The UK Trade Unions currently mostly back nuclear power. In 2016, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady noted that the Hinkley project ‘will be the largest construction project in the UK, creating 25,000 high-quality jobs and 500 apprenticeships’. It wasn’t always like this. In 1986, in the wake of Chernobyl, the TUC backed a nuclear ‘moratorium and review’ policy. In the same year, the Labour Party had confirmed its 1985 anti (civil) nuclear power stance, with a two thirds majority for phasing it out. The then quite dominant Transport and General Workers Union said it was ‘clear and unambiguous in its position on nuclear power. We support a halt to nuclear expansion and a safe and planned phase out of nuclear power in this country.’ So what has changed? Well it’s taken nearly 30 years, but renewables are now big (25%) growing, and creating jobs- with nearly 126,000 people employed in the UK renewable energy industry in 2017 according to the REA. However, the unions still seem unsure, and some have taken to recycling dubious statistics and arguments to try to undermine the case for renewables. At its 2016 annual Congress the GMB Union’s National Secretary, Justin Bowden, noted that‘over the last 12 months there were 46 days when wind was supplying 10% or less of the installed and connected wind capacity to the grid’ and insisted that ‘until there is a scientific breakthrough on carbon capture or solar storage, then nuclear and gas are the only reliable shows in town which those advocating a renewable energy-only policy have to accept.” This doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. For over half of those 46 low-wind days i.e. outside of winter, and for most of the nights, overall energy demand would have been low, so a low wind input would not matter. When it did, existing gas plants would have ramped up a bit more to provide the extra energy needed e.g. as they do any way to meet daily peaks. As more renewables come off the grid, other balancing measures can also be used, so there is not really a problem. But inflexible base-load nuclear plants are no use for this – they can’t vary output regularly, quickly and safely. They just get in the way of the flexible supply and demand approach that is needed.
Dave Elliott’s Blog 5th Oct 2017 read more »