Nuclear and clean coal likely to benefit from energy review

The public phase of the UK Energy Review was formally launched this week, with many fearing this will lead to the construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Launching the three-month consultation, Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said he wanted to see the widest possible engagement in this vital debate about energy challenges.

“There is no single simple option that will answer all the questions we’re asking and no tick-box ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers,” he said.

He warned that there would be a serious shortfall in supply by 2020 when most coal and nuclear plants were expected to have closed and said “doing nothing” was not an option, echoing previous comments he made at the start of review discussions (see related story).

Although the review is widely expected to favour new nuclear build, Secretary of State for Industry Alan Johnson said clean coal technology would play a much greater role in this review than in previous ones.

The consultation outlines several key questions:

  • What more could the Government do on the demand or supply side for energy to ensure that the UK’s long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions is met?

  • With the UK becoming a net energy importer, what steps, if any, should the Government take to develop our market framework for delivering reliable energy supplies? In particular, they are inviting views on the implications of increased dependence on gas imports.

  • Nuclear build. Are there particular considerations that should apply to nuclear as the Government re-examines the issues bearing on new build, including long-term liabilities and waste management? If so, what are these and how should the Government address them?

  • Are there particular considerations that should apply to carbon abatement and other low carbon technologies?

  • What further steps should be taken towards meeting the Government’s goals for ensuring that every home is adequately and affordably heated?

    It also invites comment on the long-term potential of energy efficiency measures in the transport, residential, business and public sectors as well as potential measures to help bring forward technologies to replace fossil fuels in transport and heat generation in the medium and long term.

    Mr Wicks also said he would be tackling the ‘stand-by’ culture of consumer appliances such as TVs, computers and gadgets which collectively squander more than £740 million worth of energy each year.

    The review was immediately criticised by environment campaigners and opposition groups, with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace saying it should focus on reducing demand over questions of supply.

    Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth said:

    “This review must exploit the massive potential for cutting energy waste and developing renewable sources of energy. If we invest in the solutions that already exist, and take steps to ensure that fossil fuels are used more efficiently, the UK could become a world leader in developing a low-carbon, nuclear free economy. Nuclear power is dirty, dangerous and expensive – we must invest in a cleaner and safer future.”

    Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Shadow Environment Secretary said: “This is an energy review without a purpose. The Government published a credible White Paper on the issue only a few years ago and they should be implementing that rather than beginning another review. This review is simply a retrospective way of justifying the Prime Minister’s wish to build a new generation of nuclear power stations, something the earlier white paper did not recommend.”

    (see related story)

    However, the review was welcomed by Sir Digby Jones Director-General of the CBI, who said it was “not before time”.

    “The Government is absolutely right to assess the nuclear option. We know that it has the potential to deliver secure, reliable and carbon free energy in large quantities. But, there are legitimate questions about its cost, and about the disposal of waste, that need clear answers so that a decision can be made,” he said.

    However, he also added: “The focus of debate must not be confined to the nuclear question, vital though that is. Business also needs a supportive environment for developing a wider range of low carbon technologies, and there must be further measures to encourage greater energy efficiency.”

    Conclusions to the review are expected this summer.

    David Hopkins

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