Parliament’s decision to authorise the construction of 10 new nuclear power plants
was taken on the basis of misleading evidence Prof. Peter Saunders
Special report to be included in Science in Society #55 (available August 2012). Pre-order now or Subscribe. All proceeds from SiS 55 will be donated to children of Fukushima and Chernobyl
UK’s commitment to nuclear
early May 2012, Japan shut down its last nuclear power station for routine
maintenance in a safety drive since the Fukushima meltdown, leaving the country
nuclear free for the first time in more than 40 years . Before the Fukushima
disaster, Japan got 30% of its power from nuclear energy. Hundreds marched
through Tokyo to celebrate what they hope will be the end of nuclear power in
other countries are having second thoughts about nuclear power; some like
Germany and Italy have already decided to do without it and others like Japan may
follow  (Fukushima
Fallout (SiS 51), but the UK
government is still determined to go ahead with the construction of at least 10
new reactors. This is the only way we can fulfil our future energy needs and
still meet our commitment to reduce carbon emissions, so we are told; besides,
nuclear is the cheapest alternative to fossil fuels and is safer than coal. Every
one of those claims is contradicted by evidence, as we have shown in numerous
power could only make a comparatively small contribution to our total energy
needs and this could be supplied from renewable sources such as wind and solar (see
 Green Energies - 100% Renewable
by 2050, ISIS publication). It is also very expensive; the government insisted
there would be no subsidy for nuclear power even though no nuclear plant has
ever been built without a subsidy and no one, least of all the companies that
are expected to invest in them, seriously believes one ever will be. The
government is already discussing with the industry what form the subsidy should
take -probably a ‘contract for difference’ that will ensure a higher than
market price - and how large it will be. It is also negotiating with the
European Commission to ensure that the subsidy is permitted under EU rules .
is a massive amount of evidence in the public domain against the nuclear option.
Has the government somehow managed not to notice any of it? The recent report, A
Corruption of Governance? ,published jointly by the Association for the
Conservation of Energy (ACE) and Unlock Democracy goes a long way towards
answering this question . By careful reading of Government documents and
statements, especially the Draft Overarching National Policy Statement for Energy
(EN-1)  and the Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power
Generation (EN-6)  the authors of the report, Ron
Bailey and Lotte Blair,
demonstrated that the government
was well aware of the evidence against nuclear energy; but simply omitted to
draw attention to it in Parliament when the decision was being taken.
much electricity will we need?
stations take a long time to build, so if we want to have enough energy in 2025
or 2050, we need to start planning now. The first step, you would think, is to
estimate how much energy we will be using, then work out how much of the different
sources – fossil, solar, wind, biomass, nuclear, and so on – we could have in
place by then. This will enable us to decide on a strategy taking into account
factors such as cost, safety and the need to reduce carbon emissions.
not what the government did. Instead of analysing present consumption and
trends, they asked a consulting firm Redpoint Energy to predict what the
generating capacity would be in 2025, including both the proposed nuclear
new build programme and the new renewables capacity that would be required
to achieve the government’s goal of about 29% of electricity from renewables by
that date . Redpoint came up with the figure of 110 GW, which is a
prediction of what the generating capacity will be if present policies are
carried out. But the government is now using this as its estimate of the UK’s need
for energy in 2025, and a justification for the policies.
As for 2050, after they had spent much time and effort trying to
get the government to supply information regarding demand up to and beyond that
date, Bailey and Blair were told that there are no published assessments that
extend that far. They then asked if there were any unpublished assessments or
evidence and were told there were none. That hasn’t stopped the Government
from telling us over and over again that “electricity demand could double by
What will it cost?
the Secretary of State was asked for an estimate of the relative costs of
energy generation infrastructure, he provided a table that showed the levelised cost (i.e the price at which the electricity must
be sold to break even, averaged over the lifetime of the plant) of nuclear
as 6.8p/kWh, lower than a selection of other options, such as modern coal and
gas plants, onshore and offshore wind . He did not include other sources,
for example, biomass combined heat and power (CHP), gas CHP and landfill or
sewage gas, all of which also appear in the Mott MacDonald
(UK government) report  he was citing and are cheaper than nuclear,
even according to the report. He also did not remind MPs that renewable sources,
such as solar and offshore wind, have a record of becoming considerably less
expensive over time, whereas there is no prospect that nuclear will become
cheaper in the foreseeable future because the lead time to employing new technology
is so long. On the contrary, the cost of constructing nuclear plants generally
rises considerably faster than inflation .
and Blair also noticed that the government assumed the nuclear plants would
operate for 60 years, although experience shows that even 40 years is
optimistic. In the first draft of the EN-1 document, the operating life is
given as “in the region of 40-60” years. In the revised draft and in the final
document, “40” has disappeared and the lifetime is given as 60 years. The Mott
MacDonald analysis of costs assumes an operating lifetime of 60 years, but
there is no reference given for that. The operating lifetime is especially
important in considering nuclear power because so much of the total cost is in
building the plants rather than in supplying them with fuel.
the government announced that it was going ahead with 10 more nuclear power
plants, it assured us that this would only happen if they could be built
without subsidies. Anyone who looked at the evidence could see that this was
impossible and indeed that was the view of the major investment bankers . We
can now be certain that the government knew that too.
