Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Blair speech on Nuclear Energy at CBI

CBI Press Release


Check against delivery

There is one question that dominates policy-making for industry and the economy today: open or closed? Look round the world and Governments of all persuasions, colours and countries are trying to answer it. It is the debate that lies underneath the EU budget dispute. It ricochets round the development agenda and how the world's poorest countries make progress. It is the overt issue of the WTO trade round. Does future economic prosperity rest on opening up the economy, embracing the opportunities of globalisation, risking its competitive pressures, trusting your country and its people to pass through the fire strengthened; or is it better to protect what you have, to cushion sectors that cannot compete openly, by tariffs, subsidies or state intervention?

It is easy to answer this question in theory; very hard to do it in practice. Any of you who have managed big change programmes in your businesses know how tough they are to do. The benefits are usually long-term and general. The downside is almost always immediate and particular.

Yet there is no doubt what works and what doesn't. To be successful, modern economies need to be open; that means open to overseas investment; ready to have poor performers taken over by good ones; encouraging managed and controlled immigration; willing to see companies and even sectors rise and fall and unwilling for Government to pick winners.
The role of Government does not disappear. On the contrary, it is vital. But it is different. It sets the climate for business. Where necessary, it invests taxpayers' money to create the right human and physical capital. It aims for a framework of welfare provision that incentivises work and saving. It advocates and seeks to ensure that, whether in Europe or across the international community, other economies too become more open. It tries to espy future challenges and prepare the country for them.

Right now, we are at a critical juncture.

The great success of Britain's economic policy over the past years has been the achievement of macro-economic stability. Between 1979 and 1996 UK growth was very volatile. Since 1997 it has been the most stable in the G7. The UK, alone amongst G7 countries, has had no quarters of negative growth since 1997.

We have the highest employment rate in the G7; the lowest interest rates since the 1960s; productivity is now higher than Germany and Japan; wealth per capita is now above that in France, Germany and Japan.

But the world is changing ever more rapidly around us.

Today, the volume of world trade was 24 times what it was in 1950. The Indian economy is the second fastest growing in the world. China has grown at nearly 10% per annum for a quarter of a century. Information technology, mass communication, large-scale migration and footloose international capital is driving competitive pressures all the time. And the emergence of China and India does more than provide strong competition. They are vast consumers of energy and other scarce commodities.

It is now quite common for commentators to refer to the British economic model.
This is not a split-the-difference model, a little bit of American enterprise softened by a little bit of European solidarity.

At its best, and we are not always at our best, the components of the British model are free trade between open economies; good investment in public services and infrastructure; social protection, of people rather than jobs; a strong emphasis on skills and education; rapid technological adaptation; and flexible markets.

But the challenge is this. You don't, at some time, solve these issues. They need constant re-solving because what was good enough five years ago, or ten or twenty, is not good enough now.

This is why the Hong Kong trade meeting is vital, and why ambitions need to be much higher on agriculture and on NAMA. Agricultural protection, tariffs, sensitive products: on all counts we must go further if the WTO is to succeed.

That is why we need an EU budget deal that allows us to reform radically in the next financial perspective.

But we need to do more in Britain. Today I want to address specifically six elements of reform.

First, we will push ahead with radical public service reform.

Britain needed a step-change in investment. It has happened, and personally I think it is right that our teachers, nurses and doctors are now amongst the best paid in the EU. It is one reason why teacher training is at a thirty year high despite strong levels of employment. But the opening up of our school system, contestability in NHS provision and breaking down the barriers between public, private and voluntary sector must continue. These reforms have to become self-sustaining, driven by the wishes of the users not the producer.

We are also, in conjunction with the Treasury, conducting a zero-based review of Government spending, to report initially in 2006, to inform the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review.

It will demand of all departments that they reconsider the priority and efficacy of all their expenditure.

This has to be part of the rationale of our reform programme; to ensure that we get good value for every pound spent.

Secondly, we need to prepare now for a future in which more people will live longer in retirement and fewer people will be of working age. Here, welfare and pension reforms are linked. On any basis, we will need to spend more on retirement if there are more retired people. In turn this can only come through increased prosperity.

This is why we have set a long-term goal of 80% rather than 75% as of today, of those of working age at work. It is the reason for investing in good quality childcare and helping families with children through tax credits. It is why we cannot afford to have almost 3 million people on incapacity benefit. True, the numbers coming onto it are 30% down over the past decade. But the numbers are still very large. We cannot afford this if we want even a moderately adequate standard of living in retirement.

Life expectancy at birth in 1911 was 50. Now it is 76. In 1950 we spent 18% of our lives in retirement. Now almost a third of life is left when we cease full-time work.

And demographic changes have meant that there are fewer people of working age to support this growing band of pensioners. In 1950 there were more than 5 people of working age for every pensioner. Today there are under 4. By 2050 there will be just 2.
The first report of the Turner Commission made clear that over 9 million people are not saving enough.

We need a system that enshrines a decent basic state pension, funded by the tax-payer; that allows top-ups in a way that is easy to save; a retirement age that begins, over time, to reflect the changing demographic reality and a proper balance between the obligations of the employer, the employee and the state. And, of course, any reform has to be affordable.
The basic construct of Turner is right; it addresses these requirements. Pensions policy, like all long-term decisions, needs a consensus. We are seeking a settlement for a generation not a Parliament. That is why, over the coming months, John Hutton will take forward an extensive consultation. Then, next spring, we will publish comprehensive, detailed proposals.

Incidentally, I want to say one word about the public sector pension agreement, which raises the retirement age to 65 but only for new entrants. I understand your concerns.
But it is important, as a matter of balance, to point out that the savings, rising to ?13 bn over 50 years, are the savings we set out to make; and crucially, that 10% of the public sector workforce is replaced each year. All new entrant, whatever their age, will from 2006 have a retirement age of 65 not 60. In little more than a decade, the majority of civil servants, for example, will be on the new retirement age.

Thirdly, another issue that also demands a long-term solution and if possible a consensual approach, is transport.

By 2007, transport spending - after inflation - will be over 60% higher than 1997.
And this investment has bought improvements. Over 100 road schemes have been completed; 40% of the rolling stock on rail has been replaced in the last 5 years; rail freight has increased by more than a third since 1997; the Channel Tunnel Rail Link opened on time and budget; the second section is due in 2007.

But as you said earlier in the week, economic growth, higher living standards and therefore large increases in car, rail and tube usage mean we still face a big challenge to renew our infrastructure.

There are many facets to this issue. Congestion is one. Financing transport improvement another.

A planning regime that helps not hinders, crucial. For these reasons again we asked someone independent of Government, in this case Rod Eddington, to review the options and report back next year.

Meanwhile,Alistair Darling has announced 7 pilot schemes to test how road pricing will work. This will lead towards our stated objective of a national road-pricing scheme.
The fourth challenge is skills.

There is a lot of good work going on. More than 250,000 young people are now taking Apprenticeships, three times more than in 1997.

We are developing specialised diplomas to combine academic and vocational courses, with a view to ensuring that young people arrive in the labour market ready to work. Next year we will unveil the National Employer Training Programme, developed in partnership with the CBI. We need your engagement to make the Sector Skills Councils a real success, as we do with the 367 Centres of Vocational Excellence.

We recently announced the first four Skills Academies, in construction, manufacturing, food and drink and financial services. The Academies will be up and running by the autumn of 2006 and we aim to have 12 in place by 2007/8. In the longer term, we envisage that each major sector of the economy will have a Skills Academy.

Major companies such as Kier Homes, Northern Foods, Caterpillar, Filtronic Components and Norwich Union Insurance have all committed to the proposals.

But with the Skills Academies, the Foster proposals on Further Education, the reforms to the 14-19 curriculum and the restructuring of the Learning and Skills Council, we have an opportunity to put the business and Government relationship in this area on an entirely new footing.

For as long as anyone can recall, the complaint from industry has been that the public education system was not providing the skills it needed. My plea is simple: get involved.
Rapid technological adaptation is the hallmark of a successful developed economy. The economy we are creating is one based on a comparative advantage in highly-skilled industries. The raw material is sophisticated knowledge. This means we need to be attentive to science - and we are doubling spending on it - and encourage research innovation. Half the annual growth in productivity comes from new ways of doing things. The fastest growing cities in America and Europe are those with the largest numbers of knowledge workers.

The exploration of knowledge is our economic future. But all of this requires your strong input.

Fifth, the issue back on the agenda with a vengeance is energy policy. Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency. I have no doubt where policy is heading, here, in the US, across the emerging economies of the world. I believe there will be a binding international agreement to succeed Kyoto when the Protocol expires in 2012 that will include all major economies. The future is clean energy. And nations will look to diversify out of energy dependence on one source.

We will meet the Kyoto targets but we have recently seen an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. They are projected to rise further between 2010 and 2020. By around 2020, the UK is likely to have seen decommissioning of coal and nuclear plants that together generate over 30% of today's electricity supply. Some of this will be replaced by renewables but not all of it can.

I can today announce that we have established a review of the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals. The Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks will be in the lead, with the aim of publishing a policy statement on energy in the early summer of 2006. It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations.

