Mind the gap

Posted by John Sauven - 10 January 2008 at 11:46am - Comments

Mind the Gap

On Tuesday, Gordon Brown announced his government’s support for a new generation of nuclear power plants. In so doing, he casts himself in the role of the bold leader, taking tough decisions for the common good.

Certainly The Sun has bought it wholesale, shrieking: ‘Britain’s security will be in peril if we continue to rely on Russian despot Vladimir Putin or Middle Eastern states for our gas and oil.’

Obviously, this is so much rubbish and it wont deal with the real policy decisions and proper investment necessary within the next ten years to bridge the energy gap and set us on course for massive emissions reductions over the coming decades.

Indeed, there are some colossal lies at the heart of the government’s nuclear fundamentalism.

Con one: nuclear will protect us from Russian despots and Muslim terrorists

Let’s be clear. Electricity is not the same as energy. The lion’s share of our energy demand is for heat and transport. With all due respect to The Sun, although nuclear power currently accounts for about a fifth of UK electricity generation, that is less than 4% of our total energy demand .

So how does nuclear electricity improve security of gas or oil supply?

86% of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. Most of the gas we use is for heating and hot water, or for industrial purposes. Virtually all oil is used for transport.

In this context, nuclear power – which can only generate electricity – is irrelevant.

The real answer to lessening our oil dependence includes improved vehicle efficiency, improved public transport systems and reducing the need to travel especially for business by using new technology like video conferencing.

The Red ‘peril’ is a load of jingoistic claptrap. The truth is that – unlike the rest of Europe – the UK has no proper long-term gas storage facilities to cover supply or price fluctuations. And most of our gas supplies according to the government will come from more not less countries as new gas fields are exploited.

Con two: nuclear power will bridge the energy gap

Over the next few years, several existing nuclear and coal plants are set to close. This is the ‘energy’ (ie electricity) gap. Government figures suggest that this gap equates to about a third of our current electricity supply. The challenge is to bridge this gap in a way that allows us to meet our legitimate energy needs and sets us on course for massive emissions reductions over the coming decades.

Even leaving aside the intrinsic problems with nuclear power (for instance, its costly and dangerous legacy of radioactive waste), nuclear electricity cannot solve our energy problems. For starters, not one single nuclear power station will come into operation over the next decade. Indeed the UK Government itself has estimated that a new build programme of up to ten stations could not deliver in full until at least 2025. So even notionally, nuclear will make no contribution to our electricity until years after the ‘energy gap’ needs to be dealt with.

The real answer?

There are now dozens of studies by government and energy industry bodies showing how this scale of electricity generation could be met through many different cleaner alternatives, including combined heat and power (CHP), using fossil fuels more efficiently and cleanly, and renewable electricity generation such as wind, wave and tidal power. A portion of the ‘gap’ could be closed through energy efficiency alone – delivering substantial economic savings at the same time.

Last month, the government announced that the next stage of offshore wind development in the UK, which, if delivered, will fill two thirds of the energy gap. Indeed, as Gordon Brown himself acknowledged when I questioned him late last year, the UK has committed to generating around 40% of our electricity from renewables by 2020.

So if the Prime Minister is telling the truth, there is no energy gap: not only will the UK become a world leader in clean energy, but even the bogus case for nuclear evaporates.

Con three: the only way to reduce our climate change emissions…

According to the government's own Sustainable Development Commission even if the UK built ten new nuclear reactors, nuclear electricity could only theoretically deliver a 4% cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025.

The real solutions to the energy gap and climate change are available now. Energy efficiency, cleaner use of fossil fuels, renewables and state of the art decentralised power stations like they have in Scandinavia.

These options are challenging and require support and concerted government effort to deliver (just as nuclear power requires), but given that support this mix has the potential to deliver reliable low carbon energy quicker, cheaper, more effectively and more realistically than nuclear electric. The strategy is also safe and globally applicable, unlike nuclear.

The real threat from Gordon Brown’s brand of nuclear fundamentalism is that if cash and political energy get thrust at nuclear power, these technologies will be strangled.

Then we really will need to MIND THE GAP.

He always takes the most bone-headed decisions. This government has done NOTHING about energy efficiency. Shops still blast heat into the streets during midwinter. lights are left on all night, everyone has appliances on standby.
The government WANTS us to waste energy so it can build nuclear power and give huge contracts to its corrupt mates in the construction industry.
This government is sickening.

Yup, I'm with you on the efficiency thing - a crazy state of affairs. (We throw away more than 8x the amount of energy supplied by all of the UK's nuclear power stations combined through inefficient use of energy...)

And putting in place efficiency measures saves more money than it costs, and would save consumers £12 billion a year. The government's figures, not ours.

Bex
gpuk

Im getting realy fed up with bias reporting on this topic. They make out as if we just dont like nuclear but have no alternative suggestions.
Ive sent an email to the BBC complaining that they have even made an ettempt to give a balanced report on this subject by explaing that opponants to nuclear energy are suggesting decentralised energy etc. and clearly explaing what that actually means.

