Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Scottish Green Party

The Scottish Green Party believes that there should be no nuclear new-build. Nuclear power is not economically viable, safe or likely to have a significant impact of CO2 emissions

  The nuclear industry has been trying to make nuclear power economic for 50 years, yet in April 2005 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took on the liabilities of BNFL & UKAEA—some £56 billion. Why pay this premium to incur nuclear power's inherent problems of:

    —  accumulating radioactive waste, active for up to 250,000 years;

    —  diverting resources away from energy efficiency, cogeneration[351] and renewables;

    —  risk of nuclear accident (as at Chernobyl);

    —  inability to restart generation for days after an unexpected shutdown;

    —  radioactive pollution from reprocessing nuclear waste at Sellafield (such as the leak of some 20 tonnes of uranium and plutonium fuel at the Thorp reprocessing plant at Sellafield, including, reportedly, enough plutonium to make 20 nuclear weapons);

    —  risk of theft of weapons-useable plutonium;

    —  risk terrorist attack on nuclear reactors and waste storage facilities; and

    —  risk of nuclear waste transport accident or sabotage (rail, sea).

  When the Government published its Energy White Paper in February 2003, the then Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, said, "If renewables and energy efficiency can prove themselves over the next five years there will be no need for new nuclear power stations. [352]" The Scottish Executive's own figures (2001) show that Scotland's renewable capacity is around 6 times Scotland's annual electricity requirement, leaving enough spare capacity to power most of England as well[353]. We could be well on target to pass this test by 2008, were it not for such a lack of serious government support. But here we are, in 2005, assuming renewables will fail and still asking if nuclear power is an option.

  How "renewables and energy efficiency can prove themselves over the next five years" unless there is a strategic plan for energy efficiency and renewables development as a matter of priority is not clear. And it must be stressed that this inquiry is just considering electricity, which accounts for only one fifth of our energy use. Nuclear power cannot address non-electrical energy use, such as transport and non-electrical heating. So even if nuclear power were truly CO2-free, it would do little to tackle climate change when some 80% of CO2 emissions come from transport.

  But nuclear power isn't CO2-free, as is so often claimed by its supporters. Even with the best uranium ores, when the whole cycle is considered, nuclear power generates approximately one-third as much CO2-emission as gas-fired electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve this are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be exhausted within three years[354], even less if we think nuclear power can be used to make hydrogen for fuel cell use in transport. Use of the remaining poorer ores in nuclear reactors would produce more CO2 emission than burning fossil fuels directly.

  In March we learned that the most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet found that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations[355]. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over a period of four years and concluded that the way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth. Just last week[356], we learn that a record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

  Yet the Government is still considering prolonging an uneconomic nuclear industry which will have negligible impact on CO2 emissions, rather than divert that money into a serious programme of energy efficiency, cogeneration and renewables, including micro-renewables. Micro-renewables not only address some of the base-load problems of supplying large conurbations, but they also make people more aware of their electricity consumption. Coupled with 2-way metering, micro-renewables could transform the public's perception of renewable energy[357].

  We in the so-called developed countries only live such lifestyles because we've had 150 years of cheap energy, in the form of oil. Since 1981, we have been using more oil than we have discovered—yet our global demand for energy is spiralling upwards. No mix of renewables can supply our current demands for energy—they are unsustainable and the biggest problem is transport, not electricity generation. Producing all our (UK) electricity from renewables resources is technically possible and more economically viable than nuclear power. We have to change the way we think about work, life and transport and that has to begin with decentralising our electricity supply systems and making a firm decision against new nuclear power stations.

  In response to some of your specific questions:


1.   What are the latest estimates of the likely shortfall in electricity generating capacity caused by the phase-out of existing nuclear power stations and some older coal plant? How do these relate to electricity demand forecasts and to the effectiveness of energy efficiency policies?

  According to, in 2004 major power producers used the following (Million tonnes of oil equivalent).

