Comment

15 August 2009

Long Live the Local Energy Revolution

The Government has outlined plans for an energy revolution aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34% by 2020, setting the UK on track for an 80% cut by 2050. It signalled an historic switch away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and nuclear power. 30% of UK electricity will be supplied by renewable sources with a further 10% coming from nuclear power and coal with carbon capture and storage. But only 2 of the 30% will be from small-scale renewables. Yet in Europe the European Photovoltaic Industry Association expects 12% of all electricity to be provided by photovoltaics alone by 2020 – enough to wipe out any need for new nuclear or coal.

Paul Golby, Chief Executive of EoN described the plan as a framework designed to enable energy companies to build 12 new nuclear power stations, four new coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage and 26GW of offshore wind. So, whilst the plan is ambitious in terms of the growth of wind – offshore and onshore – its ambitions for microgeneration are a serious disappointment and delays in implementing a comprehensive domestic energy efficiency programme are inexcusable. The plan seems designed to make space for new reactors, rather than move Britain to a low carbon, decentralised energy system.

Local authorities called for an increased role in providing the Government’s energy efficiency strategy. The Local Government Association (LGA) for England and Wales said there are too many different schemes aimed at cutting household emissions. These should be merged into a single £7 billion fund to allow councils to embark on a more cost-effective programme. Councils want to build on the example of Kirklees Council which has offered to insulate every house in its area for free. If a similar council led scheme was expanded across the country, it would save £2 billion on current plans to put basic insulation into every home.

The Government says it will explore how to unlock greater action by local authorities in identifying the best potential for low carbon communities. Chair of the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, Dundee Councillor George Regan said Local Authorities have a crucial role to play in the local energy revolution and are keen to get on with implementing it. Yet in 2003 we were promised a step change in energy efficiency by the UK Government – and we are still waiting. We cannot afford to wait another six years while the Government ‘facilitates new nuclear reactors’ and tries to work out how to unlock greater action by local authorities.”

According to Building Magazine, the plans for small-scale renewables will release less than one-third of the industry’s potential capacity. Research by the Energy Saving Trust shows that microgeneration could provide around 30-40% of UK electricity needs by 2050. So we ought to be expecting a much larger contribution than 2% by 2020.

Jeremy Leggett says the proposed feed-in tariffs are insufficient to deliver the kind of rapid growth experienced by the solar energy sector under similar feed-in tariff schemes across Europe. Solar Century says it will continue to focus its expansion plans on the continent, where the European Photovoltaic Industry Association expects PV to provide 12% of all electricity by 2020 – compared with the 2% the UK Government expects all microgeneration to provide.

The heating industry, too, expressed concern the Government is not moving fast enough on some issues such as renewable biogas and the Renewable Heat Incentive. A report by National Grid showed the huge potential for green gas injection into the gas grid which could supply nearly half of domestic users.  There is no technical reason to delay introducing a tariff for green gas. Neil Schofield, head of sustainable development at Worcester Bosch accused the Government of being too focused on electricity while heating policy seemed to be “fixated” on biomass.

The Solar Trade Association (STA) attacked the Renewable Energy Strategy’s claims that solar heat may deliver less of a contribution to the UK’s renewable heat than was envisaged in last year’s consultation on the strategy. In particular, the STA claimed the basis for the modelling of the UK’s future supply of renewable heat, and the part that solar thermal can play in this, is a report that has been “totally discredited” by the solar thermal industry. The STA said “not only do we have to wait until 2011 until we have a renewable heat incentive in place to drive the uptake of this technology, but also the huge potential of solar technology is being undermined by questionable research and poor advice.”

The Combined Heat and Power Association warned that a truly comprehensive strategy will only be achieved once energy conservation and low-carbon heat supply are given the same attention as the production of electricity. Heating our homes accounts for a massive 20% of CO2 emissions, whilst the heat consumed in industry emits an additional 20%. There is very little mention of CHP in the Low Carbon Transition Plan – it looks as though we will have to wait until the autumn when the Government is expected to publish a Heat and Energy Saving Strategy before we find out if it has any new plans.  This is a significant omission given the recent report by Pöyry Energy Consulting which showed that industries across the UK could generate as much electricity as 10 nuclear power stations and halve gas imports by installing or extending CHP plants. Poyry found nine sites where CHP could be applied or extended. Currently 5.5GW of electricity is produced by CHP plants, but Poyry suggests there could be up to 16GW more.

In the early 1980s, consultants McKinsey completed a study for a US telecoms company predicting there would be fewer than one million wireless subscribers in the US by the turn of the century. Today, nearly 2.5bn subscribers across the globe are using digital wireless technologies for voice, email, internet access, music and video services.  Several commentators believe that microgeneration has the potential to forge a ‘local energy revolution’. For example Vijay Vaitheeswaran of The Economist talks about a “change in the energy business every bit as dramatic as the revolution that hit the world’s telecommunications industry in the 1980”.  Amory Lovins of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Institute says: “Micropower plus negawatts [basically energy efficiency] probably now provide the majority of the world’s new electrical services; central power stations provide less than half, because they cost too much.

The Government seems to basing its plans and predictions on the status quo – clearly a failed policy as far as the telecommunications industry was concerned – but then, where nuclear power is concerned, governments seem unable to learn from experience. Time we joined the local energy revolution.

Posted: 15 August 2009

18 August 2008

New Nuclear at Bradwell is not Inevitable

Andrew Blowers argues that Bradwell is not a suitable site for a new nuclear power station.

The publication of draft strategic siting criteria for new nuclear power stations has been portrayed as a green light for the go-ahead at Bradwell. It is being suggested by British Energy that no criterion applied to Bradwell would eliminate it as a potential site. It could equally be argued that, taken together, the criteria suggest that Bradwell would be an extremely poor choice for a power station and its associated wastes that are likely to remain on site for well over a hundred years.

A careful reading of the criteria strongly suggests that far from being developed on a strategic basis they have been drawn up with specific sites already in mind.

Take the so-called ‘exclusionary’ criteria, those which rule out a site altogether. Not surprisingly there aren’t many of these, only four in fact. And Bradwell does not pass these with flying colours. ‘Seismic risk’ and ‘capable faulting’ are two of these criteria and Bradwell is within an area that was the epicentre of the country’s biggest earthquake in 1884.

Another criterion is population density and within 4km of the site is West Mersea (8000 – doubling in summer) and not far away, in the path of prevailing winds, is Colchester itself with well over 100,000 people. It’s hard to fathom how such a location would, as the government puts it in a recent consultation document, ‘limit the radiological consequences in the unlikely event of a serious nuclear accident’ (ref. 1).

Proximity to military activities is also an exclusionary criterion and it might well be thought that the Foulness bombing range, the Fingringhoe ranges and the garrison at Colchester are too close for comfort.

