FoE rejects calls for renewed nuclear energy investment

Friends of the Earth (FoE) has dismissed as absurd the Royal Society's plea for the UK Government to support new nuclear power stations to fight global warming.

The call for Government support for the declining nuclear power industry is contained in a report published by the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering – Nuclear Energy: the Future Climate.

The report says The Kyoto Climate Change Summit’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions presents a major challenge for the UK in meeting its energy requirements for the new millennium. It calls on the UK Government and the private sector to step up support and investment for renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The report examines options for generating electricity without emission of CO2. These include using renewable sources (such as wind and solar) and negating CO2 emissions by use of ‘carbon sequestration’, as well as maintaining a nuclear energy capability.

“We cannot be confident that the combination of efficiency, conservation and renewables will be enough to meet the needs of environmental protection while providing a secure supply of electricity,” concludes the report. “It is therefore vital to keep the nuclear option open.”

However, FoE claim new nuclear capacity is simply not needed. In 1998, the group published economic analysis to show how the UK Government could cut CO2 emissions by 20% by 2010, through a programme of renewable energy, energy efficiency, co-generation and traffic reduction.

Nuclear currently provides 27% of UK electricity. According to the Royal Society report, if no steps are taken, this will dwindle rapidly over the next twenty years as the older nuclear stations are retired. The report says that provision of new nuclear plant should be re-examined as part of a long-term UK energy policy, and endorses the 1998 recommendation of the Commons Trade & Industry committee to this effect. Burning fossil fuel utilises the atmosphere as a ‘free resource’ – a distortion of the energy market which should be rectified by imposition of a carbon tax, the report says.

The Royal Society report goes on to note that the energy tax currently proposed by the UK Government is “deeply flawed” in that it would tax electricity generated from renewable or nuclear energy, as well as electricity generated by burning fossil fuel. It urges that the tax should instead be based on the quantity of CO2 emitted.

But FoE accuses the writers of the report of “losing the plot”, in their support for nuclear power. FoE point out that the report suggests that it is “essential to win back public confidence” for nuclear power and argues that a carbon tax could redress the disastrously unfavourable economics of the nuclear industry. FOE argues that a massive carbon tax would be needed to make new nuclear power stations anything like cost-effective.

In 1998, FoE published economic analysis to show how the Government could achieve its manifesto commitment of a 20% cut in CO2 emissions by 2010, through a programme of renewable energy, energy efficiency, co-generation and traffic reduction. The programme would create some 230,000 net new jobs and phase out the UK’s Magnox reactors. By 2050, the UK could make an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions and close all existing reactors.

Dr Patrick Green, Senior Energy, Nuclear and Climate Campaigner for Friends of the Earth said: “This report’s support for new nuclear power stations is frankly barking. Nuclear power had its chance and failed. No amount of special pleading can now make a workable economic or environmental case for new nuclear power stations. More radioactive waste is not the answer to climate change.”

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