Fixation on UK nuclear power may not help to solve climate crisis

<span>Researchers at Oxford have said that the UK could become entirely powered by wind and solar energy.</span><span>Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian</span>
Researchers at Oxford have said that the UK could become entirely powered by wind and solar energy.Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/The Guardian

In the battle to prevent the climate overheating, wind and solar are making impressive inroads into the once dominant market share of coal. Even investors in gas plants are increasingly seen as taking a gamble.

With researchers at Oxford and elsewhere agreeing that the UK could easily become entirely powered by wind and solar – with no fossil fuels required – it seems an anomaly that nuclear power is still getting the lion’s share of taxpayer subsidies to keep the ailing industry alive.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are backing as yet unproven small modular reactors (SMRs) as an indispensable part of the answer to the climate crisis and are running competitions to get this industry started. These reactors, from tiny ones of the type that power nuclear submarines, to scaled-up versions that can, in theory, be factory produced and built in relays to provide steady power, are all still in the design stage.

As the Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States points out, whichever model is chosen they have all the drawbacks of existing nuclear power stations; expensive, even without cost overruns, and the still unsolved waste problem. The biggest disadvantage, the group says, is that even if the technology worked it would be too little, too late, to keep the climate safe.