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Debate tilts in nuclear power's favour

In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, explained that soaring oil and gas prices and the need to tackle climate change had tilted the argument in nuclear power's favour.

When Tony Blair launched a review of energy needs last autumn, his support for nuclear power was never in doubt. The big question was how, after rejecting nuclear energy as uneconomic three years ago, the government could justify investment in a new generation of plants and make it a reality.

In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, explained that soaring oil and gas prices and the need to tackle climate change had tilted the argument in nuclear power's favour.

Pointing to disruption last winter when Russian gas supplies to Europe were cut because of a dispute with Ukraine over prices, he argued Britain had to diversify away from imported gas if it were to avoid over-reliance on any one supplier.

"I've always been clear that a mix of electricity generation is good for two reasons. One is it means your eggs are not all in one basket and, in relation to security of supply, that is very important. Also, of course, nuclear generation of itself does reduce carbon emissions."

Nuclear energy provided a stable and ever-ready source of baseload electricity that gave it the edge over "greener" forms of power generation. "Renewables have... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

When Tony Blair launched a review of energy needs last autumn, his support for nuclear power was never in doubt. The big question was how, after rejecting nuclear energy as uneconomic three years ago, the government could justify investment in a new generation of plants and make it a reality.

In an interview yesterday with the Financial Times, Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, explained that soaring oil and gas prices and the need to tackle climate change had tilted the argument in nuclear power's favour.

Pointing to disruption last winter when Russian gas supplies to Europe were cut because of a dispute with Ukraine over prices, he argued Britain had to diversify away from imported gas if it were to avoid over-reliance on any one supplier.

"I've always been clear that a mix of electricity generation is good for two reasons. One is it means your eggs are not all in one basket and, in relation to security of supply, that is very important. Also, of course, nuclear generation of itself does reduce carbon emissions."

Nuclear energy provided a stable and ever-ready source of baseload electricity that gave it the edge over "greener" forms of power generation. "Renewables have many strengths. But, on present technology on a day like this, when it's absolutely still and it's very hot and the demand for energy is high, if the windmills are not going round, there's no electricity being generated."

Nuclear power had become commercially attractive because of the surge in oil and gas prices, which were expected to remain higher than in the past, and the introduction of a carbon pricing regime in Europe that would become tougher in coming years.

The UK relies on nuclear power for 19 per cent of its electricity generation needs, a share of the mix that is projected to diminish to about 6 per cent over the next 20 years as ageing reactors are decommissioned.

In making the case for new power stations, next week's report will include estimates of the projected cut in carbon emissions from replacing existing capacity. But, Mr Darling said, the government would not set a target for how many plants should be built.

Any decision to invest would be left to the market. It would be for industry operators, which have argued that nuclear power does not need subsidies to be competitive, to make a "commercial decision" on whether to build and manage plants.

There would be no fiscal incentives and the government had ruled out extending the renewables obligation, under which high energy users must source some of their power from alternative energy sources, to nuclear.

"If somebody's coming along saying, 'I want to build a nuclear power station', they've got to factor in all the usual costs, construction and the rest of it, including decommissioning and disposing of the waste."

However, Mr Darling said the government would act to accelerate the building of plants and cut upfront in-vestment costs for the industry by simplifying the planning and licensing regime. The industry has lobbied for these changes, arguing they would reduce risk.

"We need to streamline the planning laws for big infrastructure projects . . . we need to move to the stage where, basically, the government needs to publish a statement of need, saying this is a project that's of national importance."

Too many big power projects, wind farms and transmission lines had become bogged down in long inquiries or blocked, he said.

A white paper would consult on making it impossible for councils to reject large power plants, whether nuclear, coal, gas or wind farms, on the grounds that they were not needed.

He was in favour of imposing time limits on inquiries. There would be a pre-licensing system for approving a one-size-fits-all design for new nuclear plants. "You would have thought that most issues can actually be covered in a matter of weeks or maybe months.".

Mr Darling, conscious that nuclear power has dominated public debate, wants to give the review a "greener" feel. Next week's report, while sanctioning new nuclear plants, would recommend moves to cut electricity use. Power companies should be given incentives to encourage consumers to install mini wind turbines or loft insulation.

There would be a "big push" on renewable energy and steps to encourage micro-generation projects that made use of heat generated by power plants. "We are at a very low level at the moment. We could do more."


Source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/4b7...

JUL 6 2006
https://www.windaction.org/posts/3364-debate-tilts-in-nuclear-power-s-favour
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