Nuclear, Coal, Gas or Renewables?

Tuesday 22nd October

The Government has just announced the agreement for the construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point.   It is supposedly being built (16billion) with private money.  EDF (French multinational) are apparently building it in some sort of deal with the Chinese.  Our Government is guaranteeing 10 billion, I presume in case the Chinese don’t play ball and also agreeing a price for the electricity it will produce for 30 or 40 years.  The devil as always is in the detail.  Is this price fixed or will it rise with inflation?  Is this price already factored in for inflation, in other words when the first megawatts are produced will the price already be far higher than that quoted today (which is already almost double the cost of electricity being produced now).

But far more important than that, what legacy are we leaving our grandchildren?  As far as I know, no nucler power station anywhere has been completely de-comissioned.  We mothball them, and bury the nuclear waste or spend billions trying to re-process it into a different nuclear fuel that no-one wants to buy.   The trouble with nuclear is that it just isn’t safe.  Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and now possibly the worst disaster Fukushima are witness to that.  To be fair it was a brave experiment, and the promise of almost limitless cheap energy was alluring, but nuclear energy has persistently ended up being incredibly expensive and deadly.

Then we had coal, which at least was plentiful and right here under our feet.  But the extraction was dirty and many miners died digging it up.  Gas, was once plentiful too, but that is fast running out.  Part of the reason for high electricity prices is that in the eighties and nineties there was a ‘dash for gas’ when it was cheap.

So we come to renewables, wind, wave, hydro-electric, solar etc:  and surely long-term there is no other viable alternative.  Yes, the technology is in its infancy and will gradually improve.  Yes, the infrastructure may be expensive to build.  Yes, some of the windiest places are also the most beautiful, but no-one now complains about electricity pylons and cables criss-crossing the country.   And most importantly – we cannot keep extracting carbon from this fragile planet and pumping it into the atmosphere.   The only long-term solution is renewable.  And just as the taxpayer paid for the atomic power stations back in the fifties and sixties, so the taxpayer will have to pay for renewable infrastructure.  The Government must take back the initiative.  This deal alone shows that the market on its own cannot and will not pay for the most beneficial solution.

And if the wretched plant at Hinkley ever gets built how long will it run for, and how much will we all have to pay to decommission it when a future generation has the balls to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.