When we come to the ‘Discretionary’ criteria the case for a nuclear plant at Bradwell becomes extremely dubious. It’s difficult to understand why ‘flooding, tsunamis, storm damage and coastal processes’ shouldn’t automatically rule out a site. The government claims that ‘marine civil engineering works and coastal management activities can limit the risks to an acceptable level’. What can that mean when evidence strongly suggests that sea level rise and storm surges on the level of the 1953 floods (before the first Bradwell was built) will be the inevitable consequences of climate change (and coastal sinking) during the next century? Who, in their right mind, would even consider building such a hazardous activity as a nuclear power station on the lowest lying of all the proposed sites where, one report states, ‘direct inundation is a possibility’ and which is ‘vulnerable to subsidence, rising sea level and rollover of the Blackwater estuary’ (ref. 2). Even if it proves possible at great expense to protect Bradwell, the resulting impacts on the surrounding coasts could be catastrophic.

Bradwell also fails to meet several other criteria. The site is next to the first power station which remains a ‘site of hazardous industrial facilities and operations’. Bradwell also has ‘proximity to civil aircraft movements’. It is on an estuary with both ‘internationally and nationally designated sites of ecological importance’. Moreover, there is limited cooling water availability and limits on abstraction capacity and the site is poorly connected to the grid which will require upgrading.

It becomes increasingly clear that the strategic siting criteria are merely another stage in clearing the pathway for the imposition of new nuclear power stations on existing sites. Far from being the best, or even acceptable locations, these sites are the soft political option. They are in nuclear friendly ownership with British Energy and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority desperate to sell them. They are in areas already blighted by nuclear activity with local communities allegedly longing for the jobs and investment new nuclear might bring.

So, having already chosen its sites, the government is now busily setting out criteria by which it hopes to justify its selection. A more detailed and critical examination will reveal just how preposterous it is to put new power stations and nuclear waste stores on sites on crumbling coastlines.


Notes

1. Dept. of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Towards a Nuclear National Policy Statement: Consultation on Strategic site Assessment Process and Siting – Criteria for New Nuclear Power Stations in the UK, July, 2008

2. Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) Local Options – Potential Effects of Coastal Erosion and Seawater Inundation on Coastal Nuclear Sites, Document 1625

 

Andrew Blowers is Professor of Social Sciences at the Open University and was a member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. He is Chair of Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG)and a member of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates

Posted: 18 August 2008

13 July 2008

Why we need your support

Dear readers

As you can’t fail to have noticed, Gordon Brown has given his blessing to a new generation of nuclear power stations.

So we are asking for your help to keep this website going, with more frequent updates, and more briefings for campaigners.

New reactors are not going to start springing up very quickly though. A Strategic Siting Assessment to identify possible sites will begin later this month with a consultation on draft criteria, but won’t be completed until the end of 2009. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is assessing four new designs, but won’t be finished until 2012. Then there will a planning process which might finish in 2013, so construction might start in 2014.

There is still everything to play for. The US Department of Energy, for example, reckons that by 2015 solar photovoltaics will be economically competitive – so any new reactors ordered will be economically obsolete before they are even open. Britain installed about 270 domestic solar PV systems in 2007, compared with 130,000 in Germany. The question is, not whether there will be a global renewable energy boom, but whether the UK will be part of it, and build its own renewable energy manufacturing base.

Old people are dying at the rate of around 8 every hour from cold related illnesses during the winter months – how exactly will a nuclear renaissance help? In 2006 the German government began a 20-year project to bring 5% of pre-1978 housing stock up to a low carbon standard every year. In Britain the new Carbon Emission Reduction Target, which comes into force in April, will force utilities to install Low or Zero Carbon Technologies in around 40,000 existing houses per year – but if we are to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 we need to be doing 600,000 per year.

The big worry is that attention, finances and resources will get diverted from what we really need to be doing now to tackle climate change. We can’t afford to wait until 2025 to see if a new reactor programme is successful, or whether it turns out to be, to paraphrase what the old Scottish Office said about Torness, a £30bn mistake.

Evidence from Finland suggests that when the first western European reactor to be built since Chernobyl was ordered, many of Finland’s plans for energy efficiency and renewables were quietly forgotten. Now the Olkiluoto reactor is 50% over-budget and two and a half years behind schedule, so Finland will probably miss its Kyoto targets.

Sir Jonathon Porritt says UK ministers are putting more effort into encouraging nuclear power than they have devoted to the entire field of renewables over the last 10 years. Ministers see nuclear power as the only manageable mega-fix available to them, the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card – a sad and extraordinarily ill-judged illusion.

This website, which we launched at the beginning of 2005, aims to provide the kind of detailed, well referenced information that campaigners around the country fighting the drift towards a nuclear renaissance will need. We were able to do this with seed funding from a Scottish Environment Group. But with other priorities, like the Scottish Climate Change Bill, they are not able to fund us ad infinitum. And we now want to give the website some serious updating, and more continuous attention.

So we are asking if you might be able to help with a donation. You can send money via Paypal at: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/help/donations.php or do it the old fashioned way by sending a cheque made out to no2nuclearpower to me c/o Friends of the Earth Scotland, Thorn House, 5 Rose Street, Edinburgh EH2 2PR.

You could also help by passing on the website’s details to other people who might be concerned enough to help out.

Walt Patterson says the pro-nuclear argument was comprehensively demolished two decades ago, so, like many people, he was astonished and bemused when nuclear power re-entered the policy agenda again in 2005. Perhaps this is because politicians, journalists and even environmentalists don’t know any of the history, so won’t be aware of the reasons why nuclear power should have been killed off in the 1980s. First time voters at the 2005 General Election were not even born when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster shocked the world. Given the nuclear industry’s history of failure, why the Government thinks this industrial basket-case might be an appropriate place to look for a solution to the climate change problem is a bit mystifying.

I’m sure you’ll agree that if the website can properly examine the arguments put forward to support a nuclear renaissance, get the information disseminated, and act as an anti-nuclear resource for people seeking to oppose the drive to get new reactors built, we should have a fighting chance of reversing this crazy policy. TOGETHER WE CAN STOP THEM.

All the best,

Pete Roche No 2 Nuclear Power

You can send cheques, made payable to “no2nuclearpower”, to Pete Roche c/o Friends of the Earth Scotland, Thorn House, 5 Rose Street, Edinburgh EH2 2PR.

To make a secure credit card donation via PayPal, please click the button below.

Posted: 13 July 2008

17 April 2008

UK goes mad for nukes

There is an episode of “Spooks” – a BBC Spy Drama – in which “green terrorists” threaten to blow up the Thames Barrier and flood London unless the Government releases a report proving it is secretly trying to appear serious about climate change whilst actually continuing with business as usual. Few commentators would be surprised today if they were to learn such a report actually exists.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the charity Help the Aged lodged papers at the High Court in London on 9th April seeking a Judicial Review of UK energy efficiency policy because of the Government’s failure to meet its legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty. People suffering from fuel poverty are defined as those spending more than 10% of their income on heating and lighting. According to the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG), more than 2.3m of the most vulnerable households in England suffer from fuel poverty, which means around eight old people are dying every hour due to cold related illnesses in the winter months.

