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Monday, August 27, 2007

The nuclear question

This morning's Western Mail raises the question of just how affordable is nuclear power. Those campaigning against wind farms often raise the issue of public subsidy to support their case that these turbines are unsightly and unsustainable. As the paper points out however, British Energy was bailed out with £5 billion of public money in 2002. Nuclear power is only sustainable at all if the taxpayer picks up the tab for the decommissioning process once the power stations reach the end of their useful life.

The Government is hoping that the new generation of nuclear power stations can be built quickly and from private finance. However, this is a huge risk for those electricity generators who would want to invest in it.

Hugh Richards, of the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance, points out that “A nuclear power programme requires a huge capital investment of up to three-quarters of its costs, compared to a gas plant’s 25%. Interest costs during construction mean that delays can make or break a nuclear project.

“The Government is moving to pre-license standardised designs and streamline planning procedures in order to reduce the lead times for nuclear construction. This, however, increases the risk that public confidence in the regulatory process will be lost, and experience suggests that it will not speed up projects. In England, where public inquiries were scrapped for all the advanced gas-cooled reactors, an average 10-year construction over-run resulted.

“None of the four ‘Generation III’ designs submitted to the regulators for pre-licensing assessment in July are proven commercially; they are design concepts without working prototypes to test their safety. A new nuclear programme in Britain would have to start again from scratch.”

He added, “Far from having settled designs, all four candidates appear to be ‘work in progress’, having been enlarged to try to achieve ‘economies of scale’.

“The Government believes that new nuclear projects will be brought forward on a commercial basis by project sponsors with strong balance sheets, but no attempt has been made to test their financial robustness."

He thinks that a point will be reached when operators will seek public funding to help them construct new power stations, two of which could be on Anglesey. What the attitude of the Welsh Assembly Government is to this nobody can predict. Up until now Labour Ministers have expressed their opposition to nuclear power, but Plaid have prevaricated on this issue in recent times, whilst the present Economic Development Minister is in favour of more nuclear power stations in Wales.

We could turn to the One Wales document for an answer but alas it is silent on the issue. How very convenient.
"compared to a gas plant’s 25%" ... just where is this hydrocarbon gas coming from? Alice in Wonderland or Russia?

One might here the cry, "It's not about money stupid."

Gas powered electric power plants no longer have a secure supply of gas (chemical energy) to transform into electrical energy. We don't need Russia to supply the raw material used to power nuclear power stations.

If Russia decides to shut off the gas supply - like it did a year or so back which frightened Germany which relies heavily on Russian controlled gas supplies - what then? Rush to build nuclear power stations? Incidently, China is engaged in a MASSIVE project to build lots and lots of nuke driven electricty generating plant.

It always amazes me that so called environmentalists are happy to stop the UK having a secure power supply, but are blind to China which is causing a huge amount of dirty pollution; "It's Gaia stupid."

If Brits are so concerned - why do we remain addicted to cheap imports from China - which from an environmental perspective are anything but cheap.
Whoever this transatlantic Welsh exile Christopher Wood is, he does not read his own blogspot. It seems no one else does either as it never gets comments. Just like Bethan Jenkins web site - only her school chums get mentioned - has she left school yet? This blogspot of Peter Black is really widely read by critics and supporters, and very frequently commented on with useful constructive debate. The problem with all the Wales Assembly politicians is - they just cannot get their heads around energy statistics. It is never ever going to be a choice between Wind Energy and Nuclear. There is just no comparison. Wind Energy is like the flow of urine from a little Wren bird weeing, whereas mainstream Energy eg Fossil or Nuclear (and could be Tidal) is like the flow of the Amazon river. What the UK needs (not just Wales) is a fully grown up adult national scientifically facted debate on Nuclear Energy without the trendy political scaremongering.
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