Home > Design of Economies > Papers, Reports & Letters > Energy Economics > The vital facts of nuclear power

The vital facts of nuclear power

May 12th, 1986

A letter to the Daily Telegraph which was published on 12th May 1986.

Mr John Terry asks (May 8th) if nuclear power stations are essential.  The answer is yes they are; in fact for Britain they are vital.  The real risk in the present furore over what is a Russian and not a British accident is that the unbalanced anti-nuclear lobby will excite wholly unreasonable fears among people at large, causing the Government to put off implementing the nuclear programme on which it has embarked.

As far as Britain is concerned there has not been one death directly attributable to nuclear power in the 30 years of its commercial operation.  Contrast that with the hundreds of deaths due to mining, or the 200,000 deaths due to accidents on the roads over the same period.

Not only have the risks of nuclear power generation been absurdly exaggerated, but so have the risks of nuclear waste disposal.  British Nuclear Fuels is currently embarked on a programme at Sellafield to reduce actinide discharge in order, in turn, to reduce the hypothetical radiation-induced deaths in the population of local winkle eaters from three to one over the next 10,000 years.  The cost of this programme is around £250 million which, but for the induced hysteria, could have been spent on hospitals and equipment to save real, not hypothetical, lives over the next ten, not ten thousand years.

The reason why nuclear power is vital to Britain is simply that without it our industries will suffer the increasingly crippling handicap of energy costs greater than those of our competitors.  This is not a risk but a certainty.  Already Britain is importing French nuclear power generated electricity.  In the longer term, nuclear power is the only source of power for a world population growing towards six billion or more.

Rather than the calm foreseen by Mr Terry there can be no surer recipe for general war than a future scramble for diminishing fossil fuel supplies in the absence of nuclear power.  So-called renewable energy sources – solar, wave, wind – can only be at best of marginal use with the populations we already have, and every government knows it.

Money spent on them is for the most part completely wasted – a ploy adopted by politicians to avoid putting the hard facts of life in front of the electorates.