By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
Ratepayers would spend more at first, but energy costs would decline in long term, Energy Secretary says. Would this be enough to draw investors to build new plants? Maybe not.
The scheme will be part of a broader "draft energy bill" aimed at securing a low carbon future and minimizing fossil fuel imports by allowing power companies to charge more when they invest in different low carbon energy types- not just nuclear, but also wind, solar and others, according to the report.
The media's focus was on nuclear, as the government continues to try to find ways to convince industry to build 8 new nuclear power stations that would play a key part in the UK's goal of hitting a 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
In March, a German joint venture, Horizon, backed out of plans to build two of the eight. That has led to speculation that Chinese or Russian firms could step in to fill the void. It also seems to create an opening for alternative nuclear technologies such as thorium, which many experts regard as safer and less weapons-prone than conventional uranium fueled reactors.
By putting the financial burden on consumers, the UK would attempt to sidestep a European regulation that prohibits direct state subsidies of nuclear power, BBC presenter John Humphrys pointed out while interviewing Energy Secretary Ed Davey on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 (audio link expires May 29).
Davey, who heads the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), said that in the long run, the plan would lower energy bills compared to the heights they would hit if the country continued with fossil fuels and their attendant volatile prices and damaging environmental effect.
A consumer funded nuclear program would mirror another form of government mandated energy subsidy - the Feed-in-Tariff - in which utilities raise money for renewables by raising rates. Utilities use some of that money to pay customers that install solar or wind equipment on their premises to generate their own electricity and to also feed the grid.
Even if the Government passes the draft bill, there's no certainty that nuclear companies would invest in new plants. David Toke, senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham, told the radio program that British nuclear would still remain "a dead duck." (Audio link expires May 29).
The UK's existing nuclear fleet was built decades ago, when the British power industry was still nationalized.
Meanwhile, several media outlets are reporting that the UK's nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, now wants to extend the life of those reactors.
Photos: Dounreay plant from Guinnog via Wikimedia Commons. Ed Davey from DECC via Flickr.
More UK and nuclear on SmartPlanet:
- Safe nuclear: UK eyes thorium
- India’s Prime Minister: Nuclear power? Yes please!
- Safe nuclear: Let the thorium debate begin
- Safe nuclear: India’s thorium reactor
- Could China run Britain's next nuclear reactor?
- UK forges ahead on nuclear power
UK energy policy:
May 21, 2012
It's so depressing and frustrating that academics, with the power to influence government thinking can believe that a spaghetti connection of windmills and plastic squares can provide every individual on the planet with their energy needs. Do the arithmetic - it's GCSE level. Only nuclear fission can do it, but not with reactors as we know them, David: The open-cycle use of uranium fuel has to be ended in 2 or 3 generations because the fuel will run out. Open-cycle use of uranium is like an old coal fire - you keep piling the fuel on and chuck away nearly as much ash (but the uranium 'ash' has over 90% good fuel left in it). It's sensible to keep our existing, open-fuel-cycle reactors running for another decade or two, to give our energy-befuddled politicians a few year to see the light. That is - to accept the inevitability that, not only in the UK, but worldwide, breeder reactor deployment, free of greenhouse gas emissions, is the only answer to providing for all our energy futures. Breeder reactors 'close' the fuel cycle, which means there are sufficient deposits of uranium an thorium to supply our energy needs for all of time. They can supply all of the energy needs of every individual on the planet, at developed world standards. All of the energy means not only electricity, but also carbon-neutral liquid fuels for transport and carbon-neutral ammonia feed stock for nitrate fertilisers, to be able to feed 9 billion people. They can 'burn up' plutonium stockpiles and legacy waste as useful fuel for generating electricity. The high temperature versions can use 'waste' heat to produce vast quantities of potable water from brackish ground water and sea water. The waste produced by breeder reactors is a tiny fraction of that produced by conventional reactors and it decays to background radiation levels in 300 years (not 300,000 years) and so can be easily, cheaply and safely stored. In breeder reactors, you see a UK future of energy independence, peace and prosperity. But more to the point, they give all nations the same opportunities and probably represent the best chance of peacefully transitioning from our dependence on hydrocarbons, which are getting ever scarcer and expensive with every decade that passes. A strong PM and Government would recognise this inevitability and choose breeder reactors ahead of the PWRs planned for all of our 16 GW of 'New Nuclear'. The GE Hitachi PRISM is being considered for the burning of the UK's plutonium stockpile, whilst generating 600 MW of electricity. 27 of these could provide all 16 GW of New Nuclear' and we could be switching them on in 10 to 15 years. If only we had the greenest government ever - they would surely know this is the way to go, and to do it now.