The Role of Nuclear Power in a Low Carbon Economy - Sustainable ...

sd.commission.org.uk

The Role of Nuclear Power in a Low Carbon Economy - Sustainable ...

SDC position paperThe role of nuclearpower in a lowcarbon economyMarch 2006


ContentsPage0101010202030505050607080809090910111112131414141415161617181818181919191 Introduction1.1 Why the SDC is re-examining its nuclear position1.2 Nuclear power in context1.3 Energy supply options1.4 The process for the SDC’s review1.5 Our approach2 Sustainable Development Analysis2.1 Environment2.1.1 Low carbon status2.1.2 Climate change benefits2.1.3 Waste and decommissioning issues2.1.4 Reprocessing2.1.5 Environmental and landscape impacts2.1.6 Summary2.2 Economy2.2.1 Total cost of nuclear power2.2.2 Security of supply2.2.3 Market delivery2.2.4 Market design2.2.5 Impact on alternative energy sources2.2.6 Summary2.3 Society2.3.1 Developing a policy on nuclear power2.3.2 Employment opportunities2.3.3 Safety and security issues2.3.4 Proliferation risks2.3.5 Health impacts2.3.6 Intergenerational issues2.3.7 Summary3 SDC Position on Nuclear Power3.1 Our energy challenge3.2 The starting point3.2.1 Reducing energy demand3.2.2 Increasing the contribution of renewables3.2.3 The clean and more efficient use of fossil fuels3.3 Nuclear power: our adviceContact usYou can contact the SustainableDevelopment Commission at:London (main office):020 7238 4999enquiries@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.ukEdinburgh: 0131 244 0140Scotland@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.uk/scotlandBelfast: 02890 257346N.Ireland@sd-commission.org.ukCardiff: 029 2082 6382Wales@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.uk/wales


Introduction1.1 Why the SDCis re-examiningits nuclearpositionThe SDC’s previous position on nuclearpower was agreed in 2001 as part of ourinput into the Energy Review conductedby the Performance and Innovation Unitof the Cabinet Office. This formed thebasis of our input to the Energy WhitePaper (EWP) process.The 2003 Energy White Paper was a watershedin energy policy, and was unique internationallyfor committing the UK to a 60% cut in CO 2emissions by 2050. Although it is now possiblethat this target will need to be increased, in orderto meet the international obligation to avoiddangerous climate change, the EWP containeda bold vision for future energy supply anddemand. The four primary goals were:> Putting the UK on a path to cut CO 2emissions by 60% by 2050, with realprogress by 2020> To maintain the reliability of energy supplies> To promote competitive markets in theUK and beyond> To ensure that every home is adequatelyand affordably heated.The EWP outlined a vision for energy supply in2020, which saw electricity supplies still basedon a market-based grid, but with increasingcommitment to more local generation andmicrogeneration. With a strong focus onenergy efficiency, renewables, and greateruse of combined heat and power (CHP),the EWP stressed the need for technologicaland economic innovation to help bring newtechnologies to the market, thereby creatingfuture options.Since then, there has been mixed success withthe policy measures put in place to deliverthese goals. Carbon emissions have been risingfor the past three years, mainly as a result ofincreased use of coal in power stations dueto high gas prices, but also due to increaseddemand for energy, despite the effect ofa number of energy efficiency measures.Progress with renewables has been reasonablyencouraging, and despite concerns over delaysin the offshore wind sector, it is still consideredpossible for the UK to meet or get close to its10% renewables target by 2010.However, rising oil and gas prices have putpressure on consumers, and there is increasingconcern that, over the longer term, theinevitable decline in the UK’s North Seareserves will lead to energy security problems.In the electricity sector there are worries thatthe decline of the UK’s nuclear power capacity,due to scheduled closures, will reduce totalgenerating capacity and could increase CO 2emissions unless this capacity is replaced bycarbon-free generation.In response to these concerns, the Governmenthas announced a new Energy Review, whichwill report after the Climate Change ProgrammeReview finishes, in mid 2006. As the Government’sadvisor on sustainable development, the SDCdecided during 2005 that it needed to revisitits position on nuclear power so that it waswell placed to advise the Government on thisimportant and controversial issue.1.2 Nuclearpower in contextNuclear power currently provides around 20%of the UK’s electricity. This translates into 8%of the UK’s energy needs once other sources ofenergy, such as transport fuel and non-electricheating, are taken into account. Our evidencebase shows how this contribution is scheduledto decrease over the next 30 or so years,assuming no plant lifetime extensions.Since the 2003 Energy White Paper thefundamentals have not radically changed, andmany of the measures introduced since 2000www.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 01


1Paper 2 – Reducing CO 2 emissions:nuclear and the alternativesare still in the process of bedding down.However, a number of commentators havesince expressed concerns over the UK’senergy policy, which can be broadly groupedas follows:> The ‘generation gap’: with nuclear andcoal plants expected to close down, thereis concern that the UK faces a shortfall inelectricity generating capacity over thenext 15 years> Carbon emissions: there is concernthat the ‘generation gap’ will lead to theconstruction of more gas-fired electricitygeneration, which will increase CO 2emissions> Security of supply: with increasing relianceon gas imports, there are concernsover the security of these sources, withpotential impacts on both electricitygeneration and heat supplies; there is afeeling among some commentators thatthis issue was not sufficiently dealt within the EWP> Price instability: reliance on gas leadsto the fear that energy prices willbecome more unstable, and could risesubstantially over time, with potentialimpacts on the economy and fuel poverty> Technology gap: the development of newtechnologies such as carbon capture andstorage and hydrogen fuel cells may takelonger than needed to fill the gapsidentified aboveThese concerns have led to calls for acommitment to new nuclear capacity, toreplace the capacity coming offline overthe next 30 years.1.3 Energysupply optionsNuclear power is not the only option available toreplace old nuclear plants, and there is thereforea choice to be made. Some commentatorsquestion whether the alternatives to nuclearwould be able to deliver the capacity, carbonsavings, and security of supply benefits thatnuclear can. This point is addressed in ourevidence base 1 .Having examined a broad range of studies thatoffer different scenarios of our energy future,it is clear that there is more than enoughrenewable resource in the UK to provide adiverse, low carbon electricity supply. All thescenario results suggest that it is possible tomeet our energy needs in a carbon constrainedeconomy without nuclear power.Regardless of what we do on nuclear powera broad range of renewables will be required,and we will need to achieve the substantialenergy savings that have been identifiedas cost effective using currently availabletechnologies. Significant improvements inenergy efficiency, leading to overall reductionsin demand, is a priority for action. Developingrenewables’ capacity to the levels required willtake time, so many models project greater useof combined heat & power (CHP) to use fossiland renewable fuels more efficiently, and thedevelopment of carbon capture & storage (CCS)technologies to help bridge the gap over thenext 50 or so years.In view of the widespread agreement byrespected analysts that a viable energy futureis possible for the UK without new nuclearpower, the SDC has approached this issue asa choice rather than an absolute necessity. It isin this context that the SDC has examined therole of nuclear power in a low carbon economy.1.4 The processfor the SDC’sreviewThe SDC has spent several months gathering anextensive evidence base in the following areas:Paper 1: An introduction to nuclear power –science, technology and UK policyPaper 2: Reducing CO2 emissions: nuclearand the alternativesPaper 3: Landscape, environment andcommunity impactsPaper 4: Economics of nuclear powerPaper 5: Waste management anddecommissioningPaper 6: Safety and securityPaper 7: Public perceptions andcommunity issuesPaper 8: Uranium resource availabilityWe have attempted to provide a balanced andcomprehensive view – both the positives andthe negatives – so far as we are able. Thereforethe papers will have elements that reflect thepro-nuclear and the anti-nuclear perspectives.We are publishing the evidence base at thesame time as our own position to providea resource for Government and the generalpublic to draw on. We believe such anevidence base is vital for there to be a trulyinformed debate on this issue.02 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


