the short term, some CHP plants may still use fossil fuels - but, because it's the most efficient way possible to use these fuels, it cuts emissions and reduces fuel dependency immediately.

Moreover, CHP can use diverse fuels in the same boilers. This means that, as more greener fuels like biomass (straw bales, for example, or waste wood pellets or certain specially grown crops) become available, they can be used in the CHP plants instead - with no need to refit the equipment, but with an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions and with the knowledge that these precious green fuels are also being used in the most efficient way possible.

You ask how much heat can be generated from these. Well, there's enough heat wasted by our power stations at the moment to heat every building in the UK, as well as all of the hot water we need for domestic and business purposes. CHP plants can achieve up to 95% efficiency (eg Avedore in Denmark), so CHP is more than capable of heating whole communities.

Sorry for my wordiness - I do appreciate your point that people need facts and figures to back up our points - sometimes it's just hard to fit everything in concisely! There are links at the bottom of the blog post to more info on CHP, renewables, efficiency, case studies etc, and from there you'd find links to a dense page of facts, figures, references and sources.

Cheers for your interest,


By the way, Gandalf, I don't know if you've seen our film specifically on CHP / decentralised energy yet. It's a bit longer than A Convenient Solution but well worth it if you're interested in seeing how CHP plants are working in various projects in the UK and around the world. You can watch it here.

Thank you Bex, that's what I was looking for. Can I make a suggestion though? Having worked in a training capacity for a couple of companies I have always found that if you are trying to teach or tell somebody something it is better to have all the information in one place and made interesting. With the answers you've given to my points and comments it means I have to troll through several web pages to get to it all, it's nobody's fault, just the way things work, information gets fragmented on a website like yours where you are dealing with a variety of different issues, may I suggest a new section based entirely on the issues that we have discussed, gather up all the information and get it in one place to make it easier to 'research'.

On the question of CHP this sort of system was in use by the Ancient Romans, and in the UK we have been using it since 1950. More information can be found at
Not always the best place to find the most accurate information but most of it can be double checked against other sources.
The Pimlico District Heating Undertaking has been in operation since 1950 and is now being expanded, currently supplying 3016 residential properties and 46 commercial properties in Pimlico. More information can be found at
I think that a major stumbling block in all of this is societys attitude to money.

Don't apologise for being 'wordy', that's what I want and I'm probably an offender of wordiness when it comes to an interesting subject.

And thanks for your suggestions - point taken about the layout of the content.

We try to take into account the different needs people have from the website; some people (I think) have a passing interest and may only want a brief overview of the subject - an enormously long page might put them off. Others, like yourself, want the full shebang. At least that was my assumption when creating the pages, so the idea was to give a brief introduction with the ability to drill down to further info. Maybe my assumption's wrong though and people do want more info all in one place (feel free to jump in here, anyone!).

I'll have a think about how to make it more usable.

(A bit of a tangent but another debate we often have here that influences our page layout is the extent to which Greenpeace's role is "to teach and tell", as you put it, and the extent to which it is to inspire people to take action. Usually, our main aim is to inspire action and there's a strand of thinking that says too much information can overwhelm and paralyse, and generate a feeling of helplessness. But personally, I think the issue of energy is a bit different - we're facing a massive choice and it takes a relatively detailed grasp of electricity and heat generation and consumption to get an understanding of why nuclear can't stop climate change and how the solution we're proposing can. So the more info the better on this one, maybe.)

Cheers also for the links - interesting stuff (I didn't know about the Pimlico scheme).


Encouraging to see workable solutions are being pushed, so keep up the fab work. The principles behind CHP make complete sense, and in the instance of the brewery already using these principles and taking it one simple step further, it makes you wonder why it's not catching on faster!...

If you could sell it to me a little further tho, I just wondered whether anyone has looked into how safe for the local environment CHP is - obviously Gandolf mentioned with regards to toxic risk from plant accidents, etc, but I was wondering more of in the same way that there are suspected negatives of the effects on children living close to railway lines / power pylons / wireless mobile & internet connections, etc ( - the mobile and wireless technology we have now already being lined up as 'the cigarette of the 21st century...); If these mini plants are placed near communities to serve communities, would we discover in 20 years time that the children near these plants show a pattern of suffering from blood / physical disorders, or mental/pschological/ behavioural ailments, etc - ? When you're talking about the future inheritants of our climaticaly damaged earth, what more damage and risk are we placing them under ? Is it completely 'loop-hole free' safe?

Also, with regards the wind farms, I was turned against them in the past as they were deamed a menace to bird wildlife.
It may sound like I'm being negative, but I'm really trying to do my part (energy efficient lightbulbs, composting,using organic where I can afford, buying local, biking, given up fashion for quality(painful), and people taking the mick out of the amount of recycling boxed up outside the house ready to go each but these little questions are niggling me about this. If you could inform me further, that'd be great.

As a physicist and engineer, and an observer of the energy, transportation and building industries, I see that there is no single solution to the current energy crisis. We need green energy saving, production and design. Wave, wind and tidal, but also solar, and hydrogen for transportation. Nothing short of a complete restructuring of the economy is required, locally and globally. Otherwise, we all die, ultimately.

I believe that this will be mankind’s great economic and political endeavour of the 21st century. Fortunately there are solutions that are becoming more and more viable. No single solution is sufficient, not least because each has substantial economic, ecological or political disadvantages, depending on context and location.

But green energy solutions are optimal energy solutions: they are best both economically and ecologically when developed and implemented locally. No uranium or oil imports from distant continents, minimal ecological impact, maximum local employment and a great return for investors.

To be sure, there are also disadvantages with all of the green energy technologies. Solar power, especially solar cells, requires quite large amounts of poisonous chemicals. Wave, tidal and wind power require large quantities of steel, aluminium and other materials, and can have a major local ecological impact (think about birds and sea life). Managed properly, however, the worldwide application of these technologies can and I believe will save the world's ecosystem.


Remember that the final objective is a better sustainable 'green' environment. Reducing carbon dioxide may or may not stop the now possibly inevitable global warming (in my view it is now too late). Global warming has well documented environmental risks -- polar bear extinction etc.

