BBC Radio 4’s Decision Time on nuclear

Below is the summary of my contribution on BBC Radio 4’s Decision Time, focusing on government decisions on a new generation of nuclear power stations, on 29th June 2011. I sat on a panel of experts with Tim Eggar (advisor to the government on energy policy), Sir David King (Director, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford), Tessa Munt MP (Liberal Democrats), and Anne McElvoy (The Economist).

In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and the German government deciding to scrap its nuclear energy programme, is it time for the UK to follow suit? Instead of building a new generation of nuclear power stations, should we instead let them pass into history, and follow the Germans in focusing instead on renewable energy? Doing that would be a disaster, say the proponents of nuclear power. Nuclear is a clean and reliable option and ruling it out would make it impossible to meet our carbon targets.

Since Fukushima there has been a significant weakening of the appetite for further nuclear power in both Japan and Germany. US nuclear development has stalled for economic reasons despite the enthusiasm, and willingness to subsidise, of both the Administration and the Congress. Reaction elsewhere in the world has been muted but cautious. Even the most favourably disposed of commentators is anticipating a slowing down of what was already, outside of Asia, a rather feeble renaissance.

Germany has now announced it will accelerate the phase out of nuclear power and invest even more heavily in renewable electricity. Japan has not been quite so emphatic but has shifted its energy outlook in a similar direction. These developments, together with the massive investments in China, India and Korea will further accelerate the already rapid decline in costs of the renewables, especially solar.

Meanwhile, nuclear costs were already rising by 5-7% real per annum and may now rise further. Add the $200 billion bill still to come for relocating and compensating the 100,000 or so Japanese whose lives have been destroyed by Fukushima and the enthusiasm of governments for nuclear may cool further.

About tomburke

Tom Burke is the Chairman of E3G, Third Generation Environmentalism, and an Environmental Policy Adviser (part time) to Rio Tinto plc. He is a Visiting Professor at both Imperial and University Colleges, London. He is a member of the External Review Committee of Shell and the Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Board of Unilever and a Trustee of the Black-E Community Arts Project, Liverpool.
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