The media have a huge influence over public opinion, so i think it would be good if a few people complained about this.

If we can bridge the energy gap by renewables, why the hell has he decided to go down the nuclear path? I mean, it's costing more, it puts millions of lives at risk and the power stations are ugly.

This government sucks big arse.

On that note, The Guardian's just opened up commenting on the nuclear decision and is asking for views:

Nuclear: right or wrong decision?

Bex
gpuk

this goverment is really taking the mic! the public is being brainwashed into thinking that nuclear is the way forward and that we have no choice but go along with this! i can guarantee that 99% of the public dont know that it will only provide up to 5% increase by 2025 and the toxic waste wont just dissapear and also the fact that on the white paper it clearly states that if something was to go wrong with one of these so called 'saviours of energy power plants' then guess who foot the bill? point made! we are being lied and manipulated by this goverment its just disgraceful.

For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail? ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seriously what is Gordon thinking, maybe if all of the truth was given out and not just what they want us to hear there would be a few more oppositions from the general public.

Whether it was Thatcher and the others in between, Brown or Blair, our Government has several hidden agendas. Whether it was the war on Iraqi, justified by weapons of mass destruction or Nuclear power justified by whatever words does not matter. I am fed up of the lack of honesty in our Government, I know some things must be kept secret, but it would seem that few politicians are big enough to handle their own truths. We could have been told that the war in Iraq was necessary because we needed to secure our (or rather the Americans) access to oil. So tell us now what is the truth behind the decision for Nuclear power? Is it another one of follow the Americans decisions?

The nukes industry is pretty sophisticated when it comes to lobbying and PR (eg the "nuclear can stop climate change" myth through which the industry seems, apparently successfully, to have rebranded itself). It may just be that the government has fallen for the lies, and is guilty of a load of sloppy thinking about energy policy.

Or it may be because the industry has some pretty close ties with government - as just one example, the guardian recently had a story about how a few senior civil servants consistently obstructed renewables developments, to keep the door open for nukes.

Either way, personally I think it's the same old problem: corporations determining policy so that short-term profit for a few individuals comes before the long term ability of our planet to sustain life as we know it. And this decision is a catastrophic failure by the government to protect public interest.

To rub salt into the wound, the nukes industry has stitched us up through a PR campaign that was probably partly paid for by us (taxpayers) in the form of subsidies from government...

Bex
Gpuk

what is it with you people?
maybe using nuclear power will only cut the amount of carbon dixiod by a little amonet be sill THAT LITTLE AMOUNT MIGHT HELP

you lot say save the world but when people try and help save the world you just throw it back in their faces

i think you need to think about what you say because you just Contradicting yourself

honsely its silly

you say its all cons
but you wrong!

Let's get to the real reason greenpeace don't want nuclear, they oppose nuclear armament, of which byproducts from nuclear power generation help towards.
I think greenpeace should come out and state this fact, rather than stating false truths about the nuclear industry, and it's role in co2 reduction.
As for energy efficiency , and efficient uses of our world resources, we need to get to grips with this, not for so called climate change (which is rebranded global warming, as no global warming has taken place since 1998, itself an el nino year with it's own peculiarities.) But because of the increasing world population, and the demands placed through this.
I agree with stringent regulation of nuclear power stations, and greenpeace have helped through campaigning and site security breaches to improve this.
Just how does greenpeace think renewables are going to bridge the energy gap? Wind is unreliable and inefficient, Wave power is a great idea, yet opposed because of the impact on a few fish. Biomass is good in theory, yet encroaches on land used for growing food crops, essential in our balooning population. Solar energy is useless in it's photovoltaic guise, though solar tube water heating works very well. Hydro electric? opposed because it's too damaging to the environment, New coal? no not that either, even though the co2 is pumped into bedrock never to escape.
What about gas? well it's a fossil fuel and should be used for it's own attributes, not the transfer of one type of energy into another.
Let's face it nuclear is the way forward for reliable power for all.

Well, yes, there is a wafer-thin line between civil and military use of nuclear technology (are you saying more nuclear weapons are a good thing?), but the most pressing reason not to pursue the madness of more nuclear power stations is climate change. We don't have time to fanny around with building these beasts. (love-haye: they may do a little to reduce emissions but it will be far too late and cost billions; we need to make huge reductions very, very soon.)

Hurray - you get that energy efficiency is important! But boo - you think climate change/global warming has stopped. It hasn't (and I can't believe I'm taking the time to cover this point). What you're referring to is cherry-picking of the data which has generated this 1998 myth - you might want to read this which covers the subject at some length.

