Monday, 9 November 2009

Nuclear - The Toxic Issues

The news that Labour Environment Secretary Ed Miliband MP has given the go-ahead to 10 new nuclear power stations is having some local fallout.

The government hopes that by 2025 25% of the nations electricity needs will be provided from nuclear sources, compared to 13% now.

Mr Miliband responded to attacks from environmental groups arguing that rising energy demand added to the pressures of climate change caused by fossil fuels meant expansion of nuclear energy is the only available option.

He has been leading the charge pushing for a strong agreement at the forthcoming Copenhagen Summit, but last weekend's G20 meeting at St Andrew's (which was designed to set the ground for a smooth summit) struggled to reach any decision. Larger countries were angry at demands they meet proportionate shares of the estimated $100bn restructuring costs involved in avoiding climate change.

Changes to planning laws are controversial, as are claims that nuclear is a cheaper option or a far-sighted solution.

But Conservatives are full square behind Labour - opposition front-bench spokesman Greg Clark MP said the risk of power shortages by 2017 is a national emergency which needs to be dealt with.

Wokingham's John Redwood MP says 'better late than never', while Maidenhead blogger Alistair McRonald says any concerns are just a problem of management.

LibDem Simon Hughes MP said it was a 'collossal mistake' which underestimates the real cost and will leave a 'toxic legacy'.

Along with the 11 provisional locations identified as possible sites for energy plants, a similar number have been identified for waste disposal.

Berkshire's atomic weapons establishments at Aldermaston and Burghfield have both this week been identified as sites where waste from decommissioned submarines could be stored and this could mean waste from nuclear energy is too.

According to BBC Berkshire as many as 15 nuclear submarines are ready for disposal.

Director of the Reading-based Nuclear Information Service, Peter Burt said,
"Most people don't realise that, as well as manufacturing nuclear weapons, AWE also acts as a nuclear dump site for much of the military radioactive waste that it produces."
Mr Birt also raised concerns about the transporting of nuclear waste across the countryside, explaining that it remains a highly sensitive issue because of the "toxicity and the long timescales" for which the material remains radioactive.

Newbury MP, Conservative Richard Benyon, argued that the Berkshire facility "has a very good record on decommissioning," adding, that "it decommissions nuclear weapons from other parts of the world as well as our own" and that decommissioning is part of the process that reduces the scale of the nuclear deterrent.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that they are "consulting widely" on the prospect, but that no decision had yet been reached.

Meanwhile the potential jobs boon comes at a time when AWE Aldermaston has just announced it will be shedding 50 more positions, although some reports suggested it could be as many as ten times that figure.

Spokesman for trade union Prospect, Graham Stewart, played down the potential impact, saying that human resources and administration are under consideration.

LibDem environmental spokesperson on Reading Borough Council, Cllr Glenn Goodall recently blogged about outstanding questions in the planning application for AWE Aldermaston.

He also raises the concern that neighbouring authorities to West Berkshire Council may be being overlooked regarding statutory requirements for consultation.


Update: Adrian Windisch reports on a recent failed prosecution of protesters accused of blockading the Aldermaston site.


Background on the Copenhagen Summit

More on issues surrounding AWE Aldermaston.

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