In Parliament >> Energy plan A or plan B - it's time to choose

13th June 2011

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Alan Whitehead MP takes a closer look at the government's attitude to nuclear power

The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee recently reported on electricity market reform (EMR), looking at the government’s proposals.

It’s a vast and complex topic; and it is a moot point whether the proposals will “fix” energy markets to come to terms with supply and demand conditions in future years.

One element in all this is clear though: the government sees much of the load of future guaranteed “baseload” power being borne by nuclear power. Current projections are that between 2018 and 2025, one new nuclear power station will come on stream every nine months.

Whatever your views are about the wisdom of pursuing new nuclear power generation, it is highly unlikely that the numbers of nuclear power stations projected will be built by 2025.

The planning and build time for new nuclear means that building should now be under way: it isn’t and doesn’t look like it will be in the immediate future.

The recent tragic events in Japan, and likely increasing costs for safety measures, make it even less likely that early investment and building will take place.

It is also unlikely because government policy on nuclear new build is that there should be no public subsidy for new nuclear power stations.

However, the select committee report reveals that there is currently a powerful, if undeclared, slew of subsidies available for the nuclear industry going forward.

The danger is that this contradictory approach may not provide the level of assistance for building that will produce any results, but that in the meantime the whole design of the EMR will be tilted towards subsidy arrangements.

The committee essentially says that either new nuclear should be publicly supported and funded (and therefore built) or that we should recognise that “no public support” will mean no new nuclear power stations and we should plan for alternatives. Plan A or plan B? It is time to urgently bring this debate forward.

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