Renewable energy alone won't meet our needs, but combined with (again) energy efficiency and a decentralised infrastructure which generates both heat and electricity, it will.

web editor
gpuk

The goverment always make the wrong decisions as all they are bothered about is getting rich and keeping the big corporations happy, Take oil for example! why are we still running cars on petrol and diesel???, Honda says it has perfected the hydrogen fuel cell engine that produces zero emissions and is just as efficient as a petrol car!, Same with the power situation i am totally anti nuclear i mean if terrorists can destroy the twin towers with hijacked planes then they could easilly blow up a nuclear reactor and wipe us out!!, Its to risky on many levels, we should all have solar panels on our roofs and wind turbines in our gardens subsidesed by the goverment, and people should learn to save energy like not filling there 3 litre kettles to the top to make one drink! in fact make kettles smaller, Sorry i am ranting now but it just all winds me up, If gordon likes nuclear power so much then why doesnt he go and set up his office there on the nuclear site right next to the potential nuke in fact build him a little house to live in! Lol

Just to add to Jamie's points.

Firstly, proliferation is a perfectly valid reason for rejecting new nuclear build. A-bombs are bad and it is a little hard to justify taking the high moral ground with the likes of Iran over nuclear power if the we're bigging it up for ourselves. But, as Jamie says, this decision is all about climate and energy security, which is why we’re talking about climate and energy security.

Secondly, reprocessing of new build waste (which is needed to make the enriched uranium and plutonium required for the bomb) has been expressly ruled out by the government in Thursday’s decision.

On coal you said: "New coal? no not that either, even though the co2 is pumped into bedrock never to escape.” We've laid out the problem with "new coal" (ie carbon capture and storage) here - in short, it doesn't exist. As John Hutton said on C4 news on Thursday:

"We’ve got to solve the problem of climate change and energy security with the technology that is currently available, not wishing for some different form of technology that might come along in the future. I’ve got to plan on the basis of the technology that is available to me."

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

I'm off skiing next week, the alps are having their best season for years, piles of snow! Global warming my arse!

This could be a statement cherry picked by myself to disprove global warming, but I know there are regional and seasonal anomalies, not to mention climate cycles at work here, so I don't like jumping to sensationalist conclusions regarding this issue.
The climate change lobby on the other hand seem to have no qualms in this respect by jumping on every weather anomaly as an effect of climate change, such as the summer floods.
Back on the subject energy security will be assured by these new reactors, as they provide a guaranteed reliable supply of electricity. Their zero carbon output should please the climate change lobby.
As for decentralising the national grid, this would mean blackouts if a local provider failed, the whole point of the national grid is to provide automatic back up in this situation.
In october 1987 the storm almost collapsed the grid, due to problems with pylons blowing down over the south. This was only averted due to the controllable output changes available with conventional and nuclear power stations.
If all we had was renewables such as wind the country would be on it's knees.

We are continually debating the merits of wind energy, wave, and solar energy against fossil fuels and nuclear power. I hear nothing about initiatives to develop geothermal and ground heat sources for energy, heat and power. Although the UK is not an obvious candidate for these technologies, we do have near-surface geothermal sources - you do not need a volcano in your garden. What has happened to research into this the ultimate form of sustainable energy?

It turns out that while the gvt was claiming to be having an honest and open conversation about nuclear power with the British public, Brown's energy adviser held at least nine secret meetings at Number 10 with the bosses of nuclear energy companies such as EDF, Eon and BNFL. Funnily enough, no official records of the meetings were kept, and noone seems to recall the details of what was discussed...

More here.

Bex
gpuk

Nope, we'd completely agree with you that it's impossible to attribute a single weather event to climate change, and that it's the wider patterns that count - as we say here and here, for example.

On energy security and decentralisation leading to blackouts - the opposite is true. There are two main security risks in an electricity supply: fuel security and the vulnerability of generators and transmission systems to failure or accident. Decentralised energy is more secure than our current system on both counts.

It's a far more reliable form of energy than the one we have now because the fuel sources are diverse, mostly local and, in the case of renewables like wind, tidal and geothermal, pretty much limitless.

In terms of failure, decentralised energy distributes the risk of failure between hundreds of small plants instead of a few big ones, and the likelihood of several generators failing at the same time is remote.

Decentralised energy works by linking up the multiple local energy sources into a local electricity network, delivering power in the local community. But the local network is also connected to neighbouring networks, and to the national system - allowing local generators to export to and import from the national system. If the local network fails, only one regional area will be affected, and that community can switch over to the national system. If the national system fails, the local network can still keep producing energy.

Bex
gpuk

Yep, there are some geothermal initiatives going in the UK - check out Southampton's district energy scheme, which is based on geothermal energy.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Yes security is down to reliability of the source of power and of the equipment used to generate and deliver it. So how do the renewable sources score? I recall once following a number of links from this site to get to a presentation to the House of Lords select committee. This said something along the line of: if one were to build seven times more wind farms than the thermal sources you replace, you would only be short of power for eight hours a year. Of course this assumed a good distribution of wind farms, so if it is windy at one end of the country and not the other, there would be no problem. Which would mean an up-rated network to move the power….

You could always decentralise the thermal plants, but smaller plants are supposed to be more expensive and it doesn’t spread the risk with respect to fuel sources. The advantage would be to reduce the requirement for a “spinning reserve”, but how long will it be before the size of this reserve is dictated by the amount of wind generation?

