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‘Historically safest energy’: UK needs nuclear plants to reduce carbon emissions but won’t stop there

Published time: October 22, 2013 04:05

Hunterston nuclear power station in West Kilbride, Scotland (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

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Two UK nuclear power plants aimed at meeting obligations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will likely be followed by others once the government sees the energy comes at a reasonable price, former adviser to the UK government Sir David King told RT.

RT: It seems the UK is rather bucking the trend compared to the rest of the world, particularly Germany, when it comes to nuclear power. Why is that?

David King: A decision was made back in 2007 by the British government that we should invest in new nuclear power stations. The Fukushima disaster has been analyzed in painful detail by those of us who advise governments, and the conclusion is that we can still build nuclear power stations safely and deliver electricity in a reliable way.

What you’ve got to also remember is that in Britain we have a commitment to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050. And we have a detailed plan to achieve that. The parliament has set out a climate change committee. They’ve established carbon budgets on a full yearly basis and we have carbon budgets out to 2028. In order to meet these budgets, we have a detailed plan of producing electricity on the grid. And included in that plan are renewables. Included in that plan is nuclear energy. So it is part of a mix.

RT: The main argument being named against building nuclear plants is the risk of a disaster, like the one in Japan in 2011. How big is the threat? Surely you can't put a price on people's safety?

DK: We’re not putting a price on people’s safety in the way you’re suggesting at all. We have the toughest regulatory procedures in the world in place. And the new nuclear power stations that would be built - two more would be built as the result of a decision announced this morning by the government - these power stations would be even safer than the previous generation of power stations because of the regulations that are being tightened up so much. 

An environmental safety monitor carries out contamination checks in the charge hall inside EDF Energy's Hinkley Point B nuclear power station in Bridgwater, southwest England (Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett)

I think one has to be awfully worried about the scare mongering that goes on about nuclear energy. And I say this because we just have to remember how many lives have been lost with coal, mining coal, from silicosis from coal. We know all forms of energy have risks. In analyzing this situation globally, you will find that nuclear energy per kilowatts of electricity produced is by far the safest energy historically that we have used to produce electricity. So when I say scare mongering, I think we should all get it back to perspective. We of course know the risks associated with nuclear energy, but knowing the risks, you can then manage them down to a very tiny proportion.

RT: Are these nuclear plants really going to do the job of keeping Britain's lights on?

DK: It is two nuclear plants that have been announced at Hinkley Point. And of course this isn’t enough to keep the lights on. I’ve already said that we have a balanced approach to providing energy for the UK. This includes micro-generation, it includes solar photovoltaic, it includes wind power, it includes gas fired power stations, and it includes nuclear power. These two power stations at Hinckley Point are likely to be followed by others and we would watch the rollout with a great deal of care.

But the main point is we’re going to see that electricity keeps being provided for the United Kingdom throughout on a regular basis and we’re going to see that we optimize the price at which that electricity is available. Most importantly, we will deliver on our international commitments on the biggest concern we are all facing which is the challenge of global warming.

If we don’t manage to bring down our carbon dioxide emissions over the next 15-20 years, we’re faced with a disaster of an enormous magnitude compared to we are now taking about. The number of people that have died directly from radiation at Fukushima is probably close to zero.  So we just need to keep it all in proportion.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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