Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Joan Pye Project

  The remit of the EAC as set out in their Press Release, is extremely broad under three headings; Nuclear, Renewables and Climate Change. On the last named we are not qualified to speak and our submission will be confined to

    (a)  Nuclear Power

    (b)  Renewables


  Our recommendation is strongly in favour of nuclear power, with as many new-build modern type nuclear power stations as practicable, to be built if possible on existing sites by agreement with the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). We give our assessment of renewable sources of energy and their disadvantages as sources of carbon-free energy for the national energy requirement. Renewables have a place as debating platforms to arouse public awareness of the magnitude of the energy shortage confronting this country. Their limited efficiency will preclude their ever taking the place of nuclear power. (see paras under Renewables, 7(a) to (g) below)


  1.  This project was formed in December, 2004 under the chairmanship of Brigadier Hugh Pye, OBE, formerly Treasurer of the Merchant Venturers Society of Bristol, and responsible for the management of their charities. The project team comprises a finance expert, two former heads of projects at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, Harwell, and a generalist with a university background who has held positions in industry in Europe and is familiar with the European attitude to nuclear power. I act as co-ordinator. My MA degree is in Classics, my further education in science and technology was as the Director of A.E.R.E.'s PA (seven years 1954-61), and then I worked in a middle management capacity for a total of 18 years, mixing freely with the scientific community (some 2,500 physicists, chemists and engineers) and picking up a wide-ranging, if superficial scientific education.

  2.  Our mission statement has been printed and distributed in this area and to selective participants nationally. It is posted on our website (as above). Our objective is to turn around public perception of nuclear power into a development to be welcomed and an electoral vote-winner rather than an electoral liability. We have also established links with the British Nuclear Energy Society (BNES), with Supporters of Nuclear Energy (Secretary, Sir Bernard Ingham), with Terence Price, former Director of the Uranium Institute, and John Ritch (Director-General, World Nuclear Association). The Project now has a list of some twenty consultants and advisers, including five Professors with a wide range of academic interests, several ex-Harwell Group Leaders (personal friends) and some 200 actively interested individuals nationwide, including Sir Christopher Audland KCMG, DL (a retired diplomat whose last posting was as a European Commissioner for Energy in Brussels). We have ongoing interests in our nearest County Primary School, for which we are helping to organise some lessons next winter, with the co-operation of their Head Teacher, within their school curriculum covering outlines of the whole field of electricity generation in Britain.

  3.  We have financially supported the BNES and its closely allied body the Institution of Nuclear Engineers in their Education and Training programme for student reactor engineers, who will be needed to run the nuclear reactors of the future. This year our donation funded the appointment of two post-graduate students to attend the first Summer Vacation Course run at Idaho Falls by the recently set up World Nuclear University. The next World Nuclear University course will be run in Stockholm, Sweden.


  4.  We support nuclear power because it is the cleanest, the greenest (no carbon emissions) the cheapest and the most secure (no long pipelines carrying natural gas from politically unstable countries in the Middle East, Russia and Asia). It is safe with an excellent safety record, having successfully overcome the teething troubles of the early development years. It produces (with modern type reactors) only 10% of the waste generated by the early Magnox reactors, thus minimising the waste disposal issue. A table (Annex 2) of the safety record on the nuclear industry proves this. In addition, it should be possible to avoid battles over the siting of new-build reactors since the NDA are discussing the building of new reactors (much smaller and more compact than their predecessors) on existing sites. We hope that, if this decision is reached, the NDA will be responsible for their final decommissioning at the end of their lives. This would surely be an obviously common-sense decision. As this option has already been mooted, we believe the Government should take steps to protect this option as it would be a tragedy if licensed sites were turned over to alternate use when they may be needed for "new-build" in the coming two or three decades. Likewise, grid connections and capacity should be reserved. If international comparisons are appropriate, it is only necessary to look at France which has embraced the nuclear industry since 1971, and now makes 80% of the electricity it needs from nuclear sources with the general support of its population. (See Terence Price's "Political Electricity" published OUP in 1990, pp 31 et seq). It should be noted that in Japan, seven BWRs (Boiling Water Reactors) provide 80% of Tokyo's electricity needs, 8.2 Gigwatts, the last two reactors having been built in under four years. (Nuclear Future—July/Aug 2005)