The presence or absence of civil nuclear power in the UK won't make any difference to weapons proliferation. It is the weapons that are the problem, not the powerstations. The majority of countries that use peaceful nuclear power do not have nuclear weapons, have no plans to posses them, and do not have the enrichment or reprocessing facilities necessary. In contrast, the US, North Korea and Israel all started their covert weapons programmes without civil nuclear powerstations. If you want to oppose nuclear weapons, then oppose the weapons - not peaceful nuclear power, which is out biggest source of low carbon energy.

It is breathtaking that Greenpeace states that the reason for not using nuclear power is now simply that it will take too long. If they had not opposed it irrationally for the past 30 years we would have new nuclear powerstations and much lower carbon emissions already. It is the actions of Greenpeace and their ilk that have perpetuated the use of fossil fuel for electricity generation, and caused our current problem!

It is true that renewables such as wind can, and should, be used because they can be deployed more rapidly than nuclear stations. But this can only scale so far. Once we pass 2020, we should have 20%+ of our electricity coming from intermittent renewables. Beyond this, growth will slow because it becomes expensive as they will need more backup to stabilise the grid. At the same time, the first wind farms will reach end-of-life and will need to be replaced which will eat up manufacturing capacity. This is exactly the time when new nuclear will come on-stream and we can continue to cut emissions. Without new nuclear any future renewable development will be squandered in making up the carbon savings from the lost nuclear powerstations.

On top of this, it is clear that our transport system has to be overhauled and fossil-fuel powered vehicles replaced with electric vehicles. It is obvious from this that our demand for electricity will increase (even if our overall energy consumption is cut).

It is telling that Greenpeace now actually promotes the concept of burning fossil fuel (in gas-powered CHP) rather than nuclear. What are they thinking? The European Commission's ExternE study has shown that the external costs of burning gas, in terms of damage to health and the environment, are far higher than those of nuclear power. In fact nuclear power has consistently the lowest external costs of any electricity source apart from wind.

Biomass is as bad as natural gas, because although it is notionally carbon-neutral, it still produces harmful pollution in the form of SO2, NOx and particulates. World-wide this pollution from burning hydrocarbons and biomass causes millions of deaths per year according to the WHO. It is the equivalent of several Chernobyl accidents per day.

It is unbelievable that Greenpeace supports gas-fired generation close to homes rather than nuclear electricity.

"Let’s be clear. Electricity is not the same as energy" Really?!?! Sorry but this just goes to show you really don't know what your talking about. As an Environmental Engineer i am quite willing to argue that to the hilt with you!

Also while searching the site, this article came up with a mention of the hydrogen fuel cell cars, i cant seem to see it on here but still having my say, how simple can i make this for you, Hydrogen go bang!! The technology for the hydrogen car was developed a long time ago, the problem has it has been for the last decade almost is storage, hydrogen is a more volatile fuel than petrol or diesel and can not just be stored in underground tanks, then you have the transportation which again needs will need its own development.

You are all too concerned about the damage the so called 'gas guzzlers' are having on us. Again, research has shown that 90% of a cars pollution is produced in the manufacturing and recycling (yes you heard recycling is doing bad!) of it, so why aren't you asking the car manufacturers to look at the way they manufacture the cars not just how much fuel it uses.

Are you saying that heat isn't a form of energy? The point made in the article is that 'electricity' and 'energy' are being used inter-changeably, and this is completely misleading. 'Energy' includes heating (space, water and industrial process) too - a far bigger climate change culprit than electricity.

On cars, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (see page 6 of this report) only 10% of the energy used in a car's lifecycle goes into production, and 85% is from use.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

PS The mention of hydrogen came in this comment.

Nuclear power does not "only generate electricity"; it produces heat. In the UK historically we have only used this for electricity generation, but this does not mean that is its only use.

In Switzerland nuclear power is used for district heating. The Beznau nuclear plant is essentially a huge nuclear CHP station.

The heat from nuclear powerstations can also be used for industrial processes. For example it can be used for desalination of seawater.

It can be used to make the production of hydrogen more efficient. High temperature electrolysis is more efficient than cold electrolysis. High temperature themochemical production of hydrogen could be even more efficient. For this reason nuclear power is a better source of low-carbon hydrogen compared to wind, wave, hydro or PV solar.

Obviously then, nuclear can also be used to combat transport emissions, either by adopting electric vehicles or hydrogen vehicles. Notably, the electric trains in France are already low-carbon because they run on nuclear electricity.

Finally, it is possible to use nuclear power in place of fossil fuel in shipping. There have only been a few examples of nuclear powered cargo/passenger ships (for example the NS Savannah) because up until now they have not been economic compared to using fossil fuel. But this may change. Obviously nuclear propulsion is used in military vessels, and also ice-breakers.

