Nuclear regulation in a post-Fukushima world

Letters: Nuclear regulation in a post-Fukushima world

Press quote (The Guardian)
Stephen Tindale, Prof Martin Freer, Prof Laurence Harwood, Prof Bruce Hanson, Prof Bill Lee, Prof James Marrow
25 November 2013

Your editorial was a reminder of the sad events associated with Fukushima Daiichi and the undeniable challenges associated with the cleanup programme. Perspective and context are, however, important.
In his recent review (8 November) of Robert Stone's film Pandora's Promise, which relays an environmentalist view on the arguments for embracing nuclear power, Damian Carrington observed of the concerns regarding safety: "As it happens, I think these concerns are overblown too. The harm to human health resulting from nuclear power is tiny compared to other energy sources, principally coal. The cancers caused by leaks from nuclear power stations are small in number compared to the deaths resulting from the air pollution caused by fossil fuel burning."

The safety record of the global nuclear industry is undeniably better than that of just about any other energy-generating technology. The seriousness with which governments and regulators internationally took their responsibility post-Fukushima in ensuring the safety of operating power plants is commendable. It is this culture that drives the design of current and future-generation nuclear power stations that will be deployed in the UK; enhanced safety and greater resistance to external environmental influences have been key.

The one thing the planet cannot afford is climate change. If current projections are anything like right, it is in a different league from any other environmental problem imaginable. Until it is possible to store electricity on a much greater scale than today, variable renewables are not able to provide the reliable electricity we need day in day out, which never falls below about 20,000MW in the UK. So it's coal, gas or nuclear for this segment of our power demand. Unless carbon capture and storage really takes off – and even then it does not eliminate carbon emissions from fossil fuel use – the choice is simply nuclear power or high greenhouse gas emissions.

Prof Martin Freer Director, Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research, University of Birmingham, Prof Laurence Harwood University of Reading, Prof Bruce Hanson Professor of nuclear process engineering, University of Leeds, Prof Bill Lee Director, Centre for Nuclear Engineering, Imperial College London, Prof James Marrow University of Oxford, Stephen Tindale Associate fellow, Centre for European Reform