In the aftermath of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, and the German government deciding to scrap its nuclear energy programme, is it time for the UK to follow suit?
Instead of building a new generation of nuclear power stations, should we instead let them pass into history, and follow the Germans in focusing instead on renewable energy?
Doing that would be a disaster, say the proponents of nuclear power. Nuclear is a clean and reliable option and ruling it out would make it impossible to meet our carbon targets.
E3G’s Tom Burke was part of a panel of experts on BBC Radio 4’s Decision Time discussing the future of nuclear in the UK. Tom sums up his thoughts below:
Since Fukushima there has been a significant weakening of the appetite for further nuclear power in both Japan and Germany. US nuclear development has stalled for economic reasons despite the enthusiasm, and willingness to subsidise, of both the Administration and the Congress. Reaction elsewhere in the world has been muted but cautious. Even the most favourably disposed of commentators is anticipating a slowing down of what was already, outside of Asia, a rather feeble renaissance.
Germany has now announced it will accelerate the phase out of nuclear power and invest even more heavily in renewable electricity. Japan has not been quite so emphatic but has shifted its energy outlook in a similar direction. These developments, together with the massive investments in China, India and Korea will further accelerate the already rapid decline in costs of the renewables, especially solar.
Meanwhile, nuclear costs were already rising by 5-7% real per annum and may now rise further. Add the $200 billion bill still to come for relocating and compensating the 100,000 or so Japanese whose lives have been destroyed by Fukushima and the enthusiasm of governments for nuclear may cool further.”
Other panellists on the show included:
Tim Eggar: He was Energy Minister in the last Conservative government and in recent years has been advising the government on its energy policy.
Sir David King: He was the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser for seven years, and is now Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University.
Tessa Munt: An anti-nuclear campaigner and Lib Dem MP, she also has a personal interest: the first of the new generation of nuclear power stations is being planned next to her constituency.
Anne McElvoy, who has written for many papers, and is now public policy editor at The Economist, to describe how journalists would deal with this issue, and how we are part of the political process – not just reporting on it.