Plans to rebuild nuclear power plants in the UK sparked a huge debate in London today, with one company executive describing what has been heralded a nuclear renaissance as a “nuclear sham”.
Referring to the backing of nuclear power by the coalition government and the recent ban on subsidies to support the development of the energy source, founding director of sustainable development company E3G Tom Burke predicted that future nuclear projects were unlikely to transpire.
“The problem is that the government makes promises and it also unmakes those promises. The reality of investment in new nuclear build is more questionable than you think,” Burke said speaking at the Nuclear Energy Forum in London.
He added that without nuclear power, the lights “will not go out”.
“We’ve got renewables and energy efficiency and I think they will provide us with a pretty secure basis for going into the distant future, and a better balance of electricity where you are not reliant on great big chunks of generation capacity.”
EDF Energy director of strategy and regulation Paul Spence suggested that the industry needs incentives such as capacity payments for lowering carbon emissions, and carbon floor prices, to which Burke snapped back. “A floor price is essentially a tax on British businesses and consumers. And, arguably, capacity payments are subsidies.”
Department of Energy and Climate Change chief executive Mark Higson agreed that bringing nuclear into a competitive and fragmented market without subsidies was “very ambitious”.
He added that there were problems of processing and storing radioactive nuclear waste and that working on nuclear power plants can bring about health risks.
However, he also stated that nuclear power is affordable, a sustainable energy source and capable of increasing diversity.
The first nuclear power reactor began operations in the UK in 1956. Since then a number of stations have closed, and others are set to follow.
The government, however, has given the go ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built.
EDF plans to have the first reactor, to be located at Hinkley Point in Bristol, online by 2018 and three more online by 2025.