In Britain, on any basis, we also have the issue of our transition from being self-sufficient in gas supply to being an importer. Energy companies are making huge investments - ?10 billion in total - in the infrastructure needed to import and store gas. Some of that infrastructure is already open - such as the doubling of the capacity in the interconnector from Belgium and the LNG facility at the Isle of Grain - even more will follow in the next couple of years.

But this winter, if it is as cold as the Met office suggests it may be, our gas market will be tight. For our domestic gas customers and most businesses the National Grid is clear there would not be a problem. But for big gas users, Ofgem, the National Grid, energy suppliers and the DTI have all been and will be working to make sure business is aware and ready.

Finally, I want to add some words to what the Chancellor said yesterday on deregulation.
In May of this year the World Bank said the UK was the best in the world for the quality of its regulation. Start-up costs are low. It is comparatively easy to do business in this country.

But again the problem is that relative to the markets in which we are going to have to compete in the future, we are not in shape.

I have given William Sargent of the BRE a strengthened remit to challenge departments on regulation, reporting personally to me.

There will be a Better Regulation Bill early in the New Year which will make it easier to amend legislation to make it simpler and less burdensome.

DEFRA, the DTI and the HSE are publishing simplification plans which will commit them to a 25% reduction in the administrative burden.

Deregulation has been a theme of our EU Presidency and the Commission has committed itself to produce an impact assessment for each proposal in its Annual Work Programme from 2005. Recently it announced it will withdraw 68 pieces of legislation. There is a different attitude in this Commission. We must capitalise on it.

As Isaiah Berlin once said, the tough questions in politics are not between good and bad. That is easy. The tough questions are between good and good.

Difficult decisions provoke difficult reactions. But we should end on a note of optimism. Britain has weathered the storms of the past decade better than most.

We have huge challenges. But so does everyone else. The problems do have solutions; and they can only be pursued with business and Government working in partnership together. I am aware that certain aspects of this partnership have been troubled recently. But think back several decades and compare then with now. We do share the same aims. We both know this country will only succeed as a dynamic, open, knowledge-based economy where people succeed on their merits and we are both determined to realise that vision. That is a great advance on the past and one which, for all the problems, will continue into the future.

29 November, 2005

Nuclear power? Don't dismiss it

The Observer | Comment | Nuclear power? Don't dismiss it

We cannot afford to dither any longer about the impending energy crisis. All governments must act now

Henry Porter
Sunday November 27, 2005
The Observer

The great game of the 21st century is being played out before our eyes, but few seem to notice.
Last week, Tony Blair hinted that he was prepared to go ahead with a new generation of nuclear reactors at an as yet unknown cost. In Iraq, an American-inspired deal to hand over development of oil reserves, the third largest in the world, to US and British companies is being rushed through by the oil minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi before next month's election.

In Russia, President Putin has ruthlessly constructed a monopoly of oil and gas production which controls some 90 per cent of the country's reserves. On the way, he imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky, stripping his oil giant, Yukos, of its assets and, in a separate deal, paid off Khodorkovsky's fellow oligarch, Roman Abramovich, with US $13 billion for his stake in the oil producer Sibneft.

The link is the supply of energy to the high-consuming, wasteful Western democracies. With about 50 years of oil reserves left and maybe 85 years of gas, the struggle for control of the world's energy resources will increasingly dictate events. It will impact on each of us and there will be almost no area of domestic or foreign policy unaffected by this desperate scramble. Lest people think that the invasion of Iraq was undertaken to establish democracy and eliminate Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, rather than to secure Iraq's oil reserves, then last Monday's revelations about Chalabi's 30-year binding contracts should give them pause. If you imagine that Tony Blair's musing on the nuclear option popped out of the blue, just remember Putin's visit to Britain in October and the conversation the two leaders had on the sidelines of the Russia-EU summit. Believe me, they were talking about gas, not chatting about democratic reform in Russia.

Having consolidated Russia's state monopoly, Putin came to Europe with his power greatly enhanced. More than 25 per cent of Europe's natural gas is supplied by Russia: By 2020, that figure will be nudging 40 per cent. The former KGB officer has got his hand resting on Europe's throat and with rising gas prices, it cannot be anything but sensible for Blair to look at other options.

These events and the cold assessment of what lies ahead are way above an average individual's understanding or awareness. We are so used to having all the energy we require that we are barely conscious of our needs and do not trouble ourselves with realities of the world as it is and, more seriously, as it will be.

I am often reminded of Sydney Pollack's 1975 classic thriller, Three Days of the Condor, which starred Robert Redford as Joe Turner and Cliff Robertson as a CIA officer named Higgins. Turner uncovers the CIA's covert plan to invade the Middle East and secure the oil supply for the US. At the end of the film, the two meet outside the offices of the New York Times, where Turner has just delivered a dossier exposing the CIA's operation. Higgins asks the idealistic Turner what the US government should do when people start running out of fuel.

Turner replies: 'Ask them.'

'Not now; then!' Higgins snaps. 'Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!"

Never a truer word was spoken in an espionage thriller. When the film was released in the wake of Watergate, Joe Turner seemed unquestionably heroic, but 30 years on, it's possible to admire Higgins's scathing realism for the reason that at least he's not having it both ways.

Today, there's so much in the liberal stand against the war in Iraq that is simply politics for the naive, who tremble at the idea of the war while at the same time demanding as much energy as they can use. We were lied to about Saddam's WMD because realists like Dick Cheney, Alastair Campbell and Ahmed Chalabi knew that the Western public would not accept that oil was even part of the mission in Iraq. They know that in our hearts, we just want them to get it for us.

Iraq is an utter mess and the invasion has undoubtedly played into al-Qaeda's hands, but I suspect the highest counsels both in Russia and the West regard the menace of al-Qaeda as a side issue in the scramble for energy. Indeed, the fear of terrorism can be rather useful to governments that want to impose greater controls on their societies or even persuade them to go to war.

What we need is true enlightenment in the liberal classes, not the naivety that shudders at the idea of nuclear power, or places undue faith in renewables, or runs an SUV that uses four times the fuel of an ordinary car, or maintain homes haemorrhaging energy.

The other day, I flew into Britain on one of those cold, clear evenings when everything is pin-sharp. It's a spectacular sight if you forget that the carpet of light is one of the reasons why we're heading for such trouble. Half the people producing all that light below were probably against the war in 2002. The same proportion have doubts about nuclear power and fret about global warming.

But all were spewing energy and carbon into the atmosphere, apparently unaware that these things are related. (I am far from guiltless in this respect. For one thing, I was on a transatlantic flight, typically calculated to release about one ton of carbon dioxide per passenger.)

Nuclear power appears to be a solution because it is held to occupy a position where the requirements for clean electricity and for independence from suppliers like Vladimir Putin overlap. I am tempted, but have yet to be convinced. No sensible debate has yet taken place and I am certain it would be disastrous if Tony Blair briskly commits us to this course without one. We need to know the costs and estimate the risks of nuclear power and see how they compare with other combinations of power generation, including renewables.

More important, this debate has to take place in a context of a settlement between government and the people about the immediate need for energy conservation, which is why David Cameron's idea of cross-party group dedicated to the environment is a good one. This is no longer a matter for party politics. The urgency is great. Those who read the scientific press or attend conferences on climate change know of the profound threat. Equally, they can see the disconnect between what society accepts intellectually and how people continue to behave. We have to understand that the crises of energy and global warming will intersect soon and that this will change the course of history in a most terrifying manner.

Governments can do much to help - creating a dedicated ministry that links energy to the environment would be a start. The redeployment of funds allowed for, say, the update of Trident (�12.5bn) and the ID card scheme (upwards of �3bn) into energy conservation and education is essential. But it requires a shift on our part, for these things have become a matter of conscience - of linking the use of the SUV with your stance on the war, of tying together the cheap flight to Majorca with a failure to insulate your home. We can no longer expect the government to get fossil fuels for us to burn because, quite apart from anything else, they ain't going to be there for much longer.

Scotland must face its nuclear destiny

Scotland must face its nuclear destiny - Sunday Times - Times Online

There is no excuse for the executive dragging its feet. Only one method of power generation guarantees the country?s economic future, argues Tim Luckhurst

The year 2003 was a vintage year for dodgy dossiers. The first, promoting the spurious claim that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons he could launch in 45 minutes, inflicted grievous damage on Tony Blair?s reputation. The second posed a graver threat to the national interest.
The white paper on energy concluded that nuclear power was ?an unattractive option? for meeting Britain?s future electricity needs. The prime minister knew it was untrue. He understood it would cripple efforts to tackle global warming, but antipathy to nuclear power is so entrenched that Blair pretended he could postpone reality.

Last week that pretence unravelled. No 10 was still imprecise and the advice from Sir David King, the government?s chief scientific adviser, avoided firm conclusions. But nothing could disguise the logic. Without a new generation of nuclear power stations, Britain will fail to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

At Holyrood there was predictable dissent. Labour, Liberal and Green MSPs recalled Jack McConnell?s pledge that the executive has the power to stop nuclear power stations being built in Scotland, whatever Westminster decides.

