Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Nuclear and fracking have no role in a sustainable energy strategy

This is a response to an article in the Shropshire Star, a regional English daily newspaper:

Mark Andrews’ interesting article on the direction of future UK energy policy (“Britain's nuclear power puzzle: How do we stop the lights going out?,” Shropshire Star, 22 January; included several inaccurate assertions, including two very important errors by local MP Owen Patterson.

The article asserts that with Japanese power generator Hitachi suspending (read cancelling) building work on a giant nuclear reactor at Wylfa power station in Anglesey, “it has blown a major hole in the Government's energy strategy.”

This is misleading, as is the assertion that “last year, nuclear power provided just under a fifth of Britain's energy needs.” This conflates energy with electricity.

Nuclear provides around 20% of electricity supply, which is only 7% of total energy (including for heat, transport etc). Wylfa would have provided 2% of national energy demand, hardly a big hole as electricity demand has dropped every year for a decade.

The article also reports that world's first nuclear power station opened at Calder Hall, near Sellafield in Cumbria, in 1956. This nuclear plant was opened that year, by a young HM Queen Elizabeth, but it was not a power plant, but a plutonium production  factory for nuclear explosive materials for atomic warheads, with very expensive electricity  generated as a spin off.

In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a remarkable little book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning in October 1956.  Mr Jay wrote:

“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."

Owen Paterson is right to call for a rethink of energy policy, moving away from the giant power plants of the past But his choice of gas-fired plants using fracked natural shale gas from UK wells, and small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)is highly misguided, especially worrying as he isa former  Environment Secretary in the Cabinet.

Mr Patterson is reported as claiming “small nuclear plants have been running successfully around the UK for the past 30 years, with nine working on and off without incident.” This is completely untrue. There have been no SMRs operating in the UK ever. (although  small reactors are used in nuclear submarines for propulsion).

To learn more about the UK SME r research programme, your readers may access a 70 page critical analysis  ( including dangerous terrorist  risks) I presented the European Nuclear Energy forum in Bratislava in Slovakia in June last year, on behalf of the Brussels-based Nuclear Transparency Watch Group at this web  site URL:

Mr Patterson also asserts "I'm very much in favour of exploring the possibility of shale gas [which is] far cleaner than all the old fossil-fuel power stations."  

It is true  fracked gas is cleaner in terms of greenhouse  gas emissions than burning coal, but there are still ‘fugitive emissions ‘ of  shale gas, which is a much more potent  greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide from coal combustion.

But fracking has both health hazards and  under-reported radiation risks, both overlooked by  Mr Patterson

A study published by independent academic researchers at the University of Missouri at the end of 2013 found greater hormone- disrupting  (so-called  ‘gender-bender’ chemicals) properties in water located near  fracking than in areas without drilling.


Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility. (for full study see:


Other US-based scientists at Yale University have found 55 fracking pollutants linked to cancer, including 20 associated with leukaemia or lymphoma. “These findings support the hypothesis that exposure to unconventional oil and gas development could increase the risk of leukaemia,” the recent study concludes.


The pollutants linked to leukaemia include benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and several toxic types of hydrocarbons. More than 80 % of the 1,177 water pollutants and 143 air pollutants from the US fracking industry couldn’t be assessed for cancer risk because of a lack of data, the paper, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, states.


Moreover, research published in the US by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes – where 42% of readings surpass what the US government considers safe – have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state. (Increased Levels of Radon in Pennsylvania Homes Correspond to Onset of Fracking’, April 9, 2015;


In the UK, the heath watchdog, Public Health England, warned in a report published over five  years ago If the natural gas delivery point were to be close to the extraction point with a short transit time, radon present in the natural gas would have little time to decay … there is therefore the potential for radon gas to be present in natural gas extracted from UK shale.” (‘Shale gas extraction: review of the potential public health impacts of exposures to chemical and radioactive pollutants,’ 30 October 2013;

This would mean families in kitchens across the land could be under threat of radiation poisoning if gas hobs and ovens are used. 

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