Nuclear energy: our position

We need low-carbon energy. But renewables like wind and solar, and energy efficiency are better than nuclear power: Friends of the Earth's position.
27 Nov 2017     |       5 minute read

Summary

Friends of the Earth does not support the building of new nuclear power stations in the UK. We do not need nuclear energy to tackle climate change. The UK is blessed with huge resources of renewable energy such as offshore wind, tidal and solar. According to independent experts these can provide all the energy we need. Renewables are the answer to our nuclear energy problem.

Nuclear energy facts

  • Professor Dave Mackay, former Government Chief Scientific Officer in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) says: “No-nuclear pathways are certainly technically possible.”
  • Nuclear power produces waste that is dangerous for thousands of years. Decades after the first nuclear power station opened in the UK there still isn’t a safe storage site for the waste.
  • The Tyndall Centre at Manchester University is the world's leading climate energy and research institute. It independently reviewed nuclear power advantages and disadvantages. It concluded that Friends of the Earth’s non-nuclear approach is credible, though challenging.
  • Producing electricity from nuclear energy is less damaging than from coal or gas. But renewable energy combined with energy efficiency is a much healthier solution.

The nuclear energy problem

To prevent dangerous climate change we need to close down fossil-fuel electricity power stations and replace them with low-carbon alternatives. We also need to switch from fossil fuel-powered transport and heating to low-carbon electricity.

This will substantially increase the amount of electricity the UK needs, even with improvements in energy efficiency.

That's one reason there are calls for new nuclear power stations. Another is the variable output from wind and solar. There's also a minority of people opposed to renewable energy who would prefer to see more nuclear.

But the nuclear industry has a number of problems. The nuclear waste debate is a big one. There is also the risk of catastrophic impacts – and a poor record of building power plants on time and to budget. These problems are down-played by the nuclear power lobby, which is very strong in the UK and deeply embedded within government.

There are concerns about loss of jobs in the nuclear industry. The companies involved in construction and operation of nuclear plants have deep pockets to fund lobbying. All this makes it difficult to win the argument for an alternative, greener energy future.

Our view on nuclear power

Since we started in 1971, Friends of the Earth has opposed nuclear power. We are an evidence-based organisation, and regularly review our policies.

In 2013 we commissioned the Tyndall Centre to independently review nuclear power advantages and disadvantages. It found that:

  • The non-nuclear energy pathway that Friends of the Earth advocates is credible and compatible with a future electricity grid. The Tyndall Centre recommended we regularly revisit our position, in case technology doesn’t develop as expected (for example, offshore wind or energy storage). We will do this.
  • The health impacts of coal and gas are worse than from nuclear power, even with carbon capture and storage (CCS) in place. The health impacts for renewables, according to Tyndall, are broadly comparable to nuclear. But this assessment did not account for all health impacts resulting from nuclear accidents (for example, mental health impacts as a result of relocation).
  • Nuclear waste management remains an “unresolved issue” in the UK, with no safe repository in place. A new nuclear programme would increase the overall radioactivity of nuclear waste stores by around 265%. Any safe storage for this waste is decades away at best – if ever.
  • Higher estimates of the cost of nuclear power are more plausible than low estimates. According to Tyndall: “claims that nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon options (including CCS and wind) are unlikely to be borne out in reality”.

After consideration of the Tyndall report we decided that continued opposition to new nuclear power stations in the UK is still the right position.

We will also oppose any life extensions to existing nuclear power plants if there are any significant safety concerns, or if they crowd out renewable power.

We do not oppose research into new potentially safer forms of nuclear power; but our current assessment is that we are unlikely to need them in the future. The priority for research funds must be energy efficiency and renewable power.

Fracking isn't the answer

We certainly don't need a fracking industry. The controversial technique contributes to climate change. We need to get off fossil fuels as soon as possible – and shift to renewable energy. Please help us to stop fracking in the UK.