In a week when the first minister was humiliatingly rebuffed for pretending Scotland can operate a different asylum regime from England, that sounded highly unlikely. But among devolved politicians, faith endures that the executive can use planning laws to block a nuclear power programme.

It is nonsense. Energy policy is a reserved power. Using student union-style reinterpretation of rules to obstruct government will just win another bloody nose for the executive. But the problem is not that local politicians can prevent a new era of nuclear power. They can?t. But they can deprive Scotland of the environmental and economic benefits.

When Whitehall commissions new nuclear power stations, it will have no strong opinion about where they should go. The most plausible result of executive hostility is that nuclear operators will avoid building where hostility is guaranteed.

Since 1997, Scotland has been treated to a parade of incomparable piffle about the prospects for renewable energy. Let us delude ourselves no longer. If every site of natural beauty from Eyemouth to Wick were covered in windmills and the coast was lined with wave generators, Scotland would still need to find a reliable source of electricity. The British government knows it; Scotland must wise up.

UK-wide, the proportion of power generated by nuclear stations stands at 22%. But Scotland is ahead of the game. The nuclear facilities at Hunterston B and Torness supply 50% of Scotland?s electricity demand.

But British Energy expects to decommission Hunterston in 2011 and Torness in 2023. If replacement capacity is not ordered, we will fall back on coal, gas and oil. Scotland?s carbon footprint will expand. Rather than cutting greenhouse gases, our insatiable demand for electricity will increase them year on year.

The opportunity facing ministers in Edinburgh is plain. We have scientists who understand nuclear safety and the storage of waste. Our police and military have procedures for ensuring security. So Scotland can approach a new nuclear era with confidence.

Against this opportunity stand increasingly peculiar arguments from the anti-nuclear lobby.

I first witnessed the origins of that hostility near Dunbar in 1978, where, to my enduring shame, I was one of the idiots who turned up to protest against Torness nuclear power station. The assorted peaceniks, Socialist Workers and girls in dungarees who made up the Scottish Campaign to Resist the Atomic Menace (Scram) alerted me to my silliness. Their arguments were a confused collage of the hideous consequences of nuclear war, mutant monsters from 1950s? sci-fi movies and a conspiracy theory that Torness must, secretly, house weapons.

During the cold war, nuclear power had become linked with weapons. Even sensible people condemned anything involving radioactivity as inherently sinister. Paranoia lurked around the fact that radioactive waste remains radioactive for centuries. I forget how many times Scram activists reminded me ?Long after you?re dead it will still be emitting radiation?.

It is a non-argument. Years after we are all dead the M8 will still be a motorway. Longevity does not confer intrinsic moral status. But Scotland is powerfully swayed by the illusion that nuclear power is malign. A poll during the general election revealed that only 17% of the electorate backs nuclear power.

How different that is from the heady mood of optimism that existed in September 1964 when the Queen Mother opened Hunterston A. Contemporary reports described ?one of the cleanest plants in the country, where 560 men and women work in ideal conditions of safety?.
The Glasgow Herald boasted that from the moment the Hunterston reactor was connected to the national grid in July 1964, ?Scotland used more nuclear electricity per head of population than any other country in the world?.

Granted, this was the new Elizabethan era. School children learnt that a 1in-long nuclear fuel pellet could produce as much electricity as two tons of high-quality coal, and Nigel Molesworth, their literary hero, declared ?Whiz for Atoms?. The government hinted nuclear electricity might one day be unmetered.

Principle among the claims advanced by today?s anti-nuclear lobby, notably Friends of the Earth Scotland, is the notion that the nuclear industry does not know how to deal with waste.

This is silly. Waste must be encased in concrete, glass or lead and stored on secure sites. Hard lessons have been learnt, not least at Dounreay, about what happens when it is done badly. But the argument is designed to be misleading.

When Friends of the Earth claims: ?The nuclear industry has been unable to demonstrate any safe way to manage its waste,? it means it objects to the storage of waste anywhere, ever. It is that old longevity argument again, luminous in its simpleton stupidity and combined with a threat to object to any proposal to store nuclear waste in Scotland.

Beyond that, anti-nuclear obsessives fall back on the claim that nuclear power routinely kills lots of people.

That happened only once, at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986. Opponents of nuclear power exaggerate the death toll. Friends of the Earth Scotland says ?30,000 or more extra cancer deaths are expected to result overall? and claims Chernobyl is still poisoning the world.

A definitive report by the Chernobyl Forum, a coalition of the World Health Organisation and the International Atomic Energy Agency, dismisses that as nonsense. A total of 4,000 will die from the long-term effects of the accident and the danger is restricted to an area of about 19 miles around the site. Of course it is too many, but nothing like it has ever happened anywhere else.

Comparing Chernobyl to anything proposed for Scotland is to compare the Wright brothers? Flyer with Air Force One. Western nuclear power stations have proved the safest way of generating electricity there is.

Coal-fired power stations emit more radioactivity. The French power company Electricit� de France is a veteran of an economy in which 80% of electricity is nuclear generated, and nobody would have it any other way. It can build clean, efficient nuclear stations in three years without any public subsidy.

If the executive cared about the environment it would stop wittering on about planning laws and petition Whitehall for permission to start building four power stations now. They could deliver all of Scotland?s energy needs and present a huge environmental bonanza.

Twenty eight other countries have started to convert to nuclear energy, including Finland, where the wind blows hard and often. For Scotland the choice is not if but when. Delay would be inexcusable.

Nuclear confusion

Australian Financial Review -

Prospect Magazine

There are two things to be said for nuclear power. It is based on an energy process which does not produce carbon dioxide. And it is a way of generating energy which is not directly at risk from the looming scarcities affecting oil and gas. These two killer arguments tend to be conflated into one persuasive and rhetorical question: "What's the alternative?"

There are arguments against it too, and most of them are well known. It is expensive and, without hefty government subsidy, offers little potential for profit. It leaks low-level carcinogenic wastes into the air and water. It produces high-level radioactive waste, requiring standards of treatment and storage which are seldom met. It produces the materials for nuclear proliferation. Its accidents can potentially devastate continents.

But there are two other arguments against nuclear power that are not so well recognised. The first is that nuclear power actually produces quite a lot of carbon dioxide: every stage in the process uses fossil fuels (oil and gas) - with the exception of fission itself. Uranium ore has to be mined and then milled to extract the uranium oxide from the surrounding rock; it has to be enriched; the wastes have to be processed and buried, safely; nuclear power stations have to be constructed, maintained and then eventually chopped into bits and stored away.

But it is the second argument which shocks: nuclear power depends on a supply of uranium ores from scarce, rich deposits, which face a depletion problem every bit as serious as that of oil and gas. That rich ore will soon no longer be available. The poorer grades of ore that would then have to be used take more energy to process than they yield.

The question of how much rich uranium ore is left would not matter if the industry were to continue on its present small scale. So the question is: what job is nuclear power likely to be asked to do? A serious contribution - enough to make a difference - might mean bringing on nuclear power to replace the gas and coal now used to generate electricity. A more ambitious one - but necessary, given the scale of our energy problem - would be to provide the primary energy to generate the hydrogen that we would need to replace the use of petrol and diesel on road and rail. If nuclear power did all that, then gas could be reserved for the jobs it does best - providing fuel for industry and households. If applied worldwide, this would, in principle, solve the energy problem for some years to come.



That would, of course, mean a renaissance for nuclear power. But what else would it mean? The waste problem would increase, and the nuclear industry would be forced to meet impeccable - but energy-consuming - standards of waste management, treatment and storage. It would also have to rehabilitate landscapes after they had been mined for uranium. All this would bring forward the point at which the industry would be forced to use ever poorer uranium ores as the richer ones were depleted - and its need for energy from fossil fuels to extract the uranium would start to rise quickly.

It is not the mining process that makes the really serious demands for energy, but the milling. All too soon, it would be necessary to mill hard ores with a uranium oxide content of 0.02per cent - that is, one part in 5000: for every tonne of uranium oxide they extracted, the industry's raw material suppliers would have to mine, mill and dispose of some 5000tonnes of granite. At the same time, it would be reduced to milling soft ores (sandstone) with a uranium oxide content of just 0.01 per cent - 10,000 tonnes of ore to be mined, milled and disposed of for every tonne of uranium oxide extracted.

It is with ores at these grades that nuclear power hits its limits; this is where the energy balance turns against it. If ores any poorer than this were to be used, while at the same time maintaining proper standards of waste control in all operations, nuclear power production would go into energy deficit: it would be putting more energy into the process than it could extract from it. Its contribution to meeting the world's energy needs would become negative.

At present, nuclear power is not one of the major producers of energy. It accounts for about 16per cent of the world's electricity supply, which in turn accounts for about 16per cent of all the energy produced, so that its total contribution to the world's final energy needs is about 2.6per cent. Suppose, however, that the industry were to be set up on a scale large enough to make a difference. For how long could it continue to provide the needed energy before, for practical purposes, it had used up all the uranium ores rich enough to produce a positive energy balance? If it supplied the world with all its electricity, then the total quantity of useful ores on the planet would be sufficient to keep the nuclear industry going for just six years. If, in addition, the world's road and rail transport fleet were to be run on hydrogen derived from nuclear power, then the useful life of the industry would be about two years. As provider of a few token reactors to show that governments are trying, it could keep going, rather pointlessly, for another 40 years. But the essential fact is this: as a serious new source of energy, nuclear power is a non-starter.