Britain has plans for ten new “Eco-Towns” and all new houses will be zero-carbon after 2016. But 80% of the houses the UK population will inhabit in 2050 are already built, so, in order to cut carbon emissions by 60%, as will be a legal requirement when the Climate Change Bill currently going through parliament is passed, then emissions from these buildings will need to be cut by at least the same amount. Yet current plans expect an entirely inadequate contribution from the domestic sector.

Heat loss from the existing 25 million dwellings will need to be halved and around 600,000 microgeneration schemes, such as solar panels, need to be installed every year for the next 42 years, rather than the paltry 121,000 expected in the next three years.1 270 domestic solar PV systems were installed in 2007, compared with 130,000 in Germany. Environment groups have been focusing on persuading the UK Government to join the global renewable energy boom, and develop a renewable energy manufacturing base. Campaigners have persuaded a remarkable 270 MPs to sign a motion supporting German and Spanish style feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewable energy producers. WWF-UK too has been campaigning for the introduction of financial incentives to motivate homeowners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and rewards for homeowners who generate their own electricity from micro-renewables.3

UK fuel poverty and climate campaigners are struggling to understand how exactly the Government thinks its new found enthusiasm for nuclear power will help. The big worry is that attention, finances and resources will get diverted from what really needs to be done now to tackle climate change, as seems to have happened in Finland. We can’t afford to wait until 2025 to discover, as past experience tells us we will, the new reactor programme was a £30bn mistake. Environment groups themselves are being careful not to switch too many resources from more immediate climate campaigning to fighting future plans for nuclear revival.

Jonathon Porritt, former FoE Director, and now Chairman of the Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says UK ministers are putting more effort into encouraging nuclear power than they have devoted to the entire field of renewables over the last 10 years. Ministers see nuclear power as the only manageable mega-fix available to them, the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card – a sad and extraordinarily ill-judged illusion.

Walt Patterson, an FoE nuclear campaigner in the 1970s, says the pro-nuclear argument was comprehensively demolished two decades ago, so, like many people, he was astonished and bemused when nuclear power re-entered the policy agenda again in 2005. Given the nuclear industry’s history of failure, why the Government thinks this industrial basket-case might be an appropriate place to look for a solution to the climate change problem is a bit mystifying.

New reactors are not going to start springing up very quickly. A Strategic Siting Assessment to identify possible sites will begin soon with a consultation on draft criteria, but won’t be completed until the end of 2009. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has been assessing four new designs, but, even though AECL has pulled its ACR1000 design out of the race, it won’t be finished until 2012. Then there will a planning process which might finish in 2013, so construction might start in 2014.

In February 2003, the Blair Government published its first Energy White Paper. This concluded that the current economics of nuclear power made it an unattractive option, and there are important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Minister at the time, Patricia Hewitt, said “It would have been foolish to announce …a new generation of nuclear power stations, because that would have guaranteed we would not make the necessary investments in energy efficiency and renewables.”

But the anti-nuclear Ministers in Blair’s Government at the time failed to kill it off altogether. Instead it was put on the back-burner, supposedly for five years. There were warnings even then that DTI officials would deliberately go slowly on renewables to keep nuclear alive – this is indeed what seems to have happened. Blair didn’t like the results of the 2003 energy review and started talking about re-visiting it as early as 2005. Nearly all the Ministers who pushed renewables and energy efficiency in 2003 had been moved by then, so in July 2006 a new draft White Paper backed new reactors.

Greenpeace challenged the legality of the July 2006 White Paper process, and in February 2007 the high court ruled it to be unlawful, so the Government was forced to hold another consultation. The second consultation ended on 10th October 2007 – by coincidence the 50th anniversary of Britain’s worst nuclear accident – the Windscale Fire. But this was no better than the first, and most environment groups had ended co-operation in September prior to a series of workshops held in 8 cities with 1,100 members of the public. They said the government had failed to fairly reflect the arguments, and distorted the evidence, dubbing it “a public relations stitch-up”, FoE said “it is clear that the Government has essentially made up its mind … we are not prepared to take part in this latest Government farce”.

Independently, 20 senior academics say the consultations were deliberately skewed by linking nuclear to fears about climate change – because the government knew this was the only way to get people to accept nuclear, albeit reluctantly. Participants were misled – an inconvenient truth about nuclear – that it can only make a small contribution to reducing the UK’s overall CO2 emissions – was buried.4

Patricia Hewitt’s replacement, John Hutton, now known as the Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, insists there will no subsidies for new reactors but the small print of the January 2008 Energy White Paper suggests a ceiling on the price private firms will have to pay for waste management and decommissioning, reducing companies’ risks and making it cheaper for them to borrow. Greenpeace accused the government of providing covert subsidies and fixing the market.

Despite over two years’ work by the Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), there is still no clear solution to the problem of what to do with nuclear waste. CoRWM specifically said it did not want its recommendations seized upon to support new reactors, but that is exactly what the Government is doing. The Liberal Democrats spokesman, Vince Cable, complained that “Gordon Brown is wedded to building a new generation of nuclear power stations without providing any new evidence on how it would deal with waste ….”

The answer, according to the Government, is to bribe local communities to accept a nuclear waste dump. So, the next stage in the UK’s sorry thirty year history of nuclear dumping proposals will be a White Paper in the spring accompanied by a letter inviting municipalities to volunteer to host a dump.

Meanwhile, the devolved Scottish Government has expressed total opposition to nuclear power and refused to endorse the nuclear waste consultation process. It does not accept it is right to seek to bury nuclear waste, which will remain active for thousands of years, in a deep geological facility, or to expect any community to host such a facility.

Viewed from Europe, anti-nuclear activity in Britain may seem thin on the ground. Environment groups have prioritized work on climate, seeking to introduce policies on energy efficiency and renewables which NGOs in many other European countries can already take for granted. UK activists taking direct action against airport expansions and coal-fired power stations see themselves, quite rightly, as the last generation that can do anything about climate change. But, as last summer’s Heathrow Climate Camp day of action at Sizewell showed, nuclear power is not seen as a solution. If the proposals for new UK reactors continue to move ahead, and sites become clearer, nuclear power will be seen, not only as increasingly irrelevant to the job in hand, but as a positive hindrance which needs to be defeated.

  • 1. Home Truths: A Low Carbon Strategy to Reduce UK Housing Emissions by 80% by 2050, by Brenda Boardman, FoE (EWNI) and Co-operative Bank, November 2007.
  • 2. EDM 890.
  • 3. How Low Report, WWF-UK, 31st March 2008
  • 4. See http://www.nuclearconsult.co.uk/
  • This article originally appeared in WISE Nuclear Monitor No.671 April 17th 2008

    Posted: 17 April 2008

    28 November 2007

    Nuclear waste policy “incoherent and opaque”

    The Westminster Government completed yet another nuclear consultation on 2nd November 2007.1 This one was not about building new reactors, but how to get rid of the mess they leave behind, so was no less crucial to the nuclear industry’s expansion plans. Called “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely”, the consultation was intended to elicit views on developing a “framework for implementing geological disposal” – in other words how to persuade a community to host a nuclear waste dump.