So, in summary, not only can nuclear power provide electricity, but it can also provide domestic heating (to replace gas); industrial process heat; hydrogen production; and marine propulsion. It can also provide energy for land transport. Essentially it can be used to reduce carbon emissions in almost any area we choose.

Hi Colin

Um, for local districts across the UK to be heated by nuclear plants, we'd need to build hundreds of small scale nuclear plants in or around urban areas... Which is crazy talk, for several reasons:

1. Nuclear power plants are necessarily large, for reasons of economies of scale - the costs just don't stack up at a lower capacity (the current UK plans are for 1.6 GW plants, for example). This inherent unweildiness and inflexibility make nuclear completely unsuitable for providing district heating in an efficient, decentralised energy system - where plants are scaled up or down according to local needs.

2. Nuclear power stations don't make ideal neighbours in densely packed urban areas, because of the very real possibilities of accident, attack or site contamination. (Just taking the example you mention, Beznau, MOX fuel pins ruptured inside the reactor in '97, leaking radioactivity into cooling water - and there are many more examples of reactor safety problems in the UK.)

3. You'd need to licence all the sites, ensure accounting of all the fuel rods, and guard all the transports between the hundreds of sites and reprocessing plant(s) - which is something we're pretty rubbish at even now, when we don't have hundreds of sites to manage.

4. Even if it was practically possible / desirable, it would be fiendishly expensive to build hundreds of plants, nuclear power being one of the most expensive ways yet invented to boil water.

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

Bex, it is not inconceivable that heated water could be transported 20 miles, which means that this could be a viable solution for major conurbations, though not every area.

(Incidentally, there are some small reactor designs specifically intended for district heating, but these are not intended for the UK. http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf33.html )

I would contend that CHP powered by fossil fuel or biomass does not make an "ideal neighbour" for urban environments. They all generate air pollution, which is a killer. Not as a result of accident, note, but as a matter of normal everyday operation.

And retrofitting CHP into any established urban environment is going to be expensive, regardless of where you get the hot water.

Given that the Tories are playing with the idea of a levy for wasted heat I think there is a real possibility of seeing nuclear-powered CHP as a side benefit.

Hiya

I've replied to this point pretty comprehensively here but will post it again here in full:

Hi ColinG

Sorry for the length of this but I'm trying to respond to all your comments across the site in one go, as they all repeat the same myths.

I’ll answer your points on air pollution below but first off, I have to point out that you haven’t provided a credible alternative to our energy solution.

We’ve clearly explained how renewables + efficiency + CHP can lead us to a low emissions energy system, using CHP as a transition to 100 per cent renewables, providing heat and electricity for the whole of the UK. Initially CHP would be partly fossil fuelled and it would then go on to use zero carbon fuels like biogas. Over time more, renewable heat like solar and geothermal can also be introduced into the district heating networks – as they have done in the 100% renewable district in the city of Malmö, Sweden.

As I’ve said before, a replacement programme of ten nuclear reactors in the UK that the government's endorsed will only meet about 3.6% of our total energy needs - because they won’t provide heat. Around half our energy need is for heat (mainly gas based), while the next biggest demand is for transport (mainly oil based). Electricity generation is the smallest portion, and any new nuclear would be a small portion of that, making its role in tackling climate change / ensuring energy security almost irrelevant.

That's why the nuclear plan causes much more air pollution overall, for the total system; it can't possibly displace the majority of fossil fuel use, and leaves us running on the same kind of wasteful and polluting coal plants we have today. (Don't forget, the same ministers and companies that want to build new nuclear plants are also proposing the horde of new dirty coal plants across Britain – the most polluting power plants of all.)

According to our report, a UK energy scenario with high levels of decentralised energy using CHP and big renewables leads to less fuel burn over all than the government and industry plan of a centralized scenario with ambitious nuclear build. Less fuel use means less overall air pollution.

Your answer to that is that you want nuclear combined heat and power. No one in the nuclear industry or government is proposing that anyway – they wouldn’t dare propose to put them near to densely populated areas. But even if they did, you still haven’t explained how you’ll get rid of fossil fuels.

Are you suggesting we’ll be able to displace all our fossil fuelled power plants and all our individual boilers with nuclear CHP? Do you have an estimate for how many nuclear plants you’d need to do that? (In China, with the most ambitious nuclear programme in the world, they will still only generate a couple of percent of their electricity from nuclear when and if they built all 30-40 reactors that have been mooted there. Most of the rest of their electricity will still be coming from coal.)

How can the UK possibly get enough nuclear power to displace all our fossil fuel needs? Specifically, how are you going to find the enormous funds required to build small nuclear power stations near every town and city (the smaller ones you suggest, which won’t benefit from the economies of scale)? Where will you find the sites fit to host N nuclear plants? How will you persuade local residents across the UK to accept nuclear power and/or nuclear waste sites in the outskirts of their towns and cities? If you don’t want the nuclear plants to be close to urban centres, how will you fund the phenomenal costs of piping heat from, say, Sizewell to London? How will you find the nuclear engineers to build all the plants (there’s already a huge skills shortage)?

