per unit area of nuclear power stations, which is about 1000W/m2 (figure
24.10). Let’s imagine generating 22 kWh per day per person of nuclear
power – equivalent to 55 GW (roughly the same as France’s nuclear
power), which could be delivered by 55 nuclear power stations, each occu-
pying one square kilometre. That’s about 0.02% of the area of the country.
Wind farms delivering the same average power would require 500 times as
much land: 10% of the country. If the nuclear power stations were placed
in pairs around the coast (length about 3000 km, at 5 km resolution), then
there’d be two every 100 km. Thus while the area required is modest, the
fraction of coastline gobbled by these power stations would be about 2%
(2 kilometres in every 100).

Economics of cleanup

What’s the cost of cleaning up nuclear power sites? The nuclear decom-
missioning authority has an annual budget of £2 billion for the next 25
years.E The nuclear industry sold everyone in the UK 4 kWh/d for about
25 years, so the nuclear decommissioning authority’s cost is 2.3 p/kWh.E
That’s a hefty subsidy – though not, it must be said, as hefty as the subsidy
currently given to offshore wind (7 p/kWh).


The safety of nuclear operations in Britain remains a concern. The THORP
reprocessing facility at Sellafield, built in 1994 at a cost of £1.8 billion, had
a growing leak from a broken pipe from August 2004 to April 2005. Over
eight months, the leak let 85 000 litres of uranium-rich fluid flow into a
sump which was equipped with safety systems that were designed to detect
immediately any leak of as little as 15 litres. But the leak went undetected
because the operators hadn’t completed the checks that ensured
the safety systems were working; and the operators were in the habit of
ignoring safety alarms anyway.

The safety system came with belt and braces. Independent of the failed
safety alarms, routine safety-measurements of fluids in the sump should
have detected the abnormal presence of uranium within one month of the
start of the leak; but the operators often didn’t bother taking these routine
measurements, because they felt too busy; and when they did take mea-
surements that detected the abnormal presence of uranium in the sump
(on 28 August 2004, 26 November 2004, and 24 February 2005), no action
was taken.

By April 2005, 22 tons of uranium had leaked, but still none of the
leak-detection systems detected the leak. The leak was finally detected by
accountancy, when the bean-counters noticed that they were getting 10%
less uranium out than their clients claimed they’d put in! Thank goodness
this private company had a profit motive, hey? The criticism from the

Figure 24.9. Sizewell’s power stations. Sizewell A, in the foreground, had a capacity of 420 MW, and was shut down at the end of 2006. Sizewell B, behind, has a capacity of 1.2 GW. Photo by William Connolley.
Figure 24.10. Sizewell occupies less than 1 km2. The blue grid’s spacing is 1 km. © Crown copyright; Ordnance Survey.