    The “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely” process began in 2001 as a progressive stakeholder consultation exercise, but after a series of misjudgments, not least of which was the proposal to create yet more nuclear waste before deciding what to do with the waste we have already created, the Government appears to be about to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.

    In the first half of 2008 the Government will announce its new policy – most likely based on the idea of offering “community benefit packages” – bribes to you and me – to persuade communities to volunteer to host a nuclear waste dump. Then the search for a site will begin in earnest. A public invitation will be issued for communities to express an interest in taking part in the siting process.

    The history of government schemes to deal with this extremely dangerous waste has been a disaster going back as far as 1976 when eight sites were first selected for an underground dump.2 The “Managing Radioactive Waste Safely” process looked as though it might work – having been based for the first time on much more intensive public consultation. But the final stage which began in June 2007 got off to an inauspicious start. The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee called for it to be delayed because the institutional framework being proposed by the Government was “incoherent and opaque”.3 And in an unprecedented move the Scottish Government refused to endorse the process at all saying it ruled out allowing deep disposal in Scotland.4

    The Scottish Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs and the environment, Richard Lochhead said dealing with legacy waste is a significant challenge but: “The Scottish Government does not accept that geological disposal is the right way forward. This is a matter of principle for us and I have no doubt that public opinion in Scotland supports our view.” 5

    The crux of the problem is that the Government has ignored important recommendations of the Committee it had set up to look into the nuclear waste problem. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), established at the start of the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process (and reconstituted with almost completely new membership in 2007) recommended after three years’ deliberation, that deep disposal of nuclear waste was the best option.6 But it also made other important recommendations which the Government has ignored. Most importantly it recommended that, because of the uncertainties surrounding the implementation of geological disposal, there should be a major R&D programme on both geological disposal and robust interim storage. Former CoRWM chair, Gordon MacKerron, has highlighted the lack of any visible progress in this area.7 Interim storage could be needed for at least 100 years, but there is also a risk of delay or failure of the repository programme. CoRWM also recommended a review to ensure the security of waste stores particularly against terrorist attack.

    A year after the CoRWM report, the government is still ignoring its advice. It has eagerly accepted what it sees as the solution of deep geological disposal, but it has done little to address the vital prerequisites.8 Storage has its own significant problems but represents the least worse option as it allows, rather than removes, choice for future generations, rather than subjecting them to a potential long-term radiological risk – a leaking nuclear waste dump.

    What is worse is that this most recent consultation has created the confused impression there is a solution to dealing with radioactive waste. It fails to make it clear that CoRWM’s recommendations deal only with legacy waste, and it also creates this misleading impression that other countries have successfully built a repository for this kind of waste. 9 CoRWM said it takes no position on the desirability or otherwise of nuclear new build, and that future decisions on new build should be subjected to their own assessment process. It specifically said it did not want its recommendations seized upon as providing a green light for new build – yet that is exactly what the Government has been doing. CoRWM warns that new build waste would extend the timescales for implementation, possibly for very long but essentially unknowable future periods. Creating new nuclear waste raises completely new political and ethical issues which are quite different from the issues raised by the waste we have already created.

    The consultation also fails to point out that the only site in the UK fully investigated for its suitability to host a nuclear waste dump – the Sellafield nuclear facility in West Cumbria- was eventually deemed to be unsuitable. 10 Yet when The Guardian pointed out in June that West Cumbria is still widely seen as the favourite to host a waste dump 11, this prompted Chris McDonald, the lead inspector of the 1995-96 public inquiry into the proposed nuclear waste facility near Sellafield, to write highlighting evidence from the Inquiry showing the safety case was at best marginal. 12 Investigations should be moved elsewhere, he said.

    David Smythe, professor of geophysics atGlasgowUniversityhas warned the government that it would be “wrong” and possibly illegal in international law to use Sellafield inWest Cumbria for nuclear waste disposal. He says ministers should have ruled out Sellafield after previous research proved the area was unsuitable because of its rock formations. There is clear evidence that West Cumbria possesses no suitable rocks. 13 Now the Treasury is reported to be resisting plans to invite councils to bid for the right to host a  waste dump because it fears that Copeland Borough Council in West Cumbria may be the only Council which applies. This lack of competition would leave Copeland able to hold the taxpayer to ransom demanding extra funding of perhaps as much as £1bn. 14

    CoRWM has been at pains to point out that it has built up a fragile trust after three years of open and transparent dialogue with stakeholders and the public. But now it is “not persuaded” that the re-constituted CoRWM will ensure a continuation of public and that trust. A series of other misjudgments by the Government do not bode well. For example Nirex was killed off without any consultation. Its incorporation into the NDA in what Nuclear Engineering International magazine called a rather “ham-fisted” and secretive way, leaving the process open to legal challenges, and a real danger we will see a “re-run of the last repository failure”. 15

    The Government says it anticipates that, in the event that there were new nuclear power stations, waste and spent fuel from those stations could be accommodated in the same geological disposal facility – even though this might increase the total radioactivity by a factor of up to five. 16 CoRWM’s view is that communities are unlikely to express a willingness to participate in a process that might lead to them becoming a host for a nuclear waste dump when it is unclear how much waste the community might be expected to accept.

    Gordon Mackerron warned the Scottish Government against cherry picking from CoRWM’s “interdependent and inseparable package of measures” lest the whole ball of string unravels, setting us back to where we were before CoRWM was formed. 17 It now looks as though it is not the Scottish Government threatening the integrity of CoRWM’s recommendations, but the UK Government, which has thrown away the trust CoRWM painstakingly built up in its haste to justify the case for building more nuclear plants.


    1. Managing Radioactive Waste Safely: A Framework for Implementing Geological Disposal, DEFRA, 25th June 2007.  

    2. See History of Nuclear Waste Disposal Proposals in Britain, by Pete Roche
    3. Radioactive Waste Management: An Update, House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, June 2007.
    4. Nuclear Engineering International 25th June 2007.
    5. Scottish Government Press Release 25th June 2007.
    6. Managing our radioactive waste safely: CoRWM’s recommendations to Government, July 2006.
    7. Future R&D Needs, by Gordon MacKerron, CoRWM (Doc No.2209) June 2007.
    8. Guardian 12th September 2007.
    9. Greenpeace Response to the MRWS Consultation 2nd Nov 2007
    10.Guardian 25th June 2007
    11. Guardian 25th June 2007
    12. Guardian letters 28th June 2007
    13. Guardian 2nd Nov 2007.
    14. FT 24th October 2007
    15. Corrina Thomson, Who shot the sheriff? Nuclear Engineering International, July 2007.
    16. CoRWM’s Radioactive Waste and Materials Inventory, CoRWM Doc No.1279, July 2005
    17. Scotsman 30th June 2007

    Posted: 28 November 2007

    23 October 2006

    Nuclear Power and the Scottish Parliamentary Elections

    There seems to be some confusion in the Press about whether the serious cracks found in boiler tubes at some of British Energy’s nuclear stations, including Hunterston, will make it more or less likely that there will be more reactors built in Scotland.

