This week two more energy companies abandoned their plans to build new nuclear power stations in the UK. It’s left the government’s energy strategy in tatters – and it’s time for them to admit that the future is not nuclear and start investing in cleaner, safer renewable energy.
Today’s announcement by RWE and E.ON isn’t really a surprise. People working in the energy sector have been saying privately for months that it was just a matter of time before they pulled out, because the economics of nuclear didn’t stack up without billions of pounds of subsidy.
Building nuclear reactors requires lots of money up front and has a very long payback time, which isn’t a very attractive prospect for investors – as E.ON and RWE admitted this morning.
The government is determined to pretend that it’s business as usual, which isn’t a surprise. They’ve been too close to the nuclear industry for years. When the energy companies and private investors said they were reluctant to build nuclear, the government response was to push the risk onto bill payers – saddling millions of people with the risks of massive delays and inevitable overspend.
This simply isn’t good enough. There are better, faster and cheaper ways to save us from climate change. It takes too long to build new reactors. Even if new companies stepped in to replace RWE and EON, it would be years before they got any project of the ground. Gas, despite the best efforts of a very vocal lobby, isn't going to help either.
The only solution is to start investing in a wide range of sustainable energy options that are much faster to build at scale. They also need to start taking energy efficiency seriously.
Last October, research by WWF showed that renewable energy was the key to cutting CO2 emissions from the power sector. They calculate that renewables could provide 60% of our electricity by 2030. Not only would that be cheaper and less risky than nuclear power, but it has the potential to get our flat-lining economy off life support.
But the only way that this will happen is if the government wakes up to the fact that its nuclear dream is crumbling.