Michael Meacher: Nuclear power? Whatever happened to Mr Renewable?

It is not that the alternatives have failed. They have not been tried

Share

"Nuclear power? Yes please." Can this really be the attitude the Government would adopt should Labour be re-elected Thursday week? Yesterday's headlines suggested that after the election there would be a green light to a new generation of nuclear power stations to help combat global warming.

"Nuclear power? Yes please." Can this really be the attitude the Government would adopt should Labour be re-elected Thursday week? Yesterday's headlines suggested that after the election there would be a green light to a new generation of nuclear power stations to help combat global warming.

I'd be very surprised if Tony Blair went down this route as I believe him to be thoroughly committed to renewable energy resources. In his foreword to Labour's White Paper two years ago entitled "Our Energy Future - Creating a Low Carbon Economy", he said, "As we move to a new low carbon economy there are major opportunities for our businesses to become world leaders in technologies we will need for the future - such as fuel cells, offshore wind and tidal power."

There is a powerful campaign now gathering momentum suggesting that Britain will only achieve its climate change targets with a revival of nuclear power, but this is misguided. Nuclear is neither necessary nor desirable for this purpose, and would entail economic, military and environmental risks that should be avoided.

Britain is one of only two countries in the EU - the other being Germany - which is set to meet its climate change targets. Indeed we are likely to achieve those targets by a healthier margin than probably any other country in the industrialised world.

Who needs nuclear when its downsides of nuclear are so stark? First, nuclear is far more expensive. The Government's Performance and Innovation Unit estimated electricity generating costs from onshore wind at 1.5p-2.5p per kilowatt hour by 2020, from offshore wind at 2p-3p, and from gas at 2p-2.3p. But generating costs from nuclear power were put at 2.5p-4p per kilowatt hour, half as expensive again as gas and up to twice as expensive as wind. In a competitive capitalist economy that is the killer point.

Next, there is the problem of nuclear waste, the safe long-term storage of which no country has yet solved. And we have an enormous amount of it. Even if there were no new nuclear build, which was the agreed position in the 2003 White Paper, the DTI has admitted that the 10,000 tons of high and intermediate level nuclear waste currently stored mostly at Sellafield would increase to half a million tons by the end of this century - a 50-fold increase. When this waste stream contains some of the most toxic materials known to man and no one knows what to do with it, does it make sense deliberately to add to the pile? Against this background, the argument of the nuclear lobby that we already have such a massive amount of this dangerous waste so that adding a bit more to it wouldn't make much difference is frankly contemptible.

Third, after 9/11 the security of vulnerable installations has now become a key issue. Is it really sensible to build more nuclear stations which are an obvious target for terrorist attack, or to increase the transportation of nuclear materials by land or sea at risk of hijack?

If, then, for very good reasons a nuclear future is rejected, where are we to find our energy? How do we fill the gap as the Magnox and the advanced gas-cooled reactors currently responsible for some 23 per cent of electricity generation are steadily phased out in the next two decades? What is the potential for development of renewables - wind-power, biomass, wave power or tidal barrages, and ultimately solar power? At present, we have the worst of all worlds. The renewables contribution to electricity generation is still tiny at about 3 per cent. The Government made a clear declaration two years ago to push strongly down the renewables route, but has done far too little to deliver on the scale required. Yet the potential for wind-power in Britain is recognised to be far ahead of both Germany and Spain, the EU's leading markets and, on a global basis, above Texas, the previously strongest market.

It is not that renewables have failed or are not up to the job. It is rather that they have never been seriously tried. Despite attractive pricing under the Renewable Obligation Certificates system, far too little has been done to deal with the principal barriers to expansion - planning blockages, aviation issues, grid network constraints, and grossly inadequate funding, all of which were correctly identified by the White Paper.

Three new initiatives are urgently needed to keep Britain's strong record on climate change firmly headed in the right direction. One is the promotion of a global policy of Contraction and Convergence in carbon emissions between developed and developing countries as the only fair and equitable way to get countries like China and India on board, so that a global problem is met by a truly global response.

Second, the enormous in-built subsidies still granted to the fossil fuel industries should be steadily phased out and the savings transferred into a massive expansion of renewables. And third, the prodigious waste of energy by both industry and domestic households should be addressed by much, much stronger incentives to maximise energy efficiency.

If Labour is really to be a leader on the environment, these are the third-term tests we will have to pass.

Michael Meacher, the Labour candidate for Oldham West and Royton, was Environment spokesman from 1997 to 2003

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Assistant

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have previous experience...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently  

Shia LaBeouf to Luis Suárez: Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Ellen E Jones
Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin “consciously uncoupled” in March  

My best and worst stories of 2014

Simmy Richman
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015