Is the Tide Turning Against Nuclear?

Hinkley C

Hinkley C

Hinkley C was supposed to be the flagship of a British Nuclear Renaissance. Originally the Conservatives were saying that it would be built without state aid. Nothing could be further from the truth. At a strike price of £92 / MWh UK tax payers will be subsidizing EDF, the French State owned nuclear company, and their Saudi investors, for decades to come. EDF are currently massively over budget and years behind schedule on their similar projects at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland. This is very expensive, high risk and inflexible technology.

Meanwhile Owen Paterson thinks the UK should invest in lots of small modular nuclear reactors powering district heating systems in all our major cities. I agree with him that a massive investment in district heating is a good idea; however his advocacy for small modular reactors seems poorly considered. Such modular reactors are used to power submarines, but not used anywhere for supplying either heat or electricity for several good reasons. It is hard to imagine the public accepting such high risk sites located in the heart of all our major cities, and the security implications of potential acts of terrorism would be insurmountable.

My studies of the transition to 100% renewable electricity in Germany, Denmark, Uruguay and a host of other countries, is showing me that this is becoming a more and more realist, achievable and affordable policy objective. I have blogged extensively about the falling costs and other benefits of renewables. Professor Sir David King, the former Government Chief Scientist and long-time pro nuclear advocate seems to be having a change of heart. He recently argued that renewables plus energy storage technologies were a cheaper and better course than nuclear. George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stewart Brand are three of my favourite Green writers and all have come out in favour of nuclear power, yet given the continuing falling price and improving technological options of renewables and the difficulties and expense of nuclear I wonder how long it will be before they follow Sir David King and argue that renewables really are a better route to a low carbon future. I am, as ever, happy to debate these issues in front of any audience: there really is some good news that needs to be talked about.

Geoffrey Lean on Sir David King

Owen Paterson