A huge expansion of nuclear power has been initiated by the British Government as it named 10 sites where new power stations could be built, including Sellafield, in Cumbria, Heysham, in Lancashire, Sizewell, in Suffolk, and Hinkley Point, in Somerset. Nine of the new sites are in England, including three in Cumbria, with the 10th in Anglesey, North Wales.
The first is set to be operational by 2018 and, by 2025, nuclear electricity generation could amount to around 40 percent of new energy provision.
Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Secretary, also set out an ”ambitious” new policy for the transition to clean-coal generation, as well as confirming targets for generating 30 percent of electricity by renewable sources by 2020.
The announcements were coupled with moves aimed at speeding up planning decisions on new energy projects aimed at cutting decisions to one year.
Miliband said significantly more generating capacity was needed in the long term to meet the UK’s low-carbon energy challenge, partly because of the intermittency of wind generation.
One third of future generating capacity must be given consent and built by 2025, said the minister, adding: “While there are already proposals to build more energy infrastructure, more is needed to bring about the shift to a low-carbon future.”
Miliband said a series of policy statements published by the Government on 9 November 2009 included a clear direction towards a “massive expansion” in renewables, a new nuclear programme based around 10 sites, as well as moves to introduce clean-coal technology.
The 10 sites named today are at Braystones, Sellafield and Kirksanton, all in Cumbria, Heysham in Lancashire, Hartlepool, Co Durham, Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey.
An 11th site was put forward earlier this year by energy companies as a possible location for a new nuclear power station, but the Government announced that the site at Dungeness in Kent had not been included in the current list because of concerns about coastal erosion and flood risk.
Three other potential sites were also looked at, but they were found not to be suitable. These sites were at Druridge Bay in Northumberland, Kingsnorth in Kent and Owston Ferry in South Yorkshire.
Miliband said: “The threat of climate change means we need to make a transition from a system that relies heavily on high-carbon fossil fuels to a radically different system that includes nuclear, renewable and clean-coal power.
“Change is also needed for energy security. In a world where our North Sea reserves are declining, a more diverse, low-carbon energy mix is a more secure energy mix, less vulnerable to fluctuations in the availability of any one fuel,” he added.
Miliband said the current planning system was a “barrier” to this shift in emphasis, maintaining that it served neither the interests of energy security nor of people living in areas where new stations might be built.
“That is why we are undertaking fundamental reform of the planning system, which will result in a more efficient, transparent and accessible process.”
Miliband said a faster planning system would save UK industry up to £300 million a year in “unnecessary expense”.
John Healey, the housing and planning minister, said: “Instead of major projects going through three, four or five separate applications, there is now one single consent system, with one full expert and public examination.”
Miliband added that he was setting out the most “environmentally ambitious” set of coal conditions for new stations of any country in the world. “No new coal plants will be given consent unless they can use carbon capture and storage.
“A programme of up to four projects will be funded and the demonstration plants should be in use by 2025.”
Nuclear Power Safe: Miliband
Miliband insisted that nuclear energy is safe as he prepares to unveil a new generation of power stations.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said that the economy and environment made the case for nuclear power overwhelming. Miliband added: “I do understand the anxieties that there are because there have been concerns about nuclear power.
“I think it is right that we go ahead with this. It has a good safety record. There is no evidence that people’s fears about nuclear are grounded, in my view. We can deal with the fears that people have.”
Miliband dismissed concerns about a new planning body, which will be announced to Parliament later alongside the locations of the next generation of nuclear plants, saying that local residents would be consulted more than ever before.
Greg Clark, the shadow energy secretary, said that the Government was rushing through nuclear stations without consulting Parliament or the public because it had failed to act earlier to ensure that the lights did not go out when the current generation of nuclear stations came to an end.
He told Radio 4’s Today Programme: “It is a national emergency and it’s been left far too late – we’ve known for the last 10 years that most of our nuclear power fleet would come to the end of its planned life.
“We’ve got a black hole, but actually we do need a different planning system, we need a fast track for major items of infrastructure.
“The trouble with the way the Government’s doing it is, it has no democratic component. The statements will just be read out to MPs without a vote and the decisions will be taken by an unelected, unaccountable official.
“We think it should be a minister taking that decision, accountable to Parliament, with the necessary time limit, about three months, so it doesn’t delay the process. But it does need to have democratic legitimacy otherwise people will find this an imposition that they will rail against.”
The new planning body, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, is designed to fast-track major decisions by referring to six national energy statements, in key areas such as renewables and gas as well as nuclear, which will be unveiled by Miliband.
In the nuclear statement, he will say which proposed sites from a shortlist of 11 have been given the go-ahead. Successful candidates are thought to include a location near an existing plant at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, and two new sites close to the Sellafield power station in Cumbria.
Green groups say that the plans are unnecessary. Robin Oakley, head of climate and energy campaigns at Greenpeace, said: “Nuclear is a dangerous and expensive irrelevance to tackling climate change and providing real energy security.
“We don’t need coal or nuclear, because proven green technologies such as wind and combined heat and power stations can secure Britain’s energy needs, create green jobs and slash our emissions.”
Labour’s nuclear negligence
The London Telegraph has said in its editorial comment: No industry is more strategically important than energy, yet ministers dithered for 10 years before authorizing a new generation of nuclear plants.
When Ed Miliband, the Energy Secretary, sets out his plans for a new generation of nuclear reactors today, he will be forced to admit that some of them may have to be located on greenfield sites. The 11 locations at, or adjacent to, existing nuclear plants that earlier this year were earmarked for possible expansion may not be enough to meet future capacity requirements.
Resistance to such a move will be intense, both from environmental groups and local communities. Miliband will hope that the new Infrastructure Planning Commission, set up to short-circuit a planning process that has traditionally worked at a snail’s pace, will succeed in preventing interminable delays. It needs to. For time is fast running out if the looming energy gap is to be filled before the lights start going out.
The Cost of Policy Delay
According to the Government’s own Low Carbon Transition Plan, published in the summer, just eight years from now there will be unmet demand in UK generating capacity of 3,000 megawatt – the equivalent of blacking out a city the size of Nottingham for 24 hours. The Government has only itself to blame for this lamentable state of affairs.
No industry is more strategically important than energy, yet ministers dithered for 10 years before authorising a new generation of nuclear plants. With half our ageing reactors due to be decommissioned within the next six years, this vital decision should have been taken at the start of the decade, not at the end of it. Such negligence, born of political timidity, is unforgivable. It has dealt Miliband an exceedingly tough hand. A controversial nuclear programme that should have been put in place in a measured way after proper debate is now having to be rushed through. This Government really knows how to make things difficult for itself.