    Labour’s policy on new reactors in Scotland is still being debated and the manifesto for next May’s Holyrood elections won’t be decided until the November conference. But First Minister Jack McConnell has made it clear that he hopes to see the lives of Scotland’s nuclear plants extended so that new reactor building can be avoided, and giving time for renewables to develop further. (1) The Scotsman has now suggested that the boiler-tube cracking problem might put this policy in jeopardy. (2)

    On the other hand, The Independent asked whether the reactor problems would put the kibosh on new reactors. “It remains highly unlikely”, it said “given the experience of privately owned nuclear capacity in this country, that the City could be persuaded to invest without some form of government subsidy or market subvention. An inconvenient truth, perhaps, but a rather important one which ministers seem determined to ignore as they grapple with their planned, nuclear White Paper”. (3)

    There is probably some truth in what both newspapers say. Clearly, not being able to extend the life of Hunterston B is going to make meeting Scotland’s electricity demand without exceeding climate change emissions targets more difficult, but, as a recent Garrad Hassan report (4) shows, still quite feasible, especially given the amount currently exported. It also means we need to get serious about developing renewable and energy efficiency programmes now. But British Energy’s problems are also going to make private investors even more wary about getting involved with this risky technology. (5)

    For most, the idea of throwing good money after bad in the hope that the next generation of reactors might work properly is simply ludicrous. The opposition SNP said the cracks mean the credibility of building nuclear power stations in Scotland was in tatters, while LibDems called for investment in renewables. (6)

    Scottish Elections

    The Scottish Executive is run by a coalition of the Labour and Liberal-Democrat Parties, so might not necessarily follow the same policies as the Labour Government in London. Energy policy is officially reserved to Westminster, but the Executive has the power to approve or refuse planning consent for new power stations. In addition, other areas relating to energy policy are devolved – such as the promotion of renewable energy and energy efficiency, building regulations, environmental regulation, climate change, fuel poverty, and transport.

    The Partnership Agreement, which is a joint statement of policy by the two parties in the governing coalition, states that: 
    “We will not support the further development of nuclear power stations while waste management issues remain unresolved.”(7)

    First Minister Jack McConnell has stressed that planning decisions have to be taken purely on planning grounds, and should not be influenced by politics. But he also says the Electricity Act of 1989 gives Scottish ministers complete control over decisions on electricity generating stations. He has spent most of this year saying that he wants to wait until the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management produces its report before making any decisions on new nuclear reactors (8)

    Labour’s Conference

    Labour’s Annual Scottish conference backed seemingly contradictory resolutions on nuclear power in February. The first resolution sponsored by Amicus and the NUM said the government must “support the fact that immediate plans must be started to replace or renew our existing coal-fired and nuclear generating stations where required.” The second resolution, which was put forward by the Socialist Environment Resources Association and supported by the Co-op Party, was passed unanimously, unlike the first. It recognised “the concerns about nuclear waste, acknowledging that all forms of energy have a carbon footprint and that uranium is not a renewable resource.” (9)

    The Union resolution will undoubtedly have put more pressure on McConnell to come out in favour of new reactors, and the CoRWM report has now been published. But it is clear that Jack McConnell is doing everything he can to put off a decision on new nuclear power stations for Scotland until after next May’s Scottish Parliamentary elections. Having said he wants to wait for the final CoRWM report, which was published in July, he now wants a “period of reflection” to consider the issue. (10)

    2007 Election Manifesto

    The Scotsman reported that Labour’s manifesto for the elections will pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power stations. (11) In fact the manifesto won’t be agreed until the Party conference in Oban at the end of November, so we won’t know the final position until then. And even if Labour remains the largest Party after the election, they will have to form a coalition with at least one other Party.

    Nicol Stephen, the Deputy First Minister and leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has signalled his determination to challenge Labour over nuclear power and make it the defining issue of next year’s election campaign, although the Greens are not convinced they will not sell-out, as they have been accused of doing on other environmental issues. (12)

    Nuclear waste problem not resolved

    Doubtless at least some advocates of nuclear power will argue that the CoRWM report has now resolved waste management issues, so there is nothing stopping the Scottish Executive approving an application to build a new reactor. CoRWM has said that disposal deep underground is the “best available” long-term solution for the waste, but has not expressed any preference for the type of geology in which a repository should be built. Nor has the committee chosen a site.
    The idea that the CoRWM report has somehow ‘resolved’ the nuclear waste issue was described by New Scientist magazine as “optimism gone mad”. It said: “deciding to put waste down ahole, with no idea what form the repository should take or where it should be, is no more of a plan than has existed for the past 30 years.” (13)

    Scottish Environmentalists say CoRWM’s report must not be used by the Executive as a pretext for new reactors. Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: “The vague possibility of a hole in the ground, at an unknown site, in 70 years, is hardly a green light.

    Although CoRWM says that “geological disposal” represents the best available approach, it also says that interim storage will be required because of the uncertainties surrounding implementation; the creation of suitable facilities “may take several decades” and there may be technical problems or community concerns in siting which could make it difficult, or even impossible. The Committee says there are still uncertainties with regard to the safety of deep geological disposal in general, and there will be uncertainties if and when a specific site is chosen, so there will need to be much more research. Community involvement in proposals for any waste facility should be based on volunteerism. Participation should be based on the expectation that the well-being of the community will be enhanced. (14)

    CoRWM says its recommendations “should not be seen as either a red or green light for nuclear new build … New build wastes would extend the time-scales for implementation, possibly for very long but essentially unknowable future periods. Further the political and ethical issues raised by the creation of more wastes are quite different from those relating to [existing] wastes.” (15)

    When he was specifically asked at CoRWM’s Brighton Press Conference on 27th April if he thought the recommendations had resolved the problem of nuclear waste, chairman, Gordon MacKerron said “no”. CoRWM has previously said: “If Ministers accept our recommendations, the UK’s nuclear waste problem is not solved. Having a strategy is a start. The real challenge follows.” (16) So there is nothing in the CoRWM report which means the Scottish Executive Partnership Agreement should change.

    Overseas Experience

    In a new book called Uncertainty Underground about the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump being built in Nevada, (17) the editors point out that the site was identified in the early 1980s as a potential site for nuclear waste. Yet it is still not open and its fate hangs in the balance. Several billion dollars have been spent, and a large number of scientists and engineers have engaged in every aspect of the problem, yet there are still delays. The key to understanding the scientific challenge involved is to recognise the large uncertainties involved with such an undertaking. 
    “… an expansion in nuclear energy production simply cannot move forward without resolving the problem of the safe disposal of nuclear waste.”

