mirrorshard: (Terrella)
[personal profile] mirrorshard
A couple of articles, from the Observer and the Guardian, caught my eye. Then they proceeded to induce alternating fits of incredulous laughter and steam coming out of the ears.

Some choice quotes from the Observer, with commentary:
We can bury our reactor waste or we can treat it and then use it as free fuel for life,' said the cabinet's chief science adviser, Sir David King. 'It's a no-brainer.'
Quite apart from the 'Sir David King', which often leads to scornful laughter, this is disingenuous on two counts. We can't just bury reactor waste (and note here that when he talks about 'reactor waste', he actually includes 'weapons-grade plutonium' - the Guardian article goes into that one a bit more) and it won't be in any sense 'free fuel'. The raw material's there, but being able to use it would involve spending £1bn on upgrading the Thorp reprocessing plant and another £1bn on the Sellafield mox (mixed oxide) plant, then transporting convoys of highly radioactive fuel around the country. (Note that those figures are King's own, so they're quite likely lowball figures anyway - and the PR consultancy required to find yet another new name for the Sellafield site would add on still more.)

'There is no economic justification for this plan,' said Roger Higman, of Friends of the Earth. 'It would just be another massive subsidy for the nuclear industry.'
The only way to get a competitive nuclear industry off the ground in this country, really, would be to finance some of the massive capital investments up front and then to add in some artificial price subsidies for nuclear energy in the electricity marketplace. PFI nuclear power stations, anyone?

[T]he waste could be burned in a new generation of power plants called fast breeder reactors.
Really, I don't think I can snark at this one. It does that quite well by itself. For those of you who aren't familiar with the slogan 'The only good fast breeder is a rabbit', have a Wikipedia link.

The Guardian article is relatively easy to summarize. "Oh, shit, we've got hundreds of tonnes of weapons-grade plutonium. It's incredibly deadly, will go into spontaneous meltdown any moment if we don't take constant care of it, it's a big fat target for terrorists, and we don't have a plan for getting rid of it."

Burning it off in specially designed nuclear power plants - not traditional fast breeders - might actually be a good idea in principle. They don't produce any point-of-generation CO2, these ones wouldn't require any massively destructive uranium mining, and the UK's badly in need of high-load baseline electricity generation.

However, the sheer cost involved, the historical evidence for the unreliability of nuclear power stations (they spend far too much time offline), the problems with private companies operating critical national infrastructure (cf. Metronet), and the fact that mucking around with weapons-grade plutonium and high-level nuclear waste any more than we absolutely have to is a Fundamentally Bad Idea incline me to oppose the plan.
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