Thursday, January 31, 2008

What about the waste?

The Energy Bill has no clear statement on the waste disposal regime that will be necessary for new build nuclear.

The problem is underscored by a new National Audit Office report on the costs of cleaning up waste from Britain's first civil nuclear power programme, which it says "are still rising and uncertainties abound". It says the current £73bn cost of decommissioning the 19 existing nuclear sites over the next century is 18% above initial estimates, and the costs of even near-term actions are still rising when they should have stabilised.

CoRWM, the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, said in 2006 nuclear waste, which remains toxic for centuries, should be kept forever in a specially built safe storage facility deep underground. But while the government pointed to this as the solution to waste from any new plants, CoRWM said it only meant this solution to apply to waste from Britain's old military nuclear programme dating back to the 1950s, so called legacy waste.

So each company wishing to invest in nuclear power will have to submit a 'funded decommissioning programm' to the Secretary of State for BERR's approval. This will lay out how hazardous material will be treated, stored, transported and disposed of 'during the operation of a nuclear installation'.

The Government has asked for communities to volunteer to have nuclear waste stored in its location, but none have been forthcoming so far. However, an agreement between Copeland, Cumbria county council and the government has been made to set up a “community fund” in return for allowing the continued operation and expansion of a low-level waste repository, where lightly contaminated material such as clothing is stored.

The government will put £10m ($19m, €13m) into the fund as well as £1.5m for each year the repository is operating - the first such arrangement in the UK, after 18 months of talks. Much bigger sums and tougher negotiations would be involved before any community agreed to host a long-term deep-level waste dump.

Yet the government has said taxpayers will not foot the bill for the storage of waste from new nuclear build. So how are we to trust such statements?

Friday, January 25, 2008

The EU's 2020 targets for emissions and renewables

The EU has set a target of a 20% cut from 2005 levels in the continent's greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, potentially rising to 30% in the event of a global agreement.

Total EU industrial emissions in 2020 will be capped at 21% below 2005 levels. This means that 20% of all energy consumption - for electricity, heating and cooling, and transport - in the 25 states must be derived from renewable sources by that date.

In addition up to 12 carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects will be supported and gases capotured would be credited as not emitted under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The ETS itself will be modified to establish a central cap on emissions rather than the current system of Member States setting emissions caps for their own economies. Furthermore:

• two new gases (nitrous oxide and perfluorocarbons) will be included
• road transport and shipping remain excluded, although the latter is likely to be included later
• agriculture and forestry are also left out because it's hard to measure their emissions
• smaller installations, emitting below 10,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, will be able to opt out from the ETS, provided they institute alternative reduction measures. 

For the UK, the Commission proposes:
• a 16% reduction in UK emissions from sectors not covered by the EU ETS by 2020 from 2005 levels
• 15% of all UK energy to be renewable by 2020
• 10% of road transport fuels to come from renewable sources, as long as they are produced sustainably.

Business Secretary John Hutton said most of the new renewable electricity would come from the fact that "the UK is already scoping a vast expansion of wind energy offshore and tidal power on the Severn". Transport Minister Ruth Kelly welcomed the proposal of sustainability criteria for biofuels.

But Greenpeace said "The EU target for biofuels is a mistake. Biomass is more efficiently used for electricity and heat production rather than to fuel high-consumption cars".

Allocation of credits

Campaigners did welcome the fact that power generators will, from 2013, have to pay for their ETS credits, rather than get windfall profits from being given them as at present, but criticised the loopholes given to high energy users - the steel, aluminium and cement industries - after fierce lobbying.

Currently, 90% of carbon emission allowances are given free to industrial installations, but by 2013 it is estimated that around 60% will be auctioned. The text adds that "full auctioning should be the rule from 2013 onwards for the power sector", which is expected to lead to a 10-15% rise in electricity prices. In other sectors, free allocations will gradually be completely phased out on an annual basis between 2013 and 2020.

However, certain energy-intensive sectors could continue to get all their allowances for free in the long term if the Commission determines that otherwise facilities would relocate to countries with less stringent climate protection laws. The EC says these sectors "are yet to be determined".

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said, "There is no point in Europe being tough if it just means production shifting to countries allowing a free-for-all on emissions. An international agreement is the best way to tackle this." 

Assuming a global climate change deal is reached, member states will continue to be able to meet part of their target by financing emission reduction projects in countries outside the EU, up to a limit of about a quarter of total reduction. CDM administrators have complained this will mean a reduction in projects.

"a very small effort

WWF observed that "The 20% target is not even in line with the latest Bali agreement - that developed countries should cut emissions by 25-40% by 2020". "Overall, it is a very small effort," said Dr Stephan Singer, head of its European Climate and Energy Unit. 
The proposals will get final adoption by April-May 2009 at the latest, following negotiations between member states and the European parliament.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Congratulations to Australia

Hats off to Australia's new Foreign Minister Stephen Smith who had the guts to tell India's nuclear envoy Shyam Saran on Tuesday that Oz would not sell uranium to New Delhi unless it signs the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

This reverses a decision by the previous government.