How will you persuade the government that the building of your nuclear plants won’t run massively over time and over budget like every other nuclear construction project (the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget)? How will you transport all the radioactive wastes between the sites without putting the public at an unacceptable risk? How will you protect every plant and transport route from contamination / accident / terrorist attack? How do you propose to make nuclear power a globally applicable solution (at the moment, some countries, like Iran, are being told they aren’t allowed to have it)? For nuclear power to realistically meet our future global electricity demands, 2000 - 2500 reactors will need to be constructed between now and 2075 - an impossible task. How will you guarantee the weapons grade plutonium doesn’t get into the wrong hands? How do you plan to get rid of the significant fossil fuel use in the nuclear lifecycle (mining, transport, energy use around facilities, waste storage)?

And, if you agree that nuclear CHP will never fill the gap alone and you want renewables in the mix, how do you envisage stopping nuclear from undermining renewables as global experience and technical grid limitations both show it does (nuclear and renewables may both be able to run on the grid as long as both are making relatively small overall contributions, but both can't expand beyond a certain point without there being operational conflicts)? The nuclear industry itself says there is a conflict between nuclear and renewables and has lobbied to get the European renewable energy target weakened. Vincent De Rivaz, the CEO of EDF Energy stated at the Adam Smith Institute in March that if the UK actually started to make significant progress in meeting its Renewables Obligations, the economic viability of the new generation of nuclear power plants would be undermined and nuclear would be marginalised.

The case for decentralised energy based on renewables, CHP and efficiency has already been made and proven – in countless reports and in other countries. Why would you want to use an outdated technology that is more expensive and more dangerous?

I’m guessing you’re going to say because of particulates/air pollution (and you are right that air pollution is a big concern and a killer, especially in places like China). But, for all the reasons above, nuclear allows continued and even increased air pollution because of its undermining effect on energy efficiency measures – the nuclear option is more likely to lead to more air pollution than a system of decentralised energy based on gas / biomass / biogas CHP. And going nuclear can’t lead us to a 100% renewables scenario. Decentralised energy can. All the new nuclear in China is barely going to touch the air pollution problems there.

On your comments about CHP and particulates, larger CHP falls under IPPC requirements, and these control emissions to air. (And, as from the start of this year, some large CHP plants are covered by Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), specifically targetting NOx SOx and particulates.)

Before a CHP plant can be built, modified or continue to be operated, emissions to air are mapped, taking into account all existing sources of emission (not just those of the new/existing plant – let’s not forget that cars and lorries are a major source of air pollution too) to ensure local air quality standards are met. If the model shows that the emissions "on the ground" get near to breaching the local air quality standards then the plant will not be built or, if it exists, allowed to continue to operate unless its output is restricted/other measures put in place.

Then there’s the fact that a decent sized gas-fired CHP plant will displace many hundreds or thousands of individual gas-fired boilers. Therefore, it can actually improve local air quality, because:

- a large heat plant will be sized more closely to actual heat loads than individual boilers, which are typically oversized to meet peak demand load. (A district heat plant overcomes this problem by having in-line boilers that are switched on or off progressively as demand for heat fluctuates throughout the day or the year.)

- a large CHP plant will burn gas more efficiently than the combination of all those numerous small boilers and the power plants providing the equivalent heat and electricity.

- it’s cost effective and quick to add emissions cleaning equipment to large plant, or to switch it to cleaner fuels as they become available, but not with many small ones like boilers.

- the maintenance of large plants will be more effectively managed than individual boilers, impacting on the efficiency and cleanness of gas burn.

I hope that answers all of your points. And sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, we don’t have the resources to post dozens of comments on the same point – unlike some well funded industries… ;-)

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

So a >1GW Nuclear power plant, emitting virtually nothing, is better than a CHP scheme? After all, it tends as you say to be more efficient to use one big thing in place of many little, and nuclear scales better than any other power source, becoming less dangerous with increased size? I'd rather have a nuclear power station in my village than be exposed to political pressure from foreign countries.

He always takes the most bone-headed decisions. This government has done NOTHING about energy efficiency. Shops still blast heat into the streets during midwinter. lights are left on all night, everyone has appliances on standby. The government WANTS us to waste energy so it can build nuclear power and give huge contracts to its corrupt mates in the construction industry. This government is sickening.

Yup, I'm with you on the efficiency thing - a crazy state of affairs. (We throw away more than 8x the amount of energy supplied by all of the UK's nuclear power stations combined through inefficient use of energy...) And putting in place efficiency measures saves more money than it costs, and would save consumers £12 billion a year. The government's figures, not ours. Bex gpuk

Im getting realy fed up with bias reporting on this topic. They make out as if we just dont like nuclear but have no alternative suggestions. Ive sent an email to the BBC complaining that they have even made an ettempt to give a balanced report on this subject by explaing that opponants to nuclear energy are suggesting decentralised energy etc. and clearly explaing what that actually means. The media have a huge influence over public opinion, so i think it would be good if a few people complained about this.

