UK goes mad for nukes

by EcoStreet on April 15, 2008

in EcoEnergy

This is a guest post by Pete Roche, editor of the No2nuclearpower website.

dungeness-nuclear.jpg
Photo credit: Akuppa

There is an episode of “Spooks” – the BBC Spy Drama – in which “green terrorists” threaten to blow up the Thames Barrier and flood London unless the Government releases a report proving it is secretly trying to appear serious about climate change whilst actually continuing with business as usual. Few commentators would be surprised today if they were to learn such a report actually exists.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) and the charity Help the Aged lodged papers at the High Court in London on 9th April seeking a Judicial Review of UK energy efficiency policy because of the Government’s failure to meet its legal obligation to eradicate fuel poverty. People suffering from fuel poverty are defined as those spending more than 10% of their income on heating and lighting. According to the Government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group (FPAG), more than 2.3m of the most vulnerable households in England suffer from fuel poverty, which means around eight old people are dying every hour due to cold related illnesses in the winter months.

Britain has plans for ten new “Eco-Towns” and all new houses will be zero-carbon after 2016. But 80% of the houses we will inhabit in 2050 are already built, so, in order to cut carbon emissions by 60%, or preferably 80%, then emissions from these buildings will need to be cut by at least the same amount. Yet current plans expect an entirely inadequate contribution from the domestic sector.

Heat loss from the existing 25 million dwellings will need to be halved and around 600,000 micro-generation schemes, such as solar panels, need to be installed every year for the next 42 years, rather than the paltry 121,000 expected in the next three years. [1] 270 domestic solar PV systems were installed in 2007, compared with 130,000 in Germany. Environment groups have been focusing on persuading the UK Government to join the global renewable energy boom, and develop a renewable energy manufacturing base. Campaigners have persuaded a remarkable 270 MPs to sign a motion supporting German and Spanish style feed-in tariffs for small-scale renewable energy producers. [2] WWF too has been campaigning for the introduction of financial incentives to motivate home-owners to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and rewards for home-owners who generate their own electricity from micro-renewables. [3]

Fuel poverty and climate campaigners are struggling to understand how exactly the Government thinks its new found enthusiasm for nuclear power will help. The big worry is that attention, finances and resources will get diverted from what really needs to be done now to tackle climate change, as seems to have happened in Finland. We can’t afford to wait until 2025 to discover, as past experience tells us we will, the new reactor programme was a £30bn mistake.

Jonathon Porritt, former FoE Director, and now Chairman of the Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, says UK ministers are putting more effort into encouraging nuclear power than they have devoted to the entire field of renewables over the last 10 years. Ministers see nuclear power as the only manageable mega-fix available to them, the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card – a sad and extraordinarily ill-judged illusion.

Walt Patterson, an FoE nuclear campaigner in the 1970s, says the pro-nuclear argument was comprehensively demolished two decades ago, so, like many people, he was astonished and bemused when nuclear power re-entered the policy agenda again in 2005. Given the nuclear industry’s history of failure, why the Government thinks this industrial basket-case might be an appropriate place to look for a solution to the climate change problem is a bit mystifying.

New reactors are not going to start springing up very quickly. A Strategic Siting Assessment to identify possible sites will begin soon with a consultation on draft criteria, but won’t be completed until the end of 2009. The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has been assessing new reactor designs, but it won’t be finished until 2012. Then there will a planning process which might finish in 2013, so construction might start in 2014.

There is still everything to play for. The US Department of Energy, for example, reckons that by 2015 solar photovoltaics will produce economically competitive electricity – so any new reactors ordered will be economically obsolete before they are even open. [4] Time to get active, before nuclear power kills off any remaining chance we have of effectively tackling climate change.

[1] Home Truths: A Low Carbon Strategy to Reduce UK Housing Emissions by 80% by 2050, by Brenda Boardman, FoE (EWNI) and Co-operative Bank, November 2007. http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/reports/home_truths.pdf
[2] EDM 890. http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=35066&SESSION=891
[3] How Low Report, WWF-UK, 31st March 2008
http://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/how_low_report.pdf
[4] Science for Democratic Action, January 2008. Vol15 No.2 http://www.ieer.org/sdafiles/15-2.pdf

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Uncle B April 16, 2008 at 4:16 pm

Nuclear fuels are not renewable or sustainable and any investment in this direction will take money away from the renewable, sustainable, endevours such as wind, wave, geothermal and solar methods. New ideas on how big and how to construct dwellings are required. Buildings that are super-insulated, tiny, and durable by today’s standards, with composting toilets, garden areas, cell telephone access, bicycle path connections, LED lighting systems, solar collectors, composters, microwave cookers, access to good public transportation, availability to general public, and other pro-self sufficiency features can provide a more humane lifestyle for the masses and more stable tax base for the elite.

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