Nuclear power - the problems

Last edited 15 November 2006 at 1:26pm

A radiation warning sign in Chernaya, near Chernobyl

The government wants to build new nuclear power stations. If their plan succeeds, it will be at the cost of blocking the real solutions to climate change and a reliable future energy supply. It will also result in the continued production of dangerous nuclear waste and an increased risk from terrorism, radioactive accident and nuclear proliferation.

Climate change

New nuclear power stations would not stop climate change. Even at the most optimistic build rate - 10 new reactors by 2024 – our carbon emissions would only be cut by four per cent: far too little, far too late. Given the nuclear industry’s poor track record it's highly unlikely that ten reactors could be built within two decades. The most contemporary example of building a new reactor is in Finland; just one year into construction, the completion date has been delayed by 18 months and its costs have spiralled by up to 2 billion Euros over budget.

Worse still, new investment in nuclear power and its infrastructure will block development of renewable energy and energy efficiency – the real solutions to climate change.

Energy security

Nor would new nuclear power stations address the anticipated gap in our future energy supply. This is because nuclear power only produces electricity and so only marginally deals with our need for services like hot water and central heating which are mainly met by gas. Its overall contribution to total energy demand is too small to make a difference to the UK's energy security.

Radioactive waste

The UK now has enough radioactive waste to fill the Royal Albert Hall five times over. There’s still no safe way to deal with it. The government plans to bury it deep underground - out of sight, out of mind, for now at least. But no one can guarantee that this highly radioactive waste won't leak back into the environment, contaminating water supplies and the food chain.

Allowing ten new reactors to be built would add threefold to the amount of highly radioactive waste we already have to deal with. This waste will remain dangerous for up to a million years: an outrageous legacy to leave for many generations to come.


Aside from the risk of a terrorist strike directly onto a nuclear power station, the nuclear industry transports thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste around the UK by road, rail and sea. Every week, communities up and down the country are put at risk from potential radioactive contamination as these trains trundle through our cities, towns and villages. There are no police or security personnel on board and there are no local plans in place to deal with an emergency. If a nuclear waste train was involved in a terrorist attack, tens of thousands of people could be exposed to cancer causing radiation and whole regions might have to be evacuated.


Over twenty years since the world’s worst nuclear disaster, Chernobyl, the human and environmental consequences are still being suffered internationally. Nuclear power is inherently dangerous and, despite claims of improvements in safety, scientists agree that another catastrophe on the scale of Chernobyl could still happen any time, anywhere.

Ironically, climate change itself also threatens the safety of nuclear power stations; many reactors are built on coastal sites vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise, including flooding and erosion.

Reprocessing and nuclear proliferation

Nuclear waste is taken from wherever it is produced, across the country, to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing. During reprocessing, plutonium is separated from other wastes for supposed re-use in nuclear reactors. In reality none of this plutonium is reused for electricity generation. The UK now has a stockpile of over a hundred tonnes of deadly plutonium - and no plans for what to do with it.

One of the fundamental problems of nuclear power is the hazard posed by the radioactive materials it produces – some of which can be used in nuclear weapons and all of which can be used in so-called dirty bombs. Just one particle of plutonium can be fatal.


The nuclear industry is hugely expensive. The construction and generating costs of nuclear power are greater than most renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Added to these are costs associated with dismantling nuclear stations and waste disposal. The clean up costs for the UK’s existing nuclear industry and its waste have alone been estimated at up to £100bn. That's £100bn of public money.

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