Select Committee on Trade and Industry Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 540-559)



  540. Because no one has mastered it.
  (Mr Tindale) Because nobody has mastered it, precisely, and we do have an enormous potential for wave power, so I would very much urge the Committee and, through you, the Government to take the wave area seriously. On the issue of particularly wind, you are absolutely right that the Danes have stolen the march on us and are quite a long way ahead. We believe that if we went seriously for a programme of offshore wind, some UK companies would benefit from that and there would be significant manufacturing capacity by Danish companies in the UK, so we would have those two economic benefits, but you are absolutely right to point out the fact that we have already missed out on some of this market.

  541. Inward investment is one thing, and production of the licence is perhaps another, but I have to say to you that the arguments you are advancing in relation to wave are exactly the same arguments that were put from the seat you are sitting in by people from the coal industry in respect of carbon sequestration and in respect of clean coal technology, that if there were just a few more pounds, they would somehow go far further than dollars and deutschmarks and gilders or euros, as we will have in the future. I have to say that, as far as I am concerned, every energy source seems to advance exactly the same argument for its technology and at the moment none of us really has had any convincing evidence to prove the intrinsic attractiveness of British technology and some of us are a wee bit cynical, and I would advance exactly the same argument against the nuclear industry as well, I have to say. Really at the end of the day why do we generate electricity or why do the companies operate? They operate to generate electricity and make profit. They do not necessarily do it to make money out of engineering or secondary activities and I think that is something where the pulling-up-by-one's-boot-straps argument which you are advancing might meet with a degree of doubt and cynicism here because everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet, but in a slightly different key.
  (Mr Tindale) I think I would say just one thing in response to that. It is a perfectly fair point you make of course, but the reason we are promoting particular technologies is primarily because of their environmental advantages. I think our view would be that any sector that benefited from significant government support would be likely to perform better in the export stakes and in the manufacturing stakes and that would go for all the sectors that you have mentioned. The reason why we argue for support for the renewable sector and not for clean coal and not for nuclear is because, in our view, those two are unacceptable for environmental reasons.

Mr Hoyle

  542. I think you have just sent the ball across once more. When I read your report, it says that there should be subsidies for the building of a new offshore cabling network for wave and wind. You are asking for subsidies on something where we have not got the technical know-how on how to deal with wave yet, so I am just intrigued as to where you are coming from on that and what calculated costs are you expecting the Government to pick up?
  (Mr Tindale) On the point about the know-how, we have not perfected the know-how on wave, but it would be, I think, wrong to assume that we were too basic. There is a great deal of expertise and some of the demonstration projects in the past are proving successful and what is needed is to move from a research stage to a development stage. In terms of the costs, the Government is looking, as you know, at the possibility of a connector down the west coast of Scotland and there are some cost estimates associated with that and they are, on the face of it, quite high. The reason we think it is important for the Government to pick up those is to create a level playing field between these new generation technologies, offshore generation technologies and onshore generation technologies. If you want to build a CCGT in the middle of Oxfordshire, your clients will benefit from the fact that the grid already exists and it has been built in the past by public money, so we believe that if you want to have a fair comparison of costs between a CCGT in Oxfordshire and an offshore wind farm, the public sector needs to pick up the grid extension.

  543. Just taking that a little bit further, you say that the costs are high. What is high?
  (Mr Tindale) Well, I have heard the figure of £1 million per mile.

  544. For the cabling?
  (Mr Tindale) Yes.

  545. The other thing is whether it is really feasible to expect to use the Irish Sea given the environmental conditions there, and we all know the extremes of what happens in the Irish Sea?
  (Mr Tindale) In terms of the weather conditions, do you mean?

  546. Yes.
  (Mr Tindale) Well, this is the big challenge, particularly for wave power. It is a relatively simple technology and what you need to develop are things that are robust enough to withstand the very extreme conditions that you get, but I can only go on what industry are saying and on what the Energy Technology Support Unit are saying in terms of what the capacity for offshore renewables is and both of those are talking about extremely high potentials.

  547. I notice you have not considered geothermals.
  (Mr Tindale) We are not opposed to geothermal. We have not seen any estimates that suggest that it is likely to be a major contributor in the UK, but there are certainly other parts of the world and other Greenpeace officers who are working actively on thermal.

Linda Perham

  548. On nuclear power, have you estimated the direct and indirect costs of phasing out nuclear power stations and any other build or would you say that whatever the costs, it is counter-balanced by the environmental disbenefits and dangers from radioactivity, waste and possible terrorist attack?
  (Mr Tindale) That is correct, it is the latter. Our objection to nuclear power is not on economic grounds, but that it is unsafe and unnecessary, so we would argue that whatever the economics, nuclear power should be phased out. The fact that the economics appear to be on our side of the argument as well is a helpful coincidence, but that is not the reason why we oppose nuclear.

