On the Saturday 17th June the first anti-nuclear power conference in 30 years, No Need for Nuclear: The Renewables are Here was held at Conway Hall in central London, hosted by CND. Academics, MPs and industry representatives spoke at the meeting which started with a video message from Caroline Lucas MP, representing Parliamentary CND in New York at negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty (below).
The danger that nuclear power poses to the general population
Those present heard about government sponsored investigations into the radiation related illness and cancers experienced by those that lived close to power plants. Despite the investigation known as KiKK which concluded that living near nuclear power plants was harmless, this finding was discredited as incidents of child leukaemia and other forms of cancers have risen by as much as 120% within 5km of power plants – when a plant is performing efficiently.
When the Chernobyl nuclear power plants malfunctioned the fallout reached the UK and further afield. Locally, flora and fauna in Chernobyl have been under duress for 30 years and an article published in the ISRN Surgery Journal reports: “Separate studies involving people who survived atomic bombs have shown that the risk for cancer remains high after 40 years, compared with the risk in the general population”. Economic costs are estimated to have been as high as $700 billion – and costs for Fukushima are expected to surpass this, taking into account the losses faced in shutting down the 50 power plants in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami.
The presence of politicians at the conference was an essential part of the dialogue
It was noted that the new Conservative government has remained silent on nuclear power in their latest manifesto, and Labour continues to bicker internally on the subject despite the very public views aired by their leader.
Three Green Party representatives and one from Labour, facilitated a cross party debate which engaged directly with the concerns of the audience. This demonstrated the need to engage with these issues on a political level if we are to see beneficial changes in the future.
Speakers also highlighted the trade unions’ failure to recognise how many jobs renewables provide for the industry over nuclear, 16 times as many according to official data.
Projected costs for new nuclear programmes in the UK, like the one at Hinkley Point C, are estimated at €39 billion but likely to run higher. This, together with bankruptcies at Areva and Westinghouse/Toshiba and the indebtedness of EDF, raises questions as to whether these programmes will go ahead or simply be footnoted within public expenditure.
Renewables supplied 50.7% of power to the UK, a huge milestone towards a world free from nuclear power/fossil fuels
Many at the conference pointed out that nuclear power was on the retreat, and the argument for renewable energy gets stronger and stronger. Renewables were not only a quicker, more versatile alternative but their cost has nose-dived in the past 20 years despite the technology having improved leaps and bounds. So much power has been produced, for example, by wind farms that prices have fallen to 1/10th of their normal level. We heard how only a few weeks ago, the National Grid reported that renewables supplied 50.7% of power to the UK, a huge milestone towards a world free from nuclear power/fossil fuels.
A common theme was the planned phasing-out of nuclear power stations across Europe in Switzerland and Germany
One speaker demonstrated how between 300 and 4000 local energy schemes had been organised by co-ops up and down Britain, erecting wind turbines and solar panels in an effort to pick up the slack in the government’s position. With over 10,000 members and 500 local authorities these programmes are bringing democracy to the people, uniting communities and providing independence from energy corporations. Europe is hoping to reduce dependence on nuclear power, partly because of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. Germany aims to phase out nuclear power by 2022, and – after civil protest – the Austrian Parliament unanimously passed legislation to remain an anti-nuclear country in 1997. In May’s referendum, Swiss voters backed their government’s plan to provide billions of dollars in subsidies for renewable energy, ban new nuclear plants and help bail out struggling utilities in a binding referendum on Sunday.
As many eyes are on the second round of meetings to draft a Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty, which began in New York on 15 June (see Roslyn Cook’s tweets) with more than 130 countries, supported by aid agencies, medics and faith representatives negotiating to outlaw nuclear weapons – we remember the link between many nuclear power plants supplying the nuclear weapons industry – another good reason for phasing out nuclear power.