Nuclear power may be necessary to limit climate change, but this is the wrong nuclear option

The case for decarbonising power supplies in order to limit climate change is now beyond challenge. The best way of doing it is as contentious as ever. Every option – carbon capture and storage to reduce coal-fired power stations’ emissions, expanding wind and solar power, developing other renewables such as tidal power, cutting consumption and bringing new nuclear capacity on stream – each has its own daunting problems, although some look a lot cheaper to fix than others. In China this morning the chancellor, in his role as prime-minister-in-waiting, dangled yet another carrot in front of nervous investors, promising a further £2bn of credit guarantees for investment in EDF’s new European pressurised reactor at Hinkley Point C in Somerset. Two-thirds of the estimated £24bn cost of building the power station is now covered by government guarantees, even though EDF has agreed a “strike” price – what it will be paid for its electricity – that will make it the most expensive in the world while earning the company, when fully on stream, an estimated annual profit of £5bn.

The need for a non-polluting, reliable source of energy has changed attitudes to nuclear power. It is now accepted, at least by some ex-critics, as the least bad option in a world where a fast-growing population and the multiplication of energy-hungry tech devices will hugely increase demand for the foreseeable future. That was why the last Labour government gave the go-ahead to third-generation nuclear power at Hinkley, and why neither the coalition nor this Conservative government imagine cancellation is an option. Yet it is looking more and more like a bum deal. Overpriced, overcomplicated and overdue, as the UK’s three most prominent green converts to nuclear energy, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall, argued last Friday when they wrote an open letter calling for the project to be abandoned and for nuclear generation to be concentrated on small modular reactors, cheaper, factory-made and – a bonus – highly suitable for export to developing countries.

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Source: Guardian Environment