Therefore, you must balance the environmental 'cost' of each
energy source against the possible environmental gain from the drop in CO2.

For example the environmental impact of the massive windmill
farm planned for North Lewis far outweighs any gain and should be blocked. Off-shore windfarms should be carefully sited away from seabird's feeding grounds. Tidal power also can have an enormous environmental impact.

It is not as simple as renewables = green.

I've had to go to our CHP gurus to get the in-depth answer for you, and unfortunately they're up to their eyes with organising regional screenings of the film (Manchester tonight, if you're in that neck of the woods and fancy a discussion).

I'll get back to you once I've cornered one of them!


oops sorry tracy may i just add that wasted energy is a fact off life nothing is 100% efficient it never will be it's impossible.

A lot of wasted energy is due to distribution of electricity! I admit its lower than it could be but all the big companies only think of money! That is why its so low! Green is expensive they won't change unless the goverment make them.

(Answering on Tracy's behalf).

Yep, it's true, nothing's 100 per cent efficient - although some things get pretty close! Avedore CHP plant in Denmark reaches around 95 per cent efficiency.

And you're right that some energy gets lost in transmission - although far, far more is wasted through inefficient generation. Of 100 units of energy within fossil fuels, 3.5 units are lost through transmission and distribution. A whopping 61.5 are lost through inefficient generation and wastage at the power plant. This pic shows it quite nicely.

The beauty of CHP is that it eliminates most of both of these wastages. Because it captures and uses the "wasted" heat, it slashes the wastage at the point of generation. And because, with CHP, energy is generated close to where it's used, the losses from transmission are also reduced.

This allows CHP plants to reach incredibly high efficiency levels - like 95 per cent compared to the average UK non-CHP plant, which is only 38 per cent efficient.

On green being expensive - not compared to nuclear. On a relatively small number of industrial sites in the UK, there's enough CHP potential to provide the same electricity generating capacity as the whole of the proposed new generation of nuclear reactors combined. They'd take only a few years to build, would provide heat as well as electricity and, based on the reported investment at Immingham CHP plant, would cost a fraction of the price.



Dolly, sorry for the delay!

OK, speaking to our experts, generating heat close to communities is exactly the same principle as having a boiler in your home - and the technology to ensure utmost safety around CHP plants already exists.

But I think your question was more about electro-magnetic fields? This isn't my area of expertise at all, so I'll steal from my colleague Jamie's reply to another comment:

According to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science website, there's currently no scientific evidence to link electromagnetic fields and the symptoms attributed to electrosensitivity. Of the 37 studies undertaken on the subject, only seven have shown any measurable effects and there are question marks over those. Compare this to the colossal amount of scientific evidence pointing to the reality of climate change, and I don't think there's any competition.

He also has some interesting things to say about Alasdair Philips and his range of products designed to protect the unwary from rampaging electromagnetic fields.

Hope that helps (a bit!),


I just wanted to say thanks for your extremely eloquent comment. I've been trying to sum it up as well as that for quite a while...


am just wondering about the effects of tidal/wave and offshore wind farms on the sealife.....can you enlighten me please?! no doubt this is a concern of yours as well.
I was thinking that maybe the effect was only temporary and that it is just a cas eof adaptation....however I have just been told that no doubt it would be permanent destruction due to lubricants that are probably poisonous coming off the structures into the sea life.
I'd be very greatful for your comments!

A nuclear power station would fit on a football pitch - to grow crops to produce the same amount of energy would take up the whole of the highlands of Scotland - to build wind turbines to produce the same amount of energy would line the coastline from Lands End to Dover.

An air hostess receives more radiation than a nuclear power worker

Every new nuclear power station is strong enough to withhold a 9/11 type terrorist attack.

Ninety per cent of the world's radiation is in the atmosphere - 9.9% comes from medical activities - 0.003% comes from nuclear power stations.

There are 20 nuclear power stations on the French coast south of Calais. So if they were hit we would be snookered anyway!

30 new nuclear power stations in the UK would provide nearly all of our electricity.

30 new nuclear power stations in the UK would reduce our CO2 emissions by 40%

Total affordable UK renewable capacity (<7p/kWh) is only 10% of total energy demand.

To replace the same power stations with wind electricity would require windmills the size of Big Ben from Land's End to Dover. (1000x 3GW peak/1MW average, taking 500m each = 500km). Even if we covered the entire coast and all the hills, we would only have electricity when the wind blows, and only about 10% of our total energy demand on average.

Every nuclear power station in the West has a specially designed concrete containment shield. These have never failed. Russian reactors never had this. Nobody has died in the Western nuclear power program, compared to tens of thousands in coal mines, gas pipeline explosions hydro accidents etc. New nuclear power stations can be built of a 'passively safe' modular design.

So off this are we happy that nuclear power would actually help our country?

Also, i am doing a lot of research on this subject at the moment so if you are willing to listen to another point of veiw please contact me! I am a 'green' person and also believe this is the way foward by the way this is a post i found on your directors page,

In view of the fact that whether the country has nuclear reactors, wind turbines or gerbils on a million little wheels to provide electricty none of them are going to be built in London I fail to see why it is any business of a bunch of BoBo hippies at the greenpeace office how their coffee grinders and bagel toasters get powered.

Thank you, Before you make a decsion you should see both sides of a story and as far as i can see you aren't.
Please prove me wrong

Hi Jenny,

thanks for the questions. I think the only truthful answer would be that no one really knows - I'm not aware of any published studies in this area, although there may well be some in progress.

What I think we can say is that the greatest threat to our ocean ecosytems comes from the warming of the oceans, causing mass migrations, coral bleaching, toxic plankton blooms and the like. I've not heard of there being any great pollution threat from turbines at sea - in fact these structures are likely to have a beneficial effect, acting as artificial reefs which shellfish and other invertebrates can colonise. Another positive effect of big offshore wind farms like the London Array is that they will inevitably restrict the amount of fishing in the area as the vast nets used by modern trawlers will get entagled - and any reduction in fishing effort has got to be good news for sealife!

all the best,

Hi Cemma

You said: A nuclear power station would fit on a football pitch - to grow crops to produce the same amount of energy would take up the whole of the highlands of Scotland - to build wind turbines to produce the same amount of energy would line the coastline from Lands End to Dover.