German company E.ON has pulled out of building nuclear reactors and the only
companies left in the field, Electricité de France and Centrica, have made it
clear that they will go ahead only if they are guaranteed a sufficiently high
price for the electricity their nuclear plants produce ; a large subsidy,
in other words.
the government presented to Parliament greatly exaggerated our future energy
needs and underestimated the cost of nuclear energy relative to other
non-carbon sources. Despite this, it might – in principle – still be possible
that we will not be able both to keep the lights on and meet our greenhouse gas
reduction targets without it. That is far from the case. We have given details in
our report  but perhaps the most convincing evidence is that the German
government has already committed itself to closing down its existing nuclear
facilities and not replacing them, and it is confident it can reach its targets
British government too knows that it is perfectly feasible to cope without
nuclear. In 2010 and 2011 it published two “Pathways” reports . Each
included a number of scenarios that could achieve the required 80% reduction in
emissions by 2050 and also satisfy the nation’s energy requirements. Of the 16
scenarios in the 2011 report, 6 involved no new nuclear build .
the EN-1 and EN-6 National Policy Statements [NPSs] presented to Parliament,
however, MPs were told that ‘failure to develop new nuclear power stations
significantly earlier than the end of 2025 would increase the risk of the UK
being locked into a higher carbon energy mix’ . They were not told that
more than one in three of the scenarios showed that an adequate supply of low
carbon energy could be produced without nuclear.
Director of ACE, Andrew Warren, wrote about this to Charles Hendry MP, the Minister
responsible for nuclear power. A Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)
official eventually replied  “you note that the overview of the Pathways
2050 analysis in EN-1 did not present the full information to MPs on all the
possible options” and he justified this by saying “this is not, however, the
purpose of the NPSs”.
seems a “national policy statement” is just that: a statement of government
policy backed by arbitrary ‘evidence’ selected
to justify what the government has decided to do. It is not an impartial
presentation of the available evidence to help
Parliament reach the best decision. It would be interesting to know whether our
MPs understand this.
was it done?
and Blair believe that it was not government ministers who misled Parliament; that they themselves
were given biased information. That’s not implausible. Ministers are busy and
do not have the time to go through in detail every document they receive, still
less to look up and read all the references. They rely heavily on summaries
provided by their staff. We know that in real life, as in Yes Minister, civil
servants and advisers are not above pushing their own agendas and keeping
relevant information from their ministers.
the same, we’re not convinced. We don’t recall hearing any former ministers complaining
that they were misled about nuclear energy while they were in office. The real question is why a government should deliberately
ignore evidence and choose an option that is going to be more expensive
and less effective than the alternative. The most likely
explanation is simply that over time, a close and comfortable
relationship has grown up between governments on the one hand – ministers and
civil servants alike – and the nuclear lobby on the other.
years ago, many people believed both that the UK needed its own atomic bomb and
also that nuclear power would provide an unlimited supply of cheap electricity.
The military and civilian projects have remained together ever since and have
supported each other in many ways, as they have in other countries (see The
True Costs of French Nuclear Power , SiS 53). For example, one of
the advantages (from this point of view) of a pressurised water reactor is that
it produces plutonium, which can be used in weapons. And much of the cost of
research can be hidden in the defence budget, which tends not to be looked at
with the same critical eye that other departments may experience.
have changed. We now know that nuclear power is neither cheap nor safe, and
even though most people agree that we have to find alternatives to fossil
fuels, we also know that nuclear is by no means best option for that.
military situation is also different from before. Even those who believe it was
nuclear weapons that kept the peace until the fall of the Soviet Union have
been unable to suggest an even remotely plausible scenario in which they might
be useful now. They certainly contributed nothing to our efforts in the Falklands,
Bosnia, Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan. If anything, they only diverted
expenditure from equipment that the soldiers who fought in those wars
in the face of all the evidence, the government persists with its nuclear energy
programme and uses policy-based evidence to justify it to Parliament. It is
bound and determined to spend an estimated £20 billion on a replacement for
Trident when no one has any idea what use it could possibly be.
nuclear lobby see themselves as working at the cutting edge of science, promoting
the most modern technologies for the defence of the realm and for supplying our
energy needs. Successive governments have taken them at their word, and over
the years their influence has grown. In fact, theirs is a mid 20th
century vision. We are now in the 21st century and the energy of the
future is renewables. As for defence, whatever the answer is, it is not
Trident. It is time to end our fascination with the nuclear illusion.
leaves Japan without nuclear power”, BBC News, 5 May 2012,
John Fryer Comment left 5th July 2012 07:07:17 The decision to build new nuclear power plants was taken by committee before the Fukushima debacle and so long after the Chernobyl debacle that the committee may not have been aware of the scale of the catstrophe.
WHO and Atomic Energy authorities have done such a good propaganda job on the TRUTH that even experts in the field have been duped.
Fukushima was enough to wake up several countries to the fallacy of RISK - BENEFIT analysis.
And Britain's other fallacy was to use Chernobyl to prevent 150 sheep farms EVER selling meat to the public. This embargo for reasons of nuclear pollution came just after Chernobyl and the farms affected centred on that unfortunate little village of SELLAFIELD.
Azle Beckner Comment left 15th December 2012 16:04:29 I have studied physics and the uses of radioactive material. I have always known that "nuclear Power" was used to cover the cost of production of nuclear weapons. The complete chain of energy from raw uranium through enrichment and conversion to steam to turn a turbine to produce electricity takes too much electricity. the changes in form are wasteful of energy. From the first coal powered plant that produces steam to turn the turbines that send electricty to the enrichment plant at Paducah,KY. to the final stage of electricity from a nuclear decay of uranium to produce heat to produce steam to turn a turbine and make elecricity there is a great loss of energy and no gain. Nuclear Power is a hoax!