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RSC president warns UK not to shut down nuclear industry

The president of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has warned the UK government not to follow Germany and shut down its entire nuclear industry. The UK has 19 reactors at nine locations producing an average of just less than 1.2GW per location.

Prof David Phillips said if the UK was to replace its nuclear power stations with either offshore or onshore wind turbines, a huge number of turbines would have to be built.

’One nuclear power station produces roughly 1.2GW compared with the roughly 3MW produced by one offshore turbine. Therefore 400 offshore wind turbines are needed to produce the same power but, as those turbines will not operate 100 per cent of the time, you would realistically need up to 1,200 offshore wind turbines to replicate the power generated at a single nuclear power station.’

Due to the corrosive effects of sea water, it is far more likely onshore wind farm projects will be considered to save costs. As offshore wind turbines produce 50 per cent more power than onshore, hundreds more onshore turbines would be required to ensure energy demand is met.

’To replace current UK nuclear output of 10.5GW with onshore wind, at 2MW per turbine and a power per unit area of 2W/m2, you would have to find an area the size of 750,000 football pitches,’ said Prof Phillips.

’If the UK was to follow Germany and shut down its entire nuclear industry, we would presumably be looking solely at renewables to meet the shortfall. If you attempted to replace UK power stations with wind farms, for example, then an area the size of Oxfordshire and Derbyshire combined would be needed to locate them. The Royal Society of Chemistry believes there has to be a balance to meet our medium-term energy challenges.’

Nuclear energy has been identified by the RSC as being a core component of the energy mix for the UK in order for the country to meet its commitments to reduce carbon emissions. The RSC believes nuclear energy generation is a critical medium-term solution. The technical challenge is for the safe and efficient harnessing of nuclear energy, exploring both fission and fusion technologies.

Readers' comments (11)

  • If offshore turbines should replace nuclear energy it would not be with yesterdays turbines (2mw's), but it would be with tomorrows turbines (6mw's and bigger). It is expected that the average offshore turbine nominal output in 2015 will be 8.5mw. So only approx 140 turbines is required to replace a nuclear power plant. Furthermore the UK nuclear power production capacity of 10.5 GW is surpassed easily with the UK round 2.5 & 3 projects.

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  • A report by Versicherungsforen Leipzig GmbH, a company that specialises in actuarial calculations, shows that if the nuclear industry were to insure fully against the costs of a nuclear disaster, the price of nuclear electricity would rise to 2.36 Euros per kWh, far beyond the cost of any other source of electricity (see ).

    A recent report by the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that government subsidies to the nuclear power industry over the past fifty years have been so large in proportion to the value of the energy produced that in some cases it would have cost taxpayers less to simply buy kilowatts on the open market and give them away.

    Connie Hedegaard, the EU commissioner for climate change, has stated publicly that offshore wind power is cheaper than nuclear power (see ).

    In general, renewables can be built much faster than nuclear power plants. Last year, Germany installed 8.8 GW of photovoltaic solar panels, producing about the same amount of electricity as a 1 GW nuclear plant. But it would take much longer – about seven years – to build that nuclear plant.

    Several reports show that there are more than enough renewable sources of power to meet our needs for energy (not just electricity), now and for the foreseeable future (see and ).

    A report by independent consultant David Milborrow shows that electricity transmission networks in the UK are already designed to cope with variability arising from the failure of power stations and from variations in consumer demand, and that, for a small additional cost, wind power could provide up to 40% of the UK's electricity. A demonstration of the way that renewables can provide a comprehensive and reliable source of electrical power is the “Combined Power Plant” ( which links and controls 36 wind, solar, biomass and hydropower installations spread throughout Germany. It has proved to be just as reliable and powerful as a conventional large-scale power station.

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  • Two points only: No-one has died in Japan as a result of the events at the Fukushima reactors and less than 50 deaths have been attributed to Chernobyl by UNSCEAR (cf Piper Alpha, Flixborough, Bophal and coal mines) so why should the insurance be so high? If nuclear power is so expensive how come the French are selling so much of their electricity to their neighbours?

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  • Nuclear power is very expensive when you factor in the final decommissioning costs, Calder Hall / Sellafield reactor set on fire over 50 years ago and they still haven't managed to decommission the reactor yet. The powerful Nuclear lobby see's renewable power their No.1 competitor for Government funds, they spend a lot of time getting wind turbine farms planning permission turned down.

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  • All of the above shows clearly how dishonest the nuclear energy lobby is! It is without doubt the most expensive and long term polluting energy source on the planet. The Cumbrian nuclear complex of sellafield/windscale/calder hall has polluted the Irish sea all the way to the coast of Ireland (there is pending legal action) The number of deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima will run into many thousands of extra cancers and early deaths over the next thirty years, but as everyone should be aware these deaths will not be "attributable" as that person "might have got cancer anyway". They are expensive and dangerous white elephants which produce in total less than 20% of our energy needs, and will cost billions to replace; close them all.

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  • "Nuclear power will be so cheap it won't be worth metering" Antony Wedgwood Benn, Minister for Power, and they have been lying on that scale ever since.

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  • I hope the government is not swayed by the innacurate and poor representaion put forward. The typical wind turbine being fabricated is of the order of 9Mw (offshore) each, not 2 Mw, and no reference given as to photo voltaic micro generation scheme currently being adopted, etc etc

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  • There are many forms of renewable technology - wind, wave, tidal, solar, etc.

    Reputable studies have shown that these can provide more than enough to meet our energy needs. (See, for example,

    Given this, the obvious risks associated with nuclear energy and the unsolved problem of nuclear waste, it is astonishing and possibly unethical to maintain that nuclear is needed as part of an energy mix. It isn't.

    We could be in the vanguard of developing renewable technologies, not trailing behind. They represent an opportunity for jobs and for our struggling economy.

    Nuclear power stations are not as efficient as supposed: they go off-line, for example, for maintenance or to sort out problems. This can be for months at a time.

    Nuclear power is not green. Ore has to be mined, the uranium extracted from it; this needs to be shipped considerable distances; a great deal of cement is used in the construction of nuclear power stations. Cement is made from heating limestone using coke - a major source of carbon dioxide.

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  • I don't think the RSC president is against renewable energy, I think he means that we need it to bridge the gap between where we are currently and the future of completely renewables. We don't have a very good reputation of getting things done quickly here in the UK and it is good to have something supporting us along the way to a sustainable goal.

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  • The traditional cost of nuclear in the UK is so high because of the associated weapons program. All the material people complain about is principally from this.

    Uranium is used because of weapons also but thorium which is plentiful and just as good for nuclear power can also be found in the UK.

    Comparing wind with the nuclear clean up which is so heavily skewed due to 50 yrs of weapons research is not a fair comparison.

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