Astragal is right (AJ 20.04.06), I am extremely concerned that nuclear power will be used as an easy and a so-called reliable solution to our climate-change challenges. The doubts over nuclear power are numerous. But I have not been silent.
The embedded energy (not to mention CO 2) in a new nuclear power station means it would be years, maybe decades before it becomes energy positive in use. Nuclear fuel is a scarce resource, making it a far from global solution. In the wrong hands power plants can make nuclear material for armaments.
Reprocessing and storage of spent fuel is an unproven technology leaving a terrible legacy for our descendants. Nuclear power plants will be an obvious terrorist target, in a world of burgeoning terrorism. Nuclear accidents may be avoidable in sophisticated western countries, but if the developing world followed our nuclear example, could we expect the same standards to be maintained?
Clearly this did not happen in Russia. I write this on the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster which claimed at least 9,000 lives and severely damaged many more.
Astragal may be pleased to know that I made most of these points when I met Malcolm Wicks, the minister for energy, on 20 March at the House of Commons during the CIC Energy Summit. I also, of course, made the case for energy conservation and research and investment in renewables, regulation and use of the tax structures. Wicks felt views on the nuclear option were personal and did not have a professional or construction industry locus. It's a fair challenge, and indeed there are those in the RIBA who would agree with this. Fundamental understanding of some of the technical issues is certainly outside of our professional competency. But architects are used to managing the technical input of others, within a strategic framework, and you don't need a PhD in physics to follow the arguments.
There are some big issues to be resolved. To keep CO 2 concentration in the atmosphere to even the new target of 550 parts per million (PPM) (it used to be 400PPM, but that was too difficult) we have to close a very big energy gap. This can only be done by using a number of measures which will add up to the solution - reduction in energy demand, renewable energy sources, carbon sequestration etc. But even enthusiastic environmentalists, like George Monbiot (see Guardian 29.11.05) doubt the maths.
There may be an unresolved gap. And the government wants the solution to be reliable and deliverable to provide a guaranteed 'base load'. Enter the nuclear lobby: 'We can do that'.
But, I think it is unreasonable to say here and now that we must meet our 2050 60 per cent reduction of CO 2 target by using today's tried and tested (if ultimately unresolved and dangerous) technologies. Innovation and technical development must play their part. In any case we are just not doing enough research into new clean technologies. The government is investing £50 million in research in renewables. This is peanuts. We need billions going into this research and we need real volume in the production of existing clean technologies, like photovoltaics (PVs), to drive their price down. If PVs had gone through the mobile phone development curve, they would be cheap as chips by now.
We need to close the CO 2 gap without nuclear for a clean and safe future.
Jack Pringle, president, RIBA