Categories: Energy issues / PR issues / Trust and reputations / UK nuclear future

23 December 2009


AGW alone won’t revive nuclear energy

Today’s The Times reports that Copenhagen’s failure leave plans for nuclear power stations high and dry. It says that government backing is now the key to ensuring the industry’s future. But it also reveals the degree to which the industry has further to go in widening its arguments for support from the state.

The Times quotes Vincent de Rivaz, chief executive of EDF Energy, a French-owned company, saying that there was an “urgent” need for the UK Government to intervene in support of nuclear investment. It wants a floor price to be set on the carbon credits that companies need to buy to burn fossil fuels:

“EDF Energy believes that a UK-specific minimum carbon price would help to deliver the low-carbon investment needed in electricity generation. This is all the more urgent, as it may take time for an international carbon market to develop fully. UK politicians must continue to lead by ensuring that everything possible is done to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

This is a huge ask. As The Times reports, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the price of CO2 per tonne needs to be €33 in 2020 and €73 by 2030 to make low-carbon technologies, such as nuclear, economically viable.

Moreover, David Porter, chief executive of the Association of Electricity Producers, was quite right to tell The Times that there was an urgent need for stronger investment signals if the industry is to spend the billions of pounds required to build low-carbon sources of electricity.

The Times story is good evidence that the nuclear industry is beginning to see how fragile is its pitch that the carbon price will soon rise enough to give it a rosy future. The more that prospect recedes, the more the industry is likely to see that its case needs to be much wider, deeper and broader.

That’s why I’ve argued here and here for a new strategy that has more chance of success. In short there’s a great case for building new nuclear power stations and for winning the government support to make it happen. But at the moment the industry is shooting itself in the foot by staking much too much of its case on combating AGW.

To illustrate my point, here’re ten key pro-nuclear arguments, in no particular order of importance, some of which can be used more forcibly in public than others:

(1) It reduces our dependency on morally dubious regimes;
(2) It reduces our dependency on insecure energy networks;
(3) It helps reduce our carbon footprint;
(4) It’s the most potent renewable;
(5) It’s a high-tech employer;
(6) It provides electricity at a stable price;
(7) It is the most productive form of electricity generation (worker output per hour);
(8) It causes little waste, which is easily disposed of if legislation allows;
(9) It has the best safety record of all the major energy sources;
(10) It is no longer as controversial an energy source as it once was.

3 responses to “AGW alone won’t revive nuclear energy”

  1. Paul Seaman says:

    Update: since posting this piece, United Arab Emirates, a federation possessing one of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, has awarded a contract to a South Korean consortium to build four nuclear power plants, each producing approximately 1400 MW of electricity. At the heart of the decision was UAE’s desire to ensure its growth as its economy expands on the back of its carbon-based wealth (as I’ve argued before, laying the basis for economic growth is the major motivating factor that lies at the heart of the nuclear renaissance worldwide).

    The first of the reactors are time-tabled to be working by 2017. More detail here:

    (Please note that the two pieces seemingly value the contract differently: $20.4 billion in WSJ versus $16 billion by atomicinsights).

  2. Rod Adams says:

    Paul – I think you misunderstood my headline. The $16 billion number is the difference between the South Korean bid of $20.4 billion and the Areva bid of more than $36 billion.

    Thank you for linking to the post, however.

    I also like the list of pro-nuclear arguments, but I would modify #8 to read as follows:

    “It causes little waste, most of which can be recycled into additional energy production.”

    I might also add a new statement, perhaps numbered as 8A:

    “Some of the fission by-products that are not useful energy fuels are unique materials with rare physical attributes and could be extremely valuable if separated and refined.”

    Rod Adams

  3. Paul Seaman says:

    Rob, many thanks for posting your comment, particularly for setting me straight on the contract’s true valuation. Your amendments to my ten points are accepted and also welcome improvements, thanks again!