China General Nuclear Power Corporation and France EDF will be the only two investors in the Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Plant, leaving this £24bn project a completely UK free endeavor.
However, the problem is, these two stakeholders will reap all the monetary benefits that nuclear power brings, without the onslaught of risks on their own soils.
We know that Nuclear power presents a low carbon form of producing electricity, so shouldn’t we be happy that the new plant will provide 7% the UK’s electricity? Unfortunately, CO2 isn’t the only pollutant we should worry about on our planet, it just happens to be the most publicised.
Although the amount of waste produced in nuclear power is relatively small in comparison to that associated with fossil fuels, we must not forget that the waste is extremely potent in character. Some of the waste produced is classified as “High Level Radioactive Waste”, and can remain dangerous for tens of thousands to millions of years. The only way this is stored in the UK at the moment is in large, ground level vaults at Sellafield.
Putting this issue into context, Zoe Shipton, professor of geological engineering at the University of Strathclyde, says: “The vaults and buildings also require ongoing maintenance. Bearing in mind that the longest-running civilisation, the ancient Egyptians, were only around for 3,500 years, it is naive to think we can pass down information on how to monitor and maintain these buildings for hundreds of thousands of generations. The best – and as far as many experts are concerned, only – option is to put the waste out of harm’s way in a geological disposal facility” (http://bit.ly/1Ebp5LD).
So why aren’t we doing that? Well, the current UK laws state that communities and local councils have to volunteer their area to be used as a geological reservoir for dangerous radioactive wastes, and let’s be honest, it’s not something I would be forthcoming about, would you? There are of course, financial and employment benefits given to these communities who put themselves forward. However, if we consider that it can take ~20 years to find a suitable geological location for deep storage, this level of long term investment and foresight to ensure the protection of future generations isn’t exactly what we humans are renowned for.
So with this in mind, along with the potential terrorist threats that above-ground storage facilities bring to our nation, should we really be agreeing to sign over the world’s most expensive and partially untested nuclear power station contract to the “point of no return” by the close of 2015?
This feels like a rushed decision in a time of financial uncertainty and international environmental pressure appears to be pushing judgements in the wrong direction. Maybe, environmentalists need to shift their focus on pushing viable, economic alternatives into the eyes of politicians, rather than solely pressuring against absurd decisions like this one.