Too often the debate around nuclear is highlypolarised, with heavily entrenched positionson both sides. This does not help with aconsidered analysis of nuclear power, andtends to result in reports that seek to justifya pre-determined position. Such reports areeasily dismissed by opponents and will beregarded with suspicion by those that are truly‘neutral’; they are therefore of limited valueto the public debate.Our stand-alone evidence base is publishedalongside this paper, as a separate resource.1.5 OurapproachIn March 2005 the UK Government and theDevolved Administrations jointly publisheda shared framework for sustainabledevelopment, ‘One future – different paths’,in which five new principles of sustainabledevelopment were agreed across Governmentfor all policy development, delivery andevaluation – see Figure 1. Based on theseprinciples, the UK Government published itsSustainable Development Strategy, ‘Securingthe future’ to guide its policy-making processacross different departments. We havetherefore examined new nuclear developmentagainst these five principles.In this paper we have not followed thefive principles slavishly, as some are moresignificant for the nuclear issue than others.We have dealt with ‘environmental limits’ and‘sound science’ together; we have looked inconsiderable depth at ‘sustainable economy’;we have covered ‘good governance’ in relationto public engagement and in conjunction with‘a healthy and just society’.In examining the evidence base, and takinginto account the context of the five principlesand the 2006 Energy Review, we haveFigure 1: UK sustainable development principlesLiving withinenvironmental limitsRespecting the limits of the planet's environment,resources and biodiversity – to improve ourenvironment and ensure that the naturalresources needed for life are unimpaired andremain so for future generations.Ensuring a strong,healthy and just societyMeeting the diverse needs of all people inexisting and future communities, promotingpersonal wellbeing, social cohesion andinclusion, and creating equal opportunity for all.Achieving aSustainable economyBuilding a strong, stable andsustainable economy whichprovides prosperity andopportunities for all, and in whichenvironmental and social costsfall on those who impose them(polluter pays), and efficientresource use is incentivised.Promoting goodgovernanceActively promoting effective,participative systems ofgovernance in all levels ofsociety – engaging people’screativity, energy, and diversity.Using sound scienceresponsibilityEnsuring policy is developedand implemented on the basisof strong scientific evidence,whilst taking into accountscientific uncertainty (through theprecautionary principle) as wellas public attitudes and values.Securing the Future – delivering UK sustainable development strategywww.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 03


prepared this paper following extensivediscussions at the Commissioner level withthe following questions as our framework:A. If we replace or expand our nuclearelectricity generating capacity, what isthe public good for the environment?(Living within environmental limits andusing sound science responsibly)> Is nuclear a truly low carbon technology,taking into account a full lifecycle analysis?> What contribution can it make in combatingclimate change?> What are the waste and decommissioningimplications, and how will they bedealt with?> What are the wider environmental impacts– in the UK and overseas?B. What is the public good for oureconomy? (Achieving a sustainableeconomy)> What are the total costs of nuclearpower over the lifetime of planningthrough construction and operation todecommissioning and disposal of waste?> What are the implications for securityof supply?> How would new nuclear capacity bedelivered in the context of the UK’senergy market?> Is the lack of appetite for new nuclearpower a case of market failure? Does thecurrent market structure need reform?> What are the implications for alternativesto nuclear power?C. How is the public good best servedin the decision-making process for newnuclear and how does it contribute tosocial well-being? (Good governance;strong, healthy and just society)> How should policy on nuclear power bedeveloped to assure public confidence?> What are the implications of a UK decisionfor overseas governance issues of thenuclear supply and waste disposal chains?> What are the implications of adecision on nuclear for planning andlicensing conditions?> What are the health implications ofa new nuclear programme?> What are the security risks associatedwith a new-build programme and howare these best managed?> What are the risks associated withnuclear proliferation and how are thesebest managed?04 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


2. SustainableDevelopment AnalysisThis section will look at the case for nuclear power based on three areas ofanalysis, and using the five principles of sustainable development. The analysisbelow draws exclusively on the SDC’s evidence base, which consists of eightseparate reports that are published alongside this paper.2Paper 2 – Reducing CO 2 emissions:nuclear and the alternatives3Sustainable DevelopmentCommission (2005). Wind Powerin the UK.4In addition to carbon emissionsfrom the production of concrete.5These figures are for carbon (C)rather than CO2. They have beenconverted from the data used inour evidence base by multiplyingthe CO2 figures by 12/44.2.1 Environment2.1.1 Low carbon status 2No energy technology is currently carbon free.Even renewable technologies will lead tofossil fuels being burnt at some point in theirconstruction due to the high levels of fossilfuel usage in almost every transport modeand industrial process, including electricitygeneration. For example, wind turbines arebuilt of steel, and fossil fuels are thereforeconsumed in their construction either directly,during manufacture, and also from petroleumusage when the parts are transported to theconstruction site. However, the fossil fuel usedover the life of the turbine is ‘repaid’ in lessthan 10 months, as the turbines themselvesgenerate zero carbon energy 3 .Nuclear power stations are no different, withlarge up-front energy requirements duringconstruction 4 , although this is balanced by thehigh power output of each plant. However,nuclear differs from many renewables in itsrequirement for mined fuel (uranium ore).Although the total volume of fuel used is lowcompared to the volumes of fossil fuel requiredin gas or coal plants, uranium mining andthe subsequent fuel processing is an energyintensive activity that must be included for fulllifecycle emissions analysis. Decommissioningand waste activities are also likely to requireenergy inputs, and therefore their long-termimpact on nuclear power’s CO 2 emissions willdepend on the carbon intensity of futureenergy supplies.Our evidence shows that taking into accountthe emissions associated with plantconstruction and the fuel cycle, the emissionsassociated with nuclear power production arerelatively low, with an average value of4.4tC/GWh, compared to 243tC/GWh for coaland 97tC/GWh for gas 5 .However, emissions from decommissioning andthe treatment of waste also need to be assessedbut this is difficult for two main reasons:> in the UK, decommissioning of existingplant is highly complex and involves plantthat was not designed withdecommissioning in mind> the UK has not decided on its approachto waste management, which makesit difficult to assess the associatedCO 2 emissions.The carbon impact associated with the ‘backend’of the nuclear fuel cycle is spread acrossall of the UK’s nuclear power plants (activeand decommissioned) and includes all of theelectricity generated over their lifetime. Newlycommissioned plants are likely to have lowerlifecycle carbon emissions than for previousreactor designs, because of improvements inplant design (for example, smaller size, andimproved thermal efficiency and use of fuel),and because new plant is designed so thatit can be dismantled and decommissionedmore easily.A number of commentators have expressedconcerns that any move to low-grade uraniumores could substantially increase the carbonintensity of nuclear power. Our evidence onuranium resource availability 6 shows thatpredicting if and when this might happen isvery difficult to do with any accuracy. Resourceavailability is discussed in more detail below,but it is by no means certain that all the highgrade ores have been discovered, and anyincrease in the price of uranium could triggerrenewed interest in uranium prospecting.It is worth noting that the CO 2 emissionsassociated with many of the construction inputsinto a nuclear power plant could be subjectto emissions trading schemes, depending ontheir country of origin. This presents a possiblesolution to the lifecycle emissions problem ifwww.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 05


6Paper 8 – Uranium resourceavailability7Paper 2 – Reducing CO 2 emissions:nuclear and the alternativesas many of the inputs as possible could bebrought within a comprehensive emissionstrading regime. This could be achieved directly,by including those industries that supplynuclear plants, or indirectly by requiring carboncertificates for the calculated carbon value ofimported inputs.In the long-term, the move towards a lowcarbon economy more generally should leadto a reduction in the emissions from nuclearrelatedactivities, but this will depend to alarge extent on the uptake of low carbontechnologies in the relevant sectors (e.g.mining, and fuel processing).Our evidence leads us to conclude that nuclearpower can currently be considered a lowcarbon technology, but that a number ofconcerns remain over its long-term energyrequirements from ‘back-end’ liabilities, andthe potential impact of increasing the use oflow-grade uranium ores. The priority shouldbe to internalise any outstanding carbon costsas far as possible so that it competes equallywith other low carbon technologies.In our analysis of the possible contribution ofnuclear power to reducing CO 2 emissions, thelifecycle emissions from nuclear power are notincluded. This allows a fairer comparison withother low carbon technologies, all of which willhave some associated emissions.2.1.2 Climate change benefits 7In the 2003 Energy White Paper, theGovernment outlined its long-term objectiveto cut CO 2 emissions by 60% from 1990 levelsby 2050, with significant progress by 2020.On the basis of this goal we have assessedthe potential contribution nuclear electricitygeneration could make to reducing CO 2emissions over the long-term, based ontwo scenarios for nuclear new-build.Nuclear power currently makes up around20% of UK electricity, and around 8% of totalUK energy supply. Electricity generated fromnuclear power currently displaces around 14million tonnes of carbon (MtC) per year, witha range of 7.95MtC to 19.9MtC (depending onwhether it is assumed to displace coal or gasfiredelectricity generation). This is equivalentto around 9% of total UK CO 2 emissions in 2004(with a range of 5-12.6%).As the large range in these figures illustrates,the actual contribution of nuclear power toreducing CO 2 emissions depends heavily onwhat type of plant, or fuel, it displaces. If thefuel is carbon intensive, such as coal, thenthe savings are large, but if nuclear were todisplace a low carbon technology, such as windpower, then there may be no carbon saving.The DTI currently assumes that the standardleast-cost comparison plant is gas CCGT(combined cycled gas turbine). This seemsa reasonable assumption over the next 20years, although in reality this is very dependenton gas and carbon prices.Our evidence assumes that new-build nuclearplant would displace new-build gas CCGT plant,which has an emissions level of around90tC/GWh – i.e. if nuclear plant is not builtthen gas CCGT would be built instead. The caseis similar for renewables, which at present aredisplacing output from old coal and possiblygas plant, but in the long-term would mostlikely displace new-build gas CCGT. There isno overlap between nuclear and renewables,or any other low carbon technology, and untilthe combined capacity of such technologies isvery high (which is not a realistic prospect formany decades based on current trends), theyare all likely to result in CO 2 savings from thedisplacement of gas plant.Our evidence looks at two scenarios for nuclearnew-build above our current baseline ofdeclining capacity: replacement of existingplant (10GW), and an expansion that wouldroughly double current capacity (20GW).It is important to note that there are constraintson how quickly a replacement or expansionof nuclear capacity could be constructed. Ourreplacement and expansion scenarios assumea maximum build rate of 1GW per year startingin 2015, which would deliver 10GW by 2024,with a similar rate of new-build under theexpansion scenario delivering a further 10GWby 2034.Although the build rate may be faster during2024-2034 (for example as lessons learnedfrom early projects are applied to later ones),it may equally be more protracted between2005 and 2024 (for example due to licensingand planning problems, opposition fromthe public, or problems of supply if severalcountries demand new orders from a limitednumber of suppliers). We note that Britainhas no recent track record of nuclear plantconstruction, and the most likely reactordesigns would be imported.Detailed analysis, and a full explanation ofthe assumptions used, is given in our evidencebase. However, it is clear that the nuclearcontribution to a 2020 CO 2 reduction targetwould be limited, with the full carbon benefitsoccurring over the following decades. To avoidany uncertainties over the build rate, theemissions savings figures for the total capacityinstalled under each scenario should be used.These show that a replacement programmeconsisting of 10GW of new nuclear capacitywould displace 6.7 MtC, which representsa 4% cut in CO 2 emissions from 1990 levels(165.1MtC). An expansion programme woulddouble these figures, with 20GW deliveringaround 13.4MtC of emissions savings, equalto an 8% cut in emissions.06 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


