UK to get new nuclear power stations

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The British government has given permission for new nuclear power stations to be built in the United Kingdom. This decision follows months of public debate and controversy over the proposal. Many Britons have argued for greater use of renewable energy supplies, but the government has said that even with a big increase in investment, renewable sources will not meet all of the UK's additional energy demands. It is expected that 25 GW of additional generating capacity will be required over the next two decades, partly as compensation for old nuclear stations which will be closed down. This additional capacity must be met while reducing overall greenhouse gas emission as per the Kyoto Protocol.

The government also announced big increases in spending on renewable energy research and for the construction of onshore wind farms. It is claimed that 20% of energy will be produced from renewables by 2020, and if there are new breakthroughs in renewable energy science this figure may be increased further. Philip Wolfe of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) told the BBC "The government has seen the light on renewables. The energy review supports what we and many others have been consistently saying - that renewables, energy efficiency and decentralised systems are the strongest prospects for secure and sustainable energy supplies."

The new nuclear plants will cost 400-500 million UK pounds (700-900 million US dollars) and will generate 1.5 to 2 GW of power each. These will provide the baseline amount of additional power should there be a lack of success in new areas of renewable energy research. The private sector will initiate, fund, construct and operate the new nuclear plants and will cover the full cost of decommissioning and their full share of long-term waste management costs. The Government proposes to address potential barriers to new nuclear stations, but says it will not provide any taxpayer money for the nuclear industry - tax investment will only be put into renewable energy research. This approach is similar to the successful approach adopted in the USA. It contrasts with early UK nuclear power development, where individual power plants or small groups of plants were planned and built by separate publicly funded research and engineering groups, but there was poor planning of nationwide issues such as waste management. Critics argue that the government has only put the nuclear option on the table as it is privately run and does not require government investment, whereas increasing renewable energy production would cost taxpayer money.

The review also discusses energy self-sufficiency, and points out that the increase in renewable energy to 20% of the total will improve the UK's self sufficiency. No mention is made of opening uranium mines in the Orkney islands (or reopening Cornish uranium mines) in order to make the UK self-sufficient in uranium, something which Margaret Thatcher tried to address in 1980.

Some critics were disappointed that the review had little discussion of the reduction of emissions from transport, a sector which gives a larger contribution to the total UK emissions than electricity generation. This may relate to the high costs associated with significant reductions in emissions in the transport sector.

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