Um, The London Array wind farm will soon generate the equivalent of the electricity needs for 750,000 homes. In some more recently conceived projects, single wind farms would have about the same output as a typical nuclear power station.

With the crops, I assume you’re talking about biomass for combined heat and power (CHP) plants? CHP can run on a range of fuels – many of them from industrial and domestic waste. (On the size of CHP plants by the way, Immingham CHP in Humberside is about to be expanded to reach the same electricity generating capacity as Sizewell B).

But I think you’re missing the point of the film – we wouldn’t be replacing like with like. Nuclear power belongs to the old, inefficient, unflexible, centralised energy model of large, remote power stations, where 2/3 of all energy is wasted. We’re calling for a decentralised energy system in with smaller plants located close to where electricity is used, so waste heat can be captured.

You said: An air hostess receives more radiation than a nuclear power worker

Accidents excepted, workers inside nuclear plants probably are well protected from radiation. But the people and ecosystems near plants clearly aren’t. Take Sellafield, which has routinely chucked radioactive liquids and gases into the Irish Sea since 1953. In the nearby area, childhood leukaemia incidence is up to 14 times higher than the rest of Britain. (Officially, the cause is unknown but radiation is the only known environmental cause of leukaemia.) The government's Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee estimates that this and future generations can expect 200 cancer deaths worldwide for each year that Sellafield discharges nuclear waste into the sea and air. And the Irish Sea is now the most radioactively contaminated sea in the world - hence we have radioactive salmon and sea food). The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment is choc-full of reports on this subject.

You said: Every new nuclear power station is strong enough to withhold a 9/11 type terrorist attack.

The (pro-nuclear) International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said: “Most nuclear power plants were built during the 1960s and 1970s, and like the World Trade Center, they were designed to withstand only accidental impacts from the smaller aircraft widely used at the time. If you postulate the risk of a jumbo jet full of fuel, it is clear that their design was not conceived to withstand such an impact.'' There’s loads more in our nuclear power and terrorism briefing (pdf).

In terms of the new reactors (EPRs, which are proposed for the UK), a confidential leaked document from Electricite de France (EdF, who build reactors) contradicts you too. After 9/11, EdF was asked to prove that its reactors could withstand aircraft attack. Apparently the only way they could do it was to base their calculations on a number of ridiculous assumptions: 1) that the impact of a 250 tonne commercial jet aircraft would be the same as the impact of a 2-5 tonne military aircraft 2) that terrorists would have insufficient skills to pilot an aircraft directly into a nuclear power station and 3) that up to 100 tonnes of aviation fuel from a commercial aircraft would burn up within two minutes. Lots more in this Assessment of the Operational Risks and Hazards of the EPR when Subject to Aircraft Attack.

You said: Ninety per cent of the world's radiation is in the atmosphere - 9.9% comes from medical activities - 0.003% comes from nuclear power stations.

Again, I don’t have time to check your figures but I assume you realise they’re beside the point? The problem isn’t with low level background radiation in the atmosphere; it’s with high concentrations of radioactive materials flooding into oceans, land, ecosystems, water tables, farms, food chain and populated areas (not to mention all the species we share the planet with). Just in terms of human health, you can find out more about the impacts of radiation in our report on the consequences on human health from the Chernobyl catastrophe.

You said: There are 20 nuclear power stations on the French coast south of Calais. So if they were hit we would be snookered anyway!

Therefore we should build more plants here so future generations keep facing the threat?

You said: 30 new nuclear power stations in the UK would provide nearly all of our electricity. 30 new nuclear power stations in the UK would reduce our CO2 emissions by 40%

Again, I’m not going to check your figures because the argument is academic. How would it be possible to build 30 reactors in the UK? Where would you site them? Our (pro-nuclear) government only wants to build 10 (to replace those that are reaching the end of their ability to operate safely). Even the nuclear industry isn’t proposing building 30 – they know there’s no way you could find 30 sites in the UK suited to building a nuclear power plant (even the ones we have are precariously at risk of flooding from climate change). And what would you do with the waste? We already have half a million tonnes that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management doesn’t know what to do with. (Their chair admits: "clearly our recommendations do not solve the problem") And where would you find the hundreds of billions of pounds for them?

You said: Total affordable UK renewable capacity (<7p/kWh) is only 10% of total energy demand.

In terms of electricity supply, even the government’s own figures show that a mixture of tidal, wave and wind could provide more than double what nuclear can in the same time frame – and to do so would be economic and practicable (more than a quarter of today's electricity consumption from wind power by 2025, and 12.5 per cent from wave and tidal).

In terms of energy, by which I assume you mean heat and electricity, nuclear power does almost nothing to contribute to our heating needs (the biggest use of fossil fuels in the UK). CHP on the other hand can do a huge amount by capturing waste heat at the source, as the name suggests. (That’s without mentioning the energy savings we can make through efficiency: every year we throw away more than eight times the amount of energy supplied by all of the UK's nuclear power stations combined.)

You said: Every nuclear power station in the West has a specially designed concrete containment shield. These have never failed. Russian reactors never had this. Nobody has died in the Western nuclear power program, compared to tens of thousands in coal mines, gas pipeline explosions hydro accidents etc. New nuclear power stations can be built of a 'passively safe' modular design.

You might want to look at the Windscale disaster here in the UK for starters: “Figures for non-fatal cancers vary from none to 248 and for fatal cancers between 10 and 100. One estimate [from epidemiologist John Urquhart, was the first to really assess the impact of the polonium-210 release from the fire] put the figure as high as 1,000.”

Over the past few years, there have been reactor safety problems in the UK (here, here, here, here and here, say) Finland (over 1000 breaches of safety rules just 18 months into construction), Sweden and Japan – just for starters. In fact, there’s been a nuclear accident or radioactive release for every day of the year (pdf).