India's Saran had brokered a deal with the I-don't-give-a-damn United States to provide nuclear power aid to India while allowing it to continue nuclear weapons production

He'd then got the old OZ government to agree to supply the yellow stuff, overturning a policy of selling the fuel only to NPT signatories.

Fortunately Australia's now seen sense and the world is, in theory at least, a safer place.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Uranium Blues

Building new nuclear power stations will have an impact that reaches far beyond our borders - to the places where the fuel for them is mined.

> Comment is Free article

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Will new nuclear power stations be insurable?

The Government has announced its decision on nuclear power, which is SUCH a surprise!

Utility bosses such as Dr Paul Golby, CEO of E.On and Monsieur Vincent de Rivaz, CEO of EDF proclaim they do not want or seek subsidies for new nuclear build.

Anyone who believes this probably still thinks nuclear power is "so cheap as to be hardly worth metering" (the industry's original claim).

Here's a list of questions about just a few things the poor taxpayer will probably have to stump up for:

Insurance. Nuclear plant operators have limited liability in the case of an accident. Any cost over £700m is covered by the taxpayer. Are they prepared to take on board the full insurance liabilities, which in the case of Chernobyl has already run to several tens of billions?

And are they prepared to share with any other private investors the full costs of the pre-construction safety analysis, currently covered by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate using public money?

What about the costs of the UK's membership of the EU's nuclear agency, Euratom; and the International Atomic Energy Agency - both of which do promotional and safety work for nuclear? Taxpayers pay for this.

And the current Technology Strategy Board £100m competition for proposals for collaborative research and development, into low carbon tech, including nuclear power.

Or the current research done by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, using taxpayers' money, on so-called Generation 4 reactor designs?

And are we expected to believe these companies will be around in any time over a few decades hence, for thousands of years, to pay for the full cost of management of the new radioactive waste produced?

The Low Carbon Kid would place money on all answers to these questions being in the negative.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Nuclear Power Consultation Flawed - Report

Business Secretary John Hutton is due to announce a decision on an expansion of nuclear energy tomorrow. But an academic report has accused its public consultation last year of being flawed and misleading.

Greenpeace says it is considering dragging the Government back to court.

"The government was in error in asking the public for a decision 'in principle', when the core 'what if' issues were not consulted on in any meaningful way, or resolved in practice," the academics from universities including Oxford, Warwick, Sussex, Newcastle, Cardiff and Manchester conclude.

"These issues include nuclear fuel supply and manufacture, vulnerability to attack, security and nuclear proliferation, radiation waste, radiation risk and health effects, reactor decommissioning, reactor design and siting," they added.

Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said, "For such senior insiders to be so critical of the consultation process is a deeply troubling commentary on the Government’s approach to this issue, and as the report reveals, nuclear power could only reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions by 4% by 2025 - too little, too late.

"Our lawyers are looking at this report and will also examine the Government’s decision on new nuclear build with great interest. We won’t be rushed into a decision, but nothing has been ruled out at this stage."

The main issue for the group of academics is disposal of waste from the new nuclear plants.

"The government consultation documents said this issue had been resolved. That is simply not true," said Paul Dorfman of Warwick University, one of the report's authors.

CoRWM, the independent Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, said in 2006 nuclear waste, which remains toxic for centuries, should be kept forever in a specially built safe storage facility deep under ground.

But while the government pointed to this as the solution to waste from any new plants, CoRWM said it only meant this solution to apply to waste from Britain's old military nuclear programme dating back to the 1950s, so called legacy waste.

The academics also accused the government of glossing over security considerations, the true costs of nuclear and alternative renewable energy sources, the availability of uranium fuel and the siting of new nuclear plants given sea level rises due to global warming.

Of course, a government green light is not actually necessary -- there is no legal barrier to any utility now opting to build a nuclear plant, although there is a lot of planning red tape.

"Although the government has said no public money will be involved in any new nuclear plants, a positive declaration must indicate government commitment in the final event and that can only mean taxpayers' money," said Dorfman.

The report notes that the new nuclear plant being built in Finland, touted by pro-nuclear adherents as a model for the way forward, is not only two years behind schedule but already 50 percent over budget, a fate it suggests would be in store for new plants in Britain, to the detriment of alternative power sources.

The Business and Enterprise Department says the Government believed the consultation was an "open, fair and full" process.

A spokesman said, "We have received 2,700 responses from the extensive consultation, which included public meetings across the UK, a written consultation document and a website. Time is pressing. Consulting indefinitely is not an option."

In Wales the Assembly Government is also sceptical about the need for new nuclear power stations - but with major energy decisions reserved to Westminster, it is powerless to block them.

Ministers in Cardiff Bay nevertheless "strongly support" an extension to the life of the Wylfa site on Anglesey, due to be decommissioned in 2010.

The site in the constituency of Deputy First Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones is of "economic importance", the WAG said.