ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Nuclear power plant operation along with many other industrial plant operations is inextricably linked with a number of environmental issues. These have and are being considered within a global context, e. g. within the UN (Stockholm 1972 and Rio 1992) and also within the EC. National governments are also addressing these issues by charging various government bodies, agencies and commissions to advise on policy and propose discharge consents, etc. to meet national and/or international targets for emissions.

In the UK (Fisk, 1999), a number of enquiries into future nuclear power have addressed environmental issues in their deliberations. For example, within the past few years the House of Lords has conducted an enquiry into nuclear waste, the Environmental Agency has proposed discharge consents for reprocessing at Sellafield and the Royal Commission for Environmental Pollution has considered evidence on energy and the environment. These initiatives have largely been driven to make input to the debate on how the UK can meet greenhouse gas emission targets for the period 2008-2012. This issue has been a consideration in the UK Energy Strategy Review (Performance Innovation Unit, 2002; DTI Energy White Paper, 2003). The greenhouse gas targets are particularly challenging. Figures 2.4 and 2.5 show the dependence on nuclear energy in 2002 with nuclear electricity representing 23% of the total electricity supply. Without new building, the nuclear fraction figure will reduce with the shutting down of all the remaining Magnox stations by 2010, and some of the remaining AGRs by 2020 (Table 2.8).

Fisk (1999) considers environmental issues within the wider context of ‘sustainable development’ to which the UK government is committed. There are a number of definitions of this concept. A common definition is ‘meeting the needs of our generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.’ This definition was put forward by the Brundtland at the end of the 1980s. Generally, the term has come to

image020

□ Nuclear

9%

□ Other

2%

□Coal

15%

Gas

39%

□ Oil

35%

Figure 2.4. UK primary fuel mix in 2002. Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics (2002).

mean improved welfare for everyone both in the present and the future. The key concept here is ‘improvement for everyone as opposed to improvement for some at the expense of others.’

Sustainable development and nuclear power invoke a number of issues, perhaps the most important is the issue of waste. Nuclear waste can in principle cause harm to future generations, which could certainly result in the future without an adequate waste strategy. Since in most countries at the present time, there is no agreed strategy, the question must be asked whether it is justifiable to continue with nuclear energy power production, thus generating waste in the hope that future generations will be able to solve the problem.

Подпись: Figure 2.5. UK electricity generation in 2002. Source: Digest of UK Energy Statistics (2002).

□ Renewable 3%

Table 2.8. Projected rundown of UK nuclear stations

Station

Commissioning date

Status

Closure date

Bradwell

1962

Shutdown

2002

Calder Hall

1958

Shutdown

2003

Chapelcross

1959

Operational

2005a

Dungeness A

1966

Operational

2006a

Dungeness B

1983

Operational

2008a

Hartlepool

1983

Operational

2014a

Heysham 1

1983

Operational

2014a

Heysham 2

1988

Operational

2023a

Hinkley B

1976

Operational

2011a

Hunterston B

1976

Operational

2011a

Oldbury

1968

Operational

2008a

Sizewell A

1966

Operational

2006a

Sizewell B

1995

Operational

2029a

Torness

1988

Operational

2023a

Wylfa

1971

Operational

2010a

Data from Mayson (2003). aDenotes projected date.

Different countries may have different levels of acceptability. There are legacies of inadequate waste disposal in some countries that are now posing significant problems (and expense) to resolve. Practices have been adopted that would now not be considered as acceptable, yet were considered so at the time. Thus, levels of acceptability can and do vary from one country to another and will also change with time. Further there may be economic reasons to transport waste from one country to another, perhaps with less stringent environmental standards. Is this acceptable, both from a global environmental standpoint, or indeed from a moral standpoint — clearly the answer should be no.

The liabilities associated with decommissioning nuclear power plants once they have reached end of life are another important issue. These are obviously inescapable for currently operating plant; liabilities are a critical factor with regard to decision-making for the building of new plant. Having adequate decommissioning plans prior to building is now typically a regulatory requirement. In the UK, for example, there must be such a provision. From an economic perspective, there is the issue of whether adequate funds are in place for decommissioning, these may be available through increased price levies, or government underwriting of liabilities.

Aside from the concerns of waste disposal, perhaps the major environmental requirement from the public is that the risk of severe accidents is not only small, but also that if such accidents were to occur they can be effectively managed. This is a particular concern for older currently operating plant, which perhaps (and indeed were) licensed under more tolerant licensing regimes than those of the present day. Such plants may have greater vulnerabilities for severe accidents than some modern plants.

It has been discussed above that an important environmental benefit put forward for continued nuclear power plant operation is that it does not contribute to increased global warming and acid rain. The challenge is how to realise this benefit. National governments may set up infrastructures offering incentives to reduce emissions, which might be achieved either by building of new nuclear plant or through life extension of existing plant. In the latter case though, safety must not be compromised. Pressures to continue operation may be very great where no alternative power producers are available. This may be particularly true in the less developed countries. From an environment perspective, clearly safety considerations and the avoidance of adverse environmental consequences resulting from an accident must be paramount.

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