Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Professor Brian Launder

  Thank you for the invitation to comment and I'm certainly glad there's to be an enquiry. Here are some brief thoughts:

  If the surface transport sector is to become anything near carbon free there'll need to be a major replacement over the coming decade of fossil-fuelled cars by hydrogen or battery-powered vehicles. Thus, in computing the electrical power required from power stations, one needs to include the electrical demands that the production of H2 or the energy for battery recharging will itself entail.

  The failure to tax aviation fuel (and aircraft) or to introduce some equivalent taxation system on tickets to recognize CO2 emissions from air travel is a serious anomaly in transport policy that urgently needs to be addressed.

  Yes, regrettably, it's my personal belief that we do need new nuclear power stations. Small scale renewables provide energy that is expensive/difficult to harvest, and usually requires back-up provision as supplies are not correlated with demand.

  It seems perverse for the UK to be even considering "going it alone" with new Generation 3 reactors. The French have a track record of plotting a succesful strategy and running a much larger system of nuclear power stations that we have. Moreover, perhaps because of the successful use of nuclear for so much of their electrical energy, the French public is much less hostile to nuclear power than that in the UK. I am of the view that the UK would be well advised to throw in their lot with the French, let the protype Generation 3 (and, later, if they're needed, Generation 4) reactors be built in France (that seems the only way they can be built soon enough) so that construction of, I guess, some half dozen or more "production-line" stations in the UK can get underway in the next 10-12 years. (I mention, as an aside, that the French led Airbus consortium has done great things for Europe's ailing commercial aircraft industry.)

  My colleagues here at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research feel I am unduly pessimistic about our supplying sufficient carbon-free energy from truly renewable (non-nuclear) sources. They feel that a combination of efficiency improvements, large-scale planting of bio-fuel grasses, offshore wind, tide and wave power, supported by various taxation and "smart metering" measures could enable us to avoid nuclear re-build even given the loss of capacity from the progressive closure of existing stations.

  As my earlier remarks have indicated, I do not share that degree of optimism partly because I feel the currently proposed carbon-reduction targets are far too modest. Perhaps, however, one can avoid going to Generation 4 reactors if one does embrace all the measures noted in the previous point, in conjunction with carbon capture and storage.

7 September 2005

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