Gale`s View 23rd March 2011
Lights on or lights off? Nuclear power or no nuclear power?
It`s not quite as simple as that, of course, but the fact is that our domestic supplies of gas, oil and coal will, to all intents and purposes, expire in under ten years` time. At that point and unless we have developed substantial alternative sources of renewable energy we shall be dependent upon and potentially held hostage by those willing to export fuel to us.
In order to establish at least a degree of independence of supply, and if we wish to ensure that hospitals, schools, industries and our homes remain operational the United Kingdom is going to have to embrace as basket of sources including wind and wave power, electricity from waste, nuclear and very probably other forms of generation that have not yet been fully developed.
It is facile of those who are philosophically opposed to the use of nuclear power to suggest that we can reduce our carbon emissions to acceptable levels and decimated our fuel needs just by being more efficient, insulating homes and reducing demand.
It is certainly true that we need to be more energy-efficient in order to meet our emission control targets but it is also the case that a relentlessly growing population combined with the need to create the companies and the jobs that will employ those people and the medical facilities that will treat them and the schools and colle3ges and universities that will educate them will need more power. I have yet to hear, from any opponent of nuclear power generation, a convincing alternative that will fill the gap that no nuclear” will leave in our portfolio of supplies.
Recent events in Japan have been tragic, most certainly serious and very possibly not yet concluded. We have to learn the lessons relevant to the United Kingdom from that disaster. That, as Vincent de Rivaz, the Chief Executive of EDF has said very clearly, will require humility and leadership: the humility to be prepared to re-examine safety measures and to listen to the genuine concerns of ordinary people and the leadership to then exercise vision and take appropriate, balanced and responsible decisions based not upon emotion but upon factual science and engineering knowledge.
Nuclear power is, and will remain, expensive. Without government subsidy, which will not be forthcoming, the construction of new plant, its operation and the investment in the provision for the very long term disposal of high-level nuclear waste coupled with ultimate decommissioning will require a massive investment on the part of private business. We ought to be at least appreciative of the fact that there are still those remain confident enough in the future of nuclear power generation to be prepared to make that commitment and that investment.
Knee-jerk reaction and snap decisions are not the answer. It is right that Europe should subject all of its nuclear facilities to examination . We need to know that what we have now remains safe. The United Kingdom does not, though – the Folkestone Quake” notwithstanding – suffer the same level of seismic activity as the Far East and all of our Nuclear Power Stations are additionally protected against the tremors, storm surges and potential flood events that might be experienced in the UK.
A future generation of nuclear power stations will be built to modern designs with the lessons of forty years of operation and the recent events taken into account. It will not be constructed upon fault lines and it will be subjected to safety cases that have to satisfy an independent safety authority that provides stringent regulation and that sets very robust standards.
Nobody can ever say never” but on the balance of probabilities I believe that if our children and our grandchildren are to be allowed to have reasonable supplies of power to meet their lifestyle needs then it is essential that we proceed with the construction of the new nuclear power stations that we shall need in an alarmingly short period of time.