Nuclear “cannot be built on time”

A group of MPs has warned that nuclear power cannot be built in time to solve the UK's security of supply problems or reduce carbon emissions. Instead, the Government should focus on building more gas-fired power stations and renewables.

The Environmental Audit Committee has published a report saying that it would take up to 17 years to build the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations, with the last only coming on line in 2030. But nearly a quarter of the UK’s electricity generating capacity will need to be replaced before 2016.

Britain will not be able to move towards a more sustainable means of keeping the lights on without accepting higher energy prices, they add.

At the end of last year, the Government launched an Energy Review to re-examine the direction of energy policy. The Prime Minister favours a revival of the nuclear industry, leading some to conclude that the review is a smokescreen for a decision that has already been made.

When asked in a video interview this weekend if nuclear or renewables should be used to plug the energy gap and address climate change, Tony Blair said: “I have a feeling it is possible we may need both.”

Tim Yeo, the chairman of the committee, said: “We are concerned with the Government’s focus on nuclear power and the nature of any ‘decision’ on nuclear. We do not think that it is necessarily the answer.”

There are no restrictions on building nuclear power stations, however the questionable economics of nuclear, the time it takes to push an application through the planning system, and a lack of out-and-out Government support have prevented any new build since the 1980s.

The MPs expressed concern over what concrete measures the Government could take to make nuclear more attractive, warning that Trade Secretary Alan Johnson “was unable to explain this”.

They said: “The frequent statements that it must make a decision on energy, and specifically on nuclear, fundamentally conflict with [a market-based] approach and would therefore represent a major U-turn in energy policy.”

The report also expresses disquiet about Britain’s stockpiles of nuclear waste, the risk of a terrorist attack and the impact of any investment in nuclear on the development of renewables, carbon capture and storage and energy efficiency.

The MPs said: “Any public subsidies for nuclear must be weighed against the substantial progress towards reducing carbon emissions and ensuring a greater degree of security of supply which these alternatives could achieve with similar subsidies”.

Progress in deploying renewable power has been “inadequate”, the MPs conclude, warning that the UK is set to fall “well short” of its target of generating 10% of its electricity from renewables by 2010.

The UK has the second worst record in the EU-15, with only Greece sourcing less of its electricity from renewables.

Meanwhile, it is “scandalous” that so little has been done to pursue the potential of carbon capture and storage – which works by stripping fossil fuels of carbon dioxide then burying it deep underground.

The report calls on Government to increase the amount of capital funding available for low carbon technologies, and for the Energy Review to consider introducing banding into the Renewables Obligation to encourage different types of renewables. Alternatively, the Government should guarantee a future market for all low carbon electricity.

Jess McCabe

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