UK.gov New Year resolution: must build nuke powerplants
Greenpeace feels it has stronger mandate
British ministers will approve plans for a new generation of UK nuclear power plants in the new year, according to a report in the Independent newspaper.
The broadsheet quotes a "senior source" in the new UK gov Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR*) as saying that Gordon Brown's first cabinet meeting of 2008 will clear the way for new nuclear stations next week, with an announcement to Parliament on 7 January.
"Given the circumstances we will be facing over the coming years," the source said, "it is inconceivable that we should prevent nuclear from being part of our energy mix."
The circumstances in question are those of declining North Sea oil and gas supplies and the closure of ageing Brit nuclear stations, set against rising UK energy demands. In the absence of government intervention, the existing posture would render Britain more and more dependent on fuel imported from sources under unfriendly Russian control.
Orthodox environmentalists such as Greenpeace (and the Independent editorial team) are dead set against any new nuclear generating capacity, however, saying that it is too dangerous and expensive. (In the UK, anyway; French electricity is already 80 per cent nuclear.) The Greenpeace strategy calls for heavy brakes on energy use, and the building of renewable power sources such as wind, tide and solar to reduce the amount of fuel used by a principally fossil-powered national grid. (It must be assumed that there will be windless, cloudy, slackwater conditions on occasion: thus any wind-tide-solar augmented system requires something else - fossil, nuclear, or perhaps one day geothermal - able to take up the full load. Existing renewable tech slows down fossil use rather than providing an alternative to it.)
Many environmental activists have in recent times accepted that the human race actually needs a lot more power if any serious proportion of it is to live in decent circumstances, and thus that energy demand cannot be reduced or even seriously slowed down in growth.
A few hundred million Westerners switching their TVs off standby etc isn't going to free up energy to heat bathwater, cook food, power industries and build infrastructure for billions of disadvantaged Third Worlders. Staying at existing or only slightly-increased levels of energy supply while distributing resources more fairly would up most people's living standards by a few per cent at best and plunge Westerners down almost to Third-World levels, so such a plan will be hard to sell to both groups.
Given widespread concern about fossil carbon emissions - not to mention worries about fossil fuel supplies eventually running out - this has led some influential environmentalists to see nuclear power as the only way ahead. Such thinkers include James Lovelock of Gaia fame, Friends of the Earth director Hugh Montefiore, and Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore.
However, Moore's erstwhile Greenpeace colleagues have already held up any UK decision on fresh nuclear powerplants by legal action claiming that government consultations had been loaded in favour of allowing some nuclear development to proceed. A judge agreed, and according to the Indy, Greenpeace is confident that it can employ the same tactics again.
The broadsheet predicts that the imminent ministerial announcement will be quickly bogged down in fresh Greenpeace lawsuits and a Labour backbench revolt.®
*It seems to be taken as a given that regulatory reform is a permanent, never-ending task; not something that can ever be completed successfully. Or, alternatively, that UK government departments and ministries now have a lifespan of one or two reshuffles at most.
Atomic power is not carbon free!
Nuclear Power is hopelessly inflexible, and cannot respond to changes in demand, the French get around this by buying and selling electricity to all their neighbors, all we are surrounded by is lots of windy coast lines, so the answer is obvious. Build the turbines, power the grid and make hydrogen, and let all the current power stations that will have to support the grid until all the new nukes come on line, throttle back when the wind is blowing, saving us a bundle of carbon emissions in the process. Atomic power needs spinning reserves to deal with load changes, so we might as well use those same spinning reserves as part of our use of cheap and plentiful wind power. It is a myth that atomic power is carbon free, it isn't.
Clive, Power Station Engineer,
Didcot Power Station.
Pumped Hydro Electricity Storage
In the many decades we have had nuclear fission electricty generation we have not come close to solving the political problem of dealing with the waste it produces or the financial problem of decommissioning old plants. To quote someone who's name I forget, "Nuclear fusion is 40 years away, and always will be." Pumped Water electircity storage is about 80% efficient over a store and regen cycle. If you are using a free resource to generate this electricity (i.e. wind, tidal, solar, biomass. etc) then the storage losses are not relevant. We can go to 100% renewable electricity in this country and though it will be difficult, expensive and inconvienient, it is the right thing to do.
There is no excess energy generated overnight, the national grid supply equals demand (more or less) otherwise it overloads and burns stuff out or you get blackouts. There's a nice big team of people in the control center 24 hours a day dedicated to this balancing act.
IMO nuclear + renewables such as wind/solar are the future of power in this country at this time. Things like pumped storage are only good for peak demands not continuous generation as a pumped storage power station is actually a net consumer of electricity given the demand of pumping the water back up the hill to the top lake.
A gas power station employee.