    Clearly, although the Americans appear to be more than 20 years ahead of us, their nuclear waste problem is still not resolved.
    Incidentally, John Ritch, director-general of the World Nuclear Association, speaking at a conference in Sydney, has suggested we need a 20-fold expansion in global nuclear capacity. (18) Uncertainty Underground says a ten-fold increase – using a once-through cycle as opposed to reprocessing the spent fuel – would require the opening of a Yucca Mountain repository every year. 

    New reactors quadruple waste problem

    Advocates of nuclear power also say ten more reactors would add only 10% to the volume of radioactive waste, but this is highly misleading because the majority of existing waste is made up of bulky, less hazardous material. As the nuclear waste management body Nirex, points out, the volume is not the whole story, we also need to know what type of waste we will be left with by a programme of new reactors. (19) CoRWM’s latest Radioactive Waste Inventory shows that existing reactors will produce 9,900m3 of packaged high level waste and spent fuel. But ten new AP1000 reactors would leave a legacy of 31,900 m3 – three times the amount already created. (20)

    Scotland leads dash for renewables

    Whatever the final Labour manifesto position on new reactors, the Scottish Executive’s submission to the UK Energy Review called for more support for renewables, particularly wave and tidal power, and energy efficiency, as well as carbon capture and storage. (21) The Executive says the need to produce lower carbon energy is creating many new business opportunities and green jobs in Scotland. It wants to promote Scotland as a leading location for the development of renewable energy technology, and “invites” the UK to set a more ambitious renewable energy target.

    The Executive makes several recommendations on energy efficiency including actively promoting the growth of Energy Services Companies – creating market mechanisms that incentivise energy suppliers and consumers to reduce energy consumption in buildings.

    On security of supply the Executive says local generation of electricity, combined heat and power, and renewable heat should have a role to play in reducing the UK’s high reliance on gas for heating, reducing energy costs, and tackling fuel poverty. The Executive therefore invites UKgovernment to examine whether it should be encouraging Combined Heat and Power schemes.

    Cracks in Scottish policy?

    The Executive’s submission also supported extending the operating lives of Scotland’s two existing nuclear stations. The Scotsman had already reported back in July that life extensions have been thrown into doubt, but this was because of cracks in graphite bricks, rather than boiler tubes. This, the newspaper said, “could fatally undermine the compromise offered to Westminster by Jack McConnell, the First Minister, to extend the life-cycle of the reactors only until renewable energy sources can take their place”. But this claim was rejected by British Energy. (22)

    Should the Scottish Executive be reconsidering its position that Scotland does not need new nuclear stations, it should read two papers published this year, one by Garrad Hassan for the Nuclear Free Local Authorities Scotland, and one by environment NGOs. Both show that Scotland can cope without new nuclear reactors, even without life extensions. (23)

    To go nuclear or not, that is the question

    McConnell appeared to reject nuclear power just before the summer break, in a speech in Dumfries when he said: “I am not in favour of new nuclear generation in Scotland until the issue of waste is satisfactorily resolved. Nuclear waste is virtually permanent and potentially very, very lethal, so we should not in Scotland countenance any extension of nuclear power.” (24) 

    Yet on September 3rd, the Sunday Times reported that McConnell is set to abandon his “staunch opposition to nuclear power” in a major U-turn that challenges public opinion and threatens an irrevocable split with the Liberal Democrats. (25) This was an odd story that might well have been overly influenced by nuclear spin doctors. The same paper had previously only said of Jack McConnell that there is a “suspicion that he is instinctively anti-nuclear”. (26)

    The Sunday Times said McConnell’s change of direction will be signalled in the Labour manifesto for next year’s Holyrood election. It will recommend a balanced energy policy in
    which nuclear, as well as renewables and coal, will play a part. The paper must have psychics working for it.

    The newspaper, however, did raise an important question about the Scottish Executive’s powers. It said that sources close to the executive say ministers have no choice other than to
    keep the nuclear option open. The waste issue can be only one consideration among many others. If the Executive just says ‘we’re going to rule out new nuclear power stations in principle until the waste issue is sorted out’, it could end up being taken to court for a judicial review by any company whose application to build a reactor is turned down.

    Clearly this is a grey area, which ultimately can only be decided by the courts. But any company wanting to build a new reactor in Scotland will want a measure of public and political support – it is not going to take the Scottish Executive to a judicial review if there is overwhelming public opposition to new reactors in Scotland. Time to make our feelings known then.

    The so-called ‘balanced energy policy” being promoted by some of the Trade Unions in Scotland suggests that ‘we need every energy technology’ in order to successfully tackle the climate change problem. This implies that we have infinite amounts of money to spend on energy projects, which is obviously nonsense. Resources are scarce, so we need to make choices. Because climate change is a serious and urgent problem then we must spend our limited resources as effectively and quickly as possible – best buys first, not the more the merrier. For each pound we spend we need to buy the maximum amount of ‘solution’ possible. On both criteria, cost and speed, nuclear power is probably the least effective climate-stabilizing option on offer.

    As well as being more expensive, and taking longer to implement, the problem with spending on nuclear power is that it will detract from spending on other more effective options. Not only does nuclear power drain resources away from other options, but it also distracts attention from important decisions that have to be made to support those other options. And because there are so many problems associated with getting new reactor construction off the ground, it might not work. So in the worst case we might find that efforts to tackle climate change are seriously damaged by a decision to go ahead with reactor construction. (27)

    As the Scottish Executive has been keen to point of, Scotland has the opportunity to develop a sustainable energy industry and a renewable energy manufacturing base. Let’s not mess it up now by adding to the uncertainty for potential investors. The Executive needs to rule out new reactors once and for all and get on with implementing its vision of a sustainable energy system for Scotland. 


     

    (1) BBC 27th June 2006

    (2) Scotsman 17th Oct 2006

    (3) Independent 17th October 2006

    (4) Commissioned by Nuclear Free Local Authorities Scottish Forum from consultants Garrad Hassan

    (5) See Energy Review Update No.8 “The Jury s still out on whether nukes will actually be built”

    (6) Herald 18th October 2006

    (7) http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/government/pfbs-00.asp

    (8) Scotsman 13th April 2006

    (9) Labour’s Nuclear Backing, Glasgow Herald 27th Feb 2006

    (10) Scotsman 28th April 2006

    (11) Scotsman 18th May 2006

    (12) Scotsman 25th May 2006

    (13) New Scientist 6th May 2006
    Rob Edwards’ website 9th May 2006

    (14) http://www.corwm.org.uk/content-898

    (15) CoRWM’s Final Report – Overview para 28, CoRWM New Build Statement, March 2006

    (16) CoRWM Draft report

    (17) “Uncertainty Underground: Yucca Mountain and the Nation’s High-Level Nuclear Waste” edited by Alison Macfarlane and Rodney Ewing, MIT (2006)

    (18) BBC 16th October 2006

    (19) Guardian, 9th January 2006

    (20) CoRWM’s Radioactive Waste and Materials Inventory July 2005

    (21) RobEdwards.com 14th June 2006
    Scottish Executive Response to the UK Energy Review

    (22) Scotsman 6th July 2006
    See Greenpeace Press Release on documents btained under the Freedom of Information Act

    (23) Commissioned by Nuclear Free Local Authorities Scottish Forum from consultants Garrad Hassan
    Power of Scotland – produced by RSPB Scotland, WWF Scotland and FoE Scotland

    (24) Herald 21st June 2006

    (25) Sunday Times 3rd September 2006

    (26) Sunday Times 16th July 2006

    (27) More profit with less carbon, by Amory Lovins, Scientific American, September 2005

    Posted: 23 October 2006

    3 August 2006

    Nuclear power – to be or not to be?

