Blair’s Energy Review: Save the Nuclear Industry, Destroy the Climate
London, U.K., July 11 2006 – Greenpeace warned today that the UK Government’s Energy Review published today will neither solve Britain’s energy problems nor help meet its commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
The energy review offered an opportunity to transform the energy system in the UK. Instead, Tony Blair's continued obsession with nuclear power has overridden the UK's clean energy revolution. The planning process is streamlined in favour of building new nuclear power stations with no guarantee of a Parliamentary vote. The only thing that is guaranteed is that the Government will deliver a nuclear White Paper before the end of the year - before the "consultation" on decentralised energy will even be complete.
The review touches on decentralised energy (DE) schemes and renewables. Two-thirds of the energy generated in most UK power stations is lost in the form of heat up smokestacks or cooling water pumped into the sea, but DE projects capture that heat and use it, giving massive savings in efficiency. However, these and other initiatives on renewables are undermined by a new nuclear reactor program, which is based upon large centralized power. One consequence of a large new nuclear program is that clean and efficient technologies will be starved of political support and funds.
"Tony Blair is fixated with getting new nuclear power stations built, and that means anything substantial in this review that supports clean green energy will be fatally undermined as long as Blair remains Prime Minister,” said Greenpeace UK Executive Director Stephen Tindale. “You can't roll out new nuclear power stations and build widespread sustainable energy projects. The reality is that nuclear sucks up all the money. There is an enormous radioactive cloud hanging over this energy review which threatens to drown any positive moves on decentralised energy, renewables and energy efficiency.”
The endorsement for nuclear power flies in the face of the evidence that nuclear power is a failed technology with inherent unavoidable risks, and that it is almost irrelevant in combating carbon emissions. The Government was warned by its own Sustainable Development Commission that new nuclear power could make no contribution to UK carbon reductions before 2020, and even by 2035 its role would be small (1). On a global scale nuclear power provides only 6.4% of primary energy, and 16% global electricity (2).
Worldwide nuclear power is declining in terms of its share of the electricity market. To turn around the decline, reactor orders will have to be on a far greater scale than was envisaged in the UK. Just to maintain current capacity, over the next 10 years, 64 new reactors would have to be planned, built and started up by 2015. This is virtually impossible given the long lead times for nuclear power projects (3).
“This review is about trying to save the nuclear industry not the climate. Blair and his industry allies are seeking to create a nuclear illusion that new reactors are the solution to energy security and dangerous climate change. The reality is that nuclear power cannot and will not make a significant impact on reducing Co2 emissions. But it is far worse. In the promotion of nuclear power, the real energy solutions to climate change (renewables and energy efficiency) will be marginalised and undermined, while the inherent threats from nuclear power will be increased,” said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.
The only reactor under construction in Western Europe, the French designed EPR in Finland, is already 12 months behind schedule, with significant cost over-runs and serious quality control problems affecting the concrete base and reactor vessel. The only other reactor on the drawing board is the same reactor design planned to be built by Electricite de France, EDF, in France. The opposition Socialist Party and Greens are committed to cancelling the project if they take power in March 2007.
1 – The UK Commission for Sustainable Development, “Is Nuclear the Answer ?”, reported in 2006, that “in view of our own majority conclusion, our advice to the government is that there is no justification for bringing forward plans for a new nuclear power programme at this time, and that any such proposal would be incompatible with its own sustainable development strategy.
The relatively small contribution that a new nuclear power programme would make to addressing these challenges (even if we were to double our existing nuclear capacity, this would give an 8% cut on total emissions from 1990 levels by 2035, and would contribute next to nothing before 2020) simply doesn’t justify the substantial disbenefits and costs that would be entailed in such a programme.”
2 - Some statistics expose the minor role of nuclear power in energy supply. After a fifty-year program of massive state support, nuclear power represents less than 6.4% of global primary energy supply as calculated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) (see, World Energy Outlook 2005, IEA, Paris p.81) If it is measured on the basis of electricity generated and not the two thirds of the energy generated lost into the environment as waste heat, the figure drops to 2.3% of primary energy. Total electricity generation from renewable sources in 2004 was about 4% of global total, and if large hydro is included it was slightly more than 20%, as compared with about 16% for nuclear.
3 - Over the next 10 years, 82 new replacement reactors would have to start up operation just to maintain the current number of operating plants: 18 of these are under construction. This calculation takes into account the 18 reactors with a firm start-up date out of the 27 units listed as under construction by the IAEA as of June 2004. In other words, another 64 new reactors would have to be planned, built and started up by 2015. This is virtually impossible given the long lead times for nuclear power projects.