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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 12:22 GMT
Head-to-head: Nuclear power
Full transcript of the debate on nuclear power on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, featuring Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation and former Downing Street press secretary and nuclear power supporter Sir Bernard Ingham.

Andrew Simms

The nuclear resurrection is a gravity-defying trick worthy of the illusionist, David Blaine.

Promoted as the answer to climate change and energy security, it is neither.

As a response to global warming, it is too slow, too expensive and too limited. And, in an age of terrorist threats and creeping proliferation, think Iran, it is more of a risk than a solution.

The voodoo economics used to justify nuclear power underestimates its real costs by at least a factor of three. Consider this: pound for pound of investment, new nuclear would generate less energy, create fewer jobs and reduce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a wide range of renewable energy technologies, combined heat and power generators and, effectively, energy-efficiency too.

Nuclear also has a dirty little secret: startlingly there's only a few decades left of the proven high-grade uranium ore it needs for fuel. It's also far less climate-friendly than claimed. Once low-grade ore is used, costs go up and all the energy used from mining to decommissioning means it can lead to more carbon emissions than fossil fuel-powered gas generators.

Perversely, nuclear could even hasten global warming. The government's own Performance and Innovation Unit warned that subsidising nuclear could set back better, smaller-scale alternatives which could turn every home and business into a climate-friendly power station.

Finland, the only western country with a new nuclear programme, was officially criticised last year by the International Energy Agency for failing its renewable energy plan. Their carbon emissions are also rising.

Nuclear's last great hope, the Thorp reprocessing facility, designed to help the industry pay, is already closed and costing millions.

If Tony Blair writes the blank cheque needed to resurrect nuclear power, it will be the biggest financial scam since Enron, but far more deadly.

Sir Bernard Ingham

Nuclear power is economically unattractive, the government has parroted up to now. It is of course nonsense.

According to the Royal Academy of Engineering, supported by other studies, nuclear was only marginally dearer than gas-generated electricity before the recent huge increases in gas prices. Now it is the cheapest option, especially when the environmental costs of other fuels are taken into account.

It is the cheapest, even though the climate change levy is irrationally imposed upon it, since it is the cleanest of all methods of electricity generation. And it is the cheapest, even though uniquely it reflects its estimated environmental costs in its current price.

About 4% of the price you pay for nuclear electricity is set aside for dealing with decommissioning of plants and waste disposal.

Ministers have had a monstrous cheek in dismissing nuclear on economic grounds when they are pouring billions of good money after bad in subsidies into unreliable, intermittent and therefore basically mucky wind power.

Nuclear doesn't want subsidies but it does need government help with such things as licensing reactors, identifying sites for new power stations, clarifying the market regime within which it must operate and of course identifying the site for the disposal of long-term waste.

If they have their way, anti-nukes will not merely bankrupt Britain through grossly expensive wind and gas-generated electricity, they will also wreck our economy and prosperity by closing half the generating capacity that uses coal and nuclear.

That will leave a huge gap in our supplies in 10 to 20 years' time and then we shall discover what is the dearest electricity in the world - power that is not there at the touch of a switch. We need nuclear for a secure, competitive, cleaner future.


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