Nuclear power will play significant role in future energy needs

Nuclear power is set to play a significant role in providing future energy needs and reducing carbon emissions, an audience of delegates at the Energy and Environment Ministerial Roundtable in London were told this week.

Claude Mandil, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) said he expected nuclear energy to play a very important role in the future regardless of concerns over waste disposal and end use.

An idea of the significance nuclear power is likely to take was given by Mr Liu Jiang, Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission of China. Outlining the plans for China’s energy future, Mr Jiang said China was accelerating its nuclear power development and hoped to top the world in nuclear energy production in the next 20 years.

“Nuclear energy is clean energy and nuclear power construction also serves the purpose of achieving a low carbon economy. We hope to achieve self-reliance on nuclear power by introducing world advanced 1,000 megawatt pressurised water reactor (PWR) nuclear power technology.”

A number of other countries have said that nuclear will play a large role in meeting energy needs while helping curb emissions, including India and Finland which announced plans for its fifth nuclear power station in 2002.

Nuclear energy remains controversial, however, largely due to massive industrial leaks such as Chernobyl and Three Mile Island – itself a PWR reactor similar to the ones proposed for China – and the lack of safe waste disposal options.

More recently though, the industry, particularly in the UK, has gained negative press due to the massive subsidies it has received from the Government, for energy production, waste disposal and for decommissioning (see related story).

The controversy around nuclear power has led many other governments to dismiss its use. Most recently, Irish Environment Minister, Mr Batt O’Keefe, reiterated the Irish government’s opposition to nuclear energy saying it was not a sustainable source and that the dangers outweighed the benefits.

In the UK, rumours abound that a new round of nuclear power station development will commence shortly after the election. Neither of the two main parties has mentioned nuclear power in their election campaign literature for the obvious negative connotations in the public mind, yet neither has dismissed it as a potential source for the future.

A report in the Independent on Sunday recently claimed that nuclear companies are preparing bids in readiness for a revision of the energy white paper which some expect will propose new reactors to replace older ones nearing the end of their lives.

However, speaking at a press conference after the main presentations at the Ministerial Roundtable, Patricia Hewitt, trade and industry secretary dismissed such claims: “The economics of nuclear power simply do not add up,” she said. “Companies are not exactly queuing up to build them.”

Ms Hewitt said that the government had to finish the review of its climate change programme and then look at whether renewable energy and energy efficiency measures were delivering the desired results before another white paper could be produced if new nuclear construction was needed.

In the meantime, however, the priorities for the UK were energy efficiency, then renewables, then a look at the nuclear question, she said.

By David Hopkins

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