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New report exposes "voodoo economics" of nuclear industry

29 May 2008

Cover image for The voodoo economics of the nuclear industry

It won't be possible to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK without pledging large sums of taxpayers money and extending unlimited guarantees to underwrite the debts of the existing and future nuclear industry, a new study concludes today.

Written by former Guardian environment correspondent Paul Brown and published by Friends of the Earth in London, 'Voodoo Economics and the Doomed Nuclear Renaissance' is a damning critique of the economics of the nuclear industry exposing 50 years of disastrous performance, broken promises and escalating bills to the taxpayer.

According to British government estimates, a new nuclear programme will cut gas imports by only seven per cent and carbon dioxide emissions by only four per cent. So why, the report asks, are Ministers giving the industry political encouragement and public subsidy on the claim that Britain needs nuclear power for security of energy supply and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions?

Friends of the Earth believes that Britain can meet its energy needs, maintain energy security and tackle climate change through a comprehensive programme of renewables, energy efficiency, combined heat and power, and potentially carbon capture and storage. And this is where the Government should be investing its resources.

Among the issues highlighted by the report are that:

  • Taxpayers have already underwritten all the debts and liabilities of British Energy so the company can never go bankrupt - a commitment that dwarfs the risks to the taxpayers of the Northern Rock nationalisation
  • It will take at least 10 years before the first new nuclear station could be built. By then the liabilities of the existing privatised industry will be so great that Ministers will have to renationalise it.
  • Three of the four new reactor designs being put forward for UK construction have never been built. The only 'third generation' nuclear station under construction - and favourite to be built in Britain - is being built in Finland. It is already two years behind schedule and millions of pounds over budget.
  • Following years of failure, the nuclear complex at Sellafield is in crisis. Its reprocessing works and a plutonium fuel plant are failing at a massive cost. This is already costing every taxpayer in the UK £100 each year - and the bill is rising.
  • British Energy may soon have to start closing some of its 11 nuclear stations because storage space for spent nuclear fuel at Sellafield is running out
  • Britain currently has no plans or sites for storing or disposing of nuclear waste. The earliest dates for a deep underground intermediate waste repository are 2045 and 2075 for high level waste.

Paul Brown, author of Voodoo Economics, said:

"Nuclear power has always been the most expensive way of producing electricity and has been given massive public subsidy. The government is trying to dupe the public into believing this won't happen next time, although all the evidence is to the contrary. Even after years of reporting this industry I was shocked when doing this research at the scale of the technical failures and financial disasters facing the current nuclear industry - the costs of which will all fall on the taxpayer."

Oisin Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth Ireland, said

"The British government has consistently ignored Ireland's concerns about nuclear safety. Perhaps the exposure of the economic madness of nuclear energy will have more effect. Irish government ministers should use this report when raising the nuclear issue with their British counterparts".

Friends of the Earth's nuclear campaigner in Britain, Neil Crumpton, said:

"After 50 years of nuclear power the industry is in crisis, with the British taxpayer picking up a clean-up bill that has already reached €100 billion. Rather than trying to breathe fresh life into this dangerous and expensive white elephant, the government should investing in far safer and cleaner solutions such as energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, combined heat and power, and potentially carbon capture and storage."

Download the report here.

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