We are the UK Government’s independent adviser on sustainable development. Through advocacy, advice and
appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the heart of Government policy


Nuclear Power Won't Fix It

5 March 2006

Nuclear power is not the answer to tackling climate change or security of supply, according to the Sustainable Development Commission.

In response to the Government's current Energy Review, the SDC nuclear report draws together the most comprehensive evidence base available, to find that there is no justification for bringing forward a new nuclear power programme at present.

Based on eight new research papers, the SDC report gives a balanced examination of the pros and cons of nuclear power. Its research recognizes that nuclear is a low carbon technology, with an impressive safety record in the UK. Nuclear could generate large quantities of electricity, contribute to stabilising CO2 emissions and add to the diversity of the UK's energy supply.

However, the research establishes that even if the UK's existing nuclear capacity was doubled, it would only give an 8% cut on CO2 emissions by 2035 (and nothing before 2010). This must be set against the risks.

The report identifies five major disadvantages to nuclear power:

1. Long-term waste - no long term solutions are yet available, let alone acceptable to the general public; it is impossible to guarantee safety over the long- term disposal of waste.

2. Cost - the economics of nuclear new-build are highly uncertain. There is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if estimated costs escalate, there's a clear risk that the taxpayer will be have to pick up the tab.

3. Inflexibility - nuclear would lock the UK into a centralised distribution system for the next 50 years, at exactly the time when opportunities for microgeneration and local distribution network are stronger than ever.

4. Undermining energy efficiency - a new nuclear programme would give out the wrong signal to consumers and businesses, implying that a major technological fix is all that's required, weakening the urgent action needed on energy efficiency.

5. International security - if the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, we cannot deny other countries the same technology*. With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks.

On balance, the SDC finds that these problems outweigh the advantages of nuclear. However, the SDC does not rule out further research into new nuclear technologies and pursuing answers to the waste problem, as future technological developments may justify a re-examination of the issue.

SDC Chair, Jonathon Porritt, says:

'It's vital that we get to grips with the complexity of nuclear power. Far too often, the debate is highly polarised, with NGOs claiming to see no advantages to nuclear at all, and the pro-nuclear lobby claiming that it's the only solution available to us.

'Instead of hurtling along to a pre-judged conclusion (which many fear the Government is intent on doing), we must look to the evidence. There's little point in denying that nuclear power has benefits, but in our view, these are outweighed by serious disadvantages. The Government is going to have to stop looking for an easy fix to our climate change and energy crises - there simply isn't one.'

Concluding with advice on a future energy strategy, the SDC report establishes that it is indeed possible to meet the UK's energy needs without nuclear power. With a combination of a low-carbon innovation strategy and an aggressive expansion of energy efficiency and renewables, the UK would become a leader in low-carbon technologies. This would enhance economic competitiveness whilst meeting the UK's future energy needs.

All reports, evidence papers and audio interviews can be download from our website at:



Notes to Eds:

- The SDC nuclear review, research papers and audio launch interview with Jonathon Porritt are available to download at www.sd-commission.org.uk.

- The SDC has spent a year gathering evidence and agreeing its position on nuclear power.

- The process for developing the SDC position on nuclear power has been rigorous and transparent.

During the process, the SDC identified three divergent positions on nuclear power:

position 1 - NO, position 2 - NOT NOW, position 3 - MAYBE.

SDC Commissioners voted as follows:

eight Commissioners favoured position 1,
five favoured position 2,
and two favoured position 3.

As part of the current Energy Review, we expect the Government will go through a comparable decision-making process, and we advise them to be similarly transparent.

- The SDC nuclear review is based on eight new research papers

1. An introduction to nuclear power - science, technology and UK policy context, by the Sustainable Development Commission

2. Reducing CO2 emissions: nuclear and the alternatives, by the Sustainable Development Commission

3. Landscape, environment and community impacts of nuclear power, by the Sustainable Development Commission

4. The economics of nuclear power by the Science & Technology Policy Research (SPRU, University of Sussex) and NERA Economic Consulting

5. Waste and decommissioning by the Sustainable Development Commission with contributions from Nirex and AMEC NNC

6. Safety and security by the Sustainable Development Commission with contributions from Large & Associates and AMEC NNC

7. Public perceptions and community issues by Professor Robin Grove-White, Dr Matthew Kearnes, Dr Phil Macnaghten and Professor Brian Wynne

8. Uranium resource availability by Future Energy Solutions, an operating division of AEA Technology plc

- The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's principal advisory body on all matters relating to sustainable development, reporting to the Prime Minister and the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales. Through advocacy, advice and appraisal, we help put sustainable development at the core of Government policy.

For further information, or interviews, contact Hazel Dempster on 020 7238 6606 / 07790 119 215, or email hazel.dempster@sd-commission.org.uk

* Under the terms of the Framework Convention on Climate Change

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