Why Tony Blair is wrong about nuclear power

Posted by bex — 23 May 2007 at 12:12pm - Comments

Melting ice

Today, the government has finally published its energy white paper. After last year's energy consultation was ruled "seriously flawed", "misleading" and "manifestly inadequate and unfair" by a High Court Judge, this white paper outlines a new energy policy - and a new nuclear consultation.

Yep, despite a few ineffectual concessions to renewables and efficiency, Tony Blair is still busily spinning the nuclear industry's line: that nuclear power is the answer to climate change. And we still think he's dangerously wrong.

Writing in The Times today, Tony Blair says (the quotes in bold are all his):


"Nuclear power accounts for about a fifth of our electricity"
Sneaky. Nuclear power provides 19 per cent of our electricity but - much more importantly for both climate change and energy security - only 3.6 per cent of our energy. By just talking about electricity instead of energy, Blair's ignoring all the energy that's used to heat our homes, businesses and water, mostly provided by gas.


"[N]uclear power can help to underpin the security of our energy supply without increasing our reliance on fossil fuels."

The government keeps warning us about an impending energy gap in 2015 - and suggesting nuclear power as the answer. But, by the industry's own estimates, the first new nuclear reactor in the UK wouldn't be "taking effect" (the industry's words) until 2017 and the full fleet wouldn't be completed until 2025-2030. At the earliest. And, providing only 3.6 per cent of our energy needs, nuclear power would do almost nothing to plug the energy gap.


"We can meet our carbon dioxide emissions targets, but only if we are willing to think ahead... and give serious consideration to nuclear power."
Replacing our whole fleet of nuclear power stations would reduce our carbon emissions by just four per cent. Some time after 2024. Far too little too late to tackle climate change (and that four per cent would be wiped out by emissions from aviation expansion alone).


"To exclude nuclear would be a big mistake."

To include nuclear would be delusional. We've already covered the fact that it won't deliver the emissions cuts and can't plug the energy gap. We'll leave aside the issues of radioactive waste for now - you've heard it all before. We'll ignore the fact that Scotland's new SNP/Green coalition has said no to nuclear power (without Scotland, where does Blair plan to put the new power stations? On sites in the South-East known to be seriously at risk from sea level rise and flooding?) Let's just look at the economics for a second.

A new nuclear power station has never been built on time and on budget, anywhere in the world. In fact, the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget. Building a new fleet of new power stations will cost, based on past experience, between £20 and 40 billion - and that's ignoring the billions that will be spent on operation, waste management and decommissioning. Research from the US found that every pound spent on nuclear would deliver 10 times the cut in carbon if it was spent on efficiency instead.

Nuclear power relies on private investment - and no investor with a passing knowledge of the industry would touch a proposition like nuclear power with a barge pole. Unless of course the government keeps subsidising investors with guarantees - in which case tax payers will pay through the nose for a technology that won't stop climate change.

A few days ago, Alistair Darling said: "I respect the views of someone who says they don't want nuclear in any circumstances whatsoever. Fair enough. Right, tell me what the alternative is. If there was an easy answer that had low carbon, no cost, no eyesores, somebody would have found it."

We've found it! The Conservatives, Lib Dems and Greens all agree with us. Our supporters have been writing to MPs about it for ages. 32,000 people have watched our film about it on YouTube. It already provides over 50 per cent of Denmark's electricity supplies. It's decentralised energy.

Maybe it just doesn't have a catchy enough name for New Labour. For a system that would double the efficiency of our power stations, slash our carbon emissions, cost us less than nuclear power and leave no radioactive waste, it certainly hasn't attracted a lot of interest from government.

If you need facts, figures and appendices to persuade you, I'd recommend starting with this briefing on today's energy white paper. Or for a more laidback option, watch our film on decentralised energy.

anyone who has an account at BBC (or just get one now) should comment on todays 'have your say', and vote comments appropriately:
< a href="http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?threadID=6358"> BBC DISCUSSION

Nuclear power is a practical solution to our energy problems. It has it's difficulties but the benefits to the environment of getting away from fossil fuels are huge. The points in this article are no less sneaky than those from Blair.

The full fleet wouldn't be completed until 2025-2030. At the earliest
The energy gap isn't going anywhere though. If it will take 20 years to build new nuclear stations, it will take longer to research and develop renewable energy sources that could replace fossil fuel and nuclear stations. Hopefully in 50 years renewables can replace the by-then old nuclear stations.

Replacing our whole fleet of nuclear power stations would reduce our carbon emissions by just four per cent.
Replacing what we've already got obviously doesn't change much. Would you prefer stations to be replaced with coal burning? If we build enough new nuclear to replace fossil fuel stations, then we'll start to see reductions in carbon emissions.