  So removing nuclear and coal capacity would reduce output by almost 50 Mtoe or over 60%. It is clear that to end coal and nuclear electricity generation without serious investment into the alternatives is impossible without severe cuts in power. The Scottish Green Party has been calling for investment into energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation for decades. This gap can only be filled if demand is reduced and the electricity we do require is generated from renewable sources wherever possible. Scotland at least has hydro power, but there is little scope for new hydro stations. Therefore, it is vital to implement a mix of energy efficiency and renewable electricity generation.


2.   With regard to nuclear new build, how realistic and robust are cost estimates in the light of past experience? What are the hidden costs (eg waste, insurance, security) associated with nuclear? How do the waste and decommissioning costs of nuclear new build relate to the costs of dealing with the current nuclear waste legacy, and how confident can we be that the nuclear industry would invest adequately in funds ring-fenced for future waste disposal?

  In April 2005 the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took on the liabilities of BNFL & UKAEA. According to Nuclear Engineering International (11 August 2005) [358]the total estimated lifecycle undiscounted cost of operations, decommissioning and clean up is now estimated at £56 billion, up from the 2002 estimate of £48 billion. Should the UK's plutonium stock be reclassified as waste then the costs would increase by several billion pounds. For reasons of waste alone, nuclear power can never be profitable.

  The Scottish Green Party finds it hard to believe that the commercial non-viability of nuclear energy has still not been recognised by the Government. Numerous studies have been carried out into the commercial viability of nuclear power, including the recent Rocky Mountain Institute paper entitled Nuclear power: economics and climate-protection potential[359],which concludes that "on the criteria of both cost and speed, nuclear power seems about the least effective climate-stabilising option on offer".

  Costings for nuclear power are unrealistic if cost trends aren't taken into account. How will price of uranium ore increase with time? How will increased oil prices impact on the economics of nuclear power? These are questions which cannot be answered and the precautionary principle should prevail.

  The Scottish Green Party is not confident that the nuclear industry can ensure the safety and disposal of the existing legacy of waste, let alone adding to it with the waste from "at least eight AP1000 reactors or equivalent". We also have reservations over AP1000 design itself, the selling points of which include that it is cheaper and quicker to build. Installing the cheapest design does not inspire confidence and adds further to the claim that nuclear power is uneconomical.

Is there the technical and physical capacity for renewables to deliver the scale of generation required? If there is the capacity, are any policy changes required to enable it to do so?

  Renewables have to be made to work and they can with demand reduction. As referred to above3, the Scottish Executive's 2001 study indicates that nearly 60GW of new renewable energy generating capacity could be available in and offshore Scotland at under 7p per unit in 2010 (including connection costs but not grid strengthening costs), as shown in the table below.

  For comparison, the total UK installed generation capacity is around 80GW, while the total amount of electricity supplied in a year is around 390TWh.

  A 2004 study by Gross[360] says the UK has a practicable potential to meet 230TWh per year using renewable energy. This is a more recent UK-wide study and obviously England & Wales have more renewable electricity potential than 14TWh. However, the levels given in the Gross study assume a constrained build rate and no network reinforcement for onshore wind, and biomass (energy crops) figures are based on conservative assumptions for land availability. So they may be more realistic than the Scottish Executive's 2001 figures.

  According to Gross, UK electricity demand is 320TWh per year and the UK has a practicable potential to meet to 230TWh. Based on these figures, the UK should be aiming to reduce its electricity demand by around 30%, as shown below:

  320 (current UK electricity demand) - 230 (UK renewable potential) = 90/320 = 0.28 or

  a 28% reduction in current demand to make a realistic renewable supply mix work.

  Renewable alternatives to electricity are more developed and currently more feasible than similar moves to tackle the even bigger transport problem. Therefore, the Scottish Green Party believes that electricity demand cuts of 50% can, with sufficient investment, be achieved by 2020 with a 2015 target of a 30% reduction.