Most of the analysis in this field is being done by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, both nuclear scientists at the end of distinguished careers, now free of the need to appease any institution, and with the courage to cope with a great deal of criticism and worse.

There are three criticisms of the uranium shortfall thesis. First, it is argued that there are plenty of good-quality uranium deposits available, that reserves are abundant, and that they will become more so when demand strengthens. But there is little to support this. From the 1960s to the 1980s, exploration for uranium deposits was intensive; most that was there to be found was found. Some small deposits doubtless remain to be discovered, but the geology of uranium is now well known: there are almost certainly no major new discoveries ahead.

Second, critics point out that uranium is an abundant element; there is plenty of it in the earth's crust and in seawater. But in both cases the energy needed to extract it would be more than could ever be recovered.

Third, there is the argument that we could use uranium more efficiently by developing breeder reactors, which would be 100 times as efficient as today's thermal reactors. But after 50 years of extremely expensive research, they are still not technically feasible.

As long as the argument remains bogged down at the level of whether the problem exists or not, governments will consider themselves free to do exactly as they want. They will insist that there is no alternative to nuclear power, and nuclear power stations will continue to be built in Britain and around the world - enough to provide a general sense that help is at hand, but not enough to have any positive effect on the problem of energy and climate change. What will be significant will be the negative consequences. An expansion in the nuclear power industry will suck up the funds which should be made available for conservation and renewables. It will be a source of low-level radiation, of materials for proliferation and of carbon dioxide emissions. It will produce some very expensive energy. And then it will hit its limits. The industry will be left with huge reserves of low-grade uranium ores, too poor to be usable, and an equally huge inheritance of contaminated waste which has to be dealt with.

Just at the moment, we have an opportunity. Very efficient, manageable, small-scale solutions - focused on renewables and conservation technologies comprehensively applied - do exist. They need single-minded planning, big investment and training programs; but they have the advantage that, unlike any other option, they are feasible; and they do not conceal within them some terrible snag that no one dares talk about. There could be real solutions to the rapidly unfolding energy crisis. If sacrifices are now made to the voracious demands of nuclear power, that chance will be lost.

David Fleming's book The Lean Economy is forthcoming.

Peak uranium?

marklynas.org: Peak uranium? Article in Prospect (UK)

reply from Keith Thomas to There isn't enough uranium!! on 27th June, 2005. . See below for an overview of the conversation.

According to David Fleming (writing in June 2005 Prospect), uranium supplies will soon reach their peak if we turn to nuclear power as a replacement for the energy generated by coal and oil or to generate the energy to produce hydrogen. The rich uranium rich ore will soon no longer be available and the remaining poorer grades of ore would take more energy to process than they yield.

It is not the mining process that makes the really serious demands for energy, but the milling. All too soon, it would be necessary to mill hard ores with a uranium oxide content of 0.02 per cent - that is, one part in 5000. For every tonne of uranium oxide they extracted, the suppliers would have to mine, mill and dispose of some 5000 tonnes of granite. At the same time, it would be reduced to milling soft ores (sandstone) with a uranium oxide content of just 0.01 per cent - 10,000 tonnes of ore to be mined, milled and disposed of for every tonne of uranium oxide extracted.

It is with ores at these grades the energy balance turns against nuclear power. If ores any poorer than this were to be used, while at the same time maintaining proper standards of waste control in all operations, nuclear power production would go into energy deficit: it would be putting more energy into the process than it could extract from it. Its contribution to meeting the world's energy needs would become negative.

At present, nuclear power is not a major producer of energy. It accounts for about 16 per cent of the world's electricity supply, which in turn accounts for about 16 per cent of all the energy supplied, so that its total contribution to the world's present energy consumption is about 2.6 per cent.

However, if nuclear power supplied the world with all its electricity, then the total quantity of useful ores on the planet would be sufficient to keep the nuclear industry going for just six years. If, in addition, the world's road and rail transport fleet were to be run on hydrogen derived from nuclear power, then the useful life of the industry would be about two years.

Like oil exploration, from the 1960s to the 1980s, exploration for uranium deposits was intensive; most that was there to be found was found. Some small deposits doubtless remain to be discovered but, as the geology of uranium is now well known, we can say there are almost certainly no major new discoveries to be made.

Although uranium is an abundant element in the Earth's crust, the energy needed to extract the bulk of it would be more than could ever be recovered.

Breeder reactors ? which would be 100 times as efficient as today's thermal reactors - are still not technically feasible.

An expansion in the nuclear power industry will suck up the funds which should be made available for conservation and renewables. It will be a source of low-level radiation, of materials for proliferation and of carbon dioxide emissions. It will produce some very expensive energy. And then it will hit its limits. The industry will be left with huge reserves of low-grade uranium ores, too poor to be usable, and an equally huge inheritance of contaminated waste which has to be dealt with.

The above is plagiarised and summarised from Fleming's article available at the prospect website and also republished in the Australian Financial Review at:


Unfortunately, Fleming's article is not referenced, but the structure of his argument and his broad, long-term view gives it credibility. He draws on analysis being done by Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Smith, both nuclear scientists.

How a pledge on greenhouse gases made Blair go nuclear

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

By Nigel Hawkes
Promise to beat Kyoto emission target puts power row centre stage

A RASH promise made 11 years ago has forced the Government to embrace nuclear power.
By undertaking to cut carbon emissions by 20 per cent before 2010, the Labour Party, which was then in opposition, won plaudits from environmentalists. The pledge went far beyond the Kyoto commitment.

Now it is plain that the target will be missed: Britain?s carbon emissions have risen two years running. Meeting future obligations will also be impossible unless the Government changes its course.

Age is catching up with Britain?s nuclear plants and replacements ? unless they are also nuclear ? would emit much more carbon dioxide. Britain risks slipping even further behind its targets, as the Government has belatedly realised.

While the ?dash for gas? in the 1990s reduced carbon emissions, this situation could now be sustained only by a massive increase in gas imports from Russia and the Middle East, sources of dubious reliability.

So global warming and energy security have conspired to revive a technology that Labour instinctively rejects. If there are to be new nuclear plants, as the Prime Minister wants, it will involve trampling over the principles of many of his MPs.

Britain has 14 nuclear power stations on 11 sites, which generate a fifth of our electricity. The oldest date from the mid-1960s, the most recent ? Sizewell B ? from the mid-1990s. ?Half the existing nuclear plants will have closed by 2015,? Keith Parker, of the Nuclear Industry Association, said. ?By 2023 there will be only one left ? Sizewell B.?

Without new plants the share of nuclear electricity will inevitably decline as the plants shut down.

On its own, analysts say, this would not lead to an ?energy gap?. There is plenty of gas in the world and no immediate supply problems. If global warming were disregarded, energy supplies would be sufficient, although subject to the whim of suppliers aboard.

?But if Britain is to continue the path of reducing emissions, it will need to maintain some nuclear capacity,? said John Loughead, of the UK Energy Research Institute, summarising a two-day discussion by 150 specialists held in London recently.

?Renewable energy and conservation are also vital,? he said, ?but the market alone won?t deliver these aspirations. If it is left to the market, it will be an extremely bumpy ride. It needs guidance from the Government.?

Tony Blair?s recognition that ?business as usual? would not deliver both secure energy and low carbon emissions lay behind his announcement of a new energy review in his party conference speech this year.

But why should he want a review only two years after the publication of the Energy White Paper, which laid out energy strategy? The inevitable conclusion is that the Prime Minister wants a different answer ? one that incorporates nuclear power.

New nuclear plants cannot help Labour to meet its promise of a 20 per cent cut in carbon by 2010. ?Achieving that is now a forlorn hope,? Mr Parker said.

A new nuclear programme would take at least ten years to generate its first watt ? five years? planning and getting clearance, five years? building. Critics say that the timescale would be longer.

Any new plant would be built on one of the existing nuclear sites, which have the necessary infrastructure and enjoy local support. The old arguments about British versus overseas designs are dead, partly because indigenous innovation has withered in the long hiatus between orders and partly because the industry is now an international one.

Whatever design were to be chosen, the technology would be proven rather than new, costs lower and designs simpler and safer. No subsidies would be needed, insisted Vincent de Rivas, the chief executive of EDF Energy, which owns British power stations and distribution networks including London Electricity and Seeboard.

?That?s an old-fashioned view,? he told MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons this month. ?What [the] nuclear [industry] requires from Government is a clear policy in terms of licensing, in terms of planning, in terms of putting in place a safety authority, a clear vision and a Government which delivers.

?For the rest, building and operating nuclear [facilities] with the technologies that are available at the moment is competitive and does not require special subsidies. It will deliver. There will be investors to invest, there will be customers to buy the energy produced.?

