The UK’s Business Minister John Hutton makes it all sound so easy. He plans to…
…tell the newly-created Nuclear Development Forum's first meeting that new nuclear power plants are also crucial in preventing power cuts as ageing coal and nuclear plants are progressively shut down.
"I'm determined to press all the buttons to get nuclear built in this country at the earliest opportunity - not only because it's a no-brainer for our energy security, but also because it's good for jobs and our economy," he will say.
Moving swiftly on from talking about pressing nuclear buttons not being the best analogy in the circumstances, does nuclear provide energy security? Not when, as the UK is, you are reliant on foreign sources of uranium. Should the ‘nuclear renaissance’ take off across the world, competition for uranium will only increase along with its price. With uranium reserves in countries like the US and France already past their peak, this problem can only get worse. Goodbye oil crisis, hello uranium crisis.
Is nuclear good for jobs? As Bulgaria are finding out while building a new reactor at Belene, a shortage of skilled Bulgarian engineers means foreign workers are having to be recruited to fill the gap. The UK is facing a nuclear skills shortage of its own – that’s why it’s looking to French expertise to build a new fleet of reactors.
Hutton speaks of 100,000 jobs being created but who will train those workers? Will that be expected of the contractors building the reactors? In that case, with the cost of nuclear build rocketing, won’t the contractors save money in training costs by simply importing the skills from abroad as they do elsewhere, rather than create a skills base from scratch in the UK? Almost certainly.
Just sticking to UK targets for renewables and energy efficiency makes a ‘nuclear renaissance’ unnecessary. Renewable energy technology has the potential to create far more jobs than nuclear and make the UK a world-beater in the field – particularly if the UK government can stick to its promise to generate around 40 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020.
Which brings us to Hutton’s final claim that nuclear will be good for the UK’s economy. That rather flies in the face of the evidence. The UK tax payer will certainly have to offer sweeteners to attract investment. Nuclear cleanup of existing UK sites is already expected to cost £83 billion with the government picking up the bill. That figure can be expected rise should new reactors be built. The government will also have to underwrite insurance costs. Hutton also speaks of the UK building a ‘vibrant’ nuclear export trade. He fails to mention how this will happen and how soon it will take to build a multinational company able to compete with nuclear giants like Areva, Toshiba and Rosatom.
So on the whole, it sounds like another load of empty rhetoric and promises. We respectfully wonder if it isn’t John Hutton himself who’s the ‘no-brainer’ here.