A group of 75 biologists, including professors from Oxford and Cambridge, co-signed an open letter arguing that nuclear power must be deployed to replace the burning of fossil fuels, “if we are to have any chance of mitigating severe climate change”.

But the statement has reignited the debate over UK nuclear power, as Greenpeace hit back, reiterating that cheap, clean nuclear reactors are currently an unrealistic proposition.

Pro nuclear

The letter, to be published next month in the journal Conservation Biology, urges green groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to reconsider their historical opposition to nuclear technology. it states: “We entreat the conservation and environmental community to weigh up the pros and cons of different energy sources using objective evidence and pragmatic trade-offs, rather than simply relying on idealistic perceptions of what is ‘green’.” 

The scientists write that, although renewable sources will make increasing contributions to the energy mix, they face issues of scalability, cost, material and land use, meaning it is too risky to rely on them as the only alternatives to fossil fuels.

By contrast, nuclear power is the most compact and energy-dense source and should make a “major, perhaps leading, contribution” to the UK energy mix, they say.

Pro renewables

Responding to the letter, Greenpeace UK chief scientist Dr Doug Parr told edie: “The ‘next generation’ of nuclear reactors are always clean, safe, cheap and just over the horizon. But, mysteriously, the reactors that get built are always the exact opposite.

“By contrast, photovoltaics are clean, safe, getting cheaper by the day and available now. They can be installed in heavily populated cities, on dual-use agricultural land and even in shallow water. And no-one will lie awake at night worrying about terrorists getting access to a solar panels or wind farms.”

The Greenpeace online briefing on nuclear energy says that even 10 new reactors in Britain would only deliver a 4% cut in carbon emissions sometime after 2025.

Writing in a recent blog for edie, resource efficiency expert Dr Craig Jones explains the “many environmental and economic issues with nuclear”, concluding that “nuclear remains a controversial choice, and for good reasons”. Read more here.

Your opinion: Readers’ poll

So, what do you think? Should nuclear power be a primary contributor to the UK’s energy mix? Do you agree that it is a low-emission, reliable source of power, or is it too expensive and dangerous? Cast your VOTE here and leave a comment below to let us know your thoughts. 

Brad Allen

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