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[cdn-nucl-l] Confused Britain's...
Posed in the UK Times on December 13, 2001 and at:
Energy report due soon, says Britain has no choice but to be completely
dependent on gas.
Nuclear power is coming to its end
BY TOM BALDWIN, MARK HENDERSON AND CARL MORTISHED
NUCLEAR power, for so long considered the energy of the future, is now
disappearing swiftly into the past.
The industry, currently supplying around a quarter of Britain's electricity
demand, is expected to be cut off from the subsidies that protected it when
the existing plants were built. Almost all of those are scheduled to shut
down over the next 20 years. And if future nuclear power stations must pay
their own way — and their clean-up costs — they are unlikely to be built.
Britain has seven Magnox nuclear plants, seven advanced gas-cooled reactors
(AGRs) and one pressurised water reactor (PWR). The PWR, at Sizewell B, will
last until 2035, and two AGRs, at Heysham and Torness, will be active until
2023. All the others will begin decommissioning by 2016.
The pro-nuclear lobby has argued that it should receive taxpayers’ support
because, like renewable energy, it does not generate carbon gases.
British Energy, which owns the majority of the nuclear power plants, says
the country will need replacements if Britain is not to become too dependent
on natural gas, the most popular fuel alternative. UK gas production has
peaked and the country is expected to move to net imports within the next
few years, increasing reliance on Norway and, ultimately, Russia.
The power company would like to build ten units costing £1 billion each, and
says it can build the plants, run them, pay for decommissioning and make a
The nuclear industry’s hopes of a reprieve had soared this year when Brian
Wilson took over as Energy Minister from Peter Hain. In contrast to his
predecessor, Mr Wilson is known to be an enthusiast of nuclear power,
possibly because the Hunterston power station is a major employer in his
constituency of Cunninghame North.
However, he appears to have been outgunned by colleagues including Michael
Meacher, the Environment Minister, as well as Mr Hain, who — despite moving
to the Foreign Office last summer — has continued to be a member of the
Cabinet sub-committee on energy.
Mr Wilson gave the first clue to his defeat when he told power executives
not to expect too much from the energy review. “Supposing (we) recommended
acceptance of the nuclear industry's entire shopping list, it would not
guarantee the building of a single new nuclear station,” he said.
In fact, the final report of the energy review is expected to make clear
that there is little role for nuclear power, even if carbon fuel consumption
continues to rise. The report will highlight public concerns over the
storage and disposal of radioactive waste, as well as the risk of accidents
However, the Government, which last month set up a new “legacy” authority to
meet the estimated £42 billion in liabilities from the public sector’s civil
nuclear programme, will not have needed any reminding about the bottom line:
The review is expected to point out that nowhere in the world have new
nuclear power stations been built under proper market conditions. Unless the
market changes significantly, possibly because of problems in guaranteeing
gas supplies, the Government estimates that the average price of nuclear
electricity by 2020 will be between 3p and 4.5p per kilowatt hour.
The figure for onshore wind farms would be between 1.5p and 2.5p, while
gas-fired generators would cost between 1.8p and 2.1p.
However, to replace nuclear power, Britain may need as many as 250 new wind
farms as large as the one at Cefn Croes, near Abersytwyth in West Wales,
that was announced this week by Mr Wilson. The total cost of such building
could be more than £8 billion at current prices.
There also remain questions about whether it will be possible to build
enough wind farms to meet supply over the period in which nuclear power is
If they cannot be built quickly enough, the only alternative would be to
construct new gas-fired power stations, which, though cheap, would detract
from Britain’s Kyoto target of reducing greenhouse emissions by 12.5 per
cent by 2010.