It is therefore clear that a new nuclear powerprogramme would deliver sizeable reductionsin CO 2 emissions. However, it is also importantto realise that cuts of at least 50% would stillbe needed from other measures to meet the2050 target, even with a doubling of nuclearcapacity from current levels. Nuclear powercan therefore be seen as a potential carbonreduction technology, but this must be viewedwithin the context of the much larger challengewe face. We will need a wide variety ofsolutions; those that decrease our demand forenergy, and those that can deliver low or zerocarbon energy supplies.2.1.3 Waste and decommissioning issues 8There is a need to distinguish between thelegacy impacts of decommissioning and wastemanagement of the existing nuclear capacity,to which the UK is already committed, andthe impacts that would result from a newnuclear programme.The current legacy for decommissioningexisting nuclear power plants is not directlyrelevant to decisions about whether to progresswith nuclear new-build. However, such a legacyis one of public concern, particularly in relationto the cost. A recent review by the NDAsuggests that their accelerated approach forthe decommissioning of existing sites will costapproximately £56bn. Much of this covers alarge number of non-power producing facilities,but certainly the costs of decommissioning oldMagnox reactors are substantial. Our evidencepoints to costs of £1.3bn and £1.8bn in twocases, and this is before waste disposal.The proposed new nuclear plant designs areexpected to require much less expensivedecommissioning, as unlike most existingplants, decommissioning has been givenmore consideration in the design process.They are also expected to produce lesswaste by volume. Our evidence estimatesdecommissioning costs at between £220mand £440m per GW of capacity, but thisis before long-term waste disposal costs.A new-build replacement programme (10GW)would add less than 10% to the total UKnuclear waste inventory (by volume). Assessingthe increase in radioactivity of the inventoryis complex and depends on reactor design anduse, and the time chosen for the comparison.Thus, ten years after removal, the increase inactivity could be a factor of nine, declining toa factor of 0.9 of current total activity 100 yearsafter final fuel removal.The role of reprocessing as a wastemanagement tool is complex because of thecosts (relative to the price of primary uranium)and safety and security issues (for example,the risks of proliferation – this is discussedfurther in Section 2.3.3 on security).www.sd-commission.org.ukAll wastes have to be managed over thelong-term so as to protect people and theenvironment. A dominant challenge of muchnuclear waste is the period of hundreds ofthousands of years over which it must beeffectively isolated from people and theenvironment. This raises issues that are uniqueto nuclear waste, such as the long-termstability of our civilisation and climate, and theextent to which future technological advancesmight bring forward solutions so-far unknown.Nuclear wastes in the UK are divided into threecategories:> High level wastes (HLW) are those in whichthe temperature may rise significantly asa result of radioactive decay. This factor hasto be taken into account in the design ofstorage or disposal facilities. HLW comprisesthe waste products from reprocessing spentnuclear fuels.> Intermediate level wastes (ILW) are thoseexceeding the levels of radioactivity for LowLevel Waste (LLW), but which do not requireheat production to be taken into accountin the design of their storage facilities.ILW include nuclear fuel casing and nuclearreactor components, moderator graphitefrom reactor cores, and sludges from thetreatment of radioactive effluents.> Low level wastes (LLW) are wastes notsuitable for disposal with ordinary refusebut do not exceed specified levels ofradioactivity. Most LLW can be sent fordisposal at the National Low Level Wasterepository at Drigg. LLW that is unsuitablefor disposal is mostly reflector and shieldgraphite from reactor cores, which containsconcentrations of carbon-14 radioactivityabove those acceptable at Drigg.Spent fuel, which contains uranium andplutonium, is currently not classified as wastein the UK because it contains resources thatcan be reprocessed and used again as fuelor for other uses. If, however, the UK decidedto abandon reprocessing as part of its wastemanagement strategy, then spent fuel wouldneed to be reclassified as HLW.The Committee on Radioactive WasteManagement (CoRWM) has established abaseline inventory, based on planned closureof existing plant, no new-build, reprocessingof spent fuels, and continuation of currentpractices for the definitions of waste. Allradioactive wastes, including spent fuel, arepackaged so that they are in a form suitablefor storage, volume estimates are based onpackaged wastes. The baseline inventoryincludes all wastes both in existence and8Paper 5 – Waste managementforecast to arise in the future (for example and decommissioningfrom decommissioning). The baseline inventoryshows that over 90% of radioactivity isassociated with HLW and spent fuels, butThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 07


9Paper 5 – If spent fuel were notreprocessed in the UK it wouldbe classified as HLW; therefore,reprocessing reduces the totaltheoretical volume of HLWby separating out plutoniumand uranium.10Paper 6 – Safety and security11Paper 3 – Landscape, environmentand community impacts12These are the sands left afteruranium has been chemicallyremoved.13This technique involves usingacid or alkaline solutions toleach out uranium from highlyporous deposits, such as sands,undergroundthese comprise less than 2% of the inventoryby volume.The relationship between managing historicand current waste arisings and waste arisingfrom any potential new-build is complex.CoRWM’s priority, as defined in its terms ofreference, is to develop a publicly acceptablesolution to current and historic waste arisings.But the issue of new waste arisings hasgenerated sharply opposing views amongstakeholders, and the public perception ofnuclear power is strongly conditional onsolutions to the waste management problem(see section 2.3.1).Phased deep geological disposal is generallyseen as a strong contender for dealingwith the UK’s nuclear waste, and one thatoffers a reasonable compromise betweenintergenerational justice and scientific certainty.Site-specific geology is important for deepgeological disposal but in the past it has beendifficult to survey and select the most suitablesites due to local opposition, as was shownwith the rejection of the planning applicationfor the Nirex Rock Characterisation Facilityin Sellafield in 1997. Attempts to surveysites during the 1970s and 1980s wereabandoned on economic grounds andbecause of public opposition.Thus, although 30% of the UK may theoreticallybe considered to have suitable geology fordeep disposal of nuclear waste (includingclay, crystalline and sedimentary rocks), it hasproved difficult to match technical suitabilitywith public acceptance.Although CoRWM is due to present itsrecommendations to Government in July 2006as part of the ongoing Managing RadioactiveWaste Safely programme, it would appear thatimplementation of an agreed policy for thelong-term management of radioactive wastescould remain several years away. Indeed, ithas taken Finland (the only country with anagreed waste management policy) around 25years for an acceptable solution to be agreedand implemented.Evidence to CoRWM estimates that the costof phased deep geological disposal of nuclearwaste would be around £13bn, although it isunclear what impact a new nuclear programmewould have on these costs, and whether morethan one repository would be necessary. Thismay not cover the total cost of waste disposal,such as the low level arisings which are generallydealt with through near surface disposal.2.1.4 ReprocessingReprocessing can be used as a means ofmanaging waste, in that it reduces the amountof problematic HLW from the waste stream 9 ,leaving higher volumes of non-heat producingILW and LLW. As the spent fuel is separated intoplutonium (for use as mixed oxide fuels, orMOX) and uranium, it can be enriched again foruse as fuel. However, this practice is controversialmainly because:> stockpiles of separated plutonium riskbeing exploited in an uncontrolled way,leading to concerns about proliferation(see Section 2.3.4)> the majority of nuclear discharges intothe NE Atlantic are from reprocessingplants 10 (Sellafield and Cap de la Hague)and therefore these are the major sourceof pollution> it is often claimed that reprocessingis uneconomic.Such evidence would suggest that reprocessingshould not be part of the nuclear fuel cycle ofa new generation of nuclear plants. However,the UK may want to consider making use of itsexisting plutonium stockpile by burning MOXfuel in existing or new nuclear power plants.2.1.5 Environmental and landscape impacts 11Mining is the dominant landscape impact fromnuclear power. Although there are no uraniumreserves in the UK and most is extracted fromAustralia, Canada and Kazakhstan, it is importantfrom a sustainable development perspective torecognise the landscape and community impactsof this activity wherever it occurs as part of the‘footprint’ of nuclear power.In many respects the environmental impactsof a uranium mine are similar to those ofmetalliferous mining, its land-take depending onthe concentration of ore – but the radioactivecontent of waste materials (e.g. spoils andtailings 12 ) is a significant difference.Underground extraction is the most commonlyused technique. In-situ leaching 13 is widelyused as a low cost method and has the leastvisible landscape impact, but groundwaterrehabilitation and pollution can be a concern.There are significant legacy issues includingaquifer pollution in countries of the formerSoviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe.The total land requirement for 1GW of nuclearcapacity, including mining and the fuel cycle,is between 100 and 1,000ha. This is similarto the land-take for terrestrial wind energy.Key concerns about uranium extraction in bothdeveloped and developing countries include:> the exclusion of traditional owners fromthe management and protection of theirlands including site selection, and ongoingenvironmental regulation, monitoringand reporting> the need to review a complex regulatoryregime to clarify roles and responsibilities,08 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


