Huhne on nuclear power

Sizewell B reactor dome. Credit Dave Croker.

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne addressed the Royal Society this week, coinciding with their publication of a special report on Fuel Cycle Stewardship and nuclear non-proliferation.

The report advocated the formation of a World Nuclear Forum to reflect the larger number of national players in the nuclear industry, so that stakeholders could ‘explore their respective views of … future development’. It also called on the government to clearly define their long term ambitions for nuclear power and advocated reversing the UK’s declining role in supporting research and infrastructure in this area.

The Liberal Democrat Manifesto stated an intention to reject new nuclear power stations based on it being ‘a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy’. In coalition negotiations, the party agreed with the Conservatives that replacement power stations could be proposed, provided they were subject to the normal planning process for major projects and received no public subsidy.

In his address, Huhne examined Britain’s history of nuclear generation and planning, declaring that:

‘Nuclear policy is a runner to be the most expensive failure of post-war British policy-making’

At the same time, he noted:

‘By 2023, all but one of our current fleet of reactors are scheduled to close, taking with them nearly 18 per cent of our electricity supply. We have to find 20 gigawatts of generating capacity and £110 billion of investment in the electricity market.’

In his speech, Huhne claimed that nuclear was the cheapest large-scale low-carbon power source at a cost of £66 per MWh, compared to £95 for carbon capture and storage and £130 for offshore wind.

He concluded:

‘Nuclear power can play an important future role in our energy security provided there is no public subsidy. We have done everything we can to make sure it is safe, regulated, secure and affordable. Now our partners in the private sector must rise to the challenge and deliver it.’

Reports on relative power generation costs are available from Arup here, and from Mott Macdonald here.

See also the Aldes briefing note on nuclear energy and David MacKay’s overview of nuclear power.

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