The United Kingdom’s energy supply situation has changed dramatically since 2003, when a UK government report titled Our Energy Future – Creating a Low Carbon Economy concluded that it was not necessary to build new nuclear power plants.
Specifically, that paper stated:
“This white paper does not contain specific proposals for building new nuclear power stations. However 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.”
The report authors probably did not expect that “point in the future” to arrive quite as quickly as it has. After much public consultation, a new white paper was issued in January 2008 that determined that new nuclear plant construction had to begin – quickly.
That fact has been gaining increasing traction and official attention. Today, September 18, 2008, John Hutton, the Business Secretary, will tell a group of industrialists that rapid construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants will be necessary to help keep the UK’s lights on.
According to sources that obtained an advance copy of Hutton’s scheduled speech to the UK’s new Nuclear Development Forum, here are some of the things that he plans to say:
- UK will press “all buttons” to get nuclear built
- nuclear is a “no-brainer” because it contributes to energy security and job creation
- “insecure international sources underline the case for a diverse mix”
- “determined to get nuclear up and running as soon as possible”
- nuclear industry could create 100,000 new direct jobs
- Britain needs to move fast to establish position in international market
- all of the above is part of the need to “spotlight” the opportunities available
There are several factors pushing the UK government’s rapidly growing interest in building new nuclear power plants.
- Natural gas production in the North Sea is falling more rapidly than expected.
- Russia is a major European gas supplier, but its reliability is increasingly in question.
- Iran is another big gas supplier to Europe with questionable reliability.
- Alternative energy programs are not delivering power as rapidly as expected.
- Carbon emissions concerns have changed the status of coal as an energy fuel.
- Existing UK nuclear plants have a limited life remaining. (Note: It is possible to extend the life of these facilities.)
The nuclear industry has not yet determined that moving rapidly to build new nuclear plants is the right course of action. Part of the reluctance has to be based on history – when a large number of new nuclear plants came on line in the 1980s, the price of electricity in competitive markets dropped rapidly. Competitive power producers burning natural gas can offer their power at substantially reduced prices if the balance between supply and demand drives down the price of their major expense – buying fuel.
The photo shows the 2200 MWe Diablo Canyon nuclear power station in the spring of 2005. Notice that there are no large, mushroom shaped cooling towers. As an island nation, the UK has plenty of places where it can build similarly situation plants that place few burdens on the visual environment.
Photo courtesy of Jim Zimmerman, all rights reserved
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