Thursday, January 20, 2005
Sir: Martin Parkinson (letter, 18 January) acknowledges that we need nuclear power if we are to avoid massive blackouts but says that, for reasons undisclosed, new reactors can only be a short-term solution. May I make the alternative case, accepted by the peoples of France, Russia, China, Japan and India among others?
We have sufficient known resources of uranium to keep current nuclear generation going for 4.5 billion years. Nuclear power has a safety record far surpassing that of any other major world industry. Since the 43 deaths at Chernobyl there have been four accidental deaths, all in Japan, in an industry that provides 20 per cent of the world's electricity. By comparison, with coal, we tolerate over 100,000 deaths from black lung and emphysema every year. High-level reactor waste amounts to only a cubic metre per reactor year. Because of the short half-life inherent in high radioactivity it is, in 50 years, normally down to the level of the ore it was mined from.
It is the only possible system which can permanently generate enough to give everybody in the world the amount of power, and therefore a substantial fraction of the standard of living, we currently enjoy. This would take 5,500 reactors, which if mass produced would be very much cheaper than the current bespoke system. World-wide waste over 50 years would be equivalent to a single cube 65 metres on a side.
If allowing all our fellow members of the human race a decent standard of living were considered desirable, and I so consider it, a permanent commitment to expanded nuclear power would be an absolute requirement.