From the TUC

Time to act for a new nuclear horizon

03 Apr 2012, by in Environment

Prospect has long argued that nuclear power is an essential part of the energy mix if we are to achieve the twin aims of security of supply and low carbon energy generation within the UK. As the union for professionals employed across the energy sector, we see the construction of a new fleet of nuclear power stations as an opportunity to meet the challenges of low carbon energy generation capacity while providing a massive boost to the economy.

A new fleet would provide thousands of high-value, highly skilled jobs both within the construction industry and throughout the manufacture and supply chains, as well as for operating staff at sites across the country tasked with running the new plants for the next 60 to 70 years. It would help develop an employment sector with the expertise and ingenuity needed in any shift toward new low-carbon generation, allowing the acquisition of skills that could steer new build in other countries.

News, therefore, that the two German companies behind Horizon Nuclear Power plan to withdraw from projects to build new plants at Wylfa, North Wales – an £8bn project due to start at the end of 2012 – and Oldbury, South Gloucestershire, came as a blow.

While the decision by RWE and E.ON was based on pressures elsewhere in their businesses rather than any doubts to the fundamental economics of building in the UK, the move casts a shadow not only over the two sites involved but potentially the UK’s wider energy policy.

Certainly at local level it has worrying implications for Horizon’s 120 highly-skilled employees who now face an uncertain future.

But nationally, at a time when we face the closure of several large coal-fired power stations between now and the end of 2015 and the country’s existing nuclear fleet is being wound down, the Horizon venture was to be a major contributor towards the goal of a new fleet of nuclear stations generating the energy of the future.

The temptation to plug the gap with gas-powered plants would, given the dwindling North Sea gas production, leave the country reliant of foreign supplies that are vulnerable to disruption.

All these factors underscore why it is imperative that we do not lose an opportunity to put in place infrastructure for the long-term needs of the country. Wylfa is a prime site for the next generation of nuclear power and Anglesey has nearly 50 years of experience of the nuclear industry – features that will surely be attractive to other investors.

But measures must be put in place to attract new interest. The government needs to provide the policy basis for stable investment conditions for all technologies, but in particularly nuclear new build given the long term nature and scale of investment required. Any delay to the energy market reform will create uncertainty among international companies looking for more hospitable investment climates abroad.

With that aim Prospect is seeking urgent meetings with energy and business ministers as well as working with community groups to build a broad coalition of support to get the necessary backing at local and national level.

GUEST POST: Mike Clancy is general secretary designate of Prospect. He became deputy general secretary of the union in 2005. At present, he has policy responsibility for members employed in Prospect’s energy and defence sectors and is policy lead for health and safety and legal services.

5 Responses to Time to act for a new nuclear horizon

  1. Peter
    Apr 3rd 2012, 6:29 pm

    Just to say, your Nuclear policy may be the policy of Prospect. But there a large minority of branches in Prospect who believe we should not be promoting Nuclear power. My particular branch opposed a motion promoting Nuclear power and 1/3 of the National conference in Liverpool agreed with us. Apart from the astronomic cost, the accidents at 3 mile island, chernobyl and fukushima show the terrible consequnces when things go wrong. Why has Germany abandoned Nuclear power and Japan considering it. No we ought to spend the vast sums involved in REDUCING the demand for ever more power and a UK wide programme of energy efficiency. Look to this and carbon capture to create jobs.

  2. Graeme
    Apr 4th 2012, 6:15 pm

    I agree with Peter’s remarks above but I would remind Mike that it is simply not reasonable to consider nuclear power to be a “low carbon” solution. It may not involve directly burning hydrocarbons but the extraction, refining, construction and ongoing management involve the the release of huge quantities of fossil carbon.

    I would also draw the attention of the Prospect executive to the motion at the Liverpool conference which dealt with energy campainging in Scotland. Where Scotland is concerned, the conference only gave them a mandate to campign for “low carbon energy” …there is therefore no mandate to campaign in favour of nuclear energy in Scotland.

  3. Tom Milburn
    Apr 5th 2012, 1:52 pm

    “Time for a new nuclear horizon” ?? I’d rather see the new nuclear sunset…

    The news that E.On and RWE have decided not to go ahead with the building of new buclear power stations was very welcome indeed, and I only hope that EDF follows suit and pulls out of the construction of Hinkley Point C in North Somerset.

    Nuclear is not a sustainable alternative. It is highly expensive, dangerous and dirty. We need alternatives NOW. Even if they started building tomorrow, a new nuclear power station wouldn’t start providing electricity for a decade or more. Spend that money on renewables, and you get electricity within a year.

  4. Rover
    Apr 11th 2012, 2:02 pm

    Graeme, sorry but I must disagree with you regarding your refernce to Scotland. “low carbon energy” includes nuclear and therefore campaigning should also include nuclear generation for Scotland.

  5. Graeme
    Apr 21st 2012, 6:20 pm

    Sorry Rover, nuclear is highly dependant on the release of huge volumes of fossil carbon, from the minute the ore is prospected till (presumably) a hundred years in the future when the waste is finally burried. It is not possible to consider the environmental impact of the technology by only focussing on what happens within a small part of the process.
    It is not possible to use the nuclear source without the huge carbon cost. If it makes you feel better, wind turbines cost cabon too, but proportionately less.