Renew On Line (UK) number73
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 173 May-June 2008
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
6. Nuclear Reactions
The Nuclear White Paper brought forth some strong reactions from those opposed to nuclear power. ‘What is disturbing is that government is failing to understand that the more urgent that dealing with climate change becomes, the less relevant that nuclear power is. Solutions have to be found on waste, cost, and decommissioning. They have not been found on any of those issues. It reveals how poor is the understanding by government of the importance of climate change.’
So said Sir Jonathon Porritt, the chairman of the government’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC). He added ‘The government response should not be in technological fixes. It should be in transforming society.... decentralising and decarbonising the economy. The Labour government has very little interest in these approaches. Pulling a technological megafix, like nuclear power, out of the hat is easier from a political point of view but it misses the essence of climate change which is transforming people’s lives.’
SDC’s chief economist, Prof. Tim Jackson, writing in the Guardian (17/01/08) said the decision to opt for nuclear power was “a blatant failure of moral vision. The government claims that it and the SDC see eye to eye on nuclear proliferation. This is disingenuous nonsense.” The SDC had concluded that ‘there is no justification for a new nuclear programme, at this time, and that any such proposal would be incompatible with the government’s own sustainable development strategy’.
He also noted that CoRWM, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, was charged with identifying a strategy for existing wastes. Its July 2006 report recommended looking at long term geological disposal, coupled with a robust programme of safe and secure interim storage- possibly for as long as 100 years. But CoRWM made clear that its recommendations did not apply to new nuclear build. ‘The political and ethical issues raised by the creation of more wastes are quite different from those relating to committed- and therefore unavoidable- wastes.’
Friends of the Earth said that the new nuclear commitment ‘will undermine safe and sustainable solutions to Britain’s energy problems and will do little to tackle climate change’.
Greenpeace accused the government of providing covert subsidies. ‘The white paper openly admits the government will have to provide extra money if its cost estimates are wrong. Nuclear companies will be able to cap their liabilities, leaving the taxpayer exposed if estimates for dealing with waste change. The government admits that the public will pick up the liabilities for decommissioning and waste if the money is not available.’ It said it was impossible to estimate how much it would cost to decommission the reactors. ‘The cost of doing this, at this stage, is impossible to estimate. The length of time between starting a new nuclear plant and eventually putting the waste into a geological repository could well be over 150 years. Any discount rate or estimate on what costs might be in 2170 is pie in the sky.’
The New Economics Foundation also said that the government was trying to fix the market. ‘Nuclear power will not survive on its own in the marketplace. The government will have to use voodoo economics to underwrite new capacity. The only beneficiaries of this decision are the handful of big energy companies.’
SERA, these days styling itself as ‘Labours Environment Campaign Group’, was obviously in some difficulties, but did say that ‘while supporting the Government’s desire to tackle climate change and look at how the UK’s energy sources can address this, we remain concerned about the recent decision to expand nuclear power in the UK. The decision has not addressed the considerable risks and uncertainties on the use of nuclear power- notably the costs of nuclear power relative to other energy sources, public subsidy, risk and safety issues, accountability and the legitimacy of claims that nuclear energy is a low-carbon intensive form of energy production.’ It added ‘SERA wants to see a level playing field in relation to investment in different energy forms and is skeptical about the claim that nuclear energy represents best value either in terms of generating electricity or as a means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions- investment in insulation and renewable forms of energy would be most cost-effective. SERA is also keen that energy supplies are decentralized, in order to help ensure continuity of supply, and safety.’ See www.sera.org.uk for the full text
In a letter to BERR’s John Hutton it says the nuclear decision ‘sends a confused signal to the energy market’, including companies who might otherwise be keen on renewables and local councils, adding that ‘The current structure and regulatory system for the energy market already favours largescale generators, including nuclear’ and concluding ‘we would urge you to continue to work to deliver a vision in the UK of a fully distributed energy system and to avoid any temptation to skew the market any further in the direction of nuclear and other centralised generation’.
The Combined Heat and Power Association said that the need to deliver security of supply and carbon savings in the use of heat remains a “glaring omission” in the UK’s energy policy.
