By Nick Wakeling
IN HIS article The Mighty Atom: Friend or Foe (NT No. 6), Steve Brady argues that nuclear power is a clean, safe and almost providential solution to Britain's energy needs.
I do not share Steve Brady's view. It seems to me that nuclear power has turned out to be a disastrously expensive and risky gamble from which, at best, we stand to gain little and, at worst, we stand to lose a great deal.
When discussing whether nuclear power has a future in a Nationalist energy policy I believe we must take into consideration the following facts:
Steve Brady in his article asserts that we need nuclear power now. This is not the case. Britain can already generate 35% more electricity than we need (70% in Scotland) even on the coldest day of the year. If the present nuclear programme is completed it will ― at best ― contribute only 7% of our delivered energy needs.
Nuclear power propagandists originally claimed that nuclear power would be "too cheap to meter". But in fact it has turned out to be the most expensive form of energy supply.
The Central Electricity Generating Board refuses to release detailed costs claiming that it will "confuse the public". The House of Commons Select Committee on Energy recently criticised them for their abnormal accountancy methods stating that they have "no clear idea of whether investing around ￡1,300 million in a single nuclear power plant is as cost effective as spending a similar sum to promote energy conservation."
However, when working from what figures that have been released, and taking into account the cost of the high number of reactor failures and research into the apparently insoluble problem of nuclear waste disposal, it can be reliably estimated that the true cost of power from nuclear reactors is about 25% above that of coal and oil burning plants.
The air around nuclear plants is not "crystal clear" as Steve Brady alleges. Leaks of radioactivity into the environment occur; indeed British Nuclear Fuels routinely discharges huge quantities of the radioisotopes Caesium-137, Tritium and Krypton-85 into the atmosphere and the sea. This has resulted in the Irish Sea now being the most radioactive sea in the world. And a report in the medical journal The Lancet has revealed a doubling of leukaemia (blood cancer) rates in towns downwind from the nuclear plant at Windscale.
Steve Brady makes much of the fact that coal-fired stations emit radiation in fly-ash comparable to that emitted from a nuclear power station. However, when all civilian nuclear power activities, including reprocessing, are taken into account we find that nuclear power is seven times more polluting, in radioactive terms, in comparable energy output than coal.
It is true that we receive natural background from cosmic rays from outer space and certain radioactive rock strata, and that we receive man-made radiation from medical and dental X-rays. But it is worth noting that there are marked health effects in areas that are naturally high in background levels; that mass radiography programmes are no longer used; that equipment once used in shoe shops to X-ray children's feet for fittings has been banned; and that it has been concluded that mass X-ray screening for breast cancer resulted in approximately 5% more cancers than they detected.
The facts of the matter are that scientists now recognise that there is no dose of radiation so low that there is no risk. It is important to realise that the effects of radiation build up from one exposure to another.
Radiation causes cancer. It can also produce a weakening of resistance to disease, genetic damage to future generations and sterility. In large doses it can kill within days, and lower doses can remain hidden for up to 30 years before the damage is diagnosed as cancer or leukaemia.
Radioactivity released into the air, waterways or sea is taken up by plants and animals and passes via the food chain into human beings. The full impact of this pollution can only be realised when the life of many of these elements is taken into account. Plutonium-239 ― a substance created in nuclear reactors which concentrates in the liver and sex organs, causing cancer and genetic damage ― remains dangerously active for 250,000 years.
Radioactive wastes cannot be safely disposed of. The technology for total containment of radioactivity simply does not exist. Some nuclear wastes remain radioactive for years. Wastes stored in tanks at Windscale leak unstoppably and those dumped into deep oceans contaminate it. The really "hot" wastes are buried deep in the ground. There is always the danger that they will contaminate the ground water eventually, thus creating a genetic time bomb.
There is also the problem of what to do with nuclear reactors once they go out of' service. Nuclear reactors have a lifetime of no longer than 30 years as maintenance costs begin to exceed the benefits of keeping the plant going. After shutdown the radiation emanating from the reactor is extremely high and will remain high even after 100 years. To deal with this problem the nuclear authorities plan to either dismantle the reactors and bury the parts in special repositories or seal the reactors in concrete. Both these methods are lengthy, dangerous operations which will cost in the region of ￡20 million to complete.
In common with all other industrial enterprises, nuclear power has its accidents. Already in Britain in the past year nuclear reactors have had to be closed down because of cracks, radiation leaks and design faults.
The most serious accident in Britain so far was the fire in Windscale No. 1 pile in 1957. By the time the fire was out an estimated 20,000 curies of iodine-131 had escaped into the atmosphere as well as other radioactive isotopes. According to official figures the released fusion products contaminated an area 500 square kilometres downwind.
Throughout the world there has been a multitude of accidents in reactors and reprocessing plants, some of which have led to reactors being permanently closed down.
Steve Brady may like to imagine that Three Mile Island never looked like hurting anyone but the fact remains that the U.S. Government at one stage planned to evacuate half-a-million people within a 20-mile radius; that nearly three years after the accident the structure is still full of radioactive water and gas and no one seems to know how long it will take to clean up; and that following the accident the infant mortality rate within a 10-mile radius doubled, and that thyroid abnormalities in babies is now- five times the national average.
Steve Brady is also incorrect when he states that nuclear power has never killed anyone. During the last two years the British nuclear industry has settled claims, in and out of court, for damages to widows of men who contracted cancer whilst working at nuclear plants.
In nuclear reactors there may well be safety precautions on safety precautions, but like every other mechanical device things can go wrong, either because of technical error, human error or a combination of both. No mechanical device is infallible. Aircraft are designed not to crash ― but they do.
Nuclear accidents have occurred and will continue to occur. It is not a question of if but of when. And where. And how bad?
In conclusion it should be remembered that if a reactor in Britain has a core meltdown, and if the winds are blowing towards heavily populated areas, hundreds of thousands will die from cancer because of radiation, and the contaminated area will have to be evacuated for years.
We are running the risk of this for a mere 7% of our delivered energy needs. Does it make sense?
Britain's continuing and expanding nuclear power programme is a dangerous and expensive folly. The National Front must follow the example of Radical Nationalist movements in the USA and Europe and oppose nuclear power.