The 2003 White Paper laid a lot of emphasis on renewable sources and energy efficiency. Renewables are expected to generate a fifth of electricity by 2020, with most of it coming from the wind.


1896: radioactivity was discovered by Henri Becquerel

1947: the first UK research reactor started at Harwell

1949: start of civil nuclear energy in Britain with decision that the next plutonium-producing reactors should generate electricity

1956: first of four reactors, built at Calder Hall near Windscale in Cumbria, opened by the Queen

1959: four more at Chapelcross opened.

1979: Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania suffers a partial core meltdown. Minimal radioactive material is released

1986: reactor exploded in Chernobyl, Ukraine. The effects of the fallout are still affecting 16 million people

2003: Calder Hall closed

2005: Chapelcross closed

2010: Britain aims to cut greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent ? above Kyoto agreement figure ? by this date

2023: final deadline for plants in Heysham 2, Lancashire, and Torness, Scotland to close

2035: final deadline for Sizewell B to shut down

It's clean, it's cheap - warming to the appeal of nuclear power

It's clean, it's cheap - warming to the appeal of nuclear power - Business - Times Online

By Graham Searjeant
Our correspondent assesses the options available for those planning Britain?s future energy needs

GENERATING electricity from nuclear reactors is as effective at combating global warming as any known form of renewable energy and is likely to remain so indefinitely.
Nearly all studies of the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released by different power sources show that atomic power stations rival hydroelectric dams and wind turbines in lifetime emissions per unit of electricity.

Comparisons of emissions over a full life cycle count the energy cost of construction, extracting and delivering fuel, and the gas given off while generating power. Excess CO2 is accused of being the greenhouse gas most to blame for global warming.

Tony Blair, for long a sceptic over nuclear power, has been convinced by business groups that it is the only energy source low in CO2 that is reliable and comparable in cost to power from fossil fuels such as gas and coal.

A study delivered last month by EEF, the manufacturers? association, claimed that atomic power could compete on cost with efficient gas-fired plants, if the costs of carbon permits that must be bought from the European Union emissions market are high.

If carbon charges are low ? as they are today ? power from gas is cheaper, but atomic power is comparable in cost to coal-fired power stations, is two thirds the cost of wind turbines on cliffs and hillsides and is half the price of offshore wind power.

Like the turning of wind turbines and the hydroelectricity created by damming river valleys, generating nuclear power gives off virtually no CO2 directly. Like these renewable forms of energy, however, the process of building, equipping, fuelling and dismantling atomic power stations uses substantial amounts of energy, often fossil fuels, such as oil and petrol.

French methods of enriching uranium for the country?s atomic power stations are judged by rivals to be relatively inefficient in energy use. But this energy itself comes from nuclear plants, which generate three quarters of the country?s power.

Using average energy sources, however, a series of studies have concluded that, over its life cycle, nuclear power emits between 6 grams and 26 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity, the amount needed to power a one-bar electric fire for an hour. The biggest sources are construction, decommissioning and converting uranium ore into fuel.

Emissions from nuclear plants are higher than from hydroelectricity generators in Japan and Scandinavia. But they are tiny compared with a thermal gas or coal-burning plant.

One respected study comes from Vattenfall, a big Swedish power utility operating in Scandinavia, northern Germany and Poland. It uses gas, coal, nuclear, hydro and wind power and has published estimates for regulatory purposes. These suggest that coal stations emit almost a kilogram of carbon per kilowatt hour of power over their lives and efficient gas stations about half that. Wind, nuclear and hydro, which are the safest in terms of global warming, emit less than 10 grams.

The carbon costs of wind power come mainly from manufacturing the huge metal turbines and from the high costs of connecting many far-flung wind farms to the national electricity grid.

The nuclear power cycle is more complex. Wildly different assumptions can be made about the costs of fuel, radioactive waste and cleaning up nuclear sites. The British Nuclear Group and the Government?s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority have clashed over whether sites simply can be secured and left for 100 years to cool, or should be restored as soon as possible, at greater expense.

Little effort was made to find new uranium deposits for 20 years because cheap oil, gas and coal, allied with worries about nuclear waste and the Chernobyl accident, stalled the world nuclear industry. By the turn of the century, uranium sold at a third the price of two decades earlier. The price has recovered to half its peak since China and India became interested in atomic power. Explorers are active again.

Roland Clift, Professor of Environmental Technology at the University of Surrey, argues that although new discoveries are likely, they are most likely to be low-grade ore, such as that now drawn from Rio Tinto?s R�ssing mine in Namibia. Low-grade ore takes twice as much energy to convert and raises carbon emissions nearer the top of the accepted range of estimates. Energy used could rise to an average 3 per cent of energy generated. But that would still be better than coal or gas and there is a limit.

Round the world, 30 fast-breeder neutron reactors were built before the richest uranium deposits were discovered. This technology is more costly to build and more complex to operate than conventional pressurised water reactors such as Britain?s Sizewell B.

Most of the experimental fast-breeder reactors either were abandoned, like Dounreay in Scotland, or mothballed because they had become uneconomical when uranium became cheaper. Uranium prices would have to double, regaining their peak, before neutron reactors would become economical again. But if they did, even critics of nuclear power agree that the world?s effective nuclear fuel reserves would multiply by a factor of 60.

Who says nuclear power is clean?

Opinion - Magnus Linklater Times Online

Magnus Linklater
Optimistic analysis of future energy policy is based on hopelessly misleading claims

THERE IS SOMETHING heart-sinkingly familiar about the following sentence: ?Mr Blair . . . believes that all the arguments point to nuclear power, and has effectively made up his mind, according to authoritative sources.?
We have become all too familiar with Mr Blair?s made-up mind ? it spells nothing but trouble. As Sir Christopher Meyer observed in his memoirs, when it comes to the big issues Mr Blair finds the details ?uncongenial?. Yet it is on the detail that the nuclear case stands or falls. This time we need to know whether he has understood the arguments rather than simply bought them.

Three massive claims are being made for Britain building a new generation of nuclear stations: first, it is the only way that Britain can meet its ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions; secondly, it is the only reliable option available if we are to fill the ?energy gap? left by declining sources of fossil fuels; thirdly, it is the best way of ensuring that our energy comes from ?secure? sources, rather than unstable oil-rich oligarchies.

These claims are at best specious, at worst untrue. Take carbon emission. There is a blithe notion that nuclear power is ?clean? ? it emits no CO� and therefore does not contribute to global warming. This argument has been systematically taken apart over the past five years by two independent experts, Jan Willem Storm van Leeuwen and Philip Bartlett Smith, one a chemist and energy specialist, the other a nuclear physicist, who between them have a lifetime ?s experience in the nuclear industry. What they have done is look at the entire life cycle of a nuclear power station, from the mining of the uranium to the storage of the resulting nuclear waste. Their conclusions make grim reading for any nuclear advocate.

They say that at the present rate of use, worldwide supplies of rich uranium ore will soon become exhausted, perhaps within the next decade. Nuclear power stations of the future will have to reply on second-grade ore, which requires huge amounts of conventional energy to refine it. For each tonne of poor-quality uranium, some 5,000 tonnes of granite that contains it will have to be mined, milled and then disposed of. This could rise to 10,000 tonnes if the quality deteriorates further. At some point, and it could happen soon, the nuclear industry will be emitting as much carbon dioxide from mining and treating its ore as it saves from the ?clean? power it produces thanks to nuclear fission.

At this stage, according to an article in Prospect magazine by the energy writer David Fleming, ?nuclear power production would go into energy deficit. It would be putting more energy into the process than it could extract from it. Its contribution to meeting the world?s energy needs would become negative.? The so-called ?reliability? of nuclear power, which its proponents enthuse over, would therefore rest on the growing use of fossil fuels rather than their replacement.

Worse, the number of nuclear plants needed to meet the world?s needs would be colossal. At present, about 440 nuclear reactors supply about 2 per cent of demand. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculates that 1,000 more would be needed to raise this even to 10 per cent of need. At this point, the search for new sources of ore would become critical. Where would they come from? Not friendly Canada, which produces most of it at present, but places like Kazakhstan, hardly the most stable of democracies. So much for ?secure? sources of energy. We would find ourselves out of the oil-producing frying pan, right in the middle of the ore-manufacturing fire.

These arguments have to be met before other, more searching questions are answered about where we intend to store waste, what we are going to do to prevent radioactive leaks, and how we should protect nuclear plants against terrorism. The truth is that this form of energy is, in the end, no more safe, reliable or clean than the others. That does not mean turning our backs on it; it means confronting reality rather than myth. Some good, however, may come from the debate. The decision to go nuclear will, ironically, make the case for renewable energy stronger rather than weaker.

There has been a growing sense that the Government has lost faith with wind, wave and tidal power, on the grounds that the public has turned against them and that their efficiency is doubtful. Wind turbines in particular have been subjected to sustained local campaigns and derisive columns from the pro-nuclear lobby. They have one great advantage however ? they are genuinely renewable, and they are reversible. A wind turbine, unlike a nuclear reactor, can be removed once it has come to the end of its natural life. A wave machine can simply be towed away.