including whether the extent ofself-regulation is appropriate> ongoing surface and ground-waterpollution issues both for currentand future activities.Some of these problems can be managedthrough regulation and management, but thiscan be compromised by, for example, poorgovernance, short-term cost considerationsand possible conflict with economic goals anddevelopment aims. This can result in productsbeing brought to world markets at prices thatdo not reflect the full social and environmentalcosts of their production.However, any mining impact from nuclearpower activities needs to be balanced againstthe potential environmental and health impactsof the energy sources it might displace. Thehealth and safety impacts of coal, for example,are significant, as are coal’s environmentalimpacts in the form of air and groundwaterpollution. Oil and gas exploration also haveenvironmental and health impacts.There is general agreement that any newnuclear power programme would try to makeuse of existing nuclear sites, thereby limitinglandscape and visual impacts. It is also the casethat nuclear power plants are very similar toconventional fossil fuel plants in terms of localenvironmental and landscape impact, so thenet impact of additional nuclear capacity islikely to be minimal 14 .However, some coastal sites may not besuitable for new nuclear power stations andflood-risk criteria may lead to a preference fornew inland sites. This is because of the needto ‘climate change-proof’ decisions on whereto locate new plant to be sure they take intoaccount changes in climate that are alreadyin the pipeline. The criteria that were usedto select the current mainly coastal locationsare up to 50 years old and will need to bereviewed, as many nuclear power stationsand other facilities are vulnerable to sea-levelrise, storm surges and coastal erosion over thenext few decades.In view of the need to reassess the suitabilityof existing sites, further consideration needs tobe given to their viability over the longer term.2.1.6 SummaryOur evidence shows that nuclear power couldtheoretically make a substantial contributionto efforts to reduce CO 2 emissions, as a viablelow carbon technology. However, the evidencealso shows that even by doubling our existingnuclear capacity, a new nuclear powerprogramme can only contribute an 8% cut inemissions on 1990 levels, so a wide varietyof other measures will be needed.Nuclear power is therefore a viable optionfor tackling climate change, but as we statein Section 1.3, for the UK it is a choice whetherit is part of the overall energy supply mix,rather than a necessity.Nuclear waste and decommissioning raise aset of complicated issues with very long-termimpacts. Considering the impact of nuclearnew-build in isolation, we accept that futurenuclear plant designs will be far easier todecommission and that it is possible to do thisin a way that limits the environmental impacts.However, the long-term management ofnuclear waste poses significant environmentalproblems that are difficult and costly to resolve.We look at intergenerational considerationsin Section 2.3.6, but on the environmentalside it is difficult to be completely confidentthat the solution proposed for long-termwaste management will avoid any adverseenvironmental impacts over the timeperiods involved.On reprocessing, there remain serious concernsover the long-term security and economicviability of this form of waste management,with many in the industry now calling for a‘once-through’ fuel cycle. The evidence wouldseem to support this conclusion, although thereremains the question of dealing with the UK’splutonium stockpile.Other environmental impacts from nuclearpower centre on uranium mining, which canhave a number of adverse effects in producercountries. However, such impacts must bebalanced against the environmental and health& safety concerns related to alternativessources of energy, especially fossil fuels.2.2 EconomyWhat is the public good for our economy?(Achieving a sustainable economy)2.2.1 Total cost of nuclear power 15Our evidence strongly suggests that attemptsto estimate the cost of a new nuclearprogramme are unlikely to be accurate. Thisis primarily because there is not enoughreliable, independent and up-to-dateinformation available on the nuclear plantdesigns available for such calculations to bemade. In addition, waste and decommissioningcosts are, at present, not fully known.The levelised cost of nuclear power (the p/kWhcost of output) is heavily dependent on capitalcosts. This makes the cost of nuclear outputvery sensitive to both construction costs, andthe discount rate used (the required rate ofreturn for the project).14Paper 5 – This is under theassumption that nuclear capacitywould most likely be replaced byfossil fuel plant, with or withoutcarbon capture and storagetechnologies.15Paper 4 – Economics of nuclearpowerwww.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 09


16As discussed in section 2.1.1 above,nuclear power does not emit CO2directly, but there are lifecycleemissions to take into account.17Paper 8 – Uranium resourceavailabilityHistory shows us that construction costsfor nuclear power plants can be inflated byregulatory issues, delays, bad management,and on-site problems. Our evidence alsosuggests that there may be a degree of‘appraisal optimism’ in the industry projectionsof construction costs, and, with the onlyrecent example (the EPR under constructionin Finland) clouded by hidden subsides, itis unlikely that this information deficit canbe filled.The nuclear industry claims that private sectordiscipline, lacking in previous programmes,would help to ensure that any appraisaloptimism is recognised and overcome.However, even if the private sector were todeliver a new-build programme, there is thepossibility of moral hazard, which could actas a form of Government guarantee evenwhen this is not part of Government policy.The term moral hazard is commonly usedin the insurance industry to describe thephenomenon whereby individuals ororganisations may purposely engage inrisky behaviour, knowing that any costsincurred will be compensated by the insurer.Moral hazard may affect the nuclear industrybecause investors and companies who decideto take part in nuclear projects, both directlyand indirectly, may be willing to take onhigher levels of risk than otherwise underthe expectation that the Government wouldbe unwilling or unable to let the project orenterprise fail. An example of this can be seenwith the rescue of British Energy, Rover and theMillennium Dome. This will tend to depressbalance sheet costs, but could in the long runlead to large costs for the taxpayer, in effectacting as a form of subsidy that is virtuallyimpossible to avoid.The waste and decommissioning elementsof the cost calculation are fraught withcomplications, particularly because these costsoccur so far in the future. With UK nuclearwaste policy still undecided, there are nocertain estimates of the total cost of wastedisposal for new-build plant. Therefore anyattempt to ‘put aside’ funds to deal withthese costs may expose future generationsto cost overruns, especially if the scientificrequirements for waste storage and disposalchange over time or the plant generates lessrevenue than forecast (for example becauseof operating and maintenance problems).Nuclear power also has a number of externalcosts which are not usually calculated as partof standard cost calculations. These costsinclude safety and security arrangements,limited liability guarantees, health issues (eitherfrom routine operation or the risk of accidents),complex licensing and planning arrangements,and the cost of possible foreign policyinterventions in securing access to uranium.This does not mean that nuclear power is nota viable, economic option. Once built, nuclearreactors produce useful, low carbon electricity 16for many years, and have low operating costs.However, this means that it is cheaper to supplynuclear output than to switch reactors off andthis makes nuclear power a ‘price taker’, as itis unable to dictate the market price.This fact, along with the technicalcharacteristics of nuclear reactors (e.g. longstart-up times), means that nuclear outputperforms a baseload function in virtually allcases. This will continue to be the case untillarge-scale electricity storage technologiesbecome much cheaper, enabling nuclear power(and, possibly, some renewable technologies)to perform a load-following function.2.2.2 Security of supply 17The fuel component of nuclear electricitygeneration is a very small part of the overallcost, and is relatively small in volume per unitof output. Therefore, nuclear is often referredto as a domestic source of energy, as it doesnot need a continuous supply of fuel – rather,fuel is loaded every year or so.However, the small quantity of delivered fueloriginates from a much larger supply of rawuranium and in the UK all of this is imported.Our evidence shows that there are someserious concerns over the short-term availabilityof uranium supplies, and although this isunlikely to be relevant to new-build plant,it does raise questions for security of supplydue to the long lead times for developingnew uranium mines.However, our evidence also suggests that oncurrent predictions, there are no major concernsover the long-term availability of uranium. Amanageable increase in price would stimulatea significant increase in economically viablereserves, without allowing for further exploration.Our evidence also points out that in the pasturanium reserves have been consistentlyunderestimated, and that as a resource it hashad far less prospecting than other minerals.This would suggest there is probably enoughuranium at a reasonable price to match futuredemand, and that as uranium represents a verysmall part of the overall cost of nuclear power,the impact of future price rises will be limited.The long-term security of uranium suppliesis heavily influenced by geo-political factors,particularly as countries such as Kazakhstan andRussia become important players in the worlduranium market alongside traditional supplierssuch as Australia and Canada. Despite anofficial policy on ensuring diversity in supplies,instability in a major producer country couldhave a serious impact on both price and,more importantly, fuel security. The predicted10 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


