Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Dr J A Pritchard, JAP Consultancy Services

  The Inquiry raises a number of issues on which I would like to comment.

  The first point to bring out is the scale of the problem. Nuclear power has been contributing some 20% of the electricity supply in this country.

  Within the next 20 years or so virtually all of the operating nuclear power stations will have reached the end of their lives. Since there is little sign of a reduction in the rate of increase in the demand for electricity (despite better insulation etc) we will be faced not only with replacing that 20% loss but supplying the increase in demand anticipated in that timescale. At the same time we are committed to reducing our carbon dioxide emissions according to the Kyoto agreement.

  Are renewables the answer? There is a great deal of talk about wind turbines, particularly from "green" groups but again the scale needs to be addressed. A single nuclear power station typically generates 1000 megawatts of electricity. The largest of the wind turbines generates (assuming the wind continues to blow at the correct speed) some 5 megawatts. Simple mathematics tells us then that at least 200 (400 ft tall!!) wind turbines are required just to replace the output from one nuclear power station. Is this an environmentally acceptable, let alone practicable solution?

  Nuclear waste is an important issue but , again, there is much confusion in the minds of the public. There is a world of difference between waste stored at Sellafield, arising from reprocessing of nuclear fuel, and that accumulated on the nuclear station sites. The High Level Waste at Sellafield accounts for 95% of the total radioactivity of UK waste, but only 0.5% of the total volume. The Intermediate Level Waste on power station sites represents just 5% of the total UK radioactivity. Technology for dealing with the High Level Waste is available (immobilisation by glassification) and is being applied. This process should be accelerated to minimise stocks of liquid waste. The most effective way of dealing with the Intermediate Level Waste remains to be agreed but immobilisation (by grout encapsulation) is also an option here. Generally the disposal of nuclear waste is an issue which must be resolved whether there is a future nuclear generation programme or not. However, the construction of new nuclear power plant on existing sites would obviate the need for complete removal of all waste and reversion to a green field site and the associated high cost. There is a strong need for joined up thinking here.

  There is no point in the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency pursuing a rapid decommissioning and clean-up policy, investing large resources in removing services and converting closed power stations to green field sites for the Government to then announce support for a new nuclear build programme with common sense dictating building on existing sites.

  Construction of nuclear power stations is capital intensive with a long lead time to revenue return. With the present uncertainty on Government policy on treatment and disposal of waste, and therefore uncertain "back-end" costs, it is unlikely that private investors would wish to commit funds to nuclear build without some subsidy or Government support.

  However, nuclear power is currently the only large scale electricity generation process which does not involve combustion of hydrocarbons with the associated emission of carbon dioxide to the environment. It is capable of making a substantial contribution to our environmental release commitments, therefore, and should be included in a sensible generation mix. So-called renewables can also play their part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions but it is likely to remain a relatively small contribution.

  Nevertheless they are receiving vast sums in subsidies. The same arguments that are used to subsidise renewables could be applied to providing some form of incentive to new nuclear build. Given the relatively long lead time for nuclear construction, this decision should be reached sooner rather than later. An early decision is also required to ensure that a nuclear build capability remains within the UK.

15 September 2005

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