  As for baseload, the economically recoverable marine resource for the UK has been estimated by Ocean Power Delivery at 87TWh per year[361], or approx. 25% of current UK demand. This potential could be realised by 2020 with sufficient investment, although we still need to assess the environmental impacts on marine ecosystems. Again, the more localised generation the less demand for baseload.

  Residential appliances and equipment use 30% of all electricity generated in OECD countries[362]. Assuming that the electricity generation and industry sectors make up a large part of the remaining 70%, while promoting marine renewables for baseload, we also stress the urgency to localise the grid, encourage 2-way metering systems and microgeneration, install district heating, and significantly increase CHP, especially for industrial processes. The looming energy gap can be filled without nuclear power, but it does require Government will.

What are the relative efficiencies of different generating technologies? In particular, what contribution can micro-generation (micro-CHP, micro-wind, PV) make, and how would it affect investment in large-scale generating capacity?

  The Scottish Green Party believes that localisation of electricity supply is a vital component of decentralising our electricity supply to enable a switch away from centralised systems which are no longer effective for supplying electricity in a modern context. Micro-generation is an important component of this decentralisation process. Large-scale generating capacity should be reserved for situations where local production cannot meet demand, eg large industries and concentrations of residents in an area which required more than micro-generation can provide. There has to be Government encouragement for people to start to generate as much of their own electricity as possible, including 2-way metering to deal with surplus capacity.

3.   What is the attitude of financial institutions to investment in different forms of generation? What is the attitude of financial institutions to the risks involved in nuclear new build and the scale of the investment required? How does this compare with attitudes towards investment in CCGT and renewables? How much Government financial support would be required to facilitate private sector investment in nuclear new build? How would such support be provided? How compatible is such support with liberalised energy markets?

  The Scottish Green Party believes we have to move away from the purely profit-driven motives of big business and actually start changing for the benefit of all—this generation and those to follow.

What impact would a major programme of investment in nuclear have on investment in renewables and energy efficiency?

  For the reasons stated above, the Scottish Green Party fears that any money invested into nuclear is money diverted away from renewables and energy efficiency.


4.   If nuclear new build requires Government financial support, on what basis would such support be justified? What public good(s) would it deliver?

  If nuclear power is competitive, as its proponents claim, there should be no Government support for building new nuclear power stations. If it is an economically viable industry, then the industry should invest in the capital accordingly. Under no circumstances, should public money be put towards nuclear power and diverted away from renewables and energy efficiency.

To what extent and over what timeframe would nuclear new build reduce carbon emissions?

  That nuclear power can alleviate climate change is a fallacy. As stated above, even with the best uranium ores, when the whole cycle is considered, nuclear power generates approximately one-third as much CO2-emission as gas-fired electricity production. The rich uranium ores required to achieve this are, however, so limited that if the entire present world electricity demand were to be provided by nuclear power, these ores would be exhausted within three years4. 80% of CO2 emissions come from transport, which nuclear power cannot begin to tackle.

To what extent would nuclear new build contribute to security of supply (ie keeping the lights on)?

  If we have to resort to nuclear power to "keep the lights on" then the Government has failed in its duty to ensure a diverse mix of energy supply, especially worrying given we are approaching a peak in oil production. Nuclear power has failed the test and a new round should not be an option.

19 September 2005

351   Cogeneration is the simultaneous production of heat and power in a single thermodynamic process. Back

352   Guardian 25 February 2003, "Green Power-Five years to prove its worth"' by David Gow.,3605,902411,00.html Back

353 Back

354 Back

355 Back

356   Global warming "past the point of no return", Steve Connor, Science Ed, The Independent. Published: 16 September 2005. Back

357   Taken from the Scottish Green Party's response to the DTI's consultation on Microgeneration Strategy and Low Carbon Buildings Programme. Back

358 Back

359 (11 Sept. 2005) Back

360   Gross, R, "Technologies and innovation for system change in the UK: status, prospects and system requirements of some leading renewable energy options", Energy Policy vol 32, no 17, Nov 2004. Back

361 Back

362 Back

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