And you haven’t mentioned the potential for accident from the transport of waste across the UK on often unguarded nuclear waste trains, or the shipments of weapons grade plutonium around the world, or the leakages from nuclear waste (here and here, say). And I don’t know if you caught this story a couple of weeks ago but a mafia clan in Italy is accused of trafficking illegal waste… Lots more info in our report: Risks of transporting irradiated fuel and nuclear materials in the UK.

You said: So off this are we happy that nuclear power would actually help our country?

Ummm... no. Sorry :)

You said: I fail to see why it is any business of a bunch of BoBo hippies at the greenpeace office how their coffee grinders and bagel toasters get powered.

I fail to see why it’s any business of a few people after short-term profit to degrade or destroy the world’s oceans, forests and atmosphere (ie “the global commons”) and many of the species dependent on them through climate change and radioactive contamination. But hey, I’m just a BoBo hippy ;)



Hello, I think the previous posts are good examples of taking certain veiw points to extremes. I dont think any energy consultant would advise one specific energy source, either nuclear of renewables. both have advantages and disadvantages. nuclear is good for base load, CHP for local generation.
For instance imagine building a small nuclear power station in evergy town. Or trying to power a major city like london on CHP, every house would need the heat in what ever form to be piped to every house in london. The infrastructure required for this would be staggering.
Energy solutions have to be tailored to fit the task and if C02 is out you need a base load for cities like london through either carbon capture or nuclear. But you also need CHP and renewables for industry and smaller applications.

Firstly, I absolutely agree that energy solutions should be appropriate to the task they're fulfilling, and that we need diversity of sources.

Certain industries have spent a good deal of effort putting about the myth that CHP / renewables aren't base-load, and can't be reliable. In fact, I'd argue that renewables and CHP (and efficiency) are more reliable than nukes / coal, because they're scalable to demand and application, and they fit perfectly into a flexible, decentralised model.

Diversity still requires choices, and experience shows that you can't mix nuclear and renewables/CHP effectively: nuclear sucks investment away from renewables/CHP; it relies on a static, centralised model and as opposed to a decentralised model; and, as this report (pdf) points out, "nuclear and renewables may both be able to run on the grid as long as both are making relatively small overall contributions, but both cannot expand beyond a certain point without there being operational conflicts."

CHP can be base-load. It can be scaled up to huge sizes (Immingham CHP plant is about to be expanded to reach the same electricity generating capacity as Sizewell B). Yes, output depends on heat demand, but industrial CHP plants like Immingham are basically base-load plants; there's a constant demand for heat/steam so there's a constant electrical output to act as base-load supply.

For smaller CHP plants, output depends on heat demand, but if it's properly sited (eg near a commercial/industrial site that requires heat/cooling), CHP can have a consistent, constant electrical output that can be pumped into the grid.

To answer the example you mention, a city like London has a high enough heat and build density to make CHP financially, as well as environmentally, attractive.

Renewables can also be base-load; solar thermal and geothermal for example, have identical variability to coal-fired power stations. Linked wind farms can also result in reliable power (source).

There's interesting stuff on the base-load fallacy here (pdf), bits of which I've pilfered for this comment :-) There's also this interesting article on how Germany can be powered - reliably - using distributed power based on 100% renewables, and biogas CHP. And this (older) article looks in-depth at renewables and the baseload question.



I completely agree that renewable do have the potential to be a base load supplier with CHP but I'm still not sure its practical for a large scale appliaction. for industrial heating or big new project hospitals, its great you design the chp plant around your new whatever but in london or any big existing city it would be difficult. The cost would also be a tricky, 750kWe plant in hospital in south hampshire (from your web site), cost 7 million if thats all costs included then thats about 10 million per MWe if london has a power consumption of 10 GW ( roughly a 7th of total uk capacity) reduce by a half for efficeincy saving to 5 GW then your left with 5000 X 10 million, that makes 50 billion pounds. I reckon this could be out by a factor of 2 either way so say 25 billion best guess.

Hey Chris

Re-reading our Southampton case study, I realise I didn't phrase it too well - I've now amended it to make it clear that the £7 million figure you quote is for the whole Southampton district heating network, not just the hospital. (The network provides heating, cooling and electricity to over a thousand residential properties, several large office buildings, a health clinic, a university, a large shopping centre, a supermarket, several hotels, BBC television studios, one of Europe's largest shopping complexes, a swimming and diving complex, as well as the hospital, among other buildings).

I'll try to dig up some figures on costs of decentralised energy for London but, in the meantime, you might be interested in our report, Powering London into the 21st Century (pdf), on decentralised energy in London.



Thanks for the links, I can see what you mean about energy density being good for chp. But I still cant see the power companies paying to dig up every road in london for chp. it needs a big subsidy i think. Also my calculation is a rough estimate but as it deals with price per unit MWe you dont worry about the heating bit. its just the cost to replace the current electricty demand with chp. I think the discounts i used take up efficency savings in heat use. But i admit its crude. But my point is with a city like london you've got to work with what you've got so keep the existing base load, but try to make all new buildings chp.

Commenting purely on the video (and not on the issues covered), I have to say that it was sloppy throughout in terms of the way arguments were presented, and the seeming lack of effort to remove inconsistencies in the arguments. Some examples (of which there are more):