    While we are all still playing “hunt the subsidy” to try to find out if the Government’s Energy Review really does herald the rebirth of the UK nuclear power industry, and well before meaningful consideration of where any new power stations might be built, the Government is already moving to render any future planning inquiries impotent.

    The eyes of the world will be on the United Kingdom over the next few years. After a brief six-month energy review the Government has sanctioned a new generation of nuclear reactors, but has stressed there will be no public subsidies. (1) Serious doubts remain over whether private investors will take the risk and invest in new reactors without further guarantees or rigging of the market. New reactors have not been financed within a liberalised electricity market anywhere in the world. (2)

    The UK is not alone in discussing new reactors, but other countries – even those that are the very embodiment of the free market – expect to provide subsidies or guarantee prices. (3) The US has plans for 20 new plants and Washington wants them built as soon as possible. The Energy Policy Act in 2005 included $13.7 billion in subsidies, to cover insurance for construction delays, loan guarantees for construction costs and operating subsidies.(4) This is enough to fund the entire capital cost of six reactors. (5) The Liberal Democrats say a nuclear revival can only be made to work using vast taxpayer subsidies or a rigged market. “The real question … is where will Blair hide his nuclear subsidy?” (6) Their analysis suggests that if consumers were forced to pay a ‘nuclear tax’ on electricity bills, it could amount to £170 a year. (7)

    Mr Blair and his officials appear to be victims of “nuclear amnesia”. Walt Patterson of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, says “If we make the same mistakes all over again, let us at least be sure that our children know who to blame. Let us call the first one the Tony Blair nuclear plant.” (8)

    Nuclear is not and never was feasible without heavy subsidy. The Nuclear Industry Association demanded that the 2006 Energy Review deliver a streamlined planning system, a mechanism to support the price of nuclear power by forcing all suppliers to buy it at above a certain price, and a cap to decommissioning liabilities. (9) So what has suddenly changed? Even the current high gas prices were predicted when the last energy review decided that nuclear power was too expensive. When the government swears there will be no price guarantee or subsidy, none of the experts believe it – though the industry naturally pretends. Investors will only build on the unspoken understanding that the state will step in, one way or another. Always has, always will.

    The nuclear lobby now claims that a streamlined and shortened planning and licensing regime is all that is needed to make a new construction programme viable. But City experts, according to The Independent, believe it will require government guarantees before any private investors will put money into the industry. (10) The newspaper said the report on the energy review was desperately short on the practicalities. Beyond the planning proposals, there is no convincing set of policy initiatives suggested that would ensure new reactors are built. Instead, the Government seems blithely to assume that the market will somehow provide. (11)

    Even the CEO of the US nuclear power company Dominion said that, despite US government wishes for new nuclear power stations, he would not build, to avoid giving credit raters Standard & Poors and his own chief financial officer “a heart attack”. Standard & Poors say that not even government help with construction costs changes this reality: “an electric utility with a nuclear exposure has weaker credit than one without and can expect to pay more … for credit”.

    The Treasury has just said it will sell a chunk of its British Energy interest. Who wants it? Probably EDF, the French government-subsidised company bidding to build new nuclear on BE land. (Watch for favours or subsidies in return.) BE had to have a £5.1 bn liability guaranteed by the taxpayer as one lot of shareholders saw their investment go bust. Yet somehow fresh “value” has been added. The Treasury hopes to raise £2bn of its paper £6bn BE holding. 
    If nuclear building begins, all future governments must back it. Once we start down the nuclear road the taxpayer will have no choice but to bail it out, as with the railways, pfi hospitals, etc. Even if tax money flows in one end, shareholders can still take it out the other. But nuclear power will be worse than the likes of Railtrack, because of the huge, unknown, waste and decommissioning liabilities. Shareholders will not only have taken their “profits” but be long dead before the full costs are even known.

    The New Statesman accuses Blair of a lack of imagination. This is not the same as a lack of boldness. Blair mistakes a readiness to grasp the nettle for a genuine vision of Britain’s future. What has really changed since the 2003 Energy Review is that the nuclear industry’s PR machine has got its act together.

    As New Statesman says: “A pattern is emerging. There is something repellent about allowing radioactive waste to lie around until future generations invent the technology to deal with it. But, as in the case of those other toxic legacies (from Trident to tuition fees), our children and grandchildren will be the ones to suffer from this government’s failure to think big.”(12)

    Would-be nuclear builders are also watching Areva, the French government-subsidised company building in Finland the first new nuclear station anywhere in Europe for decades. It has just admitted it is already one year behind, after its first year of construction. Beset with design problems and skill shortages, this is no market tester but a loss-leader financed by Finnish local and central government and the French, borrowing at a subsidised 2.6% from a bank that owns the company building the turbines. Even then, its says it will generate electricity at twice the cost the UK government uses as its guesstimate of the price of new nuclear power here. (13)

    Once embarked on, nuclear stations will drain political enthusiasm for any other energy finance. Governments hide the true cost from voters, and even from themselves. State insurance against disaster isn’t even counted in. Watching the small print will not reveal all: hidden taxpayer backing will be watermarked into every clause of new nuclear contracts. If not, if Labour genuinely means no subsidy, there will be no new stations and all this nuclear posturing may be fantasy politics.

    Even before we know where any new nuclear power stations will be proposed, we only have until 31 October 2006 to object if we want to use the “economics” or “necessity” of nuclear power in our argument. Because from 31 October, the government will consider both arguments settled. But the sites will not be chosen until after a review which starts in January next year. (14) Once it has published a “statement of need” in a White Paper at the turn of the year, the necessity or economics of individual nuclear power stations will not form part of any local enquiry. And it’s not just the economic argument that starts being settled now. The first stages of a separate enquiry into the safety of nuclear power could begin this year, though the process, known as justification, will eventually involve a public consultation. The licensing of the most likely reactor designs could start this year and once the sites are decided, local planning enquiries will not be able to question whether there are more suitable locations, or whether a particular reactor is safe.

