Nuclear – key part of the ‘trinity of low carbon’

MEDIA headlines in the UK have been full of nuclear in recent months because of the extensive new-builds programme planned for England and Wales, but rejected by Scotland.

And yet, the current Government recently sold off what some would judge to be an important civil nuclear asset to the Japanese – Westinghouse.

Secretary of Energy and Climate Change Ed Miliband defended the sale: “Look, this is always an issue that we face in relationship to things owned by the public sector because the truth is, particularly at this time, we know that there isn’t lots of money to go around and therefore companies that need investment will sometimes be better off doing it through the private sector.”

That may or may not be the case. Successive UK administrations have made this assumption and it is not necessarily correct. Other countries might look at it in a different way, something that Miliband appeared to accept; nonetheless, he stuck to his guns over Westinghouse.

“I’m committed to our nuclear programme. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think the UK supply chain can benefit in a very significant way from it.

“I think it is unfortunate, to put it mildly, that Scotland has decided not to be a part of that. I think it is a mistake by the Scottish Executive (Government).

“Why do I say that? Because even with our very ambitious policies on renewables, if you want to have low-carbon sources in the 2020s … 2018 onwards in relation to our new nuclear programme … in my view, you need nuclear as well as renewables and clean coal. They are the three parts of the trinity of low carbon.”

But what about the “nuclear legacy”, thousands of tonnes of radioactive waste lying in dumps around Britain and which is now destined to grow further?

Where did the nuclear legacy figure in the decision-making process that has led to this new-build programme, bearing in mind that we still do not have a credible means of disposing of the pile of nuclear garbage that we have stashed in various locations? So how could DECC make the decision that it has?

Miliband: “All the evidence from other countries and our own scientists is that deep geological storage is the way to go. Indeed, the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management said that geological storage is the best option.

“I think one of the issues, though, is about cost and how to avoid a legacy cost for new nuclear. That’s why we have legislated for companies to put money aside to cover the cost of waste. I think that is right.

“I think we have learned the lesson (from the UK’s first nuclear-generation plant).”

Miliband threw out the notion that making cost provision for the decommissioning of new-generation nuclear plant and handling its waste thereafter is a non-starter.

“The Committees on Radioactive Waste Management was very clear about existing waste, which is that deep geological storage is the way to go. Look at Sweden, which is trialling ways in which this can be stored underground. We’ve made it clear what the plan is in relation to (waste from) new nuclear, which is that it stays on site for a period and then goes into deep geological storage. All the scientific advice I have is that that is the right way to go.