  5.  We are deeply interested in nuclear waste management solutions, because this aspect of nuclear power is of such concern to the general public, and we deplore the Government mismanagement of the search for best solutions to this, peculiarly British, problem. (Other nations do not see this problem as a major obstacle to nuclear power). We deplore the attitude and management status of CoRWM, the Committee for Radioactive Waste Management, now fully exposed by its former member, Prof D J Ball, who has recently resigned (June, 2005) in protest at the way CoRWM manages its remit. This Committee was set up by Her Majesty's Government in 2003, with a remit requiring (inter alia) technical expertise. The Committee had only two practising scientists of international repute among its members, a fact harshly criticised by the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and the Royal Society. (*) The Committee acted throughout 2004 as if it wanted to minimise quality technical input. The only health expert on the Committee, Dr Keith Baverstock, objected to this, but in April 2005 the Chairman, Gordon McKerron (supported by some other Committee members) had Dr Baverstock expelled from the Committee on grounds which have not been revealed. Professor Ball, Director of the Centre for Risk Management at Middlesex University, resigned soon afterwards in protest at this dismissal and what he considered to be the incompetence of the Committee. CoRWM was instructed to take an overseeing role and appoint expert groups to assist it. Instead, it exceeded its remit by trying to do most of the work itself, for which it was ill qualified. When it did appoint specialists, it tended to call on those familiar to it rather than recognised, independent, international experts. The House of Lords expressed the view that CoRWM was not even able to distinguish quality peer-reviewed work from any other work. Professor Ball and Dr Baverstock are now taking their cases to the Employment Tribunal on grounds of wrongful and constructive dismissal. The Joan Pye Project regards the whole story of CoRWM as a public disaster and disgrace. In contrast to the British handling of nuclear waste disposal, the Canadians took it far more seriously. Through their NWMO (Nuclear Waste Management Organisation) the matter was the subject of a national consultation (as advised by Professor Ball to CoRWM in CoRWM Report 537).

  (*)  House of Lords (2004) Sci & Tech Cttee Radioactive Waste Management 5th Report; House of Lords (2005a) Sci & Tech Cttee, Radioactive Waste Management, Govt Response (House of Lords Paper 89; House of Lords (2005b) Sci & Tech Cttee, Radioactive Waste Management, Hansard 12 Jan: cols 324-334.

  6.  We favour the proposal of Dr Fergus Gibb of Engineering Materials Department, University of Sheffield, which involves drilling a deep shaft, on land or offshore, 18 inch diameter through impermeable rock geology, for four kilometres below the land surface to reach a point where the heat is sufficient to melt both the land surface and the content of the containers of high-level nuclear waste, and melt the rock at the bottom end of the shaft. This rock subsequently resolidifies, totally sealing the already sealed containers. Clearly the fission products will never be retrievable, but scientific opinion within this project asserts that this extremely long-lived high-level waste would be too dangerous to retrieve in the foreseeable future (thousands of years). The Joan Pye Project is satisfied, after discussion in details with Dr Gibb by telephone, that the required drilling technology is proven. (A non-technical account of this project of Dr Gibb is available from him or from the Joan Pye Project on request).


  7.  The proportions of the various components of the total energy input for the production of electricity in Britain on 2005 and in 2020 are clearly illustrated by Dr M J Hall's pie-chart attached as Annex 1. Between these years the production of fossil fuel (coal and oil) nuclear fuel and imports has drastically fallen while dependence on natural gas coming in by pipeline has increased by nearly 25%. Natural gas will have to be imported by overground pipeline over some very unstable countries; this is supposed to make up 60-70% of the UK's electricity needs, and the pipelines will be a tempting target for any terrorist or local dissident. Moreover, methane (which can leak from pipelines) is a powerful greenhouse gas, some 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. A leakage of just 2% of the gas produces a situation as deleterious as burning coal. The present leakage rate is about 4% and virtually no leakage can be tolerated. The CST (Council for Science and Technology) Report An Electricity Supply Strategy for the UK (May 2005) makes clear its conviction that it will not be possible for the UK to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol by using emission-free renewables within the short term between now and 2012. They recommend keeping open the option for nuclear power.

  The principal sources of renewable energy are set out in paras. 7 (a) to (g) below.

  (a)  Wind energy and "windfarms". While we believe there is a role for some renewables within the broad spectrum of electricity provision (see the CST Report mentioned above), we are convinced that the role of wind turbines has been heavily overplayed. They can never provide the vital base load power on which much of Britain's current way of life depends, and which is presently provided mainly by the nuclear industry. Since wind turbines produce only a third of their declared capacity and need to have conventional power stations "idling" for when the wind drops, they are hopelessly uneconomic. Companies rush to build them only because of a statutory subsidy worth almost three times the value of their output. (#1) A recent planning decision in Blyth, Northumberland, awarded a group of local farmers £5,000 or £8,000 per turbine per year (depending on the height of the turbine) in a proposed scheme for 117 turbines in a large stretch of unspoilt countryside. One local farming family, the Thorntons, are quitting their farm after residence for over one hundred years because they refuse to live in a forest of windmills. (#2) Even to achieve the predicted amount of energy will require the proliferation of windfarms cresting the tops of some of the finest upland scenery in Britain—a major attraction for the thousands of foreign tourists visiting the UK. We maintain that the Government has no mandate to disfigure our native countryside with structures more appropriate to an industrial landscape. The proposed windfarms will occupy an area which is orders of magnitude greater than that taken up by a single modern nuclear power station.

  (#1)  Article by Dr M J Hall, FRIC FInst.Biol.: in "Conserving Lakeland" Spring/Summer 2004.