  549. So you have worked on those costs, but you still feel overall that the case for—
  (Mr Tindale) We have not done any work on the economics of nuclear power for the reasons I have just suggested.


  550. On that question, could we just be clear. You do not mind gas too much or how do you feel about gas as against nuclear?
  (Mr Tindale) Gas is better than nuclear, to answer your question directly.

  551. Despite the fact that the emissions have a great play on climate change and the environment? You do not give any credit to nuclear for being almost emission-free?
  (Mr Tindale) We do not because energy policy needs to meet a number of environmental objectives. Carbon is a very important one, but the avoidance of radioactive waste and radioactive emissions is also a very important one. Our view on gas is that it is a necessary transitional fuel. When we talk about phasing out fossil fuels, we recognise that we cannot do that overnight. Gas is less polluting than other fossil fuels and, therefore, will have more of a transitional role than the other fossil fuels, so we do see an ongoing role for gas both in the electricity generating and in the transport sector, but we would argue that by the middle of this century, that transition should have come to an end.

  552. As far as nuclear is concerned, we were told that they could get it down to something like 1.8 to perhaps 2.2 pence per unit. They could meet some of the economic arguments, it would appear, I am not sure, and it has been suggested that, say, an oil refinery is as dangerous or as vulnerable as a nuclear power station to the kind of Twin Towers attack and there are more oil refineries, more chemical plants, therefore, they might be equally vulnerable. At which point does the precautionary principle stop kicking in or do you think that as far as nuclear is concerned, that has to be the one that can be banned?
  (Mr Tindale) I think the Committee would be wise to be sceptical about the claims of economic advances in the nuclear sector given their past performance, but —

  553. Well, we have already been told that some of the ones you are advocating start off at 4 pence, that they are going to require subsidised additions to the grid, that we do not know what the impact will be on the existing labour market because of the redundancies that would be caused in the engineering industry and things like that, so we do know that there are a fair number of costs associated with the renewable energy programme that you are advocating and if we take the micro in both, you might end up with really not much of an economic argument one way or t'other.
  (Mr Tindale) Well, as I have said, the economics is not the basis of our objection to nuclear. I was simply making the point that their projections in the past have proved over-optimistic, but even if their huge projections will not be correct, we would argue very strongly that nuclear is not acceptable because of the production of nuclear waste and because of the inevitable radioactive emissions associated with it. The key reason why nuclear has to be phased out very quickly is because there is no acceptable, safe, long-term solution to the problem of nuclear waste and that is not true of other energy sources.

  554. Do you think your organisation in Finland is meeting with much success in arguing that, given that in Finland they have quite a highly developed means of handling nuclear waste?
  (Mr Tindale) Our organisation in Finland is certainly arguing the case very strongly. It is not clear which way the Finnish debate will go. I think it is fair of you to point out that the Finnish nuclear industry currently appears to have a stronger case than the industry in this country, but we would argue that it is the appearance rather than the reality of a strong case. We are confident that we will win the argument in Finland as well as elsewhere.

  Chairman: It might be difficult for the Swedes if you do because as a consequence of them shutting down one of their reactors, they are now going to have to import nuclear power from Finland, as far as I understand, so there will be knock-on effects in the Baltic area too.

Mr Burden

  555. It is a long way off and I understand the point you are making about nuclear as an efficient energy. Can I ask what Greenpeace's view is on nuclear fusion? It is a long way off, but do you think we should be putting money into long-term research on that?
  (Mr Tindale) No, we do not because we believe that the capacity of renewable energy combined with hydrogen is well able to meet all of our energy needs, so we think that nuclear fusion, quite apart from its potential environmental impact, is likely to divert resources away from the area of real potential.

  556. What do you think the main environmental impact of nuclear fusion is?
  (Mr Tindale) I am afraid I am not qualified to answer that. I can get one of my colleagues to write to you on that.

  Chairman: Thank you. That would be helpful.

Sir Robert Smith

  557. So in a sense the essence, in answer to the questions from the Chairman, of Greenpeace's argument is that the UK should increase its contribution to global warming to avoid local pollution by the radioactive route?
  (Mr Tindale) First of all, radioactive pollution is not local. Secondly, we do not believe that the nuclear plants, when they close down, will need to be replaced by fossil fuel plants, but that they can be replaced by renewables.

  558. So you would use the nuclear plant to the end of its useful life?
  (Mr Tindale) No, we would not. Well, we would argue that its useful life has already ended.

  559. So despite the fact that it has made most of its carbon contribution and the vast bulk of the nuclear waste has been generated, you would not be willing to take a marginal risk?
  (Mr Tindale) The Magnox stations, to be absolutely clear, should be closed down immediately because they are operating beyond the end of their design life and we do not believe it is safe to continue operating them and they are producing large quantities of nuclear waste. The AGRs and the PWRs should be closed down soon, but not necessarily immediately.

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