The world still remains ambivalent about nuclear energy

Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo Chairman New Nuclear Watch Institute

Except in Donald Trump's White House awareness that climate change will soon be irreversible is growing. Investors are fleeing faster than ever from fossil fuel consumption based businesses.

Technologies to speed up the transition to a low carbon are all the rage. This ought to be a huge opportunity for the nuclear industry.

Yet much of the developed world still remains ambivalent about nuclear. Despite rightly committing to very challenging emission cuts the EU has stopped short of unequivocally backing nuclear in its sustainable finance taxonomy.

In the UK Boris Johnson enthused recently about leading the world in offshore wind. Disappointingly he declined to exploit the immediate opportunity offered by a cautiously supportive public and an abundance of sites already approved for nuclear installations.

A bold decision to follow up EDF's progress at Hinkley Point and Sizewell by inviting tenders for the construction of at least 15 GW of new nuclear capacity would produce very competitive bids. It would also propel the UK decisively to the low carbon future the Government claims to want.

In addition it would create more jobs much more quickly than vague promises of help for SMRs on which the UK government has blown hot and cold for years. By acting now the UK could get ahead in building a nuclear supply chain industry with real export potential.

Part of the reason for this lack of commitment by the West may be a distrust of Russian and Chinese nuclear companies. This is a bad reason for ignoring their financial, commercial and technical attractions.

Furthermore both Rosatom and CGN would almost certainly address these concerns by allowing a degree of government control over the operation of their plants in return for a chance to showcase their technologies more widely in Europe.

Although fears linger about safe disposal of nuclear waste it is irrational to avoid using the biggest source of dispatchable low carbon baseload electricity in the next three decades when it it desperately needed.

By the time any theoretical risks of waste leakages can be tested hundreds of years hence climate change will have rendered much if not all of our planet uninhabitable by humans unless we raise both the pace and scale of our response in the next ten years.

Cost is another argument popular with opponents of nuclear. A new NNWI report reveals how relying too much on intermittent renewables increases both the level and volatility of electricity prices.

The same report shows that increased reliance on intermittent renewables entrenches dependence on gas. It also points out that adding nuclear capacity to an energy system cuts its carbon intensity faster than intermittent renewables.

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