I may be wrong, but my impression is that the UK has no electricity generation strategy. I do not doubt that everyone in government wishes fervently for an electricity supply which is sustainable and affordable. But wishing is not enough: they need to make sure that it happens. Achieving ‘sustainable electricity generation’ and ‘affordable electricity’ is a really difficult engineering problem – let alone any political dimension.
Listening to energy minister Charles Hendry talking today (Sunday 29th April 2012 – listenable for 1 week) I was struck by his utter failure to address the engineering challenge we face. In contrast Sue Ion – a nuclear enthusiast – was completely on the ball even on the magnitude of the renewable commitment we needed to make. I decided to find out who she was.
In 2009 i.e. pre Fukushima - she gave a talk at the Royal Academy of Engineering in which she presented her vision of how we could build a nuclear-powered future in the UK. It is interesting to listen now and see how much things have changed. As I mentioned recently, I am skeptical that we will build even one more nuclear power station – and doubly skeptical that the nuclear future she outlined could ever come true. But this is one of the clearest presentations I have yet seen of the case for nuclear power. I am sure not everyone will agree with her views, but they are well expressed. Take a look and see what you think.
With three years of hindsight two excerpts struck me as significant. In the first, she pointed out that nuclear fuel was only a small fraction of the cost of a nuclear electricity. The largest component was the repayment of the capital borrowed for construction of the plant. Since the financial crash of 2008,it has become considerably harder to find anyone willing to lend the £10 billion required for each power station. The second salient point arose in the Q&A session at the end in which she summed up our problem in one sentence:
What is required is a stable situation in which investors will place their orders
We don’t have that stability, and I see no prospect that it will return in the near future.
Useful notes (from which the figure of the head of the page was taken) can be found here