For and against - nuclear energy
Nuclear energy is the great green hot potato. But is it a stop-gap? Or will it become essential to the UK's long-term energy supply?
I think I'd put it more strongly than that. If you want the lights to still be on in 2020, you'd better figure out how you're going to put nuclear energy in the mix. We've been told that by 2050 we are going to have to reduce our carbon footprint by 80 per cent. This is almost impossible to get close to without a significant proportion of nuclear in the mix.
If we want secure energy supplies in the future and our electricity affordable and low-carbon, then there's no option other than to have a significant proportion of nuclear energy. Although renewable energy will play its part, just from the sheer engineering standpoint you can't deliver enough of it to meet the UK's total requirements. My ideal picture would be up to 30 per cent nuclear energy in the mix.
People keep talking about the expense of nuclear, but when you look at the expense of the renewable technologies they are more expensive on a pounds-per-megawatt basis. Nuclear energy is the cheapest low-carbon option in terms of providing reliable supplies of electricity.
Since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the nuclear industry has made very significant safety enhancements and improvements to the systems. The industry has a good track record in systems that are efficient and safe as declared by the national safety authorities and the international regulatory bodies too. From the position of safety there is no problem. Our regulators do not allow things that aren't safe.
Many people point to the issue of waste as an objection. But in terms of waste volumes, if we replace existing nuclear power plants we'll only add 10 per cent to the waste volume that we've already got to get rid of from operation of our historic plants over their lifetimes. This is because the new systems are more efficient and less waste intensive than the old systems.
The carbon footprint of nuclear technology is about the same as offshore wind. But the wind doesn't blow all the time and back-up capacity needs to be factored in to that method of delivery. Nuclear technology delivers electricity 24/7/365, and its track record is very good.
People will probably raise Fukushima as a reason not to go nuclear. But my argument is that the Fukushima nuclear power plant actually survived the earthquake. It was the tsunami that wiped out its back-up systems. And the reactors we are talking about are first generation designs more than 40 years old. Modern designs would probably have survived Fukushima.
So far as the UK is concerned, our own national regulator has pointed out that we don't have grade 9 earthquakes and 10m tsunamis in the UK. Nevertheless we are making sure that any lessons are taken on board.
Most nation states drew breath with Fukushima and reviewed their own positions. Those that were already on a journey to expansion or to replacing existing nuclear energy technology decided that they would continue. Out in the Pacific Rim, in Korea and China, things are carrying on apace. The Prime Minister of India has indicated that they will continue to deploy nuclear power stations.
Pre-Fukushima there were more than 120 power stations being planned and most of those are still going ahead. The only country to take a surprising decision was Germany. A lot of the decision making there was intertwined with the politics of the day. I would say that this was policy making in the absence of evidence and fact, and a decision that Germany will come to live to regret or possibly reverse.
Even though the politicians change every three to four years, one hopes that the arguments that have been laid out are sustainable and valid for the long term, rather than just the political cycle. Sometimes it can be frustrating because you can feel that you've made your point with one administration ' like we did with Labour ' then there's an election and you've got to start again. But, I think it's important for governments to recognise that nuclear power needs to be part of the energy mix.