Nor, in comparison to nuclear power, are they gravely inefficient. Of course a wind farm depends on wind, which may or may not blow, and a wave machine similarly is weather-dependent. But both need to be part of Britain?s energy jigsaw. It is absurd, for instance, that the Government is withholding the �50 million investment that is needed to turn wave power into a commercial proposition. Experiments in the Orkney Islands have proved so promising that the Portuguese Government has bought the technology and is hoping to exploit it industrially in its own waters. Why can?t we do the same?

Tony Blair may have made up his mind on nuclear power, but he must not close it to other options. Nuclear is not trouble-free, and the more you look at it, the more enticing the other choices become.

Blair says time has come to go nuclear

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

By Simon Freeman

Tony Blair today indicated publicly for the first time that he will support building new nuclear power plants to meet Britain's future energy needs.

The Prime Minister told MPs that there was fresh impetus to build a new generation of reactors because "the facts have changed over the last couple of years".

Under questioning from the Commons liaison committee, Mr Blair accepted that Britain faced "difficult and controversial decisions" over climate change and energy supply.

He said that he would not flinch from doing what he believed was right for the long-term future of the country - a statement interpreted as meaning that he would back the use of nuclear power, highly unpopular with sections of his own party.

Asked whether he would be prepared to take hard decisions on issues such as climate change and nuclear power, he replied: "With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions Government has got to take.

"And in the end it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country."

He said there were strongly held positions on issues such as nuclear power and continued: "About energy security and supply that will mean issues that are bound to be extremely controversial."

While nuclear reactors do not directly emit greenhouse gases, green campaigners have rejected a new generation of the plants as a viable solution to meeting Britain?s energy needs without contributing to climate change. They said the Government should instead concentrate on promoting renewable power and energy efficiency.

"It is clear that there is a very strong agenda in various forms of government to bring forward the nuclear option, since the time of the election," he told the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which is conducting an inquiry into nuclear power and climate change.

Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, said that Tony Blair and his advisers were exaggerating the importance of nuclear power in fighting climate change. "Nuclear power is not the answer to tackling climate change," he said. "It is expensive and leaves a legacy that remains dangerous for tens of thousands of years."

The cross-party panel of 31 MPs questioned Mr Blair on a host of issues central to his leadership during his twice-yearly appearance before the House of Commons Liaison Committee. He made a robust defence of the government's proposed anti-terror laws, and said that he was optimistic about the future of Iraq and the Middle East.

"In the long term the prospects are good rather than bad," he said. "Overall it is a healthy progress because the people have had a taste of democracy and liked it."

Mr Blair joined in the laughter when he was asked if he had thought of copying Ariel Sharon and ditching his political party in order to form a new centrist coalition. He also brushed aside a question about his diminishing popularity: "Whenever you take these decisions you cause a certain amount of turbulence and difficulty, but the important thing, if you know you are doing the right thing, is to carry on doing it."

Are we right to fast-track new nuclear age?

Debate, reader comments and forum -- Times Online, The Times

Two years after a government report called nuclear power an "unattractive" option, the Prime Minister now wants planning procedures to be speeded up so a new generation of nuclear power stations could be under contruction within ten years. Is nuclear power the only solution to climate change? Is the Government right to make this U-turn? Send your e-mails using the form below. Your replies will be posted here

I would like to know exactly what the costs will be to the taxpayer over this will be. If it's nil and everything is funded through electricity bills, then fine, no problem. If nuclear is really cheaper then it's a clear runner, but only if there is cast iron way of covering decommissioning costs through ongoing electricity bills. Anthony Harrisson, London
The Government could cut greenhouse emissions far more quickly and easily simply by putting higher taxes on flying. That's what is causing rising emissions in the first place. Blair is preferring the nuclear option because while it makes more mess, he thinks it loses fewer votes. Despite nuclear waste, nuclear power is ultimately far less damaging to our environment than CO2 emissions, so we are better off with nuclear power than without it. Global warming has probably already killed more people than Chernobyl and it's barely started. However, political targets of cost and timing must not lead to dangerous shortcuts when reactors are being built. Richard Milne, Edinburgh

Excellent. After all these years of hesitation perhaps there is some people that recognize the benefits of nuclear power. Eduardo Romero, Liverpool

As somebody who has worked in the UK and US energy industries I agree that renewables are not the answer. Clean coal is currently viewed in the States as the cheaper solution, although GE has been lobbying for government subsidies for nuclear. The last US nuclear plant was built in 1992 and cost about $5,000/kW. This is ten times the cost of gas-fired plants, and excludes decommissioning costs. Since then, nuclear plants have been viewed as too expensive. New clean coal fired plants can be built for about $1,500/kW and CO2 removal technologies are being developed. The UK Government has a poor track record as a builder of nuclear power plants. Historically they have been over-budget, picked technologies which nobody else used and which didn't work well. The Department of Energy's economic analysis submitted to the public inquiry to justify Sizewell B in the 1980s used some dubious assumptions to make the case, but somehow they got away with it. It would be interesting to review the current economics. Hugo Peters, Dallas, Texas

We may be right to fast-track a new nuclear age, but what will the quality of debate be given the current meltdown of physics teaching in schools? The quest for the safe storage of nuclear waste seems easy when compared to the quest to find physics teachers. Good education in the subject would enable better decision making by a sceptical electorate. Andrew Hamilton-Meikle, Taunton

Energy is not the only issue here. The deeper issue is that the present Government has been so focused on headline management that the infrastructure of the country is in danger. Power supply is just one thing; educating enough people in physics so that there are people who know how it all works is another. I'm sure the people down in the engine room of the country can find many more. This Government spends so much time preening itself in the mirror there's none left to do the work required to keep the country running. John Small, Faversham

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but won't nuclear energy just end up being as dangerous as what we use now? I'm all for reducing CO2 emissions, but the word nuclear worries me a little. How about we build more solar panels, or wind turbines instead? I think we should try using green energy before the energy we're about to use turns us green! Katie Paddock, Walsall

Even if we don't build new nuclear power plants we still have to look after the waste and the old sites for hundreds of years. Also France, next door, produces nearly 80 per cent of its electricity from nuclear and will continue to do so for most of our lives. A (highly unlikely) Chernobyl-type disaster there would affect us almost as much as one here. Given these facts, isn't it better that we build a new generation of nuclear plants, add another 10 per cent to the waste we've got and have the benefits of both reduced carbon emissions and a more diverse energy supply? None of this would mean giving up on renewables or that one day they couldn't provide most if not all of our needs. Nuclear fission is a medium-term solution and makes sense to me. Martin Johnson, Manchester

Nuclear power is good for short-term problems with electricity but not in the long run as the nuclear waste takes hundreds of years to decay. It's time this generation looked for more environmentally friendly ways to produce electricity. If it's not done now, when will it be done? The Government is always debating that we should come up with new environmentally friendly ways to produce power to protect the planet in the future. When will this train of thought actually turn into action? Scott Bunton, Clacton-on-Sea

Nova Scotia doesn't have nuclear power because when it was planned in the late 70s, a group of people organised a campaign against it. New Brunswick, across the bay from us did go for it at the same time. The refurbishment cost - spread between half a million tax payers - was annouced this year as being $1.9 billion, or $3800 per taxpayer. When you take into account the unemployment rate and low income of many families in NB it works out at a lot more. Surely this is a worthwhile price to pay for all your energy? Well no because a) you have to pay your electricity bill on top of that and b) nuclear only generates 1/3 of NB's power. Now, if NS had taken the money it saved in 1979 by not building a nuke station and put it into renewable energy sources we would be using safe and cheap electricity today. But hey, guess what? 12,000 lakes, the highest tides in the world and we are 400 miles from the windiest place on earth, and they generate less than one per cent of energy using renewable energy. Andrew Riddles, Bear River, Nova Scotia

Nuclear energy is not ?clean? just because it does not emit CO2. The waste from nuclear energy is a big worry for people who live by the reprocessing plant at Sellafield. The only progressive means of producing energy that is really clean, is to use renewables - green energies like solar and wind power. This issue needs a large and open public debate with all the facts laid out, not just the facts that support Tony's argument. Christine Hatcher, Weymouth

At last, the Prime Minister has started to think rationally about nuclear power. Regardless of the savings on greenhouse gases, the 30 per cent of our electricity that is currently generated by nuclear power cannot be replaced by renewables such as wind/wave power. Building new nuclear facilities at the site of the current facilities will mean stable electricity supplies without despoiling vast tracts of countryside, particularly in Scotland, Wales and the Lake District. David Leslie, Crieff

The real technical problem we face with power production is density. First, the density of our population and, secondly, the power density of various power sources. If the UK had a population of about 10 million it might well be possible to generate the required energy using renewable sources, but with 60 million we cannot realistically get the output required. Nuclear offers a very effective use of space in terms of covering a relatively small amount of land per KWH generated, and it is predictable. Therefore I see three scenarios in the future. 1. No nuclear and renewable sources: we had better get used to an unreliable power supply. 2. No nuclear and hydrocarbons: simply more pollution and CO2. 3. Nuclear: reliable supply, no CO2 but big issues with the disposal of waste material. These seem to be our choices, time to decide. Graham Mapp, Munich, Germany

