The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering has published a report criticising the Policy and Innovation Unit’s (PIU) energy review, part of planning for a new energy policy, which it says “expects far too much from renewables and ignores supplies concerns involving gas.” The report comes after UK energy minister Brian Wilson requested an engineering appraisal of the PIU energy review. The Academy said the central question is the future contribution to energy supply from gas, renewables and nuclear power.

It said the PIU’s target of generating 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 is “over-optimistic”. It added that if renewables cannot deliver the levels of power anticipated, construction of either coal-fired stations or new nuclear power plants would need to start within the next 6-8 years in order to provide additional capacity by 2020.

The Academy also said that the PIU energy review assumes secure gas supplies will continue to be plentiful and relatively cheap. However, it points out that findings by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) show that the UK may need to import 90% of its gas requirements by 2020.

Regarding nuclear, the report says: “For nuclear to progress, considerable work will be required to convince the public that nuclear energy is indispensable for tackling both the climate change problems and for providing security of electrical power supply.

“An early decision by the UK government would be helpful to the UK industry in maintaining and enhancing skills by participating in the substantial nuclear build programme planned elsewhere in the world.

“This will ensure that the UK nuclear industry is not left behind on several grounds, including those dealing with safety and environmental concerns.” Further recommendations made in the report concerning the future of nuclear energy say that the government should establish the real benefits of nuclear energy to the economy, in terms of its climate change objectives, security of supply and the provision of reliable supplies of electricity at ensured long-term stable prices.

It also says the nuclear industry should be invited to indicate to the government the national requirements in terms of skills required, and in terms of manufacturing capability, for keeping the nuclear option open. The cost of losing this ability and the feasibility of rescuing the industry at a later date should be determined.

Finally the planning process should be streamlined to avoid unnecessary delays and cost.

Meanwhile, Prime minister Tony Blair was said by the Times newspaper to be under pressure to approve at least three new reactors. The most likely sites for such new stations would be Sizewell, Hunterston and Hinkley Point.

Blair is being advised that unless the government sanctions new stations now, security of electricity supply at reasonable prices cannot be guaranteed from about 2010.

BNFL and British Energy have both argued that series of nuclear stations should be built in the UK. In its recent submission to the energy review BNFL argued that the AP1000, which is being licensed in the USA, should be built.

BNFL and BE have both asked the HSE Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to begin prelicensing reviews of the design.