Dave Elliott: No room for nuclear. As noted in an article in Regional Life, a local conservation e-magazine linked to a local anti nuclear group, the flat landscape of the Dengie peninsula in Essex is punctuated by a line of tall wind turbines, slowly turning and the massive grey-blue hulk of the former Bradwell ‘A’ nuclear power station. These two features it says graphically express the contrast between rise of renewable energy and the demise of nuclear power, the past and the future of electricity generation. Renewable energy, mainly wind and solar, is rising on the back of rapidly falling costs. So much so that the International Energy Agency, which has in the past been rather guarded about their potential, has switched over to seeing them as the main way ahead, supplying 90% of global electric power by 2050. That is actually quite conservative compared to some projections for the UK: renewables are supplying over 43% of UK power at present and the Renewable Energy Association says that reaching 100% is possible by 2032 – indeed Scotland is already almost there. All of which raises the question of why we are still pursuing nuclear power- which just about everyone agrees is very much more expensive than wind and solar. The recent BBC TV documentary series on construction work at Hinkley Point C in Somerset made stunningly clear the massive scale and environmental footprint of nuclear projects like this. Especially notable was the vast amount of concrete that had to be poured- the production of which involves significant release of carbon dioxide gas. That is one reason why nuclear plants are not zero carbon options, another being the fact that mining and processing uranium fuel are energy and carbon intensive activities. By contrast, renewable energy systems like solar cells and wind turbines need no fuel to run, and, although energy is needed to make the materials used in their construction, the net carbon/energy lifetime debt is less than for nuclear- one study suggested nuclear produces on average 23 times more emissions than onshore wind per unit electricity generated. The Government’s stated aim is to generate ‘enough electricity from offshore wind to power every home by 2030’. That means many more offshore wind farms, off the East coast and also elsewhere around the UK. With the other renewables also added in and more of them planned (we have 14 GW of solar capacity so far) it is hard to see what the nuclear plants are for – the 9 GW or so of old plants and the new 3.2 GW Hinkley Point C plant, much less any other proposed new ones. The nuclear lobby sometimes argues we need more nuclear to replace nuclear plants that are being closed and also to back up renewables. It is hard to see how that could work, unless the new plants were flexible, and able to compensate for the variable output of the 30GW or so of wind and solar capacity we have at present. As yet there are no plans to run the Hinkley Point C plant that way, or for that matter, the proposed 3.2 GW Sizewell C. In which case, adding more nuclear will mean that, at times of low demand, some cheap renewable output, or some low cost flexible gas plant output, would have to be curtailed. What a waste! All of this to keep the £22bn Hinkley Point, and any that follow, financially viable.
Renew Extra 17th July 2021 read more »