I am remarkably happy with the news that the present government has decided to "go nuclear". With the real and present threat of global warming I feel this is the only practical/economic technology that we have today that can significantly lower Britain's CO2 emissions. Amir Helmy, London
It is not difficult to understand that building popular support for nuclear power is difficult as long as the belief persists in the minds of many that renewables can fuel economic growth into the future safely and cheaply. The renewables lobby must be challenged to provide convincing evidence that wind, tide, solar and biomass can really power our economy in the future. If they don't demonstrate the reality of their claims and instead frighten us into mistakenly rejecting nuclear, in years to come we may experience a practical demonstration of the effect significant energy shortages will have on our daily lives. John Haslam, High Wycombe

There is an insidious, creeping enemy far more dangerous than the terrorist, and far more close to home. Why, again and again, has there been no open presentation of the facts? Why in news reports do we not see a straightforward appraisal of the relative capacities and benefits of nuclear compared to renewable energies? Where is the analysis? Where is the argument? Let's have a heated debate! Prior, during and after Iraq, and indeed ever since 9/11 there has been a failure on the part of first politicians, and then the media to hold this government to account. Why? The Government may be lobbied by powerful agents, but the media too? We can no longer afford the luxury of blindly trusting the rich, the powerful, the decision-makers. Ask the questions. And if they can't come up with the answers? They had better not be making any decisions. David L. Williams, London

Nuclear cannot be the way forward - it does not address the shorter term issues of supply and is not a legacy to leave our children. In the minimum 10-15 it would take to bring new nuclear stations online and with a fraction of the investment, existing renewables could be providing a partial solution. And in that same time frame serious investment in R&D will provide better solutions than any headlong rush for nuclear. Trevor Skelton, Deal

The Government needs to make massive investment in renewables immediately. If nuclear power stations were approved for development today it is unlikely that any of them would be online before 2020. This would result in a major energy gap and continued contribution to climate change through the CO2 emitted by coal-fired power stations. Investment in wave and tidal power, biomass and micro generation as well as continued investment in wind power is all necessary and through a breadth of power generation provided by the above, the UK can produce the majority of its energy needs sustainably and responsibly. Talk is not enough, though - individuals need to take action today whether it is by choosing a renewable electricity supplier, installing micro renewables on their home or attending the Climate March on the December 3. We must vote with our money and our mouths if we are to stand a chance of getting the power we want. Hugo House, Bristol

Participants in the energy debate frequently use the term "renewable", but I wonder how many can actually define what they mean by this. "Sustainable" is a far more suitable word and immediately makes obvious its purpose: just because a fuel source is clean and "renewable" (like wind power, for example), does not mean it is sustainable. Future technological advances will demand increasing amounts of energy (despite the calls for lowering our energy consumption: this is simply not a sustainable reality - energy consumption WILL go up), and I don't believe that wind or solar power will ever be a reliable source of sufficient amounts of energy. The only renewable energy source that even comes close to being a viable energy source for the future is wave power, as waves are the most reliable of the natural sources. Perhaps the medium term provision of nuclear power will allow us to properly develop wave power with a view to long-term implementation of wave farms. This, of course, would rely heavily on the powers that be actually having a long-term plan. History (and the present debate - held at the last possible moment) would indicate that they do not. Nicholas Ord, Guildford

Nuclear power is the only option if we are to head towards a low carbon, hydrogen economy. To move into a hydrogen economy requires vast amounts of energy which only nuclear can provide. Roughly 70 per cent of France's energy supplies are derived from nuclear generation, yet they have had no serious issues with "Chernobyl-style" accidents or leakage. Michael Stainsby, Huddersfield

The nuclear nettle

The nuclear nettle - Comment - Times Online

It is time to push ahead with a new generation of reactors

Britain has, on the whole, been lucky with energy. North Sea oil and gas have helped provide the vast majority of power needs. This happy state has led many to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to future requirements. But if ever there was a time to scan the horizon, it is now.
North Sea energy stocks are dwindling. Oil prices have been volatile. Britain?s nuclear and coal-fired plants are due for increasingly rapid decommissioning. And all this at a time when domestic energy demand is projected to rise just as Britain tries to cut its carbon emissions to those levels agreed at Kyoto. It is therefore encouraging that, as we report today, the government is at last prepared to grasp the nuclear nettle.

Nuclear energy is an emotive subject, and it was politically understandable, though democratically lamentable, that the Prime Minister wanted to avoid it until after this year?s general election. But, stripped of emotion, the position is stark. Britain?s 12 ageing nuclear power stations provide a fifth of the country?s energy needs. Yet all but one will be out of business by 2023. Many coal-fired plants, which produce another 30 per cent, fall foul of Brussels rules on clean air and will also be shutting down over the next two decades. By then, Britain will need to find 50 gigawatts of new capacity. Given the lead time for any successor plants to be designed, approved and phased in, decisions need to be made in the next year or two.

One of the looming problems for the Government is self-made. It has allowed the vacuum over its nuclear policy to be filled by hopes for the possibilities of wind power and other renewables that are bit-part players. Those who believe giant turbines can close the energy gap are thinking with their hearts rather than their heads. Wind power, by definition, depends on the wind blowing not too weak and not too strong. Wind farms run well below their capacity, (around 15 per cent in Germany). And they are unlikely even to be up to the job of providing 10 per cent of our electricity by 2020, the Government?s target.

There will inevitably be an ugly political battle, but it is winnable. The ace is climate change. For those concerned about global warming, nuclear power is the logical step. It is clean, carbon-free, and it is relatively cheap ? up to a third of the price of fossil fuels and nearly half the price of wind power per kilowatt-hour. New pressurised water reactors produce a tenth of the waste of the current reactors, (though what to do with that waste needs to be addressed, as does the security of any new plants, given the new terrorist threat.) But shut-down technology should make another Chernobyl disaster impossible. If new reactors are sited at current power stations, planning battles with local communities will be minimised.

Mr Blair should continue to encourage renewable sources. The potential of wave power and tidal waters should be explored; and there must be much more research into making the storage of solar energy more efficient ? Sharp, the Japanese electronics company, claims to be close to a breakthrough in this area. But in the meantime he should ask the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to begin examining existing nuclear sites for future use. Nuclear reactors may not be what Mr Blair has in mind when he thinks of his legacy. But the next generation would thank him for this initiative.

Britain is ready to go nuclear

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

By Philip Webster, Political Editor
Blair courts controversy with power station plan

BRITAIN will start building new civil nuclear power stations under plans backed by Tony Blair, The Times has learnt.
Less than two years after a government paper called nuclear power an unattractive option, the Prime Minister has become convinced that building nuclear power stations is the only way to secure energy needs and meet obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

In a controversial move, he wants planning procedures to be quickened so that the first stations could be under construction within ten years, far earlier than expected, advisers have told The Times.

After first promising a decision on new stations by the end of this Parliament, then by the end of next year, Mr Blair will face down critics and set up a government review within the next two weeks, asking it to reach conclusions by the early summer.

The stations would be built on existing sites in the hope of reducing public opposition and swifter planning and building procedures. They would involve the latest technology expected to be adopted soon in France and the US.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary and the Cabinet?s leading opponent of nuclear power, hinted yesterday that even she would back the move.

In an interview with the BBC?s Politics Show, she said that, although there were many problems with nuclear power, ?I?ve always accepted we can?t afford to close the door on nuclear.?

But Mr Blair, who has been given private preliminary studies, believes that all the arguments point to nuclear power and has effectively made up his mind, according to authoritative sources. His decision is a remarkable U-turn.

The review, though headed by a senior figure from the Trade and Industry Department, will report to the Prime Minister and Alan Johnson, the Industry Secretary, and contain members from other departments and, crucially, from the Downing Street strategy unit.

Critics will suspect that membership will be chosen to ensure a different conclusion to the last energy White Paper in 2003.

Britain?s 12 nuclear power stations provide 22 per cent of the electricity. Unless they are replaced there will only be three stations left by 2020.

Studies prepared for Mr Blair by Sir David King, his chief scientific adviser, and other advisers have convinced him that renewable forms of energy, such as wind and wave power, cannot fill the gap.

As coal-fired and nuclear stations close they will have to be replaced by gas-fired electricity stations and Britain will soon become a net gas importer.

Mr Blair?s advisers maintain that the debate should not be seen as a competition between nuclear power and ?renewables?, which the Government is committed to boosting.

The nuclear option is unlikely to be opposed by the Conservatives. David Willetts, the Shadow Industry Secretary, said at the party conference: ?We must make the case for civil nuclear power to tackle the energy crisis with least damage to the environment.?

Gordon Brown is not opposed in principle to nuclear power.
He has already asked Nick Stern, a senior official, to carry out an inquiry into the long-term economics of tackling global warming and another headed by Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, on climate change targets is expected soon.

Labour?s target is to cut present carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010, but on current projections that it is likely only to reach 14 per cent.

