Renew On Line (UK) number 72

Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 172 Mar/Apr2008
   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. Big UK wind push

2. Zero Carbon Buildings

3. Nuclear Decision

4. Energy Policy developments

5. Tory Green Energy Promises

6. Brown on Energy...and Climate

7. Biofuels and biomass get going

8. EU News: REFIT spreads

9. Global News: Climate High, Bali Low

10. World Round up: Oz, NZ, Canada try

11. Nuclear news: US and UK plans

3 Nuclear Decision

‘The security of our energy supply is best safeguarded by building a new generation of nuclear power stations.’ So said Gordon Brown last July, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the government decided that, yes, companies should consider nuclear. Even so, it’s a little odd since it’s always been open to private sector investors to back a new nuclear programme. What the government now plans to offer is help to ease this, though it insist that no direct finance will be provided and the new Energy Bill included measures to ensure owners of new nuclear plants pay their share of decommissioning/waste costs.
The Sustainable Development Commission said the nuclear decision was an ‘inadequate response to the legitimate concerns expressed by the general public over new nuclear power’.

Tories on Nuclear
‘Our policy is for investors to be able to go ahead but without subsidy. There should be a carbon regime, approval for reactor design and for their location and a clear regime for handling the waste,’ Shadow energy spokesman Alan Duncan told the FT (10/1/08). He added: ‘We have been making it very clear that any enthusiasm for nuclear power should not be allowed to detract from doing everything possible from renewables’. Until recently the Conservative position was that nuclear power was the ‘last resort’- a phrase used in its interim energy review.
Moving on the offensive, Tory leader David Cameron accused the government of being ‘irresponsible’ in its approach to nuclear, since the problems of nuclear waste haven’t been dealt with. He wanted a level playing field- so it should not be subsidised by the taxpayer or receive special favours..
The 'stop press' item below was included with Renew 171, but not with Renew On Line 71.

New Labour-New Nuclear
‘The idea that Britain can meet its growing power needs through renewable energy and greater efficiency is nonsense’. So said Secretary of State John Hutton, as quoted in the Sunday Times 6 Jan.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that three days later the Cabinet unanimously backed a new nuclear programme, and on 10th January the government published a White Paper which said ‘The Government believes it is in the public interest that new nuclear power stations should have a role to play in this country’s future energy mix alongside other low-carbon sources; that it would be in the public interest to allow energy companies the option of investing in new nuclear power stations; and that the Government should take active steps to open up the way to the construction of new nuclear power stations. It will be for energy companies to fund, develop and build new nuclear power stations in the UK, including meeting the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management costs.’
In the White Paper, the government claims that nuclear power is:

Low-carbon- helping to minimise damaging climate change
* Affordable- nuclear is currently one of the cheapest low-carbon electricity generation technologies, so could help us deliver our goals cost effectively
* Dependable- a proven technology with modern reactors capable of producing electricity reliably
* Safe- backed up by a highly effective regulatory framework
* Capable of increasing diversity and reducing our dependence on any one technology or country for our energy or fuel supplies.
And it says that it will deal with the specific concerns raised in the consultation by ensuring that there:
* is a clear strategy and process for medium and long-term waste management, with confidence that progress will be made
* are new legislative provisions setting out a funding mechanism that requires operators of new nuclear power stations to make sufficient and secure financial provision to cover their full costs of decommissioning and their full share of costs of waste management
* is a further strengthening of the resources of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) to enable it to meet a growing workload. These steps will include the Government taking forward regulatory processes and other steps:
* undertaking a Strategic Siting Assessment and Strategic Environmental Assessment * meeting the requirements of European law that new nuclear practices should be required to demonstrate that their benefits outweigh any health detriments
* ensuring that the regulators and particularly the NII are adequately equipped to review new build proposals through a process of Generic Design Assessment
* bringing forward legislation to ensure that the framework for funding decommissioning and waste management liabilities is clear and properly ensures that each nuclear operator meets its costs
* making use of the provisions of the Planning Bill to ensure that nuclear development projects are treated like other critical infrastructure projects and are dealt with effectively through the use of a National Policy Statement
* working to strengthen the EU Emissions Trading Scheme so that investors have confidence in a continuing carbon market when making decisions.

Overall it says the government believes that: ‘our energy strategy should be based on diversity and flexibility in the energy mix and has accordingly developed policies which keep open the widest possible range of low-carbon generating options. These options would include renewables and the use of gas and coal with CCS, as well as nuclear. Unnecessarily ruling out one of these options would, in our view, increase the risk that we would be unable to meet our climate change and energy security objectives.’

Reactions and critiques
The governments analysis has not gone unchallenged. The Conservative Party seems to have moved to a position of guarded support for nuclear, as long as it was not subsidised, but most environmental groups remain strongly opposed.. Even before it emerged, the Nuclear Consultation Working Group convened by Dr Paul Dorfman at Warwick University, produced a critical review of the governments (second) consultation exercise. The group of eminent academics concluded that ‘the key assumptions underpinning the government’s approach to the nuclear consultation remain open to critical analysis. We are profoundly concerned that these assumptions have framed the questions asked by the government during the nuclear energy consultation, and were designed to provide particular and limited answers - and those answers risk locking in UK energy futures to an inflexible and vulnerable pathway that will prove unsustainable.’
It claimed that significant ‘what if’ issues- such as uncertainty about nuclear fuel supply and manufacture, vulnerability to attack, radiation waste, radiation risk and health effects, reactor decommissioning, reactor design and siting, costs of electricity-generating technologies, energy distribution models, true renewable and energy efficiency modeling- have not been resolved. And it called for a much more comprehensive consultation. For the full report see:

There were also even stronger claims: ‘I have heard two of Tony Blair’s senior colleagues confirm that the DTI has long suppressed renewables to make space for nuclear. The slow-motion UK treatment of renewables during the last five years, while renewables markets abroad have grown explosively, now makes a sickening kind of sense.’ So said Jeremy Leggett, one time member of the governments Renewable Advisory Board, in the Guardian Jan 3rd.
However, while opposition will no doubt continue, basically now we are now stuck with the governments insistence that nuclear can play an important role in meeting energy security and climate policy goals, and that ‘not having nuclear as an option would increase the costs of delivering these goals’- along with Gordon Browns conviction in the preface to the White Paper: ‘More than ever before, nuclear power has a key role to play as part of the UK’s energy mix’.
Leaving aside the specifically nuclear issues, perhaps the main strategic issue is how to avoid collateral impacts on renewables. The White paper says that the government ‘considered whether it is necessary to take additional steps to promote investment in renewables, alongside nuclear. We have concluded that our plans to extend the Renewables Obligation level to 20%, subject to deployment, and to target additional support to help bring emerging technologies such as offshore wind and marine to market quicker, will adequately address this concern. We will also bring forward further measures in the light of the EU’s 20% renewables target for 2020.’
Whether that will be sufficient to avoid nuclear crowding-out renewables remains to be seen.
For a useful critical overview of the issues see:

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