Saturday, 3 August 2013

King backs solar after Monbiot attacked King for backing nuclear

David King, former Chief Scientist for the UK Government and perennial nuclear power champion has boosted establishment support for solar power by urging a major effort to ensure that solar pv can supply 'bulk power' at unsubsidised prices by 2025. You can see the article at:

 David King has, hitherto, appeared to put a high proportion of his efforts to combat climate change behind support for nuclear power, so this is a most welcome change of emphasis, though I suspect he has not yet realised the pointlessness of continuing to promote nuclear power. I don't know what has changed his mind.  I would like to think that my previous observation that the apparent wish of scientists to support nuclear power reflected their status as old males rather than that they were scientists has persuaded him to be a bit more forward-looking. However, probably he doesn't read my blog. I suspect that it is the reality of rapidly expanding deployment of solar pv at much reduced prices that has proved persuasive.
Some of you who are used to George Monbiot's support for nuclear power and sometimes quite outspoken attacks on support for solar pv may be confused by my headline on this blog post. It may be a bit postmodern, but it is still the case that George Monbiot DID attack David King for his support for nuclear power. This was back in 2005 when Tony Blair announced the need for new nuclear power stations, and David King joined in to support this argument. George Monbiot said:

'Sir David may have political reasons for “trying to sell” new nuclear power stations – at the Labour Party conference Tony Blair said he wants to re-examine the nuclear option...- but he would, I suspect, have as much trouble identifying a scientific case as he had at the meeting last month. The figures leave him stranded'

 I couldn't agree more with this comment, and George quoted a report from Amory Lovins which pointed out how uneconomic nuclear power was compared to renewable energy sources such as wind power. What has changed since 2005? Well, the nuclear industry's PR campaign that there was a new cheap generation of nuclear power stations has proved to be as nonsensical as all of such claims over the last 50+ years. But solar power has gotten a lot cheaper. So it is a pity that George Monbiot changed his view and decided to support nuclear power and started making prominent attacks on the viability of solar pv.

 You can see George Monbiot's blog post at:

 Meanwhile there is more bad news for nuclear power prospects (not that there is likely to be any good news!). EDF has postponed a 'decision' on whether to give final investment go-ahead to Hinkley C yet again.  A highly resourced PR campaign is dedicated to perpetuating the myth that the project still has life in it. The fact is that the Government has already offered better terms to nuclear than is being offered to renewable energy, so it cannot really be expected to go any further unless it decides to tear up Thatcherism and reinvent a nationalised energy industry. Ed Davey says about as much in another recent interview. See

Of course the Government seeks to keep up appearances that nuclear is not dead. There are still too many older males who cling to their youthful expectations for 'atoms for peace' that they learned at junior school in the 1950s!

The Government managed to pour balm on nuclear supporters at the time of the budget by offering a stupendous £10 billion of loan guarantees (and promises of 35 year contracts) for Hinkley C in June's budget. This surprised me and looked for a moment that the Treasury had been hit by something and made to offer a blank cheque for nuclear. But it seems that the PR effect, once again, may have hid something rather more modest. It is not just that the Treasury do not want to give the strike price that EDF want, or index it to inflation in the way that EDF prefer, or give (and this is the big one) an 'underwriting' guarantee for the whole project, but the Treasury loan guarantee itself may not all be exactly as it might seem.
It has been pointed out to me that something similar to what happened in the USA with nuclear power may be going on in the case of the Treasury ‘offer’. Despite the fact that the US Government is offering many billions of loan 'guarantees' for nuclear power, the only nuclear power projects (in South Carolina and Georgia) that are going ahead have what effectively amounts to cost construction 'underwriting' agreed by their state regulatory agencies. This is possible because their electricity companies are monopoly suppliers. But in other states the nuclear loan guarantees have proved unworkable. This is because the US Government has demanded that the nuclear companies take out insurance on the guarantees. The point here is that unless the state, at some level, offer an underwriting guarantee, the cost of insurance will be very large indeed, jacking up the required rate of return for the project up to much the same level as if the loan guarantees did not exist. The Economist, which discussed this situation in an article in 2010, mused that maybe this was a way of the Obama Government appearing to back nuclear power whilst in reality not offering a loan guarantee scheme that was as useful as it appeared in PR terms.

Could the British Government be involved in a similar exercise to the US Government? There could be more similarities between Conservative approaches and the Obama Administration than the mere sharing of election campaign advisers!
See the 2010 Economist article:

Like the Obama Administration, the British Government does not want to be held responsible for loading up the British state and taxpayer with the consequences of near-inevitable nuclear cost-overruns.
 Remember: nuclear power is a dead duck; it is just some people don't realise it yet!


1 comment:

  1. Dead duck isn't quite the right analogy. The dead duck should be pickled and left where it is instead of being dispersed into the environment. Reprocessing has been accelerated at Sellafield pumping out radioactive emissions to sea only to be washed up back to shore where increasing radioactive particles have been found. Meanwhile accelerated decommissioning is dispersing radioactive wastes to soil, air and water. While everyone's eyes are averted by fracking our landfill's are being turned into radioactive waste dumps with "controlled release of radioactivity to groundwater" and radioactive laundry is farmed out. No worries though, the "bulk of radioactivity is removed" before being dumped down the drains with fluorocarbons and other nasty chemicals. The nasty chemicals are put back onto the freshly laundered nuclear clothing to be trucked back to Sellafield and recontaminated. Radioactive metals from smashed up nuclear power stations are 'recycled' into pots and pans. Fracking is nasty and vicious - what is happening with nuclear 'decommissioning' is on an altogether different scale of nasty viciousness and is happening right now!