Nuclear issue a tough call

WITH the government considers whether to allow a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built in Britain, people in Suffolk should be particularly interested.

WITH the government considers whether to allow a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built in Britain, people in Suffolk should be particularly interested.

Because if there are any more built, the first of the new generation will be Sizewell C.

British Energy already owns the land for a second power station next to Sizewell B.

Originally it was proposed that Sizewell C could share many of Sizewell B's facilities - like the turbine hall and cooling system.

As Sizewell B will probably be 20 years old by the time Sizewell C is completed - if they started building tomorrow it would take five years and they'll need to be a long planning process - that is looking less likely.

But it will be able to share the same electrical switch gear and transmission lines.

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What other reasons are there for saying that Sizewell C will be the first of the new generation of nuclear stations?

The local population is relatively supportive of the power stations - there are hard-core anti-nuclear activists, but most people see the stations as welcome sources of income for the area.

They are remote enough to be safe if the worst happens, but not a million miles from civilisation.

And there is already a core of skilled nuclear workers in the area - with more seeking work nearby after Sizewell A closes next year.

I'm no nuclear physicist, but over the last 20 years I've worked in the Leiston area and I've covered many different stories at Sizewell.

I've met many of the people involved with running both power stations - and I've built up a basic understanding how they work.

I'm convinced they are safe in the sense that they won't trigger a nuclear explosion and that they don't leak radioactivity into the environment. I'm sure you're more likely to get cancer from an x-ray at the dentists than from a stroll along Sizewell beach.

I also believe their security is good enough - that the reactors are contained in strong enough concrete to withstand a terrorist attack or any other attempt at sabotage.

And despite what some experts say, I have no doubt that if British Energy - or the government itself - is prepared to spend billions on a new nuclear power station at Sizewell, it will also be prepared to spend an extra few million on sea defences to protect it from the North Sea.

In an era when there is real concern about the effect fossil fuels is having on the environment, I can fully understand the need to look again at the nuclear option.

Wind power is a wonderful idea - that's why it is so good that the wind farm will be built at Parham - and we should look at more use of tidal, wave and solar power.

But ultimately there is no way that these “alternative” energy sources will be able to provide enough reliable power for the entire country.

So the idea of a clean nuclear programme which causes no greenhouse gases is very, very attractive.

However there is one massive disadvantage to the nuclear option. No one has yet come up with a safe method of disposing of the waste - either the waste control rods or the waste power stations at the end of their working lives.

What experts are talking about is stripping out the power stations and effectively leaving them sitting there for scores, if not hundreds, of years.

They are effectively saying: “Leave our mess for future generations to sort out.”

That is appalling. But is it any worse than pumping out millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere?

That's the tough question the experts are going to have to answer as the government considers its next move - and it's going to require the judgement of Solomon.

IN THE old days council meetings always used to decide the fate of the town or district - decisions were made which had a direct effect on voters.

That isn't always the case - at last night's meeting Ipswich councillors were discussing a range of issues which raised a lot of heat but not a great change in the lives of ordinary people.

The council was asked to give its views on the proposed merger of Suffolk police and on the future of health services in East Suffolk.

Please excuse my cynicism, but I can't help feeling that the bodies ultimately responsible for making the decisions on these issues will only pay attention to the views of Ipswich council if they agree with them.

The other debates were proposed by opposition councillors and gave them the opportunity to make political points but frankly will be forgotten about by the administration this morning.

There will be council meetings which are important - for instance when next year's budget is set - but to think that everytime councillors get together they have a massive impact on life in their area is a total myth.

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