The chief scientific advisor to the UK government, Sir David King, said that the present government always intended to revisit the nuclear option. His comments came amid reports that policy on nuclear power is to be reviewed later this year.
During remarks made to journalists at the EXPPERTS (Exploring Power Plant Emissions Reduction: Technologies and Strategies) conference, organised by Modern Power Systems magazine and held in London on 23 May, King said: “We have to go back and review how well we are doing on energy renewables and energy efficiency gains. That’s why we are keeping the nuclear option open – because we may need another generation of nuclear power stations.”
When the government published its energy white paper in February 2003, the focus was on achieving a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 through increased use of energy from renewable sources and energy efficiency savings. While the white paper stated that new nuclear build was not being proposed, it did however provide a small glimmer of hope for the nuclear industry: “We do not rule out the possibility that at some point in the future new nuclear build might be necessary if we are to meet our carbon targets.”
King’s comments indicate that – not even three years later – the government is now less dismissive towards nuclear power’s role in achieving its ambitious emissions targets. “That was always the intention through the energy white paper – when we move through to 2020 we will see we’re going to have a reduction of nuclear power on the grid from 25% to 5%,” he said. It is this reduction in nuclear power production that King refers to as the ‘energy gap’. Stressing that it was important to consider new nuclear build sooner rather than later, he said: “I do believe we are going need to review the situation and review it fairly soon. And the reason I say that is precisely because of that gap due to the closure of nuclear energy power stations as they come to the end of their lifetimes.”
However, he emphasised that only one further generation of new nuclear power stations may be needed to plug the energy gap. During the course of the next 30-50 years he believes other technologies – such as fusion, renewables, and carbon capture and storage techniques – would then be ready to take over from nuclear fission as preferable means of producing low carbon sources of energy.
Should there be another generation of nuclear power plants in the UK, considerable investment would obviously be needed. However, the 2003 energy white paper states: “The current economics of nuclear power make it an unattractive option.” Asked how the government might financially support a new nuclear fleet, King told NEI: “There’s no doubt the government is not going to be investing in new nuclear.” Instead, it was up to the government to create the right environment in which investment in new nuclear would be seen as attractive: “The government will have to create the right fiscal conditions for new nuclear and that must mean similar obligations to the renewable obligations.”