THE MET OFFICE is predicting the coldest winter for a decade, and already we are running short of the gas on which we heavily rely for electricity. Prices are rocketing, Britain’s limited reserves are being raided and ministers concede that the supply situation is ‘highly unsatisfactory’. Welcome to the Great British Energy Gap.
Over the next 15 years, to meet rising demand and replace obsolescent nuclear and coal-fired stations, Britain will need 50GW of new generating capacity, the equivalent, think about it, of five sixths of typical winter demand. This capacity will not be built in a day, a year or even a decade.
Yet the Government tilts, irrelevantly, at windmills. Why? Because the only way to combine efficient generation with lower CO² emissions involves nuclear power and no one wants to be the first to say so.
Not exclusively, of course; gas, clean coal and the less loony varieties of renewable energy all have a role. However, CO² emissions targets militate against fossil fuels, large-scale use of wave power is not yet feasible and, as for windmills, chuck that propaganda in the recycling bin. Wind turbines do not work without wind, have to be shut down if there is too much and put unacceptable strains on national grids. To get only halfway to the Government’s 20 per cent target, we would need to build 20 2MW turbines a week for 17 years, with public outlays exceeding £10 billion.
Even more pernicious than the fairytales about wind are the ogre stories about nuclear power. Science can, and has, dismissed them. Nuclear plants are remarkably safe. Terrorists cannot inflict much damage on modern plants. They produce much smaller quantities of high-level waste than they did; the Finns, among others, are convinced it can safely be stored deep underground.
The myth about nuclear energy’s ‘hidden’ carbon emissions, recycled on these pages yesterday, is provenly absurd. Yes, if you take the whole fuel cycle, from mining to decommissioning, there are CO² emissions involved; so there are in chopping down a tree it involves an axe. But they are minute compared with coal or gas and amount to less than 1 per cent of the fuel the reactors produce. Give this extensively rebutted CO²-guzzling thesis a rest. If we don’t get adult about nuclear power as our (short-term) salvation, the lights will go out sooner than we think.
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