Time to turn our backs on the failing nuclear industry

Posted by John Sauven — 4 August 2008 at 9:22am - Comments

John Sauven Friday's announcement that French state owned utility Electricite de France (EDF) had pulled out of a takeover bid for British Energy has left Gordon Brown's nuclear aspirations in disarray.

It was widely expected that, following months of negotiation, a deal would have been struck and a statement read to the sound of popping corks, but instead a rather sombre delivery was given to a stunned room.

So where does it leave us? Well, firstly, if the deal had gone ahead, it could have dealt a hammer blow to the renewable energy sector in the UK and any chance of us meeting our legally binding targets under the EU Renewables Obligation. Why? Well, even EDF admit that renewable energy and nuclear power cannot work together. They've even said that if there is significant growth in the renewables sector, the economic case for nuclear falls apart.

And considering that we were about to hand over a large chunk of our UK energy sector to the French company, it would have meant that any decisions or incentives on closing our energy gap or investing in renewables would have been made in Paris, rather than Westminster.

The news brought an immediate and forlorn defence from nuclear stalwart, John Hutton. The government remained determined to press ahead with delivering a new nuclear programme, he said, before trotting out the tired old line that if they didn't, the lights would go out.

And let's not forget that the government's sham consultation on nuclear power is under investigation by the official market research trade body. A ruling against the government's pollsters on this could throw their radioactive plans into even further chaos.

However, if the government really is serious about keeping the lights on, they shouldn't be turning to nuclear. Last year both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made high-level commitments which led to a proposed target for the UK to generate about 15 percent of our total energy (heat, transport and electricity) from renewable sources by 2020. To meet the target it is widely accepted that at least 35 percent of Britain's electricity will need to come from renewables by 2020.

A new report released on Friday by internationally renowned, independent energy specialists Pöyry finds that, if the UK government is able to achieve its commitments to meet EU renewable energy targets and its own ambitious action plan to reduce demand through energy efficiency, then major new power stations would not be needed to ensure that Britain can meet its electricity requirements up to at least 2020. The report also concludes that a strong drive for energy efficiency and renewable energy can reduce emissions by 37 percent and assist energy security.

So for Brown and Hutton's nuclear Dog and Pony Show to get back on the road requires some serious rethinking. It seems uncertain whether any new deal between EDF and BE can be struck. If that option is dead in the water then inevitably the whole process would be significantly delayed. As the delays draw out then the French will soon be wondering about just how attractive a proposition the UK market really is.

Delay also means that any contribution from new nuclear reactors, however modest, will be even less relevant to energy security and meeting our CO2 targets in the coming decades. If the BE deal is off the table permanently, the already complicated and laborious process of finding and approving sites becomes even more complex. It may have to be dealt with site by site. Would-be investors should be very nervous.

The big question is 'what next?' Hutton says the government will struggle on regardless, but to those less ideologically determined to stick with the failing nuclear project there seems very little reason to try.

The evidence is pretty clear: If the government wants to tackle climate change and energy security while creating thousands of green-collar jobs, they should give nuclear the elbow and concentrate on maximising the UK's phenomenal renewable energy potential.

I think John Sauven makes a lot of sense in his latest posting. More interesting than my agreement is the fact that former Labour environment minister Michael Meacher makes much the same points in comments recently posted on his own blog, which for convenience I post below.

Michael Meacher blog, August 02, 2008
http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/