Almost all decentralised energy solutions can not completely replace the big power stations. There is not always sun and not always wind. To keep the lights on, we'll need at least a backup source of power that we can control for the forseeable future. As an enviromentalist I'd prefer nuclear over any other option.

There are lots of disadvantages to Nuclear which are well discuees but there are advantages too not least the low carbon compared to fossil fuels. The article above reads well but if we were to do the same calculation for heat then all forms of power generation would come out the same so I don't see what the point is unless we all agree that gas is the only way forward for space heating?

I just don't get the energy saving and distributed generation argument in the way Greenpeace do. First individuals and companies that save energy and money tend to spend it in the economy on new appliances - holidays, etc. Therefore energy use tends not to go down. Second with distributed generation you have to use the heat efficiently if it is to be economical. Given that many homes have high efficiency boilers I can't see how DCHP for example is attractive.

I think that we should lobby the government to put prices up in the form of VAT this would truly cut energy use. The money could then be used to provide grants for solar and wind for peoples homes, insulation, etc.

www.OneToRemember.co.uk

Personally, as an enviromentalist I'd prefer people use less electricity...we can't have it all ways.

Creating a new generation of nuclear power stations when we have no safe solution in place for dealing with the waste is insanity.

I've recently heard from an eco-friend in Australia that they suspect the UK is now involved in a plan to ship high-level nuclear waste for deep burial in the Northern Territory. They believe PM Howard's plan is to allow countries to ship nuclear waste, possibly by submarine, to Darwin, which will then be transported by train to Maralinga. A Halliburton subsidiary recently completed the missing rail link between Darwin and Alice Springs, and it has now been bought by Serco - the UK's prime transporter of nuclear waste. Does anyone have any more information?

The energy gap will go somewhere if we increase energy efficiency, and switch to a combination of fuel sources including renewables and decentralised energy. All these can be brought online far, far quicker than a new fleet of nuclear power stations.

For example, the Finns are having some problems with theirs. Quoting Bex's blog post from last week:

Eighteen months into construction, there've already been well over a thousand reported breaches of safety standards. The construction is already 18 months behind schedule. And it's already €700 million over budget (and expected to end up at least €1.5 billion over the original estimate). And because all this money has been poured down the almost bottomless nuclear hole, Finland’s renewables industry has been left to wither on the vine. (We best not even talk about how Finland is now way off hitting its Kyoto targets.)

And that's just for one plant.

But your comment that 'almost all decentralised energy solutions can not completely replace the big power stations' is self-defeating logic at its finest. So there are some that do? Sorry, it was a cheap shot but I do agree with you - we need a plethora of energy sources managed at a local level so we can do away with the inefficient, centralised monstrosity we currently have.

Just not including nuclear.

web editor
gpuk

Sorry, asc99c, I missed these comments at the time. Jamie's already answered some of the points but I wanted to add a few bits and bobs.

You said: The energy gap isn't going anywhere though. If it will take 20 years to build new nuclear stations, it will take longer to research and develop renewable energy sources that could replace fossil fuel and nuclear stations.

Renewable technologies are already there and ready to go - and they definitely don't take more time to develop than nuclear power. The government's own figures show that, in the same amount of time it would take to build new nuclear power stations, enough wind farms could be built to provide a quarter of the UK's electricity. By our calculations, another 12.5 per cent could come from wave and tidal power in that time frame. And we could build enough CHP plants to contribute 40 per cent to our total electricity supply. That beats nuclear power's 19 per cent hands down.

Doing nuclear power and then switching to renewables isn't a realistic option either. Even if the new nuclear plants were built on time, experience in other countries (and expert advice) suggests that we wouldn't make progress on renewables during that time. Nuclear power has a way of sucking up resources and investment from other energy sources – which is why it's such a dead end. And because nuclear will do so little to help meet the energy gap, by the time we get around to switching to renewables, the energy gap will be worse.

The best way to meet the energy gap is to remove it - through energy efficiency. The government's own figures suggest we can cut carbon emissions by 30 per cent across all sectors (saving UK consumers around £12 billion) through energy efficiency - that's a vast amount more than nuclear power can do.

You said: Replacing what we've already got obviously doesn't change much. Would you prefer stations to be replaced with coal burning? If we build enough new nuclear to replace fossil fuel stations, then we'll start to see reductions in carbon emissions.

But we can't realistically do anything more than replace the nuclear power stations we already have – because of issues of cost, siting, waste transport etc. The Sustainable Development Commission says that the more nuclear power stations you build, the longer they all take to build.

And no, we'll not be campaigning for new coal plants any time soon ;0) We will keep campaigning for a decentralised energy system based on efficiency and renewables. But to build any new power station in the UK now without the capacity to capture heat would be insanity.

Again, sorry for the delay... Interesting points.