- based on the pie chart at the beginning, the assertion is made that nuclear will have a minimal effect on reducing CO2 emissions, and that therefore it should not be considered: renewables are shown to be a much smaller slice. Of course the argument is that these renewables should account for a much greater percentage - but then the same argument would surely apply to the renewable contribution?
- When comparing the money spent on research etc between nuclear and renewables (@1:40mins), there is not even an attempt to compare like-for-like. What is presented is a comparison of the costs between nuclear research, but also including waste decommisioning costs, with just the research money for renewables. No mention at all for the equivalent costs for renewables. Even though the figure for renewables is likely to be smaller than that for nuclear if a proper comparison is made - the argumant falls flat because of sloppy reporting of figures.
- @2:30mins, the example of how Finland's new nuclear reactor is over-time and -budget is used as an example of how nuclear is a bad idea. This can't be a valid argument, as every major construction project (including wind farms, e.g. Horns Rev, off the coast of Denmark) incurs delays and require more funds than planned. Again, no comparison is made with any renewable source: the argument simply does not stand that renewables are better simply by criticising nuclear, without at least hinting at how the renewable equivalent is better on the point of that criticism.
- In presenting alternative, renewable, energy sources (@3:50mins), wind, wave, and tidal are presented as currently available options for direct implementation. Surely this negates the crticism of lack of research funds presented at the start of the video! If these technologies are ready now, then why is parity in research money terms with nuclear required?
- @4:10mins the example of a single wind turbine supplying the energy needs for a small number of buildings is presented, with the implicit statement that this provides all the electricity required. This is followed with the statement that a recently constructed small windfarm produces enough power to power a small town. However, no mention of any limitations are made (e.g. would there not be a continued reliance on the grid in these two examples?), which, as this video is presumably supposed to present a factual view, is unacceptable. This criticism aplies to virtually every point made throughout the video.
- The issue of cost relative to nuclear is consistently overlooked. E.g. @5:50mins the assertion is made that sea-based electricity production could be implemented in the same time scale that new nuclear power stations could be constructed - but at what relative cost? The assumption made by the viewer (by myself at any rate), is that since the cost is not mentioned, it must be similar if not higher (since if it was less, presumably it would be mentioned over and over again).
- @6:30mins, the phrase "...all that's needed..." is used in relation to how small scale CHP plants can be used to provide the necessary heat and power for neighboring communities/businesses. However, no mention is made of the fundamental change in the energy infrastructure to enable this happen, for which (as mentioned above) cost (for implementation) and time (for the levels of energy suggested could be produced) required are not mentioned. Credit where credit is due though: this section of the video (on CHP) is significantly better argued for that the rest.

In general, I feel it to be a very poorly thought out and executed film, which is supposed to be informative. Disregarding the technical issues 'discussed' completely, as a documentary, this video has no merit - even if it were marketed as a propaganda film, there are huge gaping holes just waiting to be picked at - and this applies to whether you agree with the arguments presented or not.

If there are viable alternatives then WHY do governments persist in going down this route?


If a country has a nuclear industry then they have independant access to some of the primary components of a nuclear weapon.


If a country cannot meet its current / future energy demands independantly then it may be less able to compete in the wider world with countries that do source from nuclear.


We've gotten used to consuming an awful lot, all funded by cheap fossilised energy. As energy costs increase as fossils deplete, we either need to get used to using less, paying more, or we need a quick fix to maintain our 'energy lifestyle'.

Nuclear offers some stability in terms of energy supply change, are renewable alternatives simply too much of a gamble for a govnerment to take?

If lorry drivers can bring a country to a halt over a few pence increase in the cost of fuel. What levels of unrest would result if sections of a nation we forced into significant hardship / change?

My main concerns...

1. Waste

2. Diversion (away from exploiting renewable sources)

3. Theft

4. Accidents (they will affect everyone on the planet - and the more the west advocates their use the less authority it has to deny other countries their own plants - which means the chances of accident increases substantially)

Of all these, waste is top of my list. We can't simply clean it up with detergent. Unless there's a proper fix (and I don't mean burying it) this is a legacy that future generations will be increasingly less tolerant of. It will be like a mortgage that grows and grows, you never pay it off, and you always hand it down to your children.

How would we all feel if we had to look after toxic objects that our ancestors generated over 200 years ago.

If I had the brain I would calculate how much toxic nuclear waste the audience of all the worlds soap opera watchers equates to, that would be a most instructive fact to know whilst contemplating an answer to the question 'nuclear power: is it all worth it?'.

My solution?
We need to increase the price of energy, this will encourage peope to consume less, for markets to produce more efficient products, and it will make renewable sources of energy far more attractive. Unfortunately such a policy is impossible to implement on a global scale.


I don't understand why Greenpeace leaves out the renewable energy source that is *by far* the most efficient for heat and power, and that is biomass. It's also, by the way, the cheapest.

Biomass heat-and-power can be coupled to carbon capture and storage to yield negative emissions energy. That is: energy which takes CO2 out of the atmosphere.

No other form of energy can do this; they are all carbon neutral at best, carbon positive in practise.

-Coal: +850 grams of CO2 per kWh
-Coal + CCS: +100 gCO2/kWh
-Photovoltaic: +100 gCO2/kWh
-Wind, biomass, hydro, nuclear: +30 gCO2/kWh
-Biomass + CCS: -1030 gCO2/kWh

Yes, you read that right: *minus* 1030 grams.

So why is Greenpeace consistently promoting the less efficient and less green options over the most green and most efficient ones?

I don't understand. Climate change is important, isn't it?

I'm surprised and more than a little disappointed to see that you are quoting Ben Goldacre.

He's well known for being the voice of industry, and always picks studies that are favourable to the industry concerned, and leaves out anything that would help the average person to understand the truth.

Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism: Ben Goldacre, quackbusting and corporate science, is available from the Slingshot Publications web site as a free download.

Goldacre is involved with public health researchers well known for trying to prove that those who claim to be adversely affected by pollutants in our modern high-technology society, suffer from ‘false illness beliefs’

I hope no-one will waste any space or time in discussing the absurd allegations about Ben Goldacre.

A very encouraging message from this video.

I'm fully in support of a sustainable energy solution that excludes Nuclear. However, I would like to take up a couple of points.

1. the video shows clearly the need to downscale energy production and the distance between generation and distribution points. Agreed, the amount of energy wasted transferring electricity is huge. Similar loses would still be generated from other large-scale energy sourcesn which decreases the potential of renewables.
I would argue that along with the need to change behaviour in terms of consumption (such as no standby buttons and energy-efficient only bulbs), renewable energy provision should be at the community level and individual. For example, a wind turbine located on a round about to supply the surrounding neighbourhood, large govt subsidies for solar panel and solar water heater installations on homes, ground heat pumps under school playgrounds and car parks etc etc. Why not promote this rather than a different type of large scale geneartion? coupled with a change in behaviour, it will still be a convenient solution...

