Nuclear energy is often put forward as ‘greener than green energy’. However, a recent report put together by independent government consultants at the ‘National Infrastructure Commission’ argues that the UK should focus firmly on the latest technology in the world of renewable energy. The report puts forward the proposal that a maximum of one new nuclear power plant should be approved between now and 2025 on the basis that as well as lower risk the latest renewable energy technology could now also be cheaper.
Nuclear power plants produce huge amounts of energy cheaply and cleanly, if nuclear waste that needs to be disposed of safely and the risk of accidents are discounted. However, the latter two clauses are a bit of sticking point. Nuclear proponents argue that the risk of contamination from either an accident or improper disposal of waste are tiny. It is also argued that the worst accidents involving nuclear power stations, such Chernobyl in the 1980s and Fukushima more recently, still resulted in pollution and contamination levels incomparable with the environmental impact of energy produced by burning fossil fuels.
However, despite the arguments that risks are minimal there have been accidents with nuclear power plants. The more there are and the longer they exist the tiny risk increases and can’t be completely discounted despite lessons being learned from each disaster. And crucially, the cost of producing renewable energy has dropped significantly as the technology has improved. The Commission believes this creates a ‘golden opportunity’ for the government to revive support for particularly onshore wind farms. The paper believes that this could lead to 50% of all of the UK’s energy requirements being met be renewables by 2030, compared to the current 30%.
Established in 2015, the UK National Infrastructure Commission’s role is to provide the government with non-binding independent advice on the UK’s long term infrastructure requirements. It’s first five-year assessment has just been published and the government is obliged to respond to its recommendations within 6 months.
The UK’s current policy is a focus on new nuclear power plants but the commission argues that greater commitment to nuclear should be held back on due to the potential for further development in the latest renewables technology bringing down the cost of wind and hydro energy further. The nuclear industry has already responded to the paper.
Zheng Dongshan, head of CGN, the Chinese nuclear power group interested to buy a stake in the UK’s nuclear infrastructure commenting the strategy laid out by the commission is “not shared by most of those involved in energy policy every day”.