The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

4.3 Nuclear energy debate

Now that you have explored the science behind nuclear power and all the key issues surrounding its use, take time to reflect on the arguments for and against nuclear power.

Listen to the debate. You may feel that you agree with some of the points that they raise, perhaps even points from both sides.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_nuclear_energy_vid_1095.mp4
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With the most recent warnings around climate change, and obviously also increasing gas bills, it's absolutely right that we're looking at all the different types of low carbon power that should be out there. But a cold hard look at that, I think, leads us to the conclusion that nuclear will take too long and be too expensive to make any difference. It crowds out all the investment, all the political attention for other much quicker, more effective, low carbon technologies. It's a bit like the big kind of burly bruiser at your cousin's wedding that drinks too much, knocks everyone else off the dance floor, crashes into the black forest gateau before you've had a chance to have any of it. It pushes everything else out, and it's an old technology from last century. We need to move on.
Well, on the technology, I'm inclined to agree with you. It's always puzzled me that we can have a nuclear reaction in a submarine yet not in a village. My view is that nuclear is vastly over costed. It's too protected. It's too guarded. We're so terrified of it. There's a taboo surrounding it, so we make these buildings much, much too safe [INAUDIBLE]. We can get far, far cheaper nuclear energy.
I don't think nuclear energy's the answer to the world's energy problems, although we have to remember that 50 years ago, everybody did. We're wiser now, but I think to rule it out is frankly ridiculous. It is clearly low carbon. I tend to divide - since I'm something of an agnostic on aspects of climate change - my view is if there's a genuine crisis with global warming, we've got to switch everything out of coal into gas because gas is the quickest way of getting lower carbon emissions.
And my solution to those - that terms is the dash for gas. I'm quite unashamed about that. The dash for gas is carbon. It's all your eggs in one basket. We need to have eggs in many baskets.
One of those baskets for me is nuclear, and nuclear at least is cheaper than wind. It's cheaper than a number of renewables. It should be cheaper than it is, but it's not something I'd ever rule out.
It's crazy to think that just by repeating the same old energy policies of the past, we're going to end up with a different outcome. And we have new options now. We have very fantastic energy efficiency technologies that don't get nearly enough the political attention or will they deserve to really bring about a reduction in energy consumption.
That's perfectly possible now because of those technologies, and yet, we're not looking at it. Nuclear saps all the attention from that debate and instead, we don't get the attention that's needed with energy efficiency. The same with renewables. Actually, after 60 years of nuclear sector being pampered like no other sector out there - subsidised, pampered, protected, lied about, and so on, and actually, we've not seen the cost of nuclear come down. We're seeing the cost of nuclear going up.
And yet, with renewables, we're seeing the cost of them plummeting year after year, 30 per cent year on year in the case of solar, for example. The opportunities there for us are tremendous if we can just really get behind them. And of course, renewables isn't one technology. It's a whole family of technologies.
So even if you don't like wind, there's a whole range of other ones - tidal, wave, solar as well, and we've got to unlock that potential. And the reason we don't at the moment is because we're obsessed with trying to repeat the same old energy policy of the past.
Well, I don't disagree with anything about renewables except that I think we're slaves to fashion in renewables. May well be one day, the whole of the Sahara can power Europe, as somebody once said. It may well be that we can get nuclear very cheaply. And the nuclear is itself inherently a very efficient, carbon free energy source.
The fact is, France, most of French energy was produced by nuclear. It is a proven source of energy. It's a proven source of expensive energy, but it's carbon free. I come from a position where I'm not that worried about carbon as some people are. I would rather we got away from it, and I think over time, as they have in America, we will be moving away from it.
We absolutely have to get out of carbon, but nuclear can't do it quickly, and your point was suggesting that somehow nuclear is over regulated. Sometimes it's sort of suggested that what green organisations have is an ideological opposition to nuclear. And I'll be clear. I think there's been a lot of nonsense written on both sides of the debate about nuclear power down the years.
But actually, the point is it's not a fear of nuclear science that I think holds modern environmentalists that have an opposition to nuclear. It's actually, it's not a scientific question. It's a question about human behaviour. It's a question about project management systems, about the economics, around the politics of nuclear.
And the moment we look into all of that, you do need good regulations to make sure you try and make sure these reactors are operating safely. If you're going to do nuclear even half decently - and that's me being very generous - it's going to take a very long time and it's going to be very expensive. And that's why it saps up all the political will and it saps up all the money. That's why I don't think it's a good solution.
I totally agree it depends on what you put your emphasis on. But ultimately, this is going to be a mix of political will and money. It's gone hopelessly wrong. One of the reasons has been the agony over nuclear. I don't disagree with that, but I just cannot believe that nuclear is not a part of the answer.
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In the next section, you will be invited to consider your views on nuclear power.


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