2. Renewable energy production is vital to a greener UK. At the same time, there is a real need to consider the appropriateness of the location and scale of renewables sites. For example, inshore wind turbines, and sometimes off shore turbines should be avoided at a large scale in areas that are protected for their landscape value. While I think that these turbines are attractive and a clear message to people that green energy is an important part of our lives, there remains a need to find places in the UK that appear wild, remote and as devoid of human intervention as possible. The health benefits from accessing tranquil places is huge and in this world of fast paced, work-focused, living, these places are needed even more than ever before. Do you agree that approptriate location and scale considerations are important to a sustainable way of life?

Just to let folks know we've launched a virtual town powered by decentralised energy at

There are all sorts of goodies (animations, videos, slideshows explaining everything from wave power to biogas) if you click around and drill down far enough.

It's also shows how the whole decentralised energy system fits together (eg the role of CHP and how heat and cooling are distributed, for example) a lot more clearly and intuitively than my writing, hopefully.

(Getting EfficienCity ready for launch is also my excuse for not having answered the last few comments yet - sorry. Soon.).

Anyway, here's the link again.



PS For those who prefer words, there's also a description of what decentralsied energy is at

i can tell you areva, westhinghouse, bristish nuclear fuels
but the problem is that despite his important price (2billions for one nuclear power station) actually more money is spend on renewables, so where are the lobbies?
because despite this hugh amount of money it cant provide more than 20 percent in any european countries(danemark or france).
spend all this money, built all this wind turbines does it reallly sustainable, because it s clearly not efficient.
and it need a lot more space than nuclear so the impact on earth is smaller, less need for roads, electric lines...

I find the references at the end of the posting of January 4th to be an interesting selection of studies on the baseload capabilities of wind power. But whilst they may be correct to say wind can replace some thermal (or hydro) generation, the exchange rate and how far the replacement can go, is not so obvious. As Greenpeace’s energy policy is to promote an extensive changeover, this is important information, so I’ve had a go at extracting this information from the studies:

The first report listed (from Stanford, USA) states: "an average of 33% and a maximum of 47% of yearly averaged wind power from interconnected farms can be used as reliable, baseload electric power" All very impressive until you realise this needs to be multiplied by the capacity factor (fraction of the potential output that is actually produced - typically 0.3) to see that to replace 1MW of thermal power you need something like 10MW of wind power.

The second link (Australia) is just as impressive: it says to replace 1000 MW of coal you need 2600 MW of wind. But they say the coal station is only available 85% of the time, so I take it they are only looking to replace 850MW (in fact at peak times, the availability will be more like 95% as programmed outages are invariably timetabled when there is spare capacity). Also you need up to 500 MW of gas (less if the wind farms are very widely spaced as may be appropriate for Australia), so in fact you replace 350MW of thermal power with 2600MW of wind, or for every 1MW of thermal power you need something like 7.4MW of wind power.

The third link (German study) uses wind as a major part of an energy mix that has five times as much generating capacity as the average load (they forgot to give any details of peak demand). The mix also includes biomass, and calculates there is a requirement for 17% of their agricultural land mass to be covered by biofuel crops in order to meet the demand when there was no solar or wind power available (they also relied on a considerably higher percentage of hydro-storage and interconnection than is currently available in the UK).

I'm afraid the last link fails to provide any data, but it is clear from these studies that there is a relatively poor wind to thermal replacement rate. In fact National Grid has also looked at the issue using a statistical method. Their analysis gives the following generation mixes that are all rated as giving the same level of security: .5GW wind, plus 84GW conventional; 7.5GW wind plus 81GW conventional; 25GW wind plus 79GW conventional.

You will note that to start off there is a fair rate of exchange, but as more and more wind generation is introduced, less and less conventional plant can be replaced. This is because the wind farms are all in the same geographic region, and are all subject to the same source of wind. Putting additional wind farms in between existing farms will increase the potential output, but have limited affect of the reliability of wind. Increasing wind generation beyond 25GW will have negligible impact on the need for conventional generation. So wind power is limited to replacing little more than another 5MW of conventional generation, which is less than the two largest coal stations.


Because Charles Perrow is only interested in accidents he specifically excludes the harmful effects of burning fossil fuel or, for that matter, biomass. He ignores them because they cause harm through normal, intentional use, rather than by accident. But they cause more harm “by design” than nuclear power causes (or could cause) by accident. Literally millions of people are killed by air pollution from fossil fuel and biomass worldwide every year.

Even the health effects of the radiation on the population around Chernobyl were less than the hazard from air pollution in most cities:
And Chernobyl is the only accident at a civil nuclear powerstation that has ever caused radiation deaths.

The European Commission's ExternE study has analysed the total external cost of each of the main methods of generating electricity. This is done by assessing the environmental and health damage caused by each method, and then converting this into a monetary cost. It includes the cost of catastrophic accidents, and also more significantly the effects of pollution from normal usage. The only method of electricity generation which is consistently less harmful than nuclear is wind power. Specifically, natural gas and biomass, which are the main fuels proposed for CHP, are more damaging than nuclear overall. See the following:

So when the film says that Combined Heat and Power plants "blend silently into the environment" it really means they silently blend nitrous oxides (NOx) and particulates (PM10) into the environment, causing chronic ill health and premature death.

Dear Greenpeace,

I notice that in you arguments against nuclear power plants you stress (and I absolutely agree) the dangers and difficulties of dealing with nuclear waste. However I would also advocate informing the public of the extreme dangers of accidents in nuclear power stations.
Charles Perrow is a world authority on industrial accidents and in his book ‘Normal Accidents’ he proposes dividing high risk systems into three categories. He says (page 304) ‘the first [category] would be systems that are hopeless and should be abandoned because the inevitable risks outweigh any reasonable benefits ‘. Into this category he puts nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

Jim McCluskey

Hi ColinG

Sorry for the length of this but I'm trying to respond to all your comments across the site in one go, as they all repeat the same myths.

I’ll answer your points on air pollution below but first off, I have to point out that you haven’t provided a credible alternative to our energy solution.

We’ve clearly explained how renewables + efficiency + CHP can lead us to a low emissions energy system, using CHP as a transition to 100 per cent renewables, providing heat and electricity for the whole of the UK. Initially CHP would be partly fossil fuelled and it would then go on to use zero carbon fuels like biogas. Over time more, renewable heat like solar and geothermal can also be introduced into the district heating networks – as they have done in the 100% renewable district in the city of Malmö, Sweden.

