The most important document issued by the Government for a long time was last week’s 343-page White Paper on the future of Britain’s energy supplies. Half of it is pure, mad fantasy. The other half, at the back, represents a belated injection of common sense for which we may all one day be extremely grateful.
For a long time now it has been obvious to anyone looking at the figures that Britain is headed for a catastrophic energy crisis within a few years. As “Meeting the Energy Challenge” points out, within a few years a third of our power sources are due to close.
As North Sea gas runs out and most of our coal-fired stations, providing 37 per cent of our electricity, are forced to shut by EU environmental directives, there is only one way to avoid becoming dependent on gas from countries we cannot rely on. To keep our lights burning, computers running and supermarkets open we must follow the lead of the French in the 1970s and build lots more nuclear power stations.
Unfortunately, in order to sell this stark reality to the British people, we must pay the price for all the years during which nuclear power was demonised. Successive governments have run away from the problem and failed to explain just how exaggerated the fear of nuclear power has become.
Waste is no problem: all the high-level waste produced by Britain’s nuclear power stations since 1956 would scarcely fill two London buses. Any fear of terrorist attacks already applies to the 58 nuclear power stations in nearby France, many just across the Channel. And technology has moved on a long way since Chernobyl.
Fortunately, nuclear power has these days one more huge plus in its favour. It does not emit COu2082. And here we move on to the other half of the energy review, which shows just what a mad world we now live in.
To sell its conversion to nuclear power, the Government must placate the Greens, the EU and the Kyoto Protocol, by declaring that it will also give a further boost to renewables. It prattles on about how we are required by the EU to generate 20 per cent of our power from renewable sources by 2020.
At present, we generate barely 4 per cent from renewables, of which 30 per cent is from 1950s hydro-electric schemes, 25 per cent from landfill gas (which the EU wants to phase out) and only 15 per cent from our 2,000 wind turbines (according to the Department of Trade and Industry’s Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics).
Even with a Severn barrage, the only way we could reach that 20 per cent would be to build as many as 20,000 more giant wind turbines, over 5,000 square miles of sea and countryside. Even the DTI must know perfectly well that it would be crackers to try, for the simple reason that wind is such an expensive, inefficient and above all unreliable source of power.
Many people seem unable to grasp that wind only provides power on average for a quarter of the time. Reporters merrily talk of wind farms in terms of “installed capacity”, as capable of “powering so many thousand homes”; but invariably you have to divide those figures by four – and even then you must still keep conventional power stations running, churning out COu2082, for when the wind decides not to blow.
Wind turbines, as I have often said before, are truly one of the great hoaxes of our time, serving no purpose except to shower their owners with what will eventually be an estimated £32 billion of hidden subsidies, paid by all of us through our electricity bills.
If we want our computers to stay running and Tesco to stay open, there is no longer any alternative but lots more nuclear power, as soon as possible, before the lights start going out. Thank heavens Mr Blair and Mr Brown have at last realised that, in the nick of time.
By Christopher Booker
27 May 2007
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