Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Bonjour Monsieur Le President, avez vous un spare nuclear power station?

I attended a fascinating speech last week by Professor David Mackay, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), who talked about how this country will actually meet its carbon reduction commitments, namely an 80 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2050. That’s right, not just another target, but how we might actually do it.

Those who are interested should go to the DECC website and tap in ‘Pathway Alpha calculator’ into the site’s search engine and take a look at this marvel of sustainable thinking in action, which details how much nuclear power, offshore wind, biomass, solar and other technologies we are going to need. Those clever chaps at DECC will even allow you to play with the calculations, so if you decide on moral grounds that nuclear power is not for you then it will calculate how much extra solar and wave power we need to compensate.

Anyway, Pathway Alpha is derived from three basic principles, namely reduced demand, greater energy efficiency and energy security. There was nothing Professor Mackay said which I could really disagree with, but it did strike me that in placing so much emphasis on nuclear power to help generate more electricity we will be relying on foreign countries to build our nuclear power stations for us which, of course, does little for our energy security.

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Well, in fairness we are not alone as only the French and Japanese know how to build nuclear reactors nowadays. That’s assuming Iran and North Korea haven’t stumbled upon the secret in recent weeks.

We, of course, did have the capability to build our own nuclear power stations, but sold off British Energy to the French company EDF three years ago. If anything highlights the total lack of strategic planning in British energy policy over the last few decades surely this is it.

We didn't even get a binding commitment to help us build our own nuclear reactors when we made the sale. I suspect our future Prime Ministers will be spending a lot of time sweet talking the French President in years to come.


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