So the government is to give the green light to nuclear. No surprises there then.
Part of me would like to be an optimist, denounce the green lobby for being apocalyptic, line up with Jim Lovelock and David King and comfort myself that nuclear is a better alternative to coal and gas. I certainly am fairly dismissive about the “danger” argument (although moving a hundredfold more uranium and nuclear waste around the world, which appears to be where we’re headed, does strike me as a significant security threat).
The problem is, I’m simply not convinced by the economics of it all.
A thought has struck me this week: if these plants are really to be built without a penny of government subsidy, with the industry even paying for the clean up costs, it seems to be based on a model that the cost of gas and oil will remain high. John Hutton seems to confirm this:
Analysis of future gas and carbon prices showed nuclear was “affordable and provides one of the cheapest electricity options available to reduce our carbon emissions”.
If that’s the case then it suggests that things like oil shale are likely to remain extremely commercial indeed. Indeed, it suggests an economy in which coal becomes affordable as well (we’re already seeing this happen). In other words it appears to be based on a model where a killing will be made exploiting the most dirty sources of energy imaginable, many of which will counteract the carbon savings by going nuclear. And they won’t take until around 2020 to come on stream.
On the plus side, it also makes numerous renewable sources more viable. But the government is still resisting opening the door for micro-generation through a German-style import tariff, so progress on that will not be driven by thee and me as it is in other countries. And the government also seems reluctant to invest in R&D comparative to even the US which not only will make development take longer but denies us opportunities in terms of jobs and enterprise.
Overall, it is hard to shake the impression that we are pursuing this goal due to a chronic lack of imagination more than anything else. While I normally am the first to defend scientists, I do wish we heard a little less of them in this debate and a little more from the economists.