temporary shortfall in uranium supplies overthe next decade also highlights a potentialweakness in the uranium market: the long leadtimes for developing new resources.For domestic electricity supply, nuclear powermay offer a hedge against high fossil fuelprices or temporary supply disruptions, butcannot offer complete security due to itsreliance on imported uranium. In this regard,nuclear power is not a domestic source ofelectricity in the same way as renewables.Uranium resources may also show pricevolatility, particularly in the short-term whenshortages are expected. However, evidenceon portfolio theory suggests that greaterdiversification of supply sources tends toreduce price risk, particularly when fuel costsare zero (as in the case of most renewables)or low (as in the case of nuclear) 18 .On balance, nuclear power has positiveattributes for security of supply consideration,but these should be viewed on a portfoliobasis and are not exclusive to this technology.Diversification into any basket of electricitygenerating options will help to reduce pricerisk and increase security.It is also frequently claimed that nuclearpower is necessary to provide baseload power.However, there is no justification for assumingthat other plant cannot also perform a baseloadfunction, and contrary to popular perception,the increased variability (sometimes termed‘intermittency’) of some renewabletechnologies does not increase the need formore ‘firm’, or baseload, capacity 19 . Therefore,nuclear plant will need to be assessed againstthe long-term wholesale price of electricitywithin the confines of a carbon constrained,and environmentally sensitive, economy.2.2.3 Market deliveryOur evidence suggests that nuclear powermay find it difficult to compete in the UK’sliberalised energy market without some formof public sector support. This is due to thelong lead times of nuclear power and its highrisk profile, which may discourage investors.However, the Government has made it clearthat any new nuclear programme will needto be delivered solely by the private sector.This does not rule out the possibility thatthe Government may decide to help supportthe development of new-build plant, eitherfinancially or through ‘practical measures’.Our evidence points to a number of financialsupport options that the Government mayconsider, but there is uncertainty over whetherthey would be both legal (under EU state aidrules), or compatible with the Government’sstated belief in liberalised markets.2.2.4 Market design 20The concept of specifying the ideal proportionof each single technology in the UK’sgenerating mix belongs to a previous regime,where electricity supply was a nationalisedindustry. If liberalised markets are to be theprimary mechanism for the delivery ofelectricity supplies, then this constrains theability of Government to centrally plan the fuelmix, without major interventions in the market.Energy policy aims such as CO 2 emissionreductions and security of supply can bedelivered by markets if the right structuresare put in place. The market has so farperformed well on security of supply, andthe incentives are in place to ensure that newcapacity is developed before shortfalls in supplydevelop – this is done through a simple pricemechanism. To deliver this new capacity whilstreducing CO 2 emissions requires the electricitymarket to take account of national orinternational carbon constraints, and to factorthese in to long-term investment decisions.The current market for carbon is based on theEU Emissions Trading Scheme (EUETS), whichis currently designed to run in three yearperiods, with caps set by national governmentsin advance of each commitment stage. Thisinherently short-term system provides nolong-term framework for investors, andis currently based on emissions cuts fromprojected baselines rather than absolutecuts from current levels.The SDC believes that the EUETS should aimtowards total downstream emissions trading,which would eventually need to include thewhole economy – business, transport (includingaviation), the public sector, agriculture and,very importantly, individuals. EU-wide capson emissions should be determined by a longtermemissions reduction target, which shouldthen be divided into annual decreases whichwould form the basis of the EUETS or itssuccessor. This system would give nearcomplete certainty of intention, and shouldassist investors in taking long-term decisionson low carbon investments.There are two alternatives to this approach:develop mechanisms which intervene in themarket to encourage specific technologies ortechnology groups, or reform the current marketdesign to allow for more centralised planning.The Renewables Obligation is an example ofmarket intervention, and was justified by theGovernment as necessary to promote theinnovation and scale needed to create a viable,large-scale renewables sector. In this regard,renewables were identified as suffering frommarket failure due to their lack of collectivetechnological maturity. Can the same be saidabout nuclear power?18Shimon Awerbuch (University ofSussex) has done extensive workin this area.19A large percentage of variablerenewables would increase theneed for ‘balancing services’, butwould not lead to the need foradditional baseload capacity, asthe increase in reserve requirementis met from remaining plant.In addition, diversity of sourceswill always reduce the need forreserves. This issue is explainedin detail in the SDC’s publication,Wind Power in the UK (2005).20Paper 4 – Economics of nuclearpowerwww.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 11


21Paper 4 – Economics of nuclearpowerThere would not appear to be a case forinnovation support for a new nuclearprogramme with reactor designs based onexisting technologies (‘Generation III’ designs).The technologies that might compete for a UKorder are all versions of mature technologies,with a long history of operation combinedwith substantial public subsidy. In addition,the nuclear industry itself claims that thesereactors are ‘market ready’.Our assessment therefore is that new nucleardevelopment should not qualify for marketintervention in the same way as renewablesdo through the Renewables Obligation (RO).The RO was established to provide the fixedtermsupport necessary for renewables tomeet Government targets and was justifiedon innovation grounds. On the basis of thisassessment we would not, therefore, supporta proposal to amend the RO to enable publicresources from fuel bills to be used to supportthe development of nuclear power.The Government has consistently put liberalisedenergy markets at the heart of energy policy,a policy started by the previous administration.It therefore seems unlikely that any majorchanges would be made to the basic designof the market.2.2.5 Impact on alternative energy sourcesOur evidence 21 looked at the possibility thatinvestment in nuclear power would detractfrom investment in renewables. Assuming thatnew nuclear plant would be privately financed,the conclusion from the evidence was thatthere was unlikely to be an economic impact,although this did not rule out a political impact.The SDC is concerned that political attentionwould shift and undermine efforts to increasethe proportion of renewables in the energymix, and the efforts to improve energyefficiency throughout the economy.Government support for renewables andenergy efficiency since the 2003 EWP hasbeen mixed. On the one hand the RenewablesObligation has been raised to deliver 15%of electricity from renewables by 2015, andprogress with commercially viable, large-scalerenewables such as wind and biomass co-firinghas been encouraging. On the other hand theGovernment has done less to stimulate themarket for microgeneration, and the fundingon offer for this sector over the next threeyears is small (at £30m), and unlikely toput the UK on course for mass-marketpenetration. Similarly, many of the planningbarriers to microgeneration have not beenadequately tackled.On energy efficiency, good progress with theEnergy Efficiency Commitment (EEC) by energysuppliers has been overshadowed by risingenergy demand, and the Government’scommitment to much tougher buildingstandards for new buildings is now seriouslyin question. While changes to the BuildingRegulations are encouraging, the proposedCode for Sustainable Homes, intended to be the‘pull’ for more advanced buildings standardsincluding encouragement for microgeneration,is currently inadequate in this regard.It is clear that the Government has largelybeen successful when dealing with centralisedand relatively straightforward policies, but hasstruggled when faced with more complex,decentralised issues, or those that require alarge number of minor fixes, rather than asingle over-arching solution. This ‘attentiondeficit’ on the part of Government is veryrelevant to the nuclear issue, where a singlemindedfocus on one large solution could leadto a significant decrease in both political andeconomic attention for the wide variety ofsmaller solutions that we will need over thelong-term to move to a low carbon economy.The SDC is also concerned that commitment toa new nuclear programme would send a strongsignal to all energy users that the pressurefor reducing individual energy demand hasbeen lifted. Such a signal would be extremelyproblematic for any future sustainable energystrategy, as the need to reduce demand is akey part of delivering the carbon savings weneed, irrespective of whether a new nuclearprogramme goes ahead.There is also some evidence to suggest thatmaking consumers more aware of their energyconsumption can lead to more sustainableenergy use, and more sustainable consumptionof other goods and services 22 . Bringing energygeneration closer to the point of end use is oneway of doing this, but efforts to achieve thismay conflict with a nuclear-centric approach.While our evidence indicates that new nuclearinvestment is unlikely to detract from privatesector investment in renewables (consideringthe size of the financial markets involved), weare concerned that an expanded RO that alsosupports nuclear might undermine the EnergyEfficiency Commitment (EEC). This is becauseboth add a levy to consumers’ bills, so theremay be political pressure to keep the totalburden to a minimum – this could reducefuture increases in EEC.From an infrastructural perspective, there areconcerns that investment in a new nuclearprogramme would reinforce the UK’s relianceon a centralised grid system and could thereforedecrease the investment available for thenetwork reinforcement needed to cope withmuch higher levels of decentralised generation(microgeneration) and large-scale renewables.12 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


