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energy experts have their say in the UK nuclear debate

Alan Johnson, the trade and industry secretary, is briefing the Commons Environmental Audit Committee tomorrow and is expected to deny the government’s energy review has a nuclear bias. Energy experts comment for us on this decision.

Professor Jim Skea, Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“Nuclear has to be considered as a future option for electricity. There is a choice. Nuclear would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would increase diversity of supply. But these benefits would have to be set against the need to streamline the planning process and adjust our electricity markets to reduce the risk to investors, potentially putting up prices to consumers.”

Miles Seaman, Chairman, Sustainability Subject Group at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“Keeping the options open won’t keep the lights on. Chemical engineers need to make decisions about the skills and technologies that are required to sustain our future energy needs. Those decisions are needed now and the government must get off the fence and clarify its plans for the future of nuclear power…”

Gregg Butler, Professor of Science in Sustainable Development at The University of Manchester, said:

“Lets have a debate on facts – and let’s work to agree some – and present them in ways folks can understand. The UK has debated on the ‘my energy source is better than your energy source’ level for long enough – and various disconnected species of wishful thinking are not going to address either climate change or the prosperity of the nation.”

David White, Energy spokesman for the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“I have looked at the options open to the government to achieve its objectives for reducing CO2 emissions by 2010 and 2020. As a chemical engineer, the only way alternative to a nuclear replacement programme to achieve the medium and long term reduction is heavy dependence on gas for power generation and substantial investment in coal-based generating capacity with carbon dioxide capture and storage. Renewables especially wind cannot achieve carbon reduction at reasonable cost or generate sufficient electricity at a competitive price. The DTI’s Renewables Obligation Review and the National Audit Office report earlier this year both indicated the high cost of wind power.”

Shaun Fitzgerald, BP Research Institute at Cambridge University, said:

“The Government statement is somewhat in line with the outcome of the report the Geological society published last week, in that ‘we need to look at all the options’.

“However, if the criteria (according to the news report) are mainly security of supply and the environment, then the government needs to broaden the issues to also include:
1) the economics of the options, and
2) the will of the people in terms of what they are prepared to accept (e.g. nuclear versus potentially higher energy prices, and the role of energy conservation measures)
I think we must stress that the debate is not simply about whether we choose to have nuclear, or not. It is about considering the OPTIONS and their associated impact in terms of cost etc, so that an informed decision can be made regarding the role of nuclear.”

Mike Thorne, energy consultant, said:

“From a safety and radioactive waste management point of view, I do not see any fundamental obstacles to a substantial expansion of UK nuclear capacity in the near future. Although terrorist threats have to be addressed, nuclear plants are generally compact and highly robust and there are many easier targets. “However, there is a legacy of public distrust about nuclear power and any future programme will need detailed consultation with potentially affected communities to establish the acceptability of new installations. Also many existing licensed nuclear sites have been established at coastal locations that are vulnerable to sea-level rise and coastal erosion, so reconsideration of UK siting policy may be a pre-requisite of a future programme of expansion.

Caveats aside, the develop of a substantial new nuclear capacity sends the right signals internationally about the UK’s commitment to the increasingly urgent need to mitigate the impacts of greenhouse-gas induced global warming on sea-level, water resources and agricultural capabilities throughout the world.”

Professor Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at the Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, said:

“Certainly carbon dioxide reductions need to remain at the heart of energy policy, but I hope the Prime Minister (and those around him) are aware that nuclear stations are not the only low-carbon form of controllable electricity generation. As the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution pointed out in its report published in 2000, the two options for large scale, controllable electricity generation are nuclear and fossil fuels with the carbon dioxide sequestered. It is to be hoped that carbon dioxide sequestration will get at least as much attention as nuclear power in the review.

“It would also be a mark of progress if we could hear some acknowledgement that heat is a form of energy. Around 40% of UK carbon emissions arise from space and water heating. These offer much the easiest and cheapest ways to reduce carbon intensity and also dependence on gas. If we are to have a “proper debate”, then it should include domestic energy use. Does the UK building stock need to remain the least energy-efficient in Northern Europe?”

Jeremy Leggett, Chief Executive Officer at Solarcentury and member of Government’s renewables advisory board, said:

“Nuclear is un-necessary because of the many options in energy efficiency and renewables. Even if it was necessary, we couldn’t get enough of it installed in time, or without making the risk of nuclear terrorism unconscionable.”

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