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The tide is turning against nuclear power, following the IPCC Report

 NuClear News, Nov 18 Tide Turns Against Nuclear

Following the recent National Infrastructure Assessment which advised the Government not to build more than two new nuclear stations (about 6GW) (1) and the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) statement that “If new nuclear projects were not to come forward, it is likely that renewables would be able to be deployed on shorter timescales and at lower cost,” (2) we have now seen the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report making some pretty disparaging remarks about nuclear power. Perhaps the tide is finally turning.

The IPCC latest findings tell a nightmarish tale—one much worse than in previous reports— surveying the climate-change impacts we’re already experiencing with one degree of warming, and the severity of the impacts to come once we surpass 1.5 degrees of warming. Ten million more people would be exposed to permanent inundation, and several hundred million more to “climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty.” Malaria and dengue fever will be more widespread, and crops like maize, rice, and wheat will have smaller and smaller yields— particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America. Security and economic growth will be that much more imperilled. “Robust scientific literature now shows that there are significant differences between 1.5 and 2 degrees,” Adelle Thomas, a geographer from the Bahamas and also one of the report’s lead authors, told the New Yorker. “The scientific consensus is really strong. It’s not just a political slogan: ‘1.5 to stay alive.’ It’s true.” (3)

But the IPCC report points out that “the transition from the energy system that would be needed to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C is underway in many sectors and regions of the world. The technical, social, economic and political feasibility of solar energy, wind energy, and electricity storage technologies has improved considerably in recent years, while nuclear energy and Carbon dioxide (CCS) storage in the electricity sector did not show the same improvements.”


Nuclear: too weak, too slow, too expensive and too risky The IPCC report continues saying the timeframe between the date of decision and the commissioning of nuclear power plants is between 10 and 19 years, and current deployment capacity is slowed by public concern about the risk of accidents and problems with nuclear waste. In addition, the IPCC notes, that “the costs of nuclear energy have increased over time in some developed nations, mainly because of the prevailing conditions, where increased investment risks in high-capital-intensive technologies have become important.” The theoretical benefits that nuclear energy could bring in the fight against climate change are therefore far too weak, too slow, too expensive and too risky. While the IPCC report requires us to quickly reduce emissions, it is not possible to choose the slowest and most expensive electric generation technology to deploy, as well as the dirtiest and riskiest. Nuclear power is disqualified from the race of the climatic fight. (4)


The IPCC report also says: “In spite of the industry’s overall safety track record, a non-negligible risk for accidents in nuclear power plants and waste treatment facilities remains. The long-term storage of nuclear waste is a politically fraught subject, with no large-scale long-term storage operational worldwide. Negative impacts from upsteam uranium mining and milling are comparable to those of coal, hence replacing fossil fuel combustion by nuclear power would be neutral in that aspect. Increased occurrence of childhood leukaemia in populations living within 5 No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.112, November 2018 3 km of nuclear power plants was identified by some studies, even though a direct causal relation to ionizing radiation could not be established and other studies could not confirm any correlation”.


An April 2018 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) shows, renewable energy and energy efficiency can, in combination, provide over 90% of the necessary energy-related CO2 emission reductions the world needs. Furthermore, this can happen using technologies that are safe, reliable, affordable and widely available. While different paths can mitigate climate change, renewables and energy efficiency provide the optimal pathway to deliver most of the emission cuts needed at the necessary speed. But renewable energy will need to be scaled up at least six times faster for the world to meet the decarbonisation and climate mitigation goals set out in the Paris Agreement.


The total share of renewable energy must rise from around 18% of total final energy consumption (in 2015) to around two-thirds by 2050. Over the same period, the share of renewables in the power sector would increase from around one-quarter to 85%, mostly through growth in solar and wind power generation. The energy intensity of the global economy will have to fall by about two-thirds, lowering energy demand in 2050 to slightly less than 2015 levels. This is achievable, despite significant population and economic growth, by substantially improving energy efficiency, the report finds. (6)


 So what is the UK Government doing?