    Once the issues of economics, necessity and safety have been determined in the abstract, planning enquiries for real nuclear power stations will have fewer grounds for objection than a small supermarket – what would there be left to debate – the landscaping? (15)


    References

    (1) The Energy Challenge, UK Department of Trade and Industry, July 2006 
    (2) The Energy Review, Performance and Innovation Unit, February 2002, page 195 para 42. 
    (3) Financial Times Editorial 21st June 2006
    (4) Where will Blair hide his nuclear tax bombshell? Liberal Democrat Trade and Industry Team, June 2006. 
    (5) Centre for Media and Democracy 26th July 2006
    (6) Where will Blair hide his nuclear tax bombshell? Liberal Democrat Trade and Industry Team, June 2006. 
    (7) Daily Mail 18th May 2006
    (8) Walt Patterson
    (9) Observer 4th June 2006
    (10) Independent 12th July 2006
    (11) Independent 12th July 2006
    (12) New Statesman Leader 17th July 2006 
    (13) Interactive Investor 13th July 2006
    (14) The Business 16th July 2006 See Annex A, Page 161: The Energy Challenge 
    (15) More info on the so-called Nuclear Policy Framework consultationSee also Guardian 18th July 2006

    Posted: 3 August 2006

    7 December 2005

    Let Battle Commence

    As the Government announces its latest energy review, little more than two years after the last one, it is already clear that it is intended to find justification for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

    As so often in the past with energy reviews, the emphasis will be on the electricity supply industry. Though transport and energy efficiency are included in the terms of reference, it is unlikely that any detailed consideration will be given to these areas.

    Before the privatisation of the electricity supply industry in the 1990s, it was understandable for Governments to focus on electricity rather than the transport and industry sectors; electricity was the sector where they exercised most control. Though the CEGB and Scottish boards had some autonomy, the Treasury had tight hold of the purse strings and decisions on where, when and what type of power stations would be built were controlled by Government.

    On privatisation of the non-nuclear power stations in the early 1990s, some observers expressed concern over where the incentive would be for private companies to build new generating capacity to ensure there was sufficient output to meet periods of high demand.

    However, privatisation brought with it the “dash-to-gas” which companies saw as a cheap way to generate electricity and boost their profits. This added to what was already a significant overcapacity and put off the issue of potential shortages in electricity supply for over a decade, but now with imminent closure of many coal-fired and nuclear power stations power shortages are on the political agenda.

    That the UK is also now a net importer of gas, has added to these concerns.

    At the very least, the Government and media’s sudden discovery of security of supply as a major issue has added a string to nuclear power’s otherwise threadbare bow.

    The only other string – nuclear’s supposed zero-carbon status – has been strengthened by the “failure” of energy efficiency and renewables to tackle climate change.

    Of course, the real culprit in the country’s failure to meet the Government’s self-imposed CO2 target is the transport sector. But with the Government giving the green light to unconstrained growth in aviation, its continued road building, and the lack of resolve on fuel duty shown by our Iron Chancellor when faced with a rag-bag of disgruntled truckers and farmers, it seems the electricity supply industry will be asked not just to meet its own share of CO2 cuts, but everybody else’s as well.

    In the circumstances, two strings might very well be all the nuclear industry needs.

    The economics of nuclear power are dodgy at best, but the Government can provide hidden and overt subsidies such as to make the cost of nuclear power whatever it wants it to be.

    Terrorism is a double-edged sword. The risk of nuclear power stations being terrorist targets may once have been a fantasy, but it is now all too real. But for tabloid readers, the risks of relying on Johnny foreigner in such times may be seen as even worse.

    And next summer, when the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management presents its findings on the least bad option for our nuclear waste, that the nuclear industry and its political and media supporters will announce that the problem of nuclear waste has been solved.

    The case for nuclear power is not about the real costs, the real environmental impacts or the real alternatives.

    With the Government dependent on increasingly rebellious backbenchers, it will be public perception of nuclear power which will decide if it has a future.

    The arguments for nuclear power have become simple (if simplistic); the arguments against are now much more complex.

    The economic and environmental credentials of nuclear power may be straight out of Alice in Wonderland, but many people will be more worried that their lights might go out for a few hours than that they might die of cancer in twenty years. And they assume the total cost of their electricity is what they pay to their electricity supplier, rather than also a chunk of what they pay in tax.

    It will not be easy for those environment groups and others opposed to nuclear power to make their case.

    Of course, the Government already knows the truth of the case, its reasons for wanting nuclear power are about exercising a level of control over the electricity supply industry they haven’t had since privatisation, rewarding big business and industry, and “solving” the problem of Global Warming with a single policy decision.

    The case against nuclear power needs to be put not to Government, or its review, but to a public which often does not have the time or inclination to get to grips with complex issues, especially when Government spin offers them a simple solution on a plate.

    Recent opinion polls on nuclear power have been mixed, but there has certainly been a softening of opposition, ironically in no small part because of the environment movement’s success in forcing climate change up the political agenda. It will take a lot of hard work over the coming months if the environment movement is to re-establish the initiative on nuclear power.

    No2nuclearpower editorial team

    Posted: 7 December 2005

    19 March 2005

    Nuclear Power? No Thanks!

    The Press has been full of speculation recently that Blair’s Government has decided to support the construction of new reactors as soon as the General Election is out of the way. A White Paper could set out the case for the construction of up to 10 new nuclear stations – the biggest nuclear programme since the 1960s. That is why we have decided it is time to act and have launched this website.

    We shouldn’t allow this newspaper speculation to disable us by inducing panic. Tom Burke, former adviser to several Environment Ministers, says this is all part of an orchestrated campaign by the nuclear industry. There are still several daunting practical obstacles to reviving nuclear construction. Solving these problems, if indeed solutions exist, will take time. There is unlikely to be an announcement about new nuclear stations immediately after the election, but it could come in a year or two’s time. So, while it may not be time to panic, it is time to get organised.

    Burke says, no-one has yet found a way to get reactors to burn uranium as effectively as they burn money, so much of the recent spin probably reflects a desire on the part of the industry to get its hands on taxpayers’ or consumers’ money. The industry is clearly hoping climate change will prove so important that it will provide the justification for some sort of subsidy.

    If public money is going to have to be spent to drive carbon out of the economy, then any government is going to want the biggest carbon bang for its buck. Nuclear power is probably one of the least efficient ways of spending our money. Investment in energy efficiency typically displaces up to seven times the amount of carbon dioxide as investment in nuclear power. Over coming months this website will provide information on why nuclear power isn’t the answer to climate change.

    There are many hurdles to a nuclear revival. The public, for example, is going to find it very hard to understand why, if the situation is so serious with regard to terrorism that we need to lock up suspects without trial, place people under house arrest, and admit evidence obtained under torture, the government appears to be willing to contemplate the creation of 10 more potential terrorist targets on British soil.

    Over the coming months we hope this website will provide you with the well-referenced information you need to join the campaign against new nuclear stations, and the inspiration to actually take some action. Let’s work together to make sure the recent pro-nuclear campaign heralds the last final gasp of a dying industry, rather than a nuclear renaissance.

    Posted: 19 March 2005