Preserving the nuclear option
73. The United Kingdom's nuclear power stations are
ageing, and unless a programme of building is started, will go
progressively out of service in the years up to 2025. The effect
will be to increase the United Kingdom's dependence on gas generation
of electricity from the current 40 per cent to around 60 per cent
in 2010 and 80 per cent by 2025, the balance being provided by
coal and renewables.
74. This progression is unavoidable without nuclear
power generation: evidence presented to us still makes it clear
that renewable sources will not make a sufficient contribution
in the period we are considering. In our earlier Report Electricity
we acknowledged that both European Union and United Kingdom national
targets were technically feasible. In Paragraph 2 of the Summary
of Recommendations of that Report, however, we did not think that
the United Kingdom's targets would be achieved under the policies
obtaining at that time. We remain sceptical about the United Kingdom's
ability to meet these targets (see paragraphs 43-47). Coal generation
has greater potential for expansion but presents environmental
problems: even with clean coal technology a major expansion in
coal generation would threaten the Kyoto targets.
75. Security of supplyand stable pricesdepend
on diversity, and without nuclear power that diversity will not
be available to the United Kingdom. The preservation of nuclear
power generating capacity cannot be left to the private sector
alone. There are four substantial barriers to progress, none of
which can be surmounted without Government action.
76. The first is the apparent inability of the United
Kingdom to decide how to deal with nuclear waste, highlighted
in the report by the Select Committee on Science and Technology
under the chairmanship of Lord Oxburgh.
As the Report observes, the United Kingdom has to deal somehow
with nuclear waste being produced by our existing nuclear power
stations and also with waste produced by the military sector and
the medical sector, so a solution has to be found. The problem
is not going to go away, and other countries with nuclear industries
are finding solutions.
77. The second barrier is the difficulty of getting
planning consents. We await the results of the Green Paper
on streamlining planning procedures but the difficulties facing
the nuclear industry mean that it needs more than procedural help.
This is something that the Government will have to look at carefully.
New sites need not be found, because modern nuclear power stations
now require much less space for the same output capacity, but
the Government would need to agree that sites could be redeveloped.
78. The third barrier is cost. We challenged British
Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) on this issue. BNFL submitted supplementary
that sought to demonstrate that even including the cost of dealing
with nuclear waste, the electricity generating costs for an AP-1000
nuclear reactor would produce a levelised cost of 2.2 to 3.0 p/kWh.
While we were not able to contest BNFL's estimates, if these figures
truly reflect all costs involved, including those pertaining to
the managing of nuclear waste and decommissioning, then the general
perception that only governments can afford the cost of building
new nuclear generating plant would prove to be unfounded.
But this proposition remains to be examined .
79. The fourth barrier is the perception among much
of the general public that nuclear power is dangerous and the
world would be a better place without it.
Dealing effectively with the problem of nuclear waste disposal
would contribute greatly to overcoming public resistance. We see
a certain inconsistency in opposing nuclear power generation as
such in the United Kingdom when we already benefit from power
generated by nuclear fission outside the countryfor example,
we import electricity from France that is certain to have been
generated in this way. And the fact that French nuclear installations
are so sited that many neighbouring Member States would be as
much, if not more, affected by any leak of radioactive material
from a French nuclear installation as France itself, makes a nonsense
of policies which call for nuclear-free zones in individual Member
States. French nuclear plants are on average only fifteen years
so nuclear power is here to stay for the foreseeable future in
as well as being well established in North America. Its vital
role in providing security of supply will also need spelling out.
A government wanting to preserve nuclear power will need to be
publicly committed to its future.
We recommend that Government should maintain the
United Kingdom's present ability to produce no less than 20 per
cent of United Kingdom electricity demand from nuclear power generation,
and proceed as a matter of urgency to agree a method of dealing
with nuclear waste and an appropriate planning policy for new
nuclear power stations on existing sites.
80. The Committee considers that the Commission's
Green Paper raises important questions to which the attention
of the House should be drawn, and makes this Report to the House