The British Wind Energy Association said ‘Nuclear may well play a part in the UK’s long term energy supply, but it cannot address the urgent need to fill the UK’s growing energy gap over the next 10 years. The UK needs to take swift action to ensure the security of supply for our energy as our traditional supplies are retired. We cannot afford to wait until a new generation of nuclear is ready. There are already enough wind energy applications within the planning system to reduce significantly the impending energy shortfall.’
This might be thought of as a bit of a risky argument- it could be read as implying that renewables are a stop gap, to fill in while nuclear is got ready. Some nuclear apologists actually put it the other way around- nuclear is the interim option while renewables are fully developed. But the BWEA did conclude ‘The only way to avoid Britain becoming massively overdependent on increasingly expensive imported gas is through the expansion of clean, affordable domestic wind, wave and tidal energy’, which seems to cover both the short and the longer term.
The Nuclear Consultation Working Group, supported by the Rowntree Trust, produced a report backed by 17 senior academics, claiming that the consultation was flawed, with a limited view of the possibilities being offered to participants.See www.nuclearconsult.com
On the pro nuclear side, French utility EDF said it’s ready to invest in four new nuclear plants in the UK. ‘Contingent on a positive decision, we have been preparing the groundwork in all key areas. Now, we can get on with the job of delivering new nuclear in the UK over the next ten years.’ British Energy said ‘Government and industry must now work together to ensure that any remaining public concerns are addressed, and to define the framework for a new generation of nuclear units that will provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity. We are ready for new build and have the sites, people, skills and experience that are essential for its success.’ Westinghouse & Areva were also very positive. And Hutton, well, he evidently now sees it as the new North Sea oil!
What next? Under the timeline set out in the Nuclear White Paper, the Generic Design Assessment should be complete by 2012 and the planning process by 2013, so that construction can start by 2014. EDF seems to imply that at least some plants could be operating by 2017. But that depends on many factors, including the acceptance and then success of the proposed ‘streamlined’ planning process. The Planning Bill aims to establish a new single consent regime, while the government is carrying out a Strategic Siting Assessment (SSA) to identify possible sites for new nuclear plants. That’s likely to lead to major confrontations. Also much will depend on the carbon price that emerges for the next phase of the EU Emissions Trading System.
The Nuclear Debate
There was a parliamentary debate on the Nuclear decision, following Secretary of State John Hutton’s statement in January. In his response to questions, Hutton was initially quite conciliatory. He commented that ‘our argument today is not that nuclear can fix all the problems. That would clearly be the wrong argument, but we should not rule nuclear out because on its own it cannot meet all the challenges. My argument today is that it has a role to play. I do not believe that it is unlikely that there will be new nuclear power stations operating in the UK by the middle of the 2020s. It is likely that there will be several nuclear power stations operating by that stage. We should also remember that it is not just the 2020 target towards which we must aim our sights- it is 2050. Between 2020 and 2050 the challenge of responding to the science of climate change will intensify, not become easier to deal with. That is why it would be wrong in principle to rule out now one proven form of low carbon technology.’
He also said ‘The simple question for all of us today is not whether we should consent to an individual nuclear power station or mandate power companies to use nuclear- that is not what I am talking about- but whether we want to rule out for all time the possible contribution that a proven, and it is proven, form of low carbon technology could make to tackling climate change and energy security problems in the UK. It would be entirely the wrong thing to do today to rule out this technology in perpetuity knowing that it could make a significant difference. That is not just my view but the view of many others in the scientific community and the Sustainable Development Commission and others.’
The Conservatives basically agreed. Alan Duncan (Con, Rutland and Melton) commented ‘Our vision on nuclear is clear: we must refine the planning system, set a price for carbon to establish a long-term climate for investment, and ensure that there is clarity on waste and decommissioning. On no account, however, should there be any kind of subsidy for nuclear power. Judging by what the Secretary of State has just said, our position is, by and large, similar to the Government’s. If business wants to invest in new nuclear power stations on that basis, it should be free to do so, and it should know that the investment climate will remain stable under any Conservative Government. Any such investment must not be allowed to detract from unrelenting effort to improve efficiency and to encourage renewable technologies, microgeneration, decentralised energy and feed-in-tariffs.’ And there was plenty of support from other Tory- and Labour- MPs, including those with large numbers of nuclear workers in their constituencies. But there was also some strong opposition, with anti nuclear MPs firing off a series of questions.