As I’ve said before, a replacement programme of ten nuclear reactors in the UK that the government's endorsed will only meet about 3.6% of our total energy needs - because they won’t provide heat. Around half our energy need is for heat (mainly gas based), while the next biggest demand is for transport (mainly oil based). Electricity generation is the smallest portion, and any new nuclear would be a small portion of that, making its role in tackling climate change / ensuring energy security almost irrelevant.

That's why the nuclear plan causes much more air pollution overall, for the total system; it can't possibly displace the majority of fossil fuel use, and leaves us running on the same kind of wasteful and polluting coal plants we have today. (Don't forget, the same ministers and companies that want to build new nuclear plants are also proposing the horde of new dirty coal plants across Britain – the most polluting power plants of all.)

According to our report, a UK energy scenario with high levels of decentralised energy using CHP and big renewables leads to less fuel burn over all than the government and industry plan of a centralized scenario with ambitious nuclear build. Less fuel use means less overall air pollution.

Your answer to that is that you want nuclear combined heat and power. No one in the nuclear industry or government is proposing that anyway – they wouldn’t dare propose to put them near to densely populated areas. But even if they did, you still haven’t explained how you’ll get rid of fossil fuels.

Are you suggesting we’ll be able to displace all our fossil fuelled power plants and all our individual boilers with nuclear CHP? Do you have an estimate for how many nuclear plants you’d need to do that? (In China, with the most ambitious nuclear programme in the world, they will still only generate a couple of percent of their electricity from nuclear when and if they built all 30-40 reactors that have been mooted there. Most of the rest of their electricity will still be coming from coal.)

How can the UK possibly get enough nuclear power to displace all our fossil fuel needs? Specifically, how are you going to find the enormous funds required to build small nuclear power stations near every town and city (the smaller ones you suggest, which won’t benefit from the economies of scale)? Where will you find the sites fit to host N nuclear plants? How will you persuade local residents across the UK to accept nuclear power and/or nuclear waste sites in the outskirts of their towns and cities? If you don’t want the nuclear plants to be close to urban centres, how will you fund the phenomenal costs of piping heat from, say, Sizewell to London? How will you find the nuclear engineers to build all the plants (there’s already a huge skills shortage)?

How will you persuade the government that the building of your nuclear plants won’t run massively over time and over budget like every other nuclear construction project (the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget)? How will you transport all the radioactive wastes between the sites without putting the public at an unacceptable risk? How will you protect every plant and transport route from contamination / accident / terrorist attack? How do you propose to make nuclear power a globally applicable solution (at the moment, some countries, like Iran, are being told they aren’t allowed to have it)? For nuclear power to realistically meet our future global electricity demands, 2000 - 2500 reactors will need to be constructed between now and 2075 - an impossible task. How will you guarantee the weapons grade plutonium doesn’t get into the wrong hands? How do you plan to get rid of the significant fossil fuel use in the nuclear lifecycle (mining, transport, energy use around facilities, waste storage)?

And, if you agree that nuclear CHP will never fill the gap alone and you want renewables in the mix, how do you envisage stopping nuclear from undermining renewables as global experience and technical grid limitations both show it does (nuclear and renewables may both be able to run on the grid as long as both are making relatively small overall contributions, but both can't expand beyond a certain point without there being operational conflicts)? The nuclear industry itself says there is a conflict between nuclear and renewables and has lobbied to get the European renewable energy target weakened. Vincent De Rivaz, the CEO of EDF Energy stated at the Adam Smith Institute in March that if the UK actually started to make significant progress in meeting its Renewables Obligations, the economic viability of the new generation of nuclear power plants would be undermined and nuclear would be marginalised.

The case for decentralised energy based on renewables, CHP and efficiency has already been made and proven – in countless reports and in other countries. Why would you want to use an outdated technology that is more expensive and more dangerous?

I’m guessing you’re going to say because of particulates/air pollution (and you are right that air pollution is a big concern and a killer, especially in places like China). But, for all the reasons above, nuclear allows continued and even increased air pollution because of its undermining effect on energy efficiency measures – the nuclear option is more likely to lead to more air pollution than a system of decentralised energy based on gas / biomass / biogas CHP. And going nuclear can’t lead us to a 100% renewables scenario. Decentralised energy can. All the new nuclear in China is barely going to touch the air pollution problems there.

On your comments about CHP and particulates, larger CHP falls under IPPC requirements, and these control emissions to air. (And, as from the start of this year, some large CHP plants are covered by Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), specifically targetting NOx SOx and particulates.)

Before a CHP plant can be built, modified or continue to be operated, emissions to air are mapped, taking into account all existing sources of emission (not just those of the new/existing plant – let’s not forget that cars and lorries are a major source of air pollution too) to ensure local air quality standards are met. If the model shows that the emissions "on the ground" get near to breaching the local air quality standards then the plant will not be built or, if it exists, allowed to continue to operate unless its output is restricted/other measures put in place.

Then there’s the fact that a decent sized gas-fired CHP plant will displace many hundreds or thousands of individual gas-fired boilers. Therefore, it can actually improve local air quality, because:

- a large heat plant will be sized more closely to actual heat loads than individual boilers, which are typically oversized to meet peak demand load. (A district heat plant overcomes this problem by having in-line boilers that are switched on or off progressively as demand for heat fluctuates throughout the day or the year.)

- a large CHP plant will burn gas more efficiently than the combination of all those numerous small boilers and the power plants providing the equivalent heat and electricity.

- it’s cost effective and quick to add emissions cleaning equipment to large plant, or to switch it to cleaner fuels as they become available, but not with many small ones like boilers.

- the maintenance of large plants will be more effectively managed than individual boilers, impacting on the efficiency and cleanness of gas burn.

I hope that answers all of your points. And sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, we don’t have the resources to post dozens of comments on the same point – unlike some well funded industries… ;-)



Hi again ColinG

Just realised I haven't responded directly on nuclear waste and your assertion that there's no valid environmental case for avoiding nuclear power.