We agree with your point that "individuals and companies that save energy and money tend to spend it in the economy on new appliances". So we advocate a decentralised energy approach with a mix of policies to keep this tendency in check - a sort of carrot and stick approach with financial incentives for reducing energy and penalties on carbon.

You said: Second with distributed generation you have to use the heat efficiently if it is to be economical. Given that many homes have high efficiency boilers I can't see how DCHP for example is attractive.

Again, good point. The average (non-CHP) power plant is 38 per cent efficient. If a high efficiency boiler is 90 per cent efficient, the overall efficiency rate you get is 64 per cent. So yes, all CHP plants built should be over this level of efficiency (Copenhagen, for example, reaches over 90 per cent).

Cheers,

bex
gpuk

I thought some of the commenters here might like to know we've just made a new film on why nuclear power won't stop climate change, and what the real solution is:

www.greenpeace.org.uk/thesolution

Happy watching :0)

Bex
gpuk

The energy gap will go somewhere if we increase energy efficiency, and switch to a combination of fuel sources including renewables and decentralised energy. All these can be brought online far, far quicker than a new fleet of nuclear power stations. For example, the Finns are having some problems with theirs. Quoting Bex's blog post from last week: Eighteen months into construction, there've already been well over a thousand reported breaches of safety standards. The construction is already 18 months behind schedule. And it's already €700 million over budget (and expected to end up at least €1.5 billion over the original estimate). And because all this money has been poured down the almost bottomless nuclear hole, Finland’s renewables industry has been left to wither on the vine. (We best not even talk about how Finland is now way off hitting its Kyoto targets.) And that's just for one plant. But your comment that 'almost all decentralised energy solutions can not completely replace the big power stations' is self-defeating logic at its finest. So there are some that do? Sorry, it was a cheap shot but I do agree with you - we need a plethora of energy sources managed at a local level so we can do away with the inefficient, centralised monstrosity we currently have. Just not including nuclear. web editor gpuk

Sorry, asc99c, I missed these comments at the time. Jamie's already answered some of the points but I wanted to add a few bits and bobs. You said: The energy gap isn't going anywhere though. If it will take 20 years to build new nuclear stations, it will take longer to research and develop renewable energy sources that could replace fossil fuel and nuclear stations. Renewable technologies are already there and ready to go - and they definitely don't take more time to develop than nuclear power. The government's own figures show that, in the same amount of time it would take to build new nuclear power stations, enough wind farms could be built to provide a quarter of the UK's electricity. By our calculations, another 12.5 per cent could come from wave and tidal power in that time frame. And we could build enough CHP plants to contribute 40 per cent to our total electricity supply. That beats nuclear power's 19 per cent hands down. Doing nuclear power and then switching to renewables isn't a realistic option either. Even if the new nuclear plants were built on time, experience in other countries (and expert advice) suggests that we wouldn't make progress on renewables during that time. Nuclear power has a way of sucking up resources and investment from other energy sources – which is why it's such a dead end. And because nuclear will do so little to help meet the energy gap, by the time we get around to switching to renewables, the energy gap will be worse. The best way to meet the energy gap is to remove it - through energy efficiency. The government's own figures suggest we can cut carbon emissions by 30 per cent across all sectors (saving UK consumers around £12 billion) through energy efficiency - that's a vast amount more than nuclear power can do. You said: Replacing what we've already got obviously doesn't change much. Would you prefer stations to be replaced with coal burning? If we build enough new nuclear to replace fossil fuel stations, then we'll start to see reductions in carbon emissions. But we can't realistically do anything more than replace the nuclear power stations we already have – because of issues of cost, siting, waste transport etc. The Sustainable Development Commission says that the more nuclear power stations you build, the longer they all take to build. And no, we'll not be campaigning for new coal plants any time soon ;0) We will keep campaigning for a decentralised energy system based on efficiency and renewables. But to build any new power station in the UK now without the capacity to capture heat would be insanity.

Again, sorry for the delay... Interesting points. We agree with your point that "individuals and companies that save energy and money tend to spend it in the economy on new appliances". So we advocate a decentralised energy approach with a mix of policies to keep this tendency in check - a sort of carrot and stick approach with financial incentives for reducing energy and penalties on carbon. You said: Second with distributed generation you have to use the heat efficiently if it is to be economical. Given that many homes have high efficiency boilers I can't see how DCHP for example is attractive. Again, good point. The average (non-CHP) power plant is 38 per cent efficient. If a high efficiency boiler is 90 per cent efficient, the overall efficiency rate you get is 64 per cent. So yes, all CHP plants built should be over this level of efficiency (Copenhagen, for example, reaches over 90 per cent). Cheers, bex gpuk

I thought some of the commenters here might like to know we've just made a new film on why nuclear power won't stop climate change, and what the real solution is: www.greenpeace.org.uk/thesolution Happy watching :0) Bex gpuk

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