The evidence suggests there is somedisagreement over these costs, but if they arehigh, there is the potential for conflict. This isbecause the transmission and distribution ofelectricity in the UK is a regulated industry, andall investments need to be approved by Ofgemas part of the district network operators’ (DNO)price control agreements. Faced with calls forlarge investments across the network, Ofgemmight have to prioritise what it allows, unless itis willing to accept higher costs for consumers.There is also the related problem that continuedreliance on centralised supply may exacerbatethe current institutional bias towards large-scalegeneration, and the reluctance to really embracethe reforms necessary to ensure a moredecentralised and sustainable energy economy.The role of Ofgem is central to this issue.The lack of flexibility, or ‘lock-in’, associatedwith investment in large-scale centralisedsupply like nuclear power is also a concern.This relates to the issue of sunk costs. A newnuclear programme would commit the UKto that technology, and a centralised supplyinfrastructure, for at least 50 years.During this time there are likely to besignificant advances in decentralisedtechnologies, and there is a risk that continueddependence on more centralised suppliesmay lock out some alternatives. Decentralisedsupply is generally more flexible because itis modular, and can adapt quicker and at lesscost to changed circumstances. More locallybasedenergy provision may also be conduciveto the sustainable communities agenda, akey part of the UK Government’s SustainableDevelopment Strategy.Any bias towards one mode over anotheressentially prevents a level playing field, anddoes not therefore encourage true competition.It may be hard for the microgeneration sectorto overcome such bias, and this may preventor slow it from reaching the economies of scalenecessary to show its full potential.2.2.6 SummaryNuclear power may be able to make a usefulcontribution to the UK’s economy, by providinglow carbon electricity at a competitive price.However, our evidence shows that it is verydifficult to assess the total cost of the availablenuclear technologies, particularly as the onlyrecent development that is relevant to the UK(in Finland) has a number of hidden subsidiesthat obscure its true cost.In our view commercial investors are bestplaced to make a real assessment of the risks,and will have much better information on likelyconstruction costs and therefore the final costof power produced. They will also be able toaccount for wholesale electricity prices, and forthe price of carbon, which is likely to be centralto their business case.There are still a number of outstanding coststhat, unless internalised, may not allow a fullreflection of the cost of nuclear power in thoseinvestor calculations. There is also the issue ofmoral hazard, and the impact that might haveon reducing the apparent cost of nuclear powerby increasing the financial risks to the taxpayer.The case for nuclear power tends to be viewedin isolation, but this takes no account of theimpacts that a nuclear development routemight have on other alternatives, and onthe prospects for a level playing field forall technologies. Although the measurableeconomic impacts may be limited, the politicalimplications of a shift in emphasis towardsnuclear could be to further weaken thecommitment of Government, and thereforethe investment community, to renewablesand specifically microgeneration technologies.On balance, the economic case for nuclearpower is heavily dependent on its positionin relation to other low carbon alternatives,and the effect it might have on the long-termability of the UK to meet its emission reductiontargets. If nuclear power can prove itself tobe an economically viable competitor in a lowcarbon economy, without leading to a drainof investment for other alternatives, then itscontribution to a sustainable economy may bepositive. If, however, nuclear power requirespublic support (whether immediately or in thelong-term) and/or it diverts funds away fromother viable alternatives, then its contributionmay well be negative.It is of little doubt where the UK’s currentnuclear capacity stands. The burden of proofwould now seem to be on the nuclear industryto show that updated designs, combinedwith private sector financing and projectmanagement, could lead to a differentoutcome. However, this must take place on atruly equal and transparent basis, so that costsare internalised and the taxpayer is protectedfrom long-term liabilities. An assessment of thecost – and public acceptance – of nuclear wastepolicy is essential for this to take place.22Sustainable Consumption Roundtable(2005). Seeing the light.www.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 13


23Paper 7 – Public perceptions andcommunity issues24Paper 6 – Safety and security2.3 SocietyHow is the public good best served in thedecision-making process for new nuclearand how does it contribute to social wellbeing?(Good governance; strong, healthyand just society)2.3.1 Developing a policy on nuclear power 23‘Good governance’ is one of the five principlesof sustainable development, as is ‘ensuringa strong, healthy and just society’. In thedecision-making process on developmentof nuclear power, engaging the public mustbe a requirement. Controversial decisionsby Government have in the past led toconsiderable public outcry (such as thecontroversy around GMOs), and Governmentwould be well advised to avoid suchconfrontational approaches on this issue.Our evidence on public perceptions showslimited explicit support for nuclear power(less than 30%) and demonstrates that publicsupport depends strongly on factors such asa solution to dealing with long-term waste,decommissioning, and nuclear proliferation,the level of trust in Government, and trust inthe nuclear industry more generally.While climate change is seen as a reasonto re-consider new nuclear development,acceptance is conditional on first resolvingthe waste issue convincingly. Our evidencealso shows that if the nuclear industry appearsto lobby Government, public suspicion of thesecrecy of the industry is raised.Our conclusion from this research is that, forgood governance reasons, a comprehensivenational debate will be needed to explore allpossible sustainable energy options with thepublic, before any decisions are made on anew nuclear power programme by Government.It is dangerous for any government to appearto ride over a social framing that is not whollywilling to embrace a mistrusted technology,and where deep feelings are evident forsustainable futures in economy and society.In the 1989 Electricity Act energy projectsabove 50MW in England and Wales are referredto the Department of Trade and Industry;and projects in Scotland are referred to theScottish Executive; in Northern Ireland allenergy projects over 10MW require consentfrom the Department for Trade, Enterpriseand Investment. Common practice is for theGovernment to conduct a planning inquiryundertaken by the relevant body.Whilst any planning or consent process shouldbe as efficient as possible, it would be a causefor concern if standard procedures for planningand licensing of nuclear power plants werestreamlined in any way that undermined thepublic’s right to consultation and due process.As the consents process for large powerprojects is a devolved matter, it is worthnoting that the ‘no nuclear’ policies in Scotlandand Wales could prove problematic if the UKGovernment decided to proceed with a newnuclear programme, as three existing nuclearsites are currently located in Scotland, withtwo more in Wales. There are no nuclear powerstations in Northern Ireland.2.3.2 Employment opportunitiesEmployment opportunities in the vicinity ofnuclear sites is clearly advantageous to theeconomy of the local region during operationand would stimulate employment for theconstruction industry and for decommissioningthe plant in the future. But employmentopportunities also exist for alternative lowcarbon energy sources, and these are oftenmore widely spread through a range ofindustrial sectors. In addition, the employmentpotential of carbon capture and storagetechnologies, which are often seen as in directcompetition with nuclear power, is extensive.It is therefore very difficult to calculate any netemployment impact from a new nuclear powerprogramme, as any jobs created may come atthe expense of jobs in other sectors.2.3.3 Safety and security issues 24Nuclear power stations are designed with strictsafety procedures, and stringent standards foremergencies both on and off-site. UK civilnuclear power stations have a very good safetyrecord; however experience at a UK militaryreactor (Windscale) and elsewhere (Chernobyl,Three Mile Island) show just how dangerousa major accident can be. While we recognisethat these events are rare, they are also oneof the main reasons for public concern andcannot be dismissed.The high levels of security at nuclear powerstations are regularly reviewed against currentintelligence about the intents and capabilitiesof terrorist groups. The possibility of a terroriststrike on a nuclear plant has been a focal pointfor security analysts since 9/11. Modern reactordesigns have substantial containment buildingswhich are unlikely to be breached even by acrashing commercial airliner, and the reactorfuel is protected against impact and fire byother structures.The industry assessment is that attempts atdamaging the plant, either by external attackor sabotage, will probably cause the reactorto shut down safely once a fault is detected.However the mode of a terrorist attack cannotbe accurately predicted and therefore there14 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