Not only do reactor operations present their own hazards and exposure pathways - like neutron shine and radioactive discharges in the biosphere - there are other risks which contribute to the overall environmental impact of nuclear power and nuclear activities. Waste is created at every stage of the process - from mining, uranium conversion and enrichment, fuel fabrication, reprocessing, storage and disposal.

And there's still no safe solution to disposing of the estimated half a million tones of legacy radioactive waste created in the UK.

Despite government and industry claims, there is no solution to this intractable problem – with no operating waste disposal site anywhere in the world – and there's huge uncertainty over the scientific and technical integrity of the agreed option such as geological disposal. Whilst deep disposal is based on a multi-barrier approach, it is recognised by NIREX that, in time, the integrity of these barriers will be compromised and radioactive contamination will inevitably return to the surface environment. In other words, it's clear that 'disposing' of radioactive waste in a deep 'repository' accepts by default the outdated premise of eventual dispersal and dilution into the environment - rather like dumping industrial waste into a river - posing a persistent, irreversible threat to future generations.

And despite nuclear industry claims that these new reactors would "only" increase the UK's current waste volume by 10%, what they don't say is that this will include a 300% increase of the most long-lived and highly radioactive waste. Without a solution to dealing with legacy waste, to build more reactors and add the stockpile raises huge environmental, social, and ethical questions which makes such a proposal unacceptable.



Hi Bex, this is all very well, but you need to quantify the environmental impact of nuclear power compared to other electricity sources. Quantify the risks from radiation emissions, uranium mining, and potential accidents. In fact the European commission has already done this in their ExternE study which I have cited above. Nuclear power has the lowest external cost of any source of electricity apart from wind and possibly hydro. It has lower external costs (and is implicitly less damaging to health and the environment) than biomass or PV solar for example. And much less damaging than fossil fuel. Hence CHP using gas or biomass is a less environmentally sound solution.

The technical solution to the safe disposal of nuclear waste has been known for a long time as I suspect you are well aware. The remaining hurdles are political not technical. No long-term waste repository is currently operative because none as been needed. The waste needs to cool for 50 years before final disposal and most countries have not been operating nuclear power for 50 years. It is true that the UK is dragging its feet over the construction of a disposal facility but this is largely thanks to the likes of yourselves stirring up fear, uncertainty and doubt.

You seem to be aware that the proposed solution involves multiple barriers which will inevitably degrade (intentionally, as planned in the design). What you have failed to mention is the time taken for this degradation to happen. For example, the waste canisters would be embedded in bentonite clay: water permeates though saturated clay at a rate of about 1 metre per million years. So, yes, eventually the material will be transported back to the biosphere, but by that time it will have completely decayed to safe levels. Unlike other industrial waste, Nuclear waste becomes safer over time because it decays. The most radioactive isotopes decay the quickest.

So the question is, how long does it take for vitrified waste (glass) to dissolve in water and be transported vertically through hundreds of metres of rock? How much will it have decayed and therefore what risk will it pose to health when it gets back into the biosphere?

This document shows the risk analysis relating the decay of the various waste components and the time it takes for them to present a risk to persons near the repository:

Note for the first several thousand years the individual risk near the site is less than 1 in a trillion per year. That is the chance of one individual contracting a fatal cancer from the site. The maximum risk at any point in the future is less than 1 in a million per year. That essentially means that it is safe for all time. Note, for comparison the risk from average natural background radiation is about 1 in 10,000. Hence the repository is at least a hundred times safer than background radiation for all time.

Note, for further comparison, fossil fuel “waste” (air pollution) kills over 20,000 people in the UK per year. In contrast nuclear waste in a repository is unlikely to kill one person in a million years.

Hi Colin,

A lot of experts would disagree with you that "The technical solution to the safe disposal of nuclear waste has been known for a long time" - including some from CoRWM (the body tasked by the government with finding a solution to dealing with the UK's existing radioactive waste, whose report you link to).

Pete Wilkinson, member the first Committee on Radioactive Waste Management:

"There is no 'solution' to the management of radioactive waste, be it 'legacy waste' or that derived from the operation of a new generation of nuclear power plants. That Government has assumed the recommendation from the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management represents such a 'solution' is wrong and deliberately mendacious."

Prof Andy Blowers, also a member of CoRWM:

"The unresolved technical and ethical concerns related to managing radioactive wastes safely provide both a necessary and sufficient condition for rejecting the case for nuclear new build."


"Nuclear new build should not proceed until there is an acceptable solution for the permanent management of long-lived solid nuclear waste."

Re your assertions about safety, Dr Paul Dorfman, University of Warwick, former co-Secretary to the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) says:

"There are real concerns that infants and children living near nuclear facilities may be subject to greater cancer and leukaemia risk."


"Since current radiation risk standards are subject to large levels of fundamental scientific uncertainty, and may underestimate risk to public health, it would be unwise to subject critical groups and the general public to further radiological insult through new nuclear build in the UK."

See for more.



Bex, the CoRWM and CERRIE committees are made up of a cross-section of individuals representing different opinions, including some who are more anti-nuclear than others. However the fact remains that CoRWM’s final recommendation was that deep disposal in an underground repository is the best available approach for long term management of the waste in terms of safety and security

They specifically voiced no opinion on new nuclear build because that was a matter for public consultation.

The opinions that you have selected are in the minority. And, as I pointed out, even if the estimate of risk is out by factor of 100 the repository still poses less risk than background radiation, forever.

In contrast there is no doubt whatsoever that the air pollution from fossil fuel causes hundreds of thousands of deaths. But you would rather promote fossil fuel than advocate nuclear power.

I am very concerned about the situation in Croatia. Our govermnent has decided to build a nuclear reactor. And they haven't aksed the people what we think about it. Their main argument is that it will lower the prices of electricity.
We are a small country of only 4 million inhabitants. A lot of people are not educated and believe everything the politicians say.
They would also like to biuld an oil terminal on the island of Krk (the Adriatic sea). We like to think about Croatia as an heaven for tourists. But cargo ferries (that carry oil- sorry but I don't know the english expression) don't go in that picture. And Adriatic sea i a closed sea and any disaster would ruin the whole biosystem.
Please, advise me what to do. Or help me in any way you can.

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