If we can bridge the energy gap by renewables, why the hell has he decided to go down the nuclear path? I mean, it's costing more, it puts millions of lives at risk and the power stations are ugly. This government sucks big arse.

On that note, The Guardian's just opened up commenting on the nuclear decision and is asking for views: Nuclear: right or wrong decision? Bex gpuk

this goverment is really taking the mic! the public is being brainwashed into thinking that nuclear is the way forward and that we have no choice but go along with this! i can guarantee that 99% of the public dont know that it will only provide up to 5% increase by 2025 and the toxic waste wont just dissapear and also the fact that on the white paper it clearly states that if something was to go wrong with one of these so called 'saviours of energy power plants' then guess who foot the bill? point made! we are being lied and manipulated by this goverment its just disgraceful. For what avail the plough or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail? ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Seriously what is Gordon thinking, maybe if all of the truth was given out and not just what they want us to hear there would be a few more oppositions from the general public.

Whether it was Thatcher and the others in between, Brown or Blair, our Government has several hidden agendas. Whether it was the war on Iraqi, justified by weapons of mass destruction or Nuclear power justified by whatever words does not matter. I am fed up of the lack of honesty in our Government, I know some things must be kept secret, but it would seem that few politicians are big enough to handle their own truths. We could have been told that the war in Iraq was necessary because we needed to secure our (or rather the Americans) access to oil. So tell us now what is the truth behind the decision for Nuclear power? Is it another one of follow the Americans decisions?

The nukes industry is pretty sophisticated when it comes to lobbying and PR (eg the "nuclear can stop climate change" myth through which the industry seems, apparently successfully, to have rebranded itself). It may just be that the government has fallen for the lies, and is guilty of a load of sloppy thinking about energy policy. Or it may be because the industry has some pretty close ties with government - as just one example, the guardian recently had a story about how a few senior civil servants consistently obstructed renewables developments, to keep the door open for nukes. Either way, personally I think it's the same old problem: corporations determining policy so that short-term profit for a few individuals comes before the long term ability of our planet to sustain life as we know it. And this decision is a catastrophic failure by the government to protect public interest. To rub salt into the wound, the nukes industry has stitched us up through a PR campaign that was probably partly paid for by us (taxpayers) in the form of subsidies from government... Bex Gpuk

what is it with you people? maybe using nuclear power will only cut the amount of carbon dixiod by a little amonet be sill THAT LITTLE AMOUNT MIGHT HELP you lot say save the world but when people try and help save the world you just throw it back in their faces i think you need to think about what you say because you just Contradicting yourself honsely its silly you say its all cons but you wrong!

Let's get to the real reason greenpeace don't want nuclear, they oppose nuclear armament, of which byproducts from nuclear power generation help towards. I think greenpeace should come out and state this fact, rather than stating false truths about the nuclear industry, and it's role in co2 reduction. As for energy efficiency , and efficient uses of our world resources, we need to get to grips with this, not for so called climate change (which is rebranded global warming, as no global warming has taken place since 1998, itself an el nino year with it's own peculiarities.) But because of the increasing world population, and the demands placed through this. I agree with stringent regulation of nuclear power stations, and greenpeace have helped through campaigning and site security breaches to improve this. Just how does greenpeace think renewables are going to bridge the energy gap? Wind is unreliable and inefficient, Wave power is a great idea, yet opposed because of the impact on a few fish. Biomass is good in theory, yet encroaches on land used for growing food crops, essential in our balooning population. Solar energy is useless in it's photovoltaic guise, though solar tube water heating works very well. Hydro electric? opposed because it's too damaging to the environment, New coal? no not that either, even though the co2 is pumped into bedrock never to escape. What about gas? well it's a fossil fuel and should be used for it's own attributes, not the transfer of one type of energy into another. Let's face it nuclear is the way forward for reliable power for all.

Well, yes, there is a wafer-thin line between civil and military use of nuclear technology (are you saying more nuclear weapons are a good thing?), but the most pressing reason not to pursue the madness of more nuclear power stations is climate change. We don't have time to fanny around with building these beasts. (love-haye: they may do a little to reduce emissions but it will be far too late and cost billions; we need to make huge reductions very, very soon.) Hurray - you get that energy efficiency is important! But boo - you think climate change/global warming has stopped. It hasn't (and I can't believe I'm taking the time to cover this point). What you're referring to is cherry-picking of the data which has generated this 1998 myth - you might want to read this which covers the subject at some length. Renewable energy alone won't meet our needs, but combined with (again) energy efficiency and a decentralised infrastructure which generates both heat and electricity, it will. web editor gpuk

