Greenpeace Protesters Try to Thwart Blair Pro-Nuclear Speech

LONDON, UK, November 30, 2005 (ENS) - Prime Minister Tony Blair was confronted by Greenpeace demonstrators Tuesday as he was about to deliver a speech opening a path for the expansion of British nuclear power at the Confederation of Business Industry's annual conference.

Two Greenpeace protesters climbed inside the roof of the Business Design Centre in Islington, north London, where Blair was to speak. They scaled the ceiling above the speakers' podium holding banners saying "Nuclear - Wrong Answer" and then dropped yellow stickers bearing the same words on the business people in the main gallery.

demonstrator

One of two Greenpeacers who protested nuclear power at the Business Design Centre by tossing yellow stickers into the hall. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace UK)
The demonstrators were arrested by police. Delegates moved to a smaller room and gathered around Blair as he gave his planned speech accompanied by two other European Union prime ministers, from Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Stephen Tindale, a former environment advisor to New Labour and now director of Greenpeace UK, said, "Today Blair is trying to launch a new nuclear age and we are here to stop him. Nuclear power is not the answer to climate change - it's costly, dangerous and a terrorist target."

Blair told the delegates, "Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency.

Thinking of the first meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol underway all this week and next in Montreal, the Prime Minister said, "I believe there will be a binding international agreement to succeed Kyoto when the protocol expires in 2012 that will include all major economies. The future is clean energy. And nations will look to diversify out of energy dependence on one source."

Today, the United Kingdom has 23 operating nuclear reactors, some of which are scheduled to come to the end of their lives by about 2020.

The United Kingdom is legally bound to meet Kyoto Protocol greenhouse gas emissions limits, as are all EU countries. Six gases are governed by the protocol, but carbon dioxide (CO2), produced by the burning of coal, oil and gas, is the most abundant. Together, the six gases form a greenhouse in the atmosphere, trapping the Sun's heat close to the planet.

"We will meet the Kyoto targets but we have recently seen an increase in carbon dioxide emissions," Blair said. "They are projected to rise further between 2010 and 2020."

"By around 2020, the UK is likely to have seen decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants that together generate over 30 percent of today's electricity supply. Some of this will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can."

Blair

British Prime Minister Tony Blair addresses delegates at Confederation of Business Industry's annual conference. (Photo courtesy Office of the Prime Minister)
The Prime Minister announced that the government has established a review of the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals. Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks will lead the review, and the government aims to publish a policy statement on energy in the early summer 2006.

"It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations," said Blair.

Tindale said, "Just three years ago Blair conducted the biggest energy review in 60 years - which concluded renewable energy and energy efficiency, not nuclear, is the way forward. Today's new review is simply a smokescreen for pushing his newfound enthusiasm for nuclear power."

Wicks said he and the government have an open mind, but he said the review would look at ways of "speeding up issues around planning" for nuclear power stations.

Wicks said, "It is a wide-ranging energy review. It is not a nuclear review."

The review also will look at developing technologies that capture carbon dioxide and store it in oil wells and aquifers, a process known as carbon sequestration.

The nuclear industry claims that nuclear reactors emit virtually no carbon dioxide at the point of electricity generation.

But Greenpeace points out that while most nuclear reactors do not emit carbon dixoide, they are a small part of a nuclear fuel chain that does. The preparation of uranium for the reactor involve mining and milling the ore, fuel enrichment, fuel-rod fabrication, and power station construction - all processes that do emit CO2.

At the end of life for the nuclear power plant more CO2 is emitted during the decommissioning, and during the treatment, storage, transport and disposal of nuclear waste.

"Once this whole life cycle is taken into consideration, the claim that nuclear power is a carbon-free alternative to current fossil fueled power stations doesn't stand up," Greenpeace says, pointing out that during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations carbon credits for nuclear power plants were rejeced.

nuclear station

First operational in 1956, the British Nuclear Fuels Calder Hall nuclear power station in Cumbria is scheduled to be closed in 2008. (Photo courtesy BNFL)
The most recent studies indicate that, for the richest uranium ores, CO2 emissions across the nuclear cycle are about 33 percent that of fossil fuel plants, says Greenpeace, adding that poorer quality ores require the burning of more fossil fuel to process.

"The real solution to climate change and energy security," Tindale said, "is a mix of efficient, safe and clean energy technologies like wind, wave, and solar. Plus we need to stop wasting energy by generating it closer to where it is consumed."

"Even if the UK replaced all 23 of its operating reactors, we would only save 10 percent of our carbon emissions," Tindale said. In contrast, the 56 billion of taxpayers' money being used to fund the clean up of the UK's current nuclear sites could buy and install enough wind turbines to meet 20 percent of the UK's electricity needs."

Earlier this month, Blair told a Commons committeee that Britain faces "difficult and controversial decisions" on climate change and energy supply.

Questioned about nuclear power November 22 by the Commons Liaison Committee, which is made up of the chairmen of all the individual Parliamentary select committees, Blair said, "With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions government has got to take."

"And in the end," he said, "it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country.''

"What we need is a serious debate," said the Prime Minister, "not one conducted by protest or demonstration to stop people expressing their views."