This past week have seen a number of important announcements in UK energy and low carbon policy which, in the view of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), show that the direction of travel is firmly in favour of developing renewables over new nuclear power. In this project, ambitious targets by Councils to seek to develop ‘zero-carbon’ towns and cities show part of that way forward.
Following its board meeting last Thursday, Toshiba announced that the many millions of pounds it had spent in developing a new nuclear plant at Moorside, close to the existing Sellafield plant, had ended in failure. This is partially due to the huge financial losses incurred through its Westinghouse subsidiary. It has also been unable (to date) to find an alternative buyer for the site, after extensive talks with the South Korean utility Kepco have floundered.
While the nuclear industry has lamented the energy and jobs potential it has consistently advocated would come from such developments, it is becoming increasingly clear that the large costs of new nuclear, their sheer complexity and the large subsidies in dealing with the current waste legacy makes such large investments required for them increasingly difficult to achieve. In contrast, increasing evidence shows the costs of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage and suchlike is coming down year on year. Such projects are also much quicker to realise and do not have the safety and radioactive waste issues to resolve that makes new nuclear so complicated and expensive.
The NFLA agrees with the views of the Financial Times this week that now is the time for a fundamental UK energy policy review. As the Financial Times comments:
“The state is not in a position to invest across the board. The borrowing required would run into tens of billions of pounds. Rather than approaching this quandary piecemeal, the government should commission a fresh strategic review. The last one took place in 2013 when the energy landscape looked very different. To keep its place in national ambitions, nuclear power needs to come in at a lower cost and to attract investment. It should not require subsidies unavailable to rivals.” (1)
The NFLA also agrees with the comments made this week by Sir John Armitt, Chair of the National Infrastructure Committee, who says:
“We don’t have to be as dependent on a nuclear solution as maybe we thought we needed to be 10 years ago. When it comes to energy, then we see a future of renewables…I think where I have been accused of a change of mind is on nuclear. Where, in the past, I’ve been a strong supporter of nuclear, this work that we have done in the national infrastructure assessment – and the evidence base that we have got for it – I think that we are in a different world today. We don’t have to be as dependent on a nuclear solution as maybe we thought we needed to be 10 years ago. If the evidence changes, then I’m quite happy to change my own reflection of that, my own views on that.” (2)
While these difficult issues beset the nuclear sector, NFLA is delighted to see ambitious targets have been set this week by City Councils like Manchester and Bristol as part of the wider effort to create ‘zero-carbon cities’. After taking advice from the Tyndall Centre, Manchester City Council has moved its target from 2050 to 2038 to seek to become a zero carbon city. (3) Bristol, which has established one of the first Council-owned energy companies in the country, is being even more ambitious by calling for a 2030 target in order to be zero carbon. (4)
Such measures follow that of other cities around the world who understand the huge significance of the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that urgent decarbonisation is required by the 2030s. The large lead-in time for new nuclear reactors is likely to mean the sector at best can have only a highly limited impact in such a short time.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
“The decision by Toshiba to end its involvement in developing the Moorside nuclear plant should be a wake-up call for the UK Government that new nuclear is now not the answer to our future low carbon needs. Instead, concerted action to develop renewable electricity, renewable heat and renewable transport is needed as the difficult task to decarbonise the country takes place. Councils across the world are seeking to show leadership in that task and I welcome Manchester and Bristol’s recent zero carbon pledges, which I am sure will be followed by many more from other towns and cities. NFLA urges all Councils, despite the huge financial pressures currently on them, to prioritise projects which support decarbonisation and promote renewable energy solutions. We really do not have the time to wait.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) Financial Times, 13th November 2018
(2) Carbon Brief 13th Nov 2018
(3) Manchester Evening News, 14th November 2018
(4) Guardian 14th Nov 2018