Nuclear fuel reprocessing is wasted investment

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In his own admission, George Monbiot writes in the Guardian on 4 February[1], he has spent “the last two years defending the atomic industry”.  Now Mr. Monbiot is promoting an energy generation opportunity that only two years ago was described as “one of the most embarrassing failures in British industrial history”[2]

He is reopening the case for reusing the UK stockpile of 112 tonnes of plutonium, 28 tonnes of which is foreign imported[3], the largest[4]civil stockpile in the world, as feedstock for a new MOX fuel processing plant.

The technology has an abysmal track record – Sellafield’s existing MOX plant had a target of 560 mt, but has produced only about 15 mt in nine years of operation.  The plant has cost the taxpayer about £1.3bn so far, representing about the amount of money that is invested in our electricity grid every year. When one includes the full cost of nuclear power, it is not an efficient, low carbon energy solution.  To demonstrate the folly of including nuclear power in our energy strategy, we are going to devote the next two articles to the topic of installed cost of electricity generation by type and the running costs, as well as an infrastructural analysis to demonstrate, along with the plethora of other studies (listed below for your reference) the alternatives to nuclear power that will keep the lights on and secure our safe and affordable energy future.

Exposure to certain levels of radioactive materials causes cancer, so it is important that the existing contaminated material is disposed of properly.  Why we would create more of this material when we don’t know what we are going to do with current stockpiles? Disposal costs, whether they involve a means of reducing the waste, as My Monbiot supports, still means that there is waste to safely store,albeit less even more highly concentrated  radioactive materials that eventually.  No civilian waste may be distributed by the military in depleted uranium weapons.  We read recently that the US Department of Energy[5]proposed that low level radioactive materials be released as recycled metals in everyday products like belt buckles or surgical implants. The examples are put forth in terms of long haul flights or exposure to granite rock or an x ray, which does expose the body to radiation.  There is no answer to does this radiation accumulate or is it expelled?  How much exposure is harmful exposure, the medical opinions are diverse and difficult to measure.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recognises that in order to accommodate the future of electricity supply, where homes, businesses and communities become power generators, we will need to establish a smarter electricity network, where electricity generation from multiple, smaller sources, combined with the two way flow of electricity, being consumption and generation, may be managed by the grid operator without damage to equipment or disruption to supply.  And yet, there is no provision in the new energy plan to stimulate a direct investment in this grid, requiring the breakup of the system operator monopoly, the National Grid.  National Grid has other responsibilities, as its liabilities resulting from Hurricane Sandy have mounted into the millions.  Their plans for investment in the UK grid are clearly inadequate, at £4.7 Billion to 2020, when OFGEM estimates the amount of investment required is £100 Billion. The industry is growing internationally, where commercial incentives have been put in place to invite infrastructural investment and to create jobs.

The National Grid is not a “natural monopoly”, as DECC refers to it, but a legislated monopoly.  The lack of liberalisation on the systems operator conflicts with the free market principles that the government proposes to uphold.  In fact, the transmission infrastructure can be broken up into sections like any other asset and the rights to use sold off in bits to investors.  Investment in our transmission infrastructure will create jobs and kick start the economy.  We need to focus on economically sound investment, not the creation of more waste.

[1] http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/04/end-of-nuclear-careful-what-you-wish-for

[2]http://www.platts.com/RSSFeedDetailedNews/RSSFeed/ElectricPower/8508302

[3] Now there is an international moratorium on trade in nuclear materials, it is unclear if this amount will ever be returned.

[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/governments-doomed-6bn-plan-to-dispose-of-nuclear-waste-2266047.html

[5]http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323783704578246051395941028.html

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