The Nuclear Stitch-Up Unstitched

God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, as the hymn once put it. Obviously today’s upending of the Government’s best-laid plans to begin a nuclear renaissance by waving through a French takeover of the nuclear holding company British Energy must rank as one of his more momentous interventions, even by his standards.
The whole saga is brim full with irony. The Government was desperate to push through this deal (and to get £4bn from the sale to reduce the colossal deficit on the public accounts), but in effect scuppered their own deal when DBERR sold off part of its British Energy stake last year. John Hutton is now reaping the whirlwind of his own obsession with privatisation and allowing market forces (i.e. private profit maximization) to determine public policy.
Another ironic twist is that the British Government is so anxious to sell off a key part of Britain’s infrastructure to a foreign State-controlled company (EDF is 85% owned by the French Government), yet rejects any idea that it should be controlled by the British State itself.
Ironically again the British Government may in the event be saved from itself. There would have been a lot wrong with this deal if it had gone through:
Since British Energy generates about 20% of the UK’s electricity, an EDF takeover would have given a foreign company a massive concentration of power in Britain’s crucial electricity sector. The quasi-monopolistic elements of this deal were always alarming.
The so-called nuclear renaissance was always based on sand. No satisfactory answer has yet been found to the fundamental problem of where to store tens of thousands of highly toxic and dangerous waste over the next millennia. Huge public subsidies would undoubtedly have been required (the cost of waste management and decommissioning the last time round has now, on official figures, reached a staggering £83bn). The risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorist attack, catastrophic accident, and cancer and leukaemia clusters have never been removed.
Even the flagship of the supposed renaissance, the nuclear plant being built at Olkiluoto in Finland, is 2 years behind schedule and costing double the estimated budget.
Maybe this nuclear collapse is a blessing in disguise. The EU has recently set down a mandatory requirement on the UK to generate at least 15% of all its energy from renewable resources by 2020. Since renewables make virtually no contribution to transport fuels and very little to space heating, this means that over 40% of the UK’s electricity generation must now come from renewables. At present it is a pathetic 4%. If the UK were to build 8-10 nuclear power stations, as the British Government and EDF intend, we would not get even remotely near our mandatory EU renewables target because it would be completely crowded out in the rush to nuclear.
However it is that the Government has been pulled back from the disaster-in-waiting of their own nuclear plans, a ray of light has now opened up for a full-scale review of what offers a long-term sustainable energy policy for the UK. And on any objective assessment nuclear is not part of it.

I missed it - interesting reading, as you say!

Bex
gpuk

I think John Sauven makes a lot of sense in his latest posting. More interesting than my agreement is the fact that former Labour environment minister Michael Meacher makes much the same points in comments recently posted on his own blog, which for convenience I post below. Michael Meacher blog, August 02, 2008 http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/ The Nuclear Stitch-Up Unstitched God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform, as the hymn once put it. Obviously today’s upending of the Government’s best-laid plans to begin a nuclear renaissance by waving through a French takeover of the nuclear holding company British Energy must rank as one of his more momentous interventions, even by his standards. The whole saga is brim full with irony. The Government was desperate to push through this deal (and to get £4bn from the sale to reduce the colossal deficit on the public accounts), but in effect scuppered their own deal when DBERR sold off part of its British Energy stake last year. John Hutton is now reaping the whirlwind of his own obsession with privatisation and allowing market forces (i.e. private profit maximization) to determine public policy. Another ironic twist is that the British Government is so anxious to sell off a key part of Britain’s infrastructure to a foreign State-controlled company (EDF is 85% owned by the French Government), yet rejects any idea that it should be controlled by the British State itself. Ironically again the British Government may in the event be saved from itself. There would have been a lot wrong with this deal if it had gone through: Since British Energy generates about 20% of the UK’s electricity, an EDF takeover would have given a foreign company a massive concentration of power in Britain’s crucial electricity sector. The quasi-monopolistic elements of this deal were always alarming. The so-called nuclear renaissance was always based on sand. No satisfactory answer has yet been found to the fundamental problem of where to store tens of thousands of highly toxic and dangerous waste over the next millennia. Huge public subsidies would undoubtedly have been required (the cost of waste management and decommissioning the last time round has now, on official figures, reached a staggering £83bn). The risks of nuclear proliferation, terrorist attack, catastrophic accident, and cancer and leukaemia clusters have never been removed. Even the flagship of the supposed renaissance, the nuclear plant being built at Olkiluoto in Finland, is 2 years behind schedule and costing double the estimated budget. Maybe this nuclear collapse is a blessing in disguise. The EU has recently set down a mandatory requirement on the UK to generate at least 15% of all its energy from renewable resources by 2020. Since renewables make virtually no contribution to transport fuels and very little to space heating, this means that over 40% of the UK’s electricity generation must now come from renewables. At present it is a pathetic 4%. If the UK were to build 8-10 nuclear power stations, as the British Government and EDF intend, we would not get even remotely near our mandatory EU renewables target because it would be completely crowded out in the rush to nuclear. However it is that the Government has been pulled back from the disaster-in-waiting of their own nuclear plans, a ray of light has now opened up for a full-scale review of what offers a long-term sustainable energy policy for the UK. And on any objective assessment nuclear is not part of it.

I missed it - interesting reading, as you say! Bex gpuk

Executive director of Greenpeace UK.

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