Sir Digby Jones, the Director-General of the CBI, said: ?A decision on the future of nuclear power has been allowed to drift too long. Potential investors and the British public both deserve certainty.?

The business group said that public debate must start without delay and be concluded by the end of 2006.

?Nuclear?s position as a reliable, low-carbon energy source is without doubt, but understandable concerns exist about costs and waste,? he said.

Nuclear power 'back with a vengeance'

Britain, UK news from The Times and The Sunday Times - Times Online

By Simon Freeman

Tony Blair is today using a speech to business leaders to launch a six-month review of Britain's future energy policy, opening the way for a new fleet of civil nuclear power plants.

In a speech to the CBI?s annual conference in London, the Prime Minister will describe "feverish rethinking" over energy policy around the world as countries attempt to meet obligations to reduce carbon emmissions.

Although the Government remains officially neutral on the outcome of the review, environment campaigners say that Mr Blair has become convinced that building new nuclear power stations is also the only way to secure future energy needs.

The stance is a reversal of Labour's position of less than two years ago, in a 2003 white paper nuclear power described as an "unattractive option", instead promoting renewable sources.

Until recently, nuclear power met almost a quarter of the UK?s energy needs, but that figure is likely to drop to 4 per cent by 2010 unless new reactors are built.

According to an advance copy of today's speech, Mr Blair believes that wind, wave and solar power will never match the capacity of the decommissioned coal-fired and nuclear plants.

The Prime Minister will tell the CBI that energy policy is "back on the agenda with a vengeance". How the vast capital investment will be funded, however, remains unclear with the Government insisting that public money will not be required.

Mr Blair will say: "Round the world you can hear the heavy sound of feverish rethinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency...

"By around 2020 the UK is likely to have seen closure of coal and nuclear plants that together generate over 30 per cent of today?s electricity supply. Some of this will be replaced by renewables, but not all of it can."

Mr Blair?s comments will fuel anger among some environmentalists, including Friends of the Earth, who today called for the review to focus on "clean and safe alternatives to fossil fuels".

There are those within the green movement who see nuclear power - free of emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide - as a key weapon in the battle against global warming.

There is also support for nuclear among businesses concerned about the UK?s reliance on imports of gas from abroad, amid fears of power shortages if the coming winter is as cold as forecast.

Speculation that the Prime Minister personally backs the nuclear option was heightened earlier this month when his Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, publicly urged him to "give the green light" to the sector.

Sir David has provided Mr Blair with studies of the UK?s future energy needs which are certain to have been influential on his thinking. He has warned that the decline in nuclear power was contributing to the failure to meet Government targets on reducing CO2 emissions by 2010.

The Government is being driven by the Kyoto treaty to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12.5 per cent below 1990 levels over the next seven years. It classifies nuclear as emission free.

In May, a Downing Street adviser told The Times: "You will see over the next few weeks how we are going to push ahead with the solution to Britain?s energy problems and ensure security of supply in the future. The prime minister will foster a major public debate around the nuclear issue and this is the right thing to do."

The review panel will be chaired by the energy minister Malcolm Wicks, it will aim to report in the summer of 2006.

Alan Duncan, the Trade and Industry Secretary, maintained today that his position remained strictly neutral on the nuclear issue. He told the BBC that changes in the energy market and technology since the 2003 white paper had prompted the new review.

He told the Today programme: "The Prime Minister has not made a decision [to revive nuclear power]. The only decision he has made is that he has to make a decision: whether to open the door to nuclear power or to close it."

Friends of the Earth today said that a comprehensive programme of energy efficiency, renewable energy and cleaner use of fossil fuels could allow the UK to meet targets for cutting greenhouse gases, while maintaining fuel security. Tony Juniper, director, said: "The UK can meet its targets for tackling climate change and maintain fuel security by using clean, safe alternatives that are already available. But these have so far been underplayed by the Prime Minister, who has fallen for the nuclear industry?s slick PR campaign.

"The Government?s Energy Review must cut through this spin, promote the clean, safe measures we know will meet our energy needs, and show that nuclear power is unnecessary - as well as unsafe and uneconomic."

The Conservatives are unlikely to stand in the way of a revival of nuclear power, as it meets the Tory ideal of energy soveriegnty.

David Willetts, the Shadow Trade and Industry Secretary, was critical of Labour's apparent prevarication.

"To launch an energy review only now is testament to Labour?s failure to tackle the problem a long time ago," he said.

"A leak from the DTI in May showed that civil servants were calling on the Government to start an energy review, but it has taken them seven months and an energy crisis to get things rolling. After the shambles of the Turner Report, what are the chances of Gordon Brown agreeing anyway?"

Liberal Democrat environment spokesman Norman Baker said: "The suspicion must be that Tony Blair has already decided to advocate an increase in the use of nuclear power. This review will serve little purpose if the Prime Minister has already made up his mind.

"What is needed is to rule out an extension of nuclear power now. This will provide the certainty that the industry so desperately needs, and will allow us to focus on cleaner renewable energy."

The Times revealed earlier this month that Mr Blair wants planning procedures to be quickened so that the first stations could be under construction within ten years, far earlier than expected.

The stations would be built on existing sites in the hope of reducing public opposition and swifter planning and building procedures. They would involve the latest technology expected to be adopted soon in France and America.

Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary and the Cabinet?s leading opponent of nuclear power, hinted that she would support the move - albeit reluctantly. She remains insistent that investment in atomic energy does not overshadow the resources being poured into renewable sources.

This costly, dangerous and expensive distraction

Independent Online Edition > Leading Articles

It is quite understandable that the expansion of nuclear power has once again become a subject of debate in this country. Few now doubt the seriousness of the threat posed by global warming. And it is increasingly clear that unless we develop alternatives to fossil fuels the situation will continue to deteriorate. In these circumstances, it is no surprise that some are urging the Government to commission a new generation of nuclear power stations.

It is true that nuclear power is our only large-scale source of electricity that does not burn fossil fuels. And Tony Blair is justified in today launching a review of the merits of expanding our use of nuclear power. But this newspaper remains far from convinced that the nuclear option is the right way forward for Britain.

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Nuclear power: We are heading for an energy gap, but what can fill it?

Independent Online Edition > Environment

Why is nuclear power suddenly in the news again?

The Government is reviewing energy policy and it will soon have to make a decision on whether to build new nuclear power stations. Many of the current ones will be decommissioned within 20 years.

It can take 10 years to build a nuclear power station, meanwhile our energy demands are expected to rise, and Britain's supply of natural gas from the North Sea is declining. Experts believe that if nothing is done soon then British power stations will be unable to supply 20 per cent of the country's peak demand for electricity in 10 years time. In short we are heading for an energy gap and some people see nuclear power as the only way we can fill it.

Why can't Britain just buy more gas or oil from abroad?

Much of this oil and gas comes from unstable regions of the world or is transported through them. Russia could supply much of our needs but there is some reluctance to rely heavily on another country for our strategic supplies.

But another more compelling reason why we can't just carry on burning more fossil fuel is that this generates greenhouse gases and Tony Blair is committed to reducing Britain's CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 - a target that we are unlikely to hit. In short, Britain has to think of ways of generating electricity that do not involve burning fossil fuels. This leaves nuclear and renewable sources of energy.

How much does nuclear power contribute now to Britain's energy demand?

Nuclear power stations generate up to a quarter of energy requirements. By 2020 nuclear power is expected to fall to less than a third of its current level as ageing power stations are shut down. Britain has 31 operating nuclear reactors at 14 power stations.

Is nuclear power clean?

Generating electricity by nuclear fission does not produce carbon dioxide, the principle greenhouse gas. Nuclear power is estimated to reduce Britain's total greenhouse gas emissions by between 7 and 14 per cent. But mining the uranium fuel for fission reactors requires energy in the form of fossil fuel, so strictly speaking nuclear power generation is not entirely carbon free.
Another problem with nuclear power is what to do with the radioactive waste that it generates. At present Britain is storing this waste temporarily at the sites where it is generated, unless it is sent for reprocessing at Sellafield in Cumbria. Sellafield has a sorry history of polluting the sea and air with radioactive elements. But it has improved in recent years and the latest reactors are far cleaner and more efficient than those designed 40 or 50 years ago.

How much nuclear waste is there and what are we going to do with it?

Britain's radioactive waste would fill several Albert Halls but this includes the low-level stuff that is not particularly dangerous. It is the high-level waste which can remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years that is causing the biggest problem.

The Government committee of experts is looking at what to do with this waste and they are due to make their recommendations next year. One option is to leave the waste where it is but in more secure buildings, another is to bury it permanently.

Why do we need nuclear when we can develop clean energy from renewable sources?

This is at the heart of the debate. Wind, wave, solar and other renewable sources are carbon free and do not carry the safety risks attached to nuclear power and its associated radioactive waste.

Not everyone believes these renewable energy sources can fill the energy gap created by a decline in natural gas and nuclear power. The critics say that the technology has a long way to go and even some of the most optimistic assessments suggest that renewables would only fill about half of the expected energy gap. Proponents of renewables argue not enough is being invested in research and development.