Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Nuclear power ‘needed to fill energy gap’

Britain should treble the share of electricity it generates from nuclear power to avoid sleepwalking into a dangerous dependency on imported gas, Gordon Brown will be warned today.
Malcolm Wicks, the Prime Minister’s special envoy on energy security, is to publish a report this morning arguing that the country’s national security is at stake and recommending an acceleration of plans to build a new generation of nuclear reactors.
Mr Wicks, MP for Croydon North, who has worked on the report for almost a year, is understood to be concerned that energy policy risks becoming imbalanced by being overly focused on the environmental agenda while insufficient attention is paid to long-term energy supplies.
“The question is whether or not the same rigour [that is being devoted to cutting emissions] is being applied to energy security,” someone familiar with the report said.
“The Government has not been good at asking serious questions about whether or not the UK is in the right place ... It’s a dangerous world and when we emerge from recession there will be a global grab for diminishing supplies of energy. Where is it all going to come from?”
With North Sea oil and gas production in steep decline, Mr Wicks is expected to call for the UK to boost the share of electricity generated from nuclear stations to as much as 30-40 per cent of the total, up from only 13 per cent last year.
He will also propose that the Government should adopt a more interventionist approach to ensure new reactors are built — and in greater numbers — than currently planned.
The report from Mr Wicks, a former energy minister, also questions whether the Government’s projection that the North Sea will still be supplying 55 per cent of the UK’s total gas needs in 2020 may be overly optimistic because it is based on ambitious planned improvements in energy efficiency and a vast increase in power generation from wind farms, neither of which can be assured.
Oil & Gas UK, the industry group, estimates that by 2020 the North Sea will be capable of producing less than half that amount — only 25 per cent of the UK’s needs. The remainder will need to be imported from countries including Russia, Qatar and Algeria, exposing consumers to the threat of Ukraine-style supply disruptions and volatility in wholesale prices.
While six new UK nuclear plants are on the drawing board to replace ageing reactors, none is due to enter service before 2017 and EDF, the French state-controlled company that is leading the push, has raised questions over whether they will be built without state support.
As well as calling for an acceleration of nuclear power, the report also calls for the construction of coal-fired power plants, gas-storage facilities and power connections to continental Europe.
Source: The Times

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