cannot be complete confidence that such anattack would not lead to significantly adverseconsequences.Use of nuclear fuel (reactor grade and spentfuel) by terrorists is raised as a concern. Reactorgrade fuel must be processed to produceweapons-grade material to raise it from 4-5%uranium-235 to over 90% uranium-235. Spentfuel is an even more difficult starting materialbecause it contains much less Uranium-235than fresh reactor fuel.However shipments of spent fuel forreprocessing could be attacked en route fromthe station to the reprocessing plant, eitherwith the intention to spread contamination overa wide area or to steal the material for futureuse in a nuclear weapon. Reactor grade fuelcould be used to make a ’dirty bomb’.The industry assessment is that spent fuelcontainers are robust and undergo stringenttesting and that the spent fuel pellets theycontain are not easily dispersed even undersevere impact and fire. But an alternative viewis that stolen spent fuel would be valuable asa dirty bomb in itself and is therefore of valueto terrorists. It would appear, therefore, thatthe potential use of nuclear fuels by terroristsremains a risk, and therefore a concern.Nuclear accidents are recorded and ascribedlevels on a scale 0-7 (Chernobyl was level 7),and most accidental releases in the UK are atlevels 0,1 or 2. While major accidents are rare,evidence from Sellafield and Japan revealsthat human error and management lapses aremost often responsible – circumstances whichundermine public confidence in the industry,even in industrialised countries with tightregulatory regimes.Public confidence in the regulatory regimesfor nuclear power stations in all countries,not just the UK, is also important becauseunplanned discharges can have serioustransboundary effects. This raises a numberof problems, including the difficulties ofensuring that the regulatory institutions in lessdeveloped countries are sufficiently resourced,and for identifying and dealing with poorhealth and safety practices which could lead totransboundary environmental or health risks.2.3.4 Proliferation risks 25Terrorist organisations, almost by definition,operate outside national and international law,and therefore safeguards to protect againstproliferation are almost irrelevant to suchgroups. Similarly it is very difficult to protectagainst civil nuclear power being developedinto a military nuclear capability wheremotivations are strong enough, as has beenshown in a number of countries.The UK therefore needs to be fully awareof the implications of developing new nuclearcapacity, particularly in the context ofinternational treaties such as the FrameworkConvention on Climate Change. If nuclearpower is part of the UK’s chosen solution toclimate change, then it would be considereda suitable solution for all countries. The UNFCCCexplicitly encourages “the development,application and diffusion, including transferof technologies, practices and processes thatcontrol, reduce or prevent anthropogenicemission of greenhouse gases” (Article 4.1c).Reprocessing nuclear reactor fuel can raise it tothe quality required for nuclear warheads, mosteasily from light water reactors. Pressurisedwater reactors would have to be closed downfor several months, but in a country thatwishes to do this the only barriers are political,as there is no engineering constraint.Several international treaties have beenconcluded with the aim of making sure eitherthat civil nuclear power is not used for militarypurposes or that any attempts to do so aredetected. The two principal treaties thatconcern the UK are the 1970 Treaty on theNon-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT)and the Euratom Treaty, to which the UKbecame a partner on joining the EuropeanCommunity in 1973.Out of the 188 states that have signed the NPT,the UK is one of five declared Nuclear WeaponsStates (NWS), the others being France, the USA,the USSR and China. The only states that havenot signed the NPT are India, Pakistan andIsrael, all of which are known to have nuclearweapons, while North Korea has chosen towithdraw from the NPT.The provisions of the NPT are implementedby the International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA). Following the difficulties of carryingout inspections in Iraq before 2003, additionalprotocols were developed giving IAEAinspectors greater rights of access and requiringadministrative procedures to be streamlinedso that, for instance, states cannot delay theissuing of visas as a means of delaying anunwanted inspection.States also have to provide significantly moreinformation, including details of nuclear-relatedimports and exports, which the IAEA is thenable to verify. The IAEA concludes that withoutthe NPT, there might be perhaps 30 to 40Nuclear Weapon States, whereas more stateshave abandoned nuclear weapons programmesthan started them.Nevertheless, a number of difficulties inthe relationship between civil and militaryapplications continue to cause concernamong many commentators, including:25Paper 6 – Safety and securitywww.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 15


26Paper 6 – Safety and security27Paper 5 – Waste management anddecommissioning> the difficulties of enforcing internationaltreaty obligations> proliferation risks associated with thewidespread use of nuclear technologiesin countries with very diverse systemsof governance> the capacity and resources availableto enforce international obligations ina potentially growing number of stateswith a nuclear capacity, and> how to deal with states that withdrawfrom treaties or develop nuclear capabilityoutside of them.In the global environment that we inhabittoday, such considerations are pertinent to theUK’s deliberations about its own energy needs.2.3.5 Health impacts 26Within the UK, the operators of nuclear plantsmust conform to the general health and safetystandards laid down in the Health and Safetyat Work Act 1974 (HSW Act) as well as theNuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended)and related legislation.The nuclear industry is regulated by the NuclearInstallations Inspectorate (NII), on behalf ofthe Health and Safety Executive (HSE), whoset out the general safety requirements to dealwith the risks on a nuclear site, in conditionsattached to the Site Licence. Radiologicalprotection of employees and the general publicin the UK is covered by this strict legal framework.Permitted dose levels to the public, as a resultof civil nuclear industry operations, are only asmall fraction of natural background radiation.Most of the collective dose in the EuropeanUnion arises from industrial activities and isattributable to the phosphate industry andoil and gas extraction. The nuclear industryaccounts for 12% of the EU collective dosefrom all industrial activities.Radioactive discharges from electricitygeneration are low, whereas fuel reprocessingdischarges account for 83% of the EU collectivedose attributable to the nuclear industry. Incontrast to existing nuclear facilities, spent fuelfrom new nuclear power stations may not bereprocessed, on the grounds of risks to humanhealth and proliferation.Current expectations are that spent fuel fromany potential new stations would be storedon site, potentially for the whole operatinglifetime of the station, before a final disposaloption is selected. The options for wastedisposal and decommissioning therefore remainthe same as for existing facilities.Overall, the health impacts of well-managednuclear power facilities are small, especiallyin comparison to some other energy sources,such as coal (mining and combustion) and oil(combustion). However, the risk of a nuclearaccident, however small, places nuclear powerin a unique category where the low risk ofroutine activities must be balanced againstthe very low probability, but potentially highimpact, of a serious accident.2.3.6 Intergenerational issuesOne of the features of sustainable developmentwhich perhaps distinguishes it from simplyan environmental or economic focus is therequirement to analyse the long-term impactsof any policy decision. Nuclear power, with itswaste legacy, has clear inter-generationalimpacts as nuclear waste is expected to remainradioactive for tens of thousands of years.No civilisation foresees its own demise, buta brief look at history shows the cycle ofcivilisations developing to peak power andinfluence and declining to marginal influence,and sometimes disappearing. During thisdecline the fruits of an advanced civilisation –whether engineering expertise, artistic orlinguistic skill etc – will also disappear, leavinga hiatus in knowledge about the civilisation,and certainly a hiatus in knowledge about howto deal with any legacy from that civilisation.It is estimated that some elements ofradioactive nuclear waste will continue to betoxic for hundreds of thousands of years. Inview of historical evidence of the decline ofcivilisations, it would seem appropriate to takeseriously the issues of leaving a radioactivelegacy for many future generations, whenknowledge of where and how that waste isstored could die away over time.Our evidence 27 shows that information transferis a key factor, with the management systemmore important than the media used, andthat the greatest threat to information transferis institutional change. A number of externalevents, such as climate change, naturaldisasters, wars, and civilisation collapse couldall affect the long term management ofradioactive wastes, but it is the more ‘trivial’causes such as destruction of archives by paperdecay or disruption of electronic media thatcould lead to problems.While it is recognised that the nuclear wastelegacy is a serious problem that the UK andother countries already have to deal with (as aresult of existing nuclear capacity), any decisionto increase that waste legacy with a newnuclear power programme naturally addsadditional weight to this issue. Therefore any16 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


decision to develop new nuclear capacityhas to be taken in the context of the currentwaste legacy, albeit that future waste arisingsare likely to be considerably smaller thanexisting volumes.2.3.7 SummaryOur evidence shows that it is essential forthe Government to allow the fullest publicconsultation in developing a policy on nuclearpower. Not doing this would compromise theprinciple of good governance, and risks a hugepublic backlash against top-down decisionmaking.The Government needs to engage thepublic in a wider debate where nuclear poweris considered as one of the many options thatcould be required for a sustainable energy policy.We are satisfied that any new nuclear powerplant in the UK would be built and operatedto the highest safety and security standards.However the same level of confidence cannotalways be applied to other countries, andthis remains a cause for serious concern. Inaddition, nuclear power facilities and processesare vulnerable to attempted exploitation byterrorist groups, and although standards maybe high, this does not rule out the possibilityof a successful strike.The proliferation of nuclear materials is equallya cause for concern in this context. A decisionto develop nuclear power in the UK essentiallyremoves our ability, both morally and legally, todeny the technology to others. The widespreadadoption of nuclear power would greatlyincrease the chances of nuclear proliferation,both through the efforts of nation states andpossibly terrorist organisations.Whilst the health impacts of a well-regulatednuclear power industry are low, the risk of alow probability, but high impact event mustbe considered, especially in the context ofthe international concerns raised above.Finally, we remain deeply concerned aboutthe intergenerational impacts of the legacyof nuclear waste. Considering the currentuncertainties over total costs and the scienceof long-term waste management, we findit difficult to reconcile these issues withsustainable development principles.www.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 17


