Mind the Energy Gap - Experts Query Need for Nuclear ; BUSINESS ANALYSIS
Shah, Saeed, The Independent (London, England)
Is the Government's "Energy Review" just a tortuous way of saying YES to a new generation of nuclear power stations? Plenty of people think so, even as a consultation period was announced yesterday with the publication of a supposedly open-minded review document.
The cynics believe Tony Blair has been captured by the nuclear lobby, which has marshalled political, economic and environmental arguments to convince the Prime Minister that nuclear is the way forward. Certainly Mr Blair has been sounding positive about nuclear.
With our current sky-high energy prices, huge concerns about global warming and international political instability, the question of how to keep the lights on and our cars running is high up the political and consumer agenda.
The Energy Review, announced only at the end of November - after a White Paper published as recently as 2003-makes the case for urgent action, rather than nuclear energy per se. It poses the problem and promises to report to the Prime Minister by the end of the summer. Mr Blair is then expected to speedily declare his solution - according to the cynics, he will say that Britain needs nuclear.
Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (he replaced the decidedly nuclear-unfriendly Patricia Hewitt at the DTI in the last major Cabinet reshuffle), set out yesterday how we will face a gap in our energy supply. "By 2020, coal and nuclear power plants generating about 30 per cent of today's electricity are expected to have closed. Companies will need to decide how this capacity should be replaced. These are big investment decisions so the Government needs to provide a clear framework. If gas, as well as renewable s, were to fill the gap, how comfortable will we be relying on imports for 80 per cent of our supplies? And what would be the impact on our ability to reduce carbon emissions?"
Nuclear power currently produces about one-fifth of our electricity but most of the UK's fleet of nuclear plants will have come to the end of their working lives by 2020. Also, conventional coal-fired stations will come up increasingly against environmental constraints because of their high emissions of carbon dioxide. About one-third of our electricity comes from burning coal.
And, as things stand, that shortfall from nuclear and coal will have to be made good by importing carbon fuels, often from some pretty unstable countries. Britain became a net gas importer in 2004. We will soon also be in oil deficit, as North Sea supplies run down. Most of our coal is imported.
We are struggling to meet our self-imposed targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Yesterday also brought news that Britain's emissions rose in 2004, for the second consecutive year. Although we will meet our Kyoto treaty obligations, the Government has set an ambitious target of a 20 per cent fall in emissions by 2010, an aim that we will miss by a long way on current performance.
While renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro power, will no doubt continue to be promoted by the Government, the goal is for these carbon-free technologies to make up 10 per cent of our electricity supply by 2010 and to double that figure by 2020. So renewables are not seen as the main answer.
But not everyone is convinced by the government's analysis, even by the basic proposition that an energy gap will emerge at all. And many question how yesterday's document takes the debate any further than the 2003 White Paper. Energy experts at the University of Sussex insist there is no reason to assume there will be a shortfall in electricity supply. Dr Jim Watson, of Sussex, says: "There may not be a 'gap'. Left to itself, the market will provide new generation to replace the generation that goes offline... …
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Publication information: Article title: Mind the Energy Gap - Experts Query Need for Nuclear ; BUSINESS ANALYSIS. Contributors: Shah, Saeed - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 24, 2006. Page number: 57. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.