Friday, October 21, 2005

More on the U.K. Nuclear Debate

There has been a lot of chatter in the last few days about the issue of commercial nuclear energy in the United Kingdom (click here and here for past posts). Here are some of the highlights.

Prospect magazine provides in-depth background information and a balanced breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of each energy source:

Within its five-year life span, this government is going to have to make sure that some difficult and potentially unpopular long-term infrastructure decisions are made.

The trickiest of these relate to power generation. In the muscular days of the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB), the minister of power (remember Manny Shinwell?) could instruct the board to do what he wanted. That all changed with privatisation in 1989-90. The CEGB vanished, and the role of government changed to that of facilitator and regulator. Yet were the lights went out, the government would be blamed, even though it can no longer order the building of power stations. Tony Blair's statement at the Labour party conference, promising a fresh energy review early in 2006, and accepting that nuclear energy will have to be part of it, indicates that the government is aware of its predicament.

... Because of the time it takes to build new stations, the government has to persuade the generation companies to make the major building decisions in the next five years and work must start soon on at least 20GW of new capacity. Of the more than 50 new stations in at least the early stage of planning, most are wind farms of small capacity. So far only four substantial new stations, all gas-fired and totalling 3.1GW, are likely to come on stream by 2010.
Visit Planet Ark for another analysis.

Elsewhere, icWales provides a roundup of soundbites from U.K. officials, companies and unions.

U.K. ministers in the European parliament (MEPs) also are speaking up:
Presenting a joint declaration on climate change and nuclear energy, at a seminar organised by Foratom on Wednesday in the European Parliament, UK MEP Terry Wynn said that EU leaders had to "get real" about the benefits of nuclear energy in tackling climate change.

"We can’t have a debate on climate change without discussing nuclear energy, and while I encourage renewable energy sources, let’s get real, none of them will ever run the Brussels metro system," said Wynn.

The declaration, signed by 25 MEPs calls for EU leaders to recognise nuclear’s contribution in reducing CO2 emissions, and calls on politicians and decision-makers to back investment in low carbon energy technologies including nuclear power.

And the MEPs want EU capitals to add their political weight to the argument that nuclear energy is essential if the EU is to meet its Kyoto protocol emissions reduction commitments.

The declaration also argues that nuclear energy’s role in combating climate change should not be singled out because of purely ideological or political beliefs.

"There is a perception that nuclear is unpopular…but this declaration can be a springboard for Europe’s politicians to lead from the front on nuclear energy," said Wynn.

The British MEP said that the current impasse on developing nuclear power across Europe was not a technical or environmental problem, but a political one.
Wynn also espoused the virtues of nuclear energy in an opinion piece:
I’m not naturally a pessimist but, quite frankly, a lot of what I hear on [climate change] fills me with doubt – unless I put it all together alongside the maintenance of today’s nuclear share of the EU energy mix - around 30 per cent.

... The same people who oppose nuclear power often promote energy saving, hydro-power, wind power, solar power, hydrogen and the rest. Well I support all those things too – don’t we all? But reality tells us that no new large hydro-power dams will be built because they cause other environmental damage. The same can be said for wind-power. Compare the new nuclear plant being built in Finland with a wind equivalent. The best performing wind turbines will achieve their maximum output for 30 per cent of their running time. So the 1600 MW nuclear unit being built in Finland would need at least a 5300 MW wind farm to replace it. The biggest wind turbines today can generate four MW – so who is ready for 1350 windmills next to where they live, where they take their holidays, or even next to where nobody lives? Again, wind can and must make a contribution but it does little to impact on the problem.

... As a one-time marine engineer with a background in power production and, despite being a representative of a coal mining region - when we had pits in Lancashire - I am a supporter of nuclear energy. The problem is that my support is based on technical and practical arguments – but it is political ones that will win or lose the day. But I support nuclear power primarily from an environmental point of view and have done so long before Kyoto. You see I want my grandchildren and their grandchildren to live in a world which is clean and fit to live in.
U.K. mag The Business reports that Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has called for a debate on nuclear energy, personally supports new plant construction:
The Prime Minister will sell the nuclear build programme to the public and the Labour Party as a job-creating solution to the problems posed by global warming and Britain’s growing dependence on imported energy supplies from unstable countries. The Prime Minister expects a year-long inquiry into Britain’s future energy requirements to conclude that more nuclear energy is the only practical way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Tribune reports that most U.K. scientists agree with Blair:
Britain's leading academic experts have given the Government a “scientific warranty” to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear power stations. The move will provide crucial underpinning of the expected decision to fill the looming energy gap with the nuclear option rather than renewable energy supplies. It is the first time Britain’s foremost scientists, including physicists, environmentalists, geologists, chemists and climatologists, have produced a collective view on the energy crisis. In early November they are expected to publish a call for the Government to adopt nuclear energy to avert energy shortages in the next decade.
Of course, there has been some talk from nuclear's opponents. Visit Tim Worstall's blog for responses to several of these articles.

And finally, energy is such a hot topic in the United Kingdom that new blogs devoted entirely to that subject are being created. Check out Anglesey Energy.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Trying to replace a baseload generating source that has capacity factors routinely in the 80-90% range with one that struggles to break 30% seems like a losing bargain to me. I know where I live, especially in winter, we can't afford to be without reliable electricity. People will die for lack of it. There are places where the same holds true in summer. Not a good thing where you go to turn on the switch and two out of three times the baseload source is unavilable or running at low output.