Michael Meacher (Labour, Oldham, West and Royton): ‘Bearing in mind, first, that taxpayers will pay more for nuclear electricity to cover decommissioning costs and will still have to pay for any shortfall, which could run into billions; secondly, that taxpayers will have to pay the massive construction costs for storing hundreds of thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive waste; thirdly, that taxpayers will also be called on, if necessary, to guarantee a minimum price of carbon; and, fourthly, that the last round of nuclear build led to the country and taxpayers having to pay £5 billion to bail the nuclear industry out of bankruptcy, as well as £70 billion to deal with the waste, is not the whole nuclear project the mother of all white elephants?’
Who will pay?
‘It is important that the carbon price is strengthened in subsequent phases of the emissions trading scheme. That will be important for the economics of nuclear, and will be the right signal for our approach to climate change’. Hutton
So it will go on our bills.
Colin Challen (Labour, Morley & Rothwell): ‘We have to be honest and recognise that the statement is as full of holes as the Sellafield reprocessing plant. Margaret Thatcher promised 10 new nuclear power plants and delivered one. We have heard about the Finnish experience and know that Germany, which is tackling climate change with a thorough energy policy, is eradicating the possibility of new nuclear plants there. When does my right hon. Friend anticipate that the first new nuclear plants will be commissioned and how many will we get?’
Steve Webb (Lib Dem, Northavon): ‘Is there not a danger that new nuclear will lock us rigidly to a technology for the best part of a century, at a time when other technologies such as carbon capture and storage and renewables are evolving practically every day? Is not the danger that the technology will be obsolete by the time that we get the first, small amount of new nuclear power?’
Paul Flynn (Lab, Newport, West): ‘Why on earth are we repeating the nuclear folly of the last years, when one power station was 14 years late, there were vast cost overruns, and £75 billion was required to manage the waste? The new thinking on waste is to bury it in a hole in the ground, which was the answer 40 years ago. I appeal to the Government to turn away from this atrocious decision and turn to the renewables, which are practical and cheap, especially marine power, which has long been neglected, tidal powers and the other marine powers, which are clean, non-carbon, practical, British and eternal?’
‘We are making significant support available so that the renewable sources of energy that my hon. Friend mentioned can come to fruition. Through the renewables obligation, all of us are subsidising renewable power. It is the right thing to do. We are not subsidising nuclear. So I do not believe that what I said today will in any way crowd out from the energy mix of the UK in the future a proper and growing role for renewable power’. John Hutton replying to Paul Flynn MP
Huttons response to the question on ‘what has changed to require this new policy’ from Elliott Morley (Lab, Scunthorpe), who was until recently Environment secretary, was quite measured: ‘It is of course true that any company could have brought forward a proposal to open or operate a new nuclear power plant, but they would not do so unless there was a clear planning framework and a view from Government that such a plant could be an acceptable way forward. Today, that signal is being given, but it was not previously. That is why there have not been new applications for some considerable time. The other things that have changed are the science of climate change and the economics of nuclear power, to which I referred, including carbon markets. That is leading to a totally different situation.’
However he was somewhat less magnanimous in his responses to some of the other critical points. He was quite cutting in reply to a question about the anti-nuclear position of Scotlands government ‘I think that those Ministers are making a mistake and that their stand has more to do with a political stunt than taking a responsible long-term decision in the best interests of Scottish electricity consumers and the wider UK perspective. I regret the stand that those Ministers have taken, and I believe that they will come to regret it too.’ And you might think he was down-right rude in responding to comments from Steve Web, who alluded amongst other things to what he labelled the ‘sham’ consultation and said that ‘I cannot decide whether new nuclear is a white elephant or a red herring, but it clearly is not the answer to the energy problems that we face today’.
Hutton replied ‘It is transparent from the hon. Gentleman’s contribution that we in this House could benefit from some fresh thinking, instead of a rehash of all the old prejudices that have confused the debate for so long. We want open minds, not closed minds. I am all in favour of reducing emissions, and we can start with what comes out of the hon. Gentleman’s mouth.’
|We are now offering to e-mail subscribers a PDF version of the complete Renew, instead of sending them the printed version, should they wish.|