07. 12. 2010

Chris Huhne's Nuclear Test

(This one is just for Chris Huhne, as I don’t imagine that Caroline Spelman would have very much to add here).

As we all know, Chris Huhne has become a convert to nuclear power since the Lib Dems hitched their wagon to the Tories to form the new Coalition Government. For those with any grasp of the history of energy politics in the UK, it’s still just a little weird to hear a senior Lib Dem routing for nuclear, but there are so many weird things going on out there at the moment, that I guess it’s just got lost in the noise.

Chris Huhne’s big face-saver is that nuclear will only go ahead as long as there is no ‘public subsidy’. As I’ll explain, it’s just about possible to stick to this rhetorical claim without Chris Huhne knowing that he’s lying, but it is quite difficult. (I’ll return to this in my next blog).

All the more wonderous therefore that Chris Huhne personally invited the redoubtable Amory Lovins to come and talk to his officials in DECC last week. Unlike that cohort of should-know-better Greens (on both sides of the Atlantic) who’ve been seduced by the blandishments of the nuclear industry, Amory Lovins has never wavered a single centimetre in his excoriating contempt for all things nuclear. And unlike people like Mark Lynas, Chris Smith in the UK, and Stuart Brand in the US, he actually knows what he’s talking about when it comes to nuclear issues.

Looking at some of the material he shared with DECC officials – I’d love to know exactly how they tried to persuade Chris Huhne after the event that Amory Lovins was a mad, unreliable, anti-nuclear zealot. Perhaps his next speech on nuclear power will reflect something of the following points.

1. Far from there being a ‘nuclear renaissance’ going on around the world today (as DECC officials would have us all believe), the only countries where nuclear is on the up again are China, India and South Korea. Of the 61 nuclear plants officially ‘under construction’ today, 12 have been ‘under construction’ for more than 20 years, half of the rest are behind schedule, and 39 have no official start up date at all. Not a single one has been commissioned without massive government subsidy.

2. The United States makes a particularly interesting case study for Chris Huhne. So desperate is the US Administration to promote new nuclear that it has offered tax credits which amount to more than 100% of construction costs – and even so interested utilities have been unable to raise any private capital whatsoever. Referring to this as ‘nuclear socialism’ – and there’s a horrible thought for our free-marketeering Lib Dems! – Amory compares this incomparable government largesse with the support programme for Chevrolet’s new electric vehicle, the Volt. This will be retailing at $41,000, with a tax credit from the Government of $7,500. “Imagine if the tax credit were $50,000!”.

3. By contrast with this lacklustre story, markets for renewable, energy efficiency and co-generation (or Combined Heat & Power as we call it) are booming. Grid-connected solar power has managed 60% average annual growth for a decade; China is now number one in five renewable energy technologies, and met its 2020 target for wind in 2010.


4. No matter what the nuclear industry might say (and on their past track record, you’d be insane to believe them anyway), nuclear power turns out to be the most costly of all the low-carbon alternatives. If you want to know the details of why that’s the case, check out the source data that Amory provides in his article “Forget Nuclear”, at www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid467.php
With some relish, Amory concluded his demolition of today’s nuclear fantasies with a reminder that there were some people who saw through this farrago of false claims and febrile imaginings more than fifty years ago:

“An academic reactor or reactor plant almost always has the following basic characteristics: (1) It is simple. (2) It is small. (3) It is cheap. (4) It is light. (5) It can be built very quickly. (6) It is very flexible in purpose. (7) Very little development will be required. It will use off-the-shelf components. (8) The reactor is in the study phase. It is not being built now.
“On the other hand, a practical reactor can be distinguished by the following characteristics: (1) It is being built now. (2) It is behind schedule. (3) It requires an immense amount of development on apparently trivial items. (4) It is very expensive. (5) It takes a long time to build because of its engineering development problems. (6) It is large. (7) It is heavy. (8) It is complicated”
(ADM Hyman Rickover, USN, 1953)

My emphasis, but you get the point!

Add your comment


07. 12. 2010
Nick Grealy

Bravo Jonathan. I too scratch my head over how Amory both decided to come to London and how Chris Huhne invited him. I would venture a lot of that is due to CH's only good idea, not that it seems to be going anywhere sooner than the last government, using smart metering technology to nudge consumers to use less energy or negawatts.

Nuclear is failing in the US for the exact same reason that it will fail here with or without government financing: gas. The super abundance of natural gas in the US, now headed to the rest of the world, means that coal can be entirely replaced with cheap, clean and secure natural gas. That can provide 60% carbon reduction from coal generation, far more, far sooner and far cheaper than nuclear. That's the good news

The bad news for some greens is that gas can do the same thing to Coal CCS and off shore wind, i.e. make them incredibly expensive without coal socialism or aeolian socialism from massive government subsidy.

The work that progressive greens need to do is to
a) understand the big picture of reduced carbon and not to obsess about minor local difficulties as some US greens have opposing shale gas based on alarmist and out of date fears that have led to an unfortunate "Think Globally, Act Selfish Locally" opposition to gas in their back yards syndrom.
b) accept gas as a bridge fuel, while making sure that it does not end up as the destination fuel. Gas can back up wind and solar for example and very few in the UK yet understand the bright future for gas powered freight vehicles and the costs and carbon associated with them.

Gas can exceed 2020 targets for emissions, cheaply and to scale. Just because it isn't perfect, we should not forego the possible.
Much more at www.nohotair.co.uk where I have always said: I believe in the reality of climate change, but think the hoax lies in expecting people to pay so much for it.

08. 12. 2010
Pete Larson

Shame you don't mention that grid connected solar - in the UK - receives over 200% subsidy through the feed-in tariff (domestic installation of ~2.5kW costing about £12,000 will receive in excess of £25,000 over 25 years index linked). And yet you mock the very prospect of 100% subsidy!!

27. 01. 2011
Geordie Walker-Munro

I agree wholehearteadly. Keep up the good work.

26. 02. 2011
Tom Prescott

What never ceases to amaze me is that arts educated environmentalists like Jonathon Porritt somehow think they understand nuclear power at all. In Britain, renewable energy will prove insufficient to provide for our energy needs, the slack then has to be taken up by clean coal, an energy source yet to be invented or nuclear which we know works. Until the green movement turns its back on the old greens and embraces a new green ethos that is founded in science it will never break past its current modest power base.

Add a comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

We appreciate your comments.