3. SDC Position onNuclear Power3.1 Our energychallengeThe previous section analysed nuclear poweragainst the principles of sustainabledevelopment. Using this, along with anassessment of the alternative energy optionsavailable, the Sustainable DevelopmentCommission has developed a position onnuclear that will form a central part our adviceto Government in the current Energy Review.The two overriding concerns for Governmentare the need to:> reduce carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions aspart of efforts to tackle climate change, and> increase confidence in the security ofenergy supply.The challenge of reducing emissions of CO 2quickly enough to avoid severe and dangerousclimate change is huge. The UK needs to makelarge cuts in its CO 2 emissions, and we need tostart doing this immediately. Current measuresto reduce greenhouse gas emissions areinadequate for this task.There is no single large measure which willsolve the climate change problem. Diversity ofenergy supply options will increase our abilityto meet our carbon reduction goals and helpprovide energy security – it will also reducethe risk of price fluctuations. Reduced energyconsumption combined with new andrenewable energy sources will lead to reduceddependence on imported fossil fuels. Viewedas such, climate change and energy securityaims are highly complementary.3.2 The startingpointThe 2003 Energy White Paper authoritativelyestablished the rationale for a long-termenergy policy based on energy efficiency,renewables and the cleaner and more efficientuse of fossil fuels. We reaffirm that this strategyis a sound one and should be pursued withvigour. There is a continued case for action onthese three fronts, regardless of a decision onnuclear power.3.2.1 Reducing energy demandThe starting point for implementing the2003 Energy White Paper has been andmust continue to be, energy efficiency. Thismust include efforts to encourage energyconservation and to restrain the growth inenergy demand.So far efforts to boost energy efficiency,although increasingly successful, have beeninsufficient for making a real impact whenset against our rising demand for energy.There is still vast potential for promotingenergy efficiency in all sectors, with greatbenefit to the economy and consumers. Wecould more than halve the energy consumptionof our homes and offices using existing energyefficiency measures combined with on-sitegeneration of renewable or low carbon energy.But policies are not yet sufficiently strong to setus on the right trajectory. Efforts to encourageenergy efficiency in the business sector throughemissions trading schemes have not gone farenough, and engaging and incentivisinghouseholds to dramatically improve theefficiency of their homes is urgently needed.We must aim for overall reductions in energydemand, not just marginal improvements incarbon intensity. And we must do this acrossthe complete energy spectrum, by reducingelectricity consumption (which is only arounda third of total UK energy supply) but also byreducing our demand for heat and transport fuels.18 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


3.2.2 Increasing the contribution ofrenewablesThe UK’s renewable resources are some of thebest in the world, and could provide all theUK’s electricity over the longer term. Despitesome significant developments, our currentapproach remains half-hearted, and the levelsof public investment needed to bring forwardnew technologies are inadequate whencompared to our international competitors.It is critical that the Government should nowinvest far more (both politically and financially)in renewables, particularly microgeneration andbiomass technologies, and marine renewablesand offshore wind, where the UK has a clearnatural advantage.3.2.3 The clean and more efficient useof fossil fuelsIt is clear to us that fossil fuels will remaina necessary part of our energy mix for sometime. We fully support the Government’s statedtarget for 10GW of good quality CHP by 2010as a way of increasing the overall efficiencyof energy supply. However, based on our lackof progress on this target, the foundations forexpanding the use of this energy efficienttechnology are not strong.We also support the recent interest fromGovernment in carbon capture and storage(CCS) technologies, which could effectivelyremove the CO 2 emissions that come fromburning fossil fuels such as gas and coal. Thesecould provide a bridge to a more sustainableenergy future whilst providing the UK withsignificant export potential in another area ofexpertise. Of course we must recognise thatCCS is as yet an unproven technology, andits development could allow a future role forcoal, about which we have concerns both forreasons of sustainability and human health.3.3 Nuclearpower: ouradviceIt is clear that nuclear power could generatelarge quantities of electricity, contributematerially to stabilising CO 2 emissions andadd to the diversity of the UK’s energy supply.However, even if we were to double ourexisting nuclear capacity, this would bring an8% cut on total carbon emissions from 1990levels by 2035, and would contribute littlebefore 2020. Nuclear cannot tackle climatechange alone.A key issue that the Commission exploredthrough the evidence base was whether theUK could have a viable energy future withoutnuclear power. Or in other words, whethernuclear power is a choice, or whether is it anabsolute necessity.The conclusion from the analysis was that theUK could meet our CO 2 reduction targets andenergy needs without nuclear power, using acombination of demand reduction, renewables,and more efficient use of fossil fuels combinedwith carbon capture and storage technologies.In this context, the Sustainable DevelopmentCommission assessed whether nuclear powerhas a role to play in future UK electricity supply.We have a number of serious concerns:Intergenerational issuesThe intergenerational impacts of a new nuclearprogramme are of great concern, particularlywith regard to decommissioning and thedisposal of nuclear waste. Even if a policy forlong-term nuclear waste is developed andimplemented, the timescales involved (manythousands of years) lead to uncertainties overthe level to which safety can be assured. Weare also concerned that a new nuclear programmecould impose unanticipated costs on futuregenerations without commensurate benefits.CostThere is very little certainty over the economicsof nuclear power. A new nuclear powerprogramme could divert public funding awayfrom more sustainable technologies that will beneeded regardless, hampering other long-termefforts to move to a low carbon economy withdiverse energy sources. Nuclear power is alsoprone to moral hazard, which could lead toforced public subsidy regardless of theGovernment’s original intentions.www.sd-commission.org.ukThe role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy 19


International safety and securityIf the UK cannot meet its climate changecommitments without nuclear power, thenunder the terms of the Framework Conventionon Climate Change, we cannot deny othersthe same technology. The UK has been aworld leader on climate change, and must takeaccount of the implications of this legal issue.We are concerned that other countries whoadopt nuclear power may have much lowersafety standards than the UK, and thisincreases the risk of accidents (transboundarycontamination) and radiation leaks from wastematerials. Greater use of nuclear power alsoincreases the risk of nuclear proliferation, whichimpacts on international security.Technological lock-inA new nuclear power programme could lockthe UK into an inflexible, centralised electricitygeneratingsystem for the next 50 years.Investments to develop the electricity networksto cope with more decentralised, small-scaletechnologies will be suppressed just as theirpotential is growing.Reducing energy demandTo meet our carbon reduction targets, we willneed much greater action to reduce energydemand. We are concerned that a new nuclearprogramme would give out the wrong signalto consumers, encouraging the impression thatthe challenge of climate change can be tackledby a large-scale technology fix. Greater use ofdecentralised, small-scale energy generatingtechnologies helps to increase awarenessof energy consumption and foster moresustainable behaviour. We are concerned that anew nuclear programme could indirectly reducepolitical support for policies aimed at energyefficiency by competing for public funding.A sustainable energy policy would combine anaggressive suite of policies for energy efficiencyand renewables, with the development of thecarbon capture & storage (CCS) technologies,to effectively remove the CO 2 emissions thatcome from burning fossil fuels such as gas andcoal. The Sustainable Development Commissionbelieves there is an urgent need to driveforward a low carbon innovation programme,with public funding dramatically increased tothe levels of our international competitors. Thisshould be combined with long-term targets forabsolute reductions in CO 2 emissions to providecertainty to the business community andstimulate private investment. Uptake shouldthen be encouraged through the smart use offiscal incentives, targeted regulations, and anexpanded role for emissions trading schemes.Following our suggested pathway would makethe UK a leader in low-carbon technologies.If we take full advantage of this, we willenhance our economic competitiveness.Therefore the majority view of theSustainable Development Commissionis that in consideration of these issues,there is no justification for bringingforward plans for a new nuclear powerprogramme, at this time, and that anysuch proposal would be incompatiblewith the Government’s own SustainableDevelopment Strategy. This is our adviceto Ministers.Nonetheless, the majority of the Commissionalso believes it is right for the Government tocontinue to assess the potential contributionof new nuclear technologies for the future, aswell as pursuing answers to our nuclear wasteproblems as actively as possible. We believea full and thorough national debate onsustainable energy options will be needed inthe future, particularly if new nuclear poweris to be pursued.20 The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy www.sd-commission.org.uk


Design by The Forster Company www.forster.co.uk Printed by Severnprint Ltd.Printed on Revive Uncoated paper which contains 80% de-inked post consumer waste and a maximum of 20% mill broke.


Contact usYou can contact the Sustainable Development Commission at:London (main office):Sustainable Development Commission,Ground Floor, Ergon House, Horseferry Road,London, SW1P 2ALTelephone: 020 7238 4999Email: enquiries@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.ukEdinburgh: 0131 244 0140Scotland@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.uk/scotlandBelfast: 02890 257346N.Ireland@sd-commission.org.ukCardiff: 029 2082 6382Wales@sd-commission.org.ukwww.sd-commission.org.uk/wales

More magazines by this user
Similar magazines