On 15th October the UK Government wrote a joint letter with the Welsh and Scottish governments to the Committee on Climate Change to seek updated advice on meeting the 1.5oC target. (7) Specifically, the governments asked the CCC to report on the date by which they should look to set a net zero target, as well as the range which UK greenhouse gas emissions reductions would need to be within, against 1990 levels, by 2050 as an appropriate contribution to the global goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2oC above pre-industrial levels. It has also asked for the corresponding emissions range for a 1.5oC target. But the letter said carbon budgets already covering the period 2018-2032 were out of scope of the request.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that limiting global warming to 1.5oC by the end of the century would require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”, and that the world is currently heading for a 3oC rise in temperature. (8)

The exclusion of the period from 2018 – 2032 led to protests from green groups and the opposition. Labour’s Energy Spokesperson, Alan Whitehead, called on the government to strengthen its review of the UK’s long term carbon targets and allow the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to assess whether existing near-term carbon targets are compatible with keeping temperature increases below 1.5C. CCC chief executive Chris Stark admitted he was surprised the letter explicitly stated that “carbon budgets already set in legislation (Carbon Budgets 3-5 covering 2018-2032) are out of scope of this request”. (9

The Scottish Government has now written separately to the CCC changing its position, and saying the previous request “should not therefore prevent you from advising on all of Scotland’s targets.” (10) No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.112, November 2018 4

Devastating Critique of UK policies on renewables

Meanwhile the BBC’s File on Four programme aired an unprecedented critique of the UK government’s undermining of renewables. The government says it is committed to green energy – its recent ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ claims plans are in place to cut greenhouse gases by more than half of 1990 levels by 2030. And yet, research shows investment in green energy fell 56% last year, the biggest drop of any country – with policy change, subsidy cuts and ‘stop-start’ support from ministers being blamed. So, do Britain’s plans for a greener future add up? File on 4 takes to the road to find out. On a trip around the North East of England, Simon Cox asks why, when the offshore wind industry has grown, other cheap, renewable energies like onshore wind, solar power and now biofuels are struggling to survive. He examines whether changes in policy are hitting crucial investment, and if ambitious climate targets will really be met.


While offshore wind expands, it’s not the same story for onshore. Changes to planning laws mean it’s pretty impossible to build them in England and Wales. The CCC has warned of big gaps in the Government’s programme. We are going to need more onshore wind and solar to meet our targets. Gareth Miller of Cornwall Insight told the BBC that “to simply shut out the two undeniably cheapest technologies … from being built to their maximum capacity in the UK seems to be very, very strange indeed … There is a question of how serious the Government is when it says it wants to decarbonise the power sector at the lowest cost to the consumer in a world where they are currently shutting out the cheapest technologies to make that happen … I think we’ll see a significant slowdown if we haven’t already.”


In 2015 the tariff for generating solar electricity was slashed by two-thirds for homeowners and large solar farms. The domestic market has now gone back to the level it was at before the feedin tariff came in. A lot of very good companies have gone bust or shrunk. Next April the remaining tariff for exporting electricity to the grid will disappear – a further blow to investors in solar power – it will ruin the financial case for putting solar panels on your roof. It will be the final end of the domestic solar market in the UK. You are looking at thousands and thousands of job losses across the country. One recent survey found over 40% of UK solar installers are considering quitting the industry. To survive British companies have been forced to look overseas. Solar Century, for example, wouldn’t be able to survive if it was just reliant on the UK. Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Century says:


“If I needed any more persuading that we are dealing with hostile forces who basically over many years have taken every opportunity to set us back while promoting the cause of more expensive nuclear and more expensive shale gas then this is it … of all the things they have done to harm our industry over the years this is arguably the worst … the prize for the Government in a country desperate for jobs would have been to build a domestic industry – that is not going to happen because so many big British companies have been driven to bankruptcy.”


The opportunity to build a really healthy British solar industry has been lost.

Dr Gem Woods from Imperial College says: “We now know that even what seemed like an impossibly stretching target of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 is not going to be anything like good enough. And so we have to think very fast (and do very fast) about what sort of systems that we need to be deploying over the next 5, 10 and 20 years – not the next 50 years. At the moment we have locked ourselves into a set of processes that in my view are really delaying meaningful implementation of the types of technologies and systems that will allow us and our children to have any kind of meaningfully good future.”


November 1, 2018 - Posted by | climate change, UK

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