UK Energy Review 'a missed opportunity'

Posted: 12 July 2006

Environment groups have been heavily critical to the UK government's long-awaited energy policy review, which said that new nuclear power stations could make a "significant contribution" to meeting Britain's future energy needs. They describe the review as "a damp squib" and "a missed opportunity".

The trade and industry secretary, Alistair Darling, told the House of Commons this week that energy conservation measures, along with a mix of energy sources that including renewables as well as gas and coal-fired generation, remained essential. But he signalled that new nuclear power stations could be part of that mix. He said the proposals put forward could save up to 25m tonnes of carbon by 2020 on top of savings already planned.

Keith Allott, WWF-UK's Head of Climate Change, said: "The Energy Review is a damp squib, full of rehashed and recycled policies. We need to take action to make renewables and energy efficiency work 'with a vengeance', to use the Prime Minister's phrase. The government's continued dalliance with new nuclear power is a massive distraction from delivering a truly sustainable energy future."

He added that the review "offers little sense of urgency and yet another wave of consultations. Experience since the 2003 Energy White Paper can only fuel concerns that good intentions on renewables and energy efficiency will run into the sand.

"The idea that we are facing an enormous energy gap which only nuclear power can fill has been a classic piece of spin. The review admits that at best, just one nuclear reactor could be up and running by 2020. Nuclear is a costly red herring and it will be the taxpayers who end up covering the costs of an uneconomic industry and future generations who deal with its legacy of radioactive waste."

Not needed

WWF also challenged the government's claim that nuclear power is needed in order to reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions. The interim conclusions of a major international research project carried out by WWF suggest that nuclear power is not needed - either globally or in the UK - to avoid dangerous climate change. The Energy Task Force, which is comprised of senior WWF experts, leading scientists and independent experts, is undertaking a rigorous analysis of how to best meet the world's energy needs.

Robert Napier, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, who is chairing the Energy Task Force, said: "Our interim findings show that energy efficiency, renewable energy and potentially, carbon capture and storage, will play a critical role. Nuclear energy is emerging as the least preferred option - because of concerns over radioactive waste, high costs, social acceptability, safety and proliferation risks."

These views were echoed by Friends of the Earth, which said the Energy Review was "a huge missed opportunity". It said that that building new nuclear power plants would be "unsafe, uneconomic and unnecessary".

The environmental campaign group welcomed proposals to tackle rising emissions from supermarkets and the service sector, as well as action to make energy companies reduce emissions and energy consumption. But the report virtually ignored transport and the proposals it did make will make little or no change in the short to medium term.

Huge mistake

Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper said it was clear that the Government priority is nuclear power. "This is a huge mistake. Nuclear power is unsafe, uneconomic and unnecessary. We can tackle climate change and meet our energy needs through clean safe technologies. The UK is currently one of the Europe's worst performers on renewable energy. The Government must aim to make the UK a world leader in developing a low-carbon economy."

"This Energy Review shows the need for a new climate change law that would require successive governments to deliver annual reductions on carbon dioxide emissions. Most MPs and three quarters of the public already back this call; the government must do so too.

"The disastrous economics of the nuclear industry means that UK taxpayers are already committed to paying tens of billions of pounds to clean up the mess created by half a century of nuclear power. Without massive public subsidies it is very doubtful that private sector companies will take the huge financial risks of building new nuclear reactors. To this extent it looks like the government is opening the door for new state handouts for nuclear"

Keith Allott added that on renewables " the government has simply reaffirmed its existing 20 per cent target for 2020 - but offers no real concrete measures to actually deliver this goal. "We hope that the Government is serious in its focus on reducing demand for energy and encouraging a new market in energy services. But the proof of the pudding will come later - numerous earlier promises of a 'step change' in energy efficiency have come to nothing."

Note: WWF's report The Balance of Power (May 2006) claimed to show that the UK can meet its future energy needs and reduce climate pollutinghttp://www.wwf.org.uk/filelibrary/pdf/cc_rspnsenrgyrvw.pdf emissions without resorting to new nuclear power. The report by independent consultants ILEX said that by increasing renewable energy and cutting energy waste the power sector could actually reduce emissions by 55 per cent by 2025 and reduce significantly the reliance on gas imports.

The full text of WWF's response to the UK Energy Review can be found here. WWF is a member of Stop Climate Chaos, a coalition of development and environmental NGOs, which aims to mobilise public concern and political action, to tackle climate change.