  (#2)  Article "Couple hit by winds of change", Motor Boats Monthly, Dec 2003

  (#3)  See also Western Morning News 15/9/2005 "Labour's £1 billion wind turbine rip off"

  (b)  Fusion Power. We are familiar with the work at Culham on the JEPT project (Joint European Torus). A well-briefed member of this project estimates that a working reactor to deliver power is at least 60 years in the future. Funding for ITER (International Thermonuclear Energy Research) has only just been agreed among the European participants after three years of argument. This does not foreshadow a rapid joint research project even given the political will (Europe-wide) to push it along faster. "The ITER co-operation has no precedent in size and scope and could well become the model for other world-wide ventures in big science"—Andreas van Agt, European Commission 1993 (Source ATOM 427 March/April 1993) ("The World Takes a Further Step Towards Fusion Power".)

  (c)  Solar Power. Better use of solar power, both for domestic heating and heating of industrial plant, is clearly proven and worth pursuing, but it will make little difference to total energy supplies except in a country like Denmark, where solar heating built into plans for new social housing developments is widely in use. Its use for conversion of existing domestic central heating systems in the UK has practical difficulties and is likely to be small in scale.

  (d)  Tidal Power. A tidal power renewable energy project in north Norway (2004) will produce electrical power by extracting energy from deep-water tidal currents. Hammerfest/Storm is leading the work with Rolls Royce Marine AS, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and other power technology groups. Their plan was to install an underwater power plant of 20 700KW turbines in 2004, sited on the seabed. A similar project is in hand off the north Devon coast at Lynmouth. Tidal power is a renewable and non-polluting source and power (depending on tides) can be accurately calculated, but the time when power is being generated may not coincide with peak demands for electricity. The Hammerfest/Storm units will generate power for about four hours out of six. The expected life of a tidal turbine is 30 years, with servicing every three years. There are many possible locations around British coasts for such a group of turbines, but they would be subject to heavy pressures from storm weather conditions, and might require a good deal of maintenance. (see also

  (e)  Wave Power. Ocean Power Delivery Ltd. Have today (15/9/2005) announced their securing a first order for their "Pelamis" wave energy converters for a Portuguese project. Three of these machines will be located 5Km off the Portuguese coast and will have an installed capacity of 2.25Mw. If the first stage is satisfactory, an order for a further 30 Pelamis 20Mw machines is anticipated. This interesting development is, of course, not yet proven. Even the second stage will only achieve a total of 600 Mw, just over half the output of a modern nuclear power station. With likely wind/weather conditions they too will require adequate—possibly expensive—supervision and maintenance. A Scottish company is to manufacture the components on the Isle of Lewis (Source: 15/9/2005)

  (f)  "Cleaner" Coal: Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS). We are aware of the intensive work going on to explore this new technology, but the technology is in its infancy and it seems premature to attempt to comment.

  (g)  Greater Energy Efficiency. Improvements in energy-efficient use could also make a greater contribution to the supply of energy. The EU's "Action Plan to Improve Energy Efficiency in the European Community." found that efficiency savings amounting to more than 18% of current energy consumption could be achieved by 2020 using existing technology, if there was the political will to achieve it. This is enough to offset the closure of UK's nuclear plants and, if applied throughout Europe, would equate to saving the whole energy demand of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Greece and the Netherlands combined.

  8.  Cost of Electricity. With recent heavy increases in oil prices due to a variety of causes, the economists calculate that the price of electricity per unit to the consumer is now roughly equal as between fossil fuel and nuclear power—estimated at 2.3 pence per KwH. A comparison with costs per unit from renewables (windfarms, wave and tidal, and biomass) is unfair because of the heavy Government subsidies for renewables. Hundreds of millions of pounds, perhaps over a billion of investors' cash from all over the world is being channelled into the UK to take advantage of lucrative tax breaks and other incentives that have made Britain the most attractive place to build windfarms in the world (Source: Article, Sunday Telegraph 24/7/2005, by Robert Watts). The graphs prepared by the Royal Academy of Engineers in their Report "The Cost of Generating Electricity" (March 2004) give a true comparison of costs since all subsidies have been subtracted, leaving a very favourable advantage for nuclear power.


  9.  For all these reasons we recommend:

    (i)  Government to be invited to back a programme of new-build nuclear power stations, starting as soon as possible.

    (ii)  Government to be requested to stop subsidising windfarms.

    (iii)  Government to take action, not hide behind options.

  Signed:      Brigadier Hugh Pye, OBE, Chairman, The Joan Pye Project

               Joan Pye, MA, FINucE(Hon), Co-ordinator


  Grateful acknowledgements are due to those who kindly commented on earlier versions of this submission, including particularly Sir Christopher Audland, KCMG, DL, Dr M J Hall FRIC, FInst.Biol., Sir Bernard Ingham, and Terence Price who gave permission for me to use material from his book, "Political Electricity" OUP 1993.

Annex 1

Annex 2


16 September 2005

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