UK "needs more nuclear stations"

Posted by Richard Linney on Mar 08, 2002 at 04:47

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The UK's nuclear power station building programme should be revived, according to the government's chief scientific adviser.
Professor David King told the BBC that restarting the programme would help meet international targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In a speech to launch National Science Week at the Albert Hall on Thursday, Professor King explained why he felt renewable energy sources on their own would fail to meet the UK's targets.

The call for a shift in government thinking is somewhat remarkable.

Until now, Professor King has been a sceptic of nuclear fission power - sharing concerns with environmental groups about the disposal and storage of radioactive waste.

After a detailed review he has now concluded that the contribution from renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave and solar power, should be greatly boosted - to provide 20% of the UK's electricity by 2020.

But he says these sources will not provide enough power to make a dent in the UK's reliance on fossil fuels on their own.

This is because the contribution from the UK's aging nuclear power stations will decline from the present 27% to less than 4% as they are decommissioned.

Difficult balance

Professor King told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme decommissioning existing nuclear power stations over the next 20 years would leave us at a standstill regarding CO2 emissions.

"Dependence on fossil fuels would be unchanged unless there is new nuclear build at least to replace existing nuclear power stations," he said.

Professor King said more advanced research was needed into treating and disposing of nuclear waste - the legacy of the long Cold War period.

"We have to deal with that whether or not we continue with nuclear power," he said.

"Those who are opposed to nuclear power on environmental grounds have to weigh up this difficult balance... are we going to continue with global warming or are we going to mitigate it."

Difficult route

If cutting emissions were the priority, he added, then we needed to continue "our dependence on nuclear power at least in the intermediate phase at least until renewables come on stream substantially".

Professor King is therefore suggesting that the government kick-starts the UK's nuclear power station building programme - a move he describes as a politically difficult but environmentally necessary route.

Environmental groups reject this view, arguing the UK could meet its carbon dioxide targets by investing in energy efficiency technologies.

A report by the Cabinet Office Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) released in February said greater energy efficiency was the cheapest way of keeping security of supply and meeting climate change targets.

But the review of the nation's future energy prospects left open the question of nuclear fuels, raising concerns among environmental groups.

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