The goverment always make the wrong decisions as all they are bothered about is getting rich and keeping the big corporations happy, Take oil for example! why are we still running cars on petrol and diesel???, Honda says it has perfected the hydrogen fuel cell engine that produces zero emissions and is just as efficient as a petrol car!, Same with the power situation i am totally anti nuclear i mean if terrorists can destroy the twin towers with hijacked planes then they could easilly blow up a nuclear reactor and wipe us out!!, Its to risky on many levels, we should all have solar panels on our roofs and wind turbines in our gardens subsidesed by the goverment, and people should learn to save energy like not filling there 3 litre kettles to the top to make one drink! in fact make kettles smaller, Sorry i am ranting now but it just all winds me up, If gordon likes nuclear power so much then why doesnt he go and set up his office there on the nuclear site right next to the potential nuke in fact build him a little house to live in! Lol

Just to add to Jamie's points. Firstly, proliferation is a perfectly valid reason for rejecting new nuclear build. A-bombs are bad and it is a little hard to justify taking the high moral ground with the likes of Iran over nuclear power if the we're bigging it up for ourselves. But, as Jamie says, this decision is all about climate and energy security, which is why we’re talking about climate and energy security. Secondly, reprocessing of new build waste (which is needed to make the enriched uranium and plutonium required for the bomb) has been expressly ruled out by the government in Thursday’s decision. On coal you said: "New coal? no not that either, even though the co2 is pumped into bedrock never to escape.” We've laid out the problem with "new coal" (ie carbon capture and storage) here - in short, it doesn't exist. As John Hutton said on C4 news on Thursday: "We’ve got to solve the problem of climate change and energy security with the technology that is currently available, not wishing for some different form of technology that might come along in the future. I’ve got to plan on the basis of the technology that is available to me." Cheers, Bex gpuk

I'm off skiing next week, the alps are having their best season for years, piles of snow! Global warming my arse! This could be a statement cherry picked by myself to disprove global warming, but I know there are regional and seasonal anomalies, not to mention climate cycles at work here, so I don't like jumping to sensationalist conclusions regarding this issue. The climate change lobby on the other hand seem to have no qualms in this respect by jumping on every weather anomaly as an effect of climate change, such as the summer floods. Back on the subject energy security will be assured by these new reactors, as they provide a guaranteed reliable supply of electricity. Their zero carbon output should please the climate change lobby. As for decentralising the national grid, this would mean blackouts if a local provider failed, the whole point of the national grid is to provide automatic back up in this situation. In october 1987 the storm almost collapsed the grid, due to problems with pylons blowing down over the south. This was only averted due to the controllable output changes available with conventional and nuclear power stations. If all we had was renewables such as wind the country would be on it's knees.

We are continually debating the merits of wind energy, wave, and solar energy against fossil fuels and nuclear power. I hear nothing about initiatives to develop geothermal and ground heat sources for energy, heat and power. Although the UK is not an obvious candidate for these technologies, we do have near-surface geothermal sources - you do not need a volcano in your garden. What has happened to research into this the ultimate form of sustainable energy?

It turns out that while the gvt was claiming to be having an honest and open conversation about nuclear power with the British public, Brown's energy adviser held at least nine secret meetings at Number 10 with the bosses of nuclear energy companies such as EDF, Eon and BNFL. Funnily enough, no official records of the meetings were kept, and noone seems to recall the details of what was discussed... More here. Bex gpuk

Nope, we'd completely agree with you that it's impossible to attribute a single weather event to climate change, and that it's the wider patterns that count - as we say here and here, for example. On energy security and decentralisation leading to blackouts - the opposite is true. There are two main security risks in an electricity supply: fuel security and the vulnerability of generators and transmission systems to failure or accident. Decentralised energy is more secure than our current system on both counts. It's a far more reliable form of energy than the one we have now because the fuel sources are diverse, mostly local and, in the case of renewables like wind, tidal and geothermal, pretty much limitless. In terms of failure, decentralised energy distributes the risk of failure between hundreds of small plants instead of a few big ones, and the likelihood of several generators failing at the same time is remote. Decentralised energy works by linking up the multiple local energy sources into a local electricity network, delivering power in the local community. But the local network is also connected to neighbouring networks, and to the national system - allowing local generators to export to and import from the national system. If the local network fails, only one regional area will be affected, and that community can switch over to the national system. If the national system fails, the local network can still keep producing energy. Bex gpuk

Yep, there are some geothermal initiatives going in the UK - check out Southampton's district energy scheme, which is based on geothermal energy. Cheers, Bex gpuk

Yes security is down to reliability of the source of power and of the equipment used to generate and deliver it. So how do the renewable sources score? I recall once following a number of links from this site to get to a presentation to the House of Lords select committee. This said something along the line of: if one were to build seven times more wind farms than the thermal sources you replace, you would only be short of power for eight hours a year. Of course this assumed a good distribution of wind farms, so if it is windy at one end of the country and not the other, there would be no problem. Which would mean an up-rated network to move the power…. You could always decentralise the thermal plants, but smaller plants are supposed to be more expensive and it doesn’t spread the risk with respect to fuel sources. The advantage would be to reduce the requirement for a “spinning reserve”, but how long will it be before the size of this reserve is dictated by the amount of wind generation?

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