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The Guardian: Rapid return to nuclear power ruled out

The Guardian (UK): Rapid return to nuclear power ruled out

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Wednesday May 11, 2005

The government’s main scientific adviser on energy policy yesterday ruled out an immediate return to nuclear power.

Sir David King, the government’s chief scientist in charge of energy research and development, said speculation that nuclear power would make a comeback was premature.

“The British government viewpoint is that we must focus on renewables and energy efficiency, both clear winners in increasing the security of supply.”

Sir David is advising the prime minister and the chancellor, Gordon Brown, on options for energy supply and how to avoid climate change.

“With the North Sea resource dwindling and the cost of energy rising, the security of supply is an important issue,” he said. “We do not want the lighting and the heating to go out in the middle of the winter.”

The government’s 2003 white paper on energy had left the issue of returning to the nuclear option open.

“This is an issue we will have to re-examine but not yet,” he said.

Nuclear power has been floated as a possible solution to climate change because it releases no greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. But it is expensive and the problems of nuclear waste remain.

The UK’s nuclear power stations, which produce about 20% of the country’s electricity, are closing at the rate of about one a year and will disappear by 2023.

A Labour pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by 2010 is not likely to be met; the Department for Environment is reviewing policies to reach the target – but even if Britain decided to go down the nuclear route, they could not be planned and built in less than 10 years.

Sir David, who is known to be a fan of nuclear power, was talking on the eve of a meeting of the world’s big economies in Oxford today to discuss the world’s coming energy crisis. Nuclear power will not be on the agenda.

Sir David and teams from the G8 group of industrialised countries, plus China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, will be discussing research development and cooperation in wind, wave, solar, tidal, bio-mass, carbon sequestration and energy efficiency.

It had been the wish of the other countries involved not to discuss nuclear power because it was felt that enough was known about it already, and countries interested in the nuclear issue were in close contact.

Knowledge about renewables was not available in the same way and the countries involved wanted to share research and development expertise.

Over the next 25 years, Sir David said, $16 trillion was going to be spent on building new power stations and since many of them would be expected to last 50 to 60 years it was important to get the programme right.

He said if the industrial world burned all the coal and gas reserves without capturing the carbon produced, there would be massive climate change and “by 2100 major problems”.

He said he was talking to the chief executives of Shell and BP about the problem and was encouraged. He conceded that solar power remained inefficient but he hoped for a technical breakthrough that would transform the technology.

The conference at St Anne’s College, Oxford, is expected to put proposals about future cooperation to the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, on July 7.

The UK has already decided to go into a collaborative venture with Portugal on wave and tidal power and with Spain to develop solar power.

John Loughhead, executive director of the newly established Energy Research Centre in London, said the UK was spending around £300m on energy research outside the nuclear area. A further £16m was being spent on nuclear fusion, which was to increase to £20m.

One of the problems of building new nuclear power stations was that the UK did not have designs of its own or sufficient trained people to put them together.

“We would be both buying in the designs and the expertise from abroad,” Mr Loughhead said.

“The question would then be whether we had enough home-grown people to control the process so we knew what was going on.”

In the field of renewables the centre was investigating the new breed of household combined heat and power generators, and how home-produced solar and wind power could be fed back into the grid by householders.

“We have the technology for people to produce electricity in their own homes but the problem is getting the regulatory and technical issues right so that they get a fair price and the grid continues to function properly,” he said.,,1481051,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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