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Monday, June 14, 1999 Published at 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK


Nuking climate change

Sizewell B under contruction: Scientists say more may be needed

By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Nuclear energy can be a useful part of a strategy to tackle global warming, according to two British scientific bodies.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch: The idea is ridiculed by green campaigners
In a joint report, the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering argue for keeping the nuclear option open.

The report, Nuclear Energy - the Future Climate, says levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) have risen from 285 parts per million before the industrial revolution to about 350 ppm now.

CO2 is the main greenhouse gas caused by human activities.

Strong case

The report says: "There is a strong case for acting to mitigate the threat of drastic climate change associated with the unrestrained continuation of this trend.

"At a global level we can expect our consumption of energy at least to double in the next 50 years, and to grow by a factor of up to five in the next 100 years.

"It will be an immense challenge to meet the global demand for energy without unsustainable long-term damage to the environment."

The report recognises a need for "major investment in research and development in all energy sectors".

Start planning now

It suggests using renewable sources like solar and wind power, and reducing energy use.

"However, it is not at all clear whether the combination of efficiency, conservation and renewables will be enough."

The authors say planners should now assume that new nuclear plant may be required in the course of the next 20 years.

In a crucial passage, they write: "Public confidence is central to the future of the nuclear enterprise.

[ image: Accidents like Chernobyl have damaged nuclear power's credibility]
Accidents like Chernobyl have damaged nuclear power's credibility
"Such confidence cannot be demanded: it must be won by a mixture of openness on the part of the industry, acceptance of a degree of responsibility by the public . . . and clear leadership by politicians."

The British Nuclear Industry Forum, the trade association for the industry, has welcomed the report.

Director of Communications Keith Park said: "Nuclear energy now supplies almost 30% of UK electricity. It does so without emitting any significant quantities of carbon dioxide.

"Nuclear energy is climate friendly. We agree with the report's view that policy action is needed soon to ensure that nuclear energy can play its full role in meeting the UK's long-term energy and environmental needs."

But opponents of nuclear power say the industry has not learned to be sufficiently open.

And public acceptance has been badly dented by accidents like Windscale and Chernobyl, and by the inextricable involvement of the military with civil nuclear programmes.

Report rejected

Dr Patrick Green, Senior Energy, Nuclear and Climate Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, described the report's support for new nuclear power stations as "barking".

"Nuclear power had its chance and failed. No amount of special pleading can now make a workable economic or environmental case for new nuclear power stations.

"More radioactive waste is not the answer to climate change."

Forum for the Future, an environmental policy group, said: "Nuclear power might make sense from a purely greenhouse gas perspective.

"But it's extremely expensive, and unresolved questions remain over storage and disposal of waste, and over the effect of discharges.

"We do not accept the report's arguments."

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