Electricity as cheap as chips
Nuclear is not the answer.
The most amazing aspect of our age is that so many people are so unworried about the climate horror the scientists say will fall upon our children unless we act with the utmost determination and resolve now, but clearly that is not the general mood. The media, social and commercial, are hardly full of alarm. There is a common belief that we need to go carbon zero by 2050 but that is a delusion. The scientists are telling us we have no hope of that unless we can reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. There is almost no hope of that. Given the promises the nations made at Cop26 we are currently heading for 2.4% and even 2.7 increase in carbon emissions, and that is well within the orbit of coming catastrophe. You’d have thought people would have been desperate with anxiety. But they are mostly not.
One of the reasons is that so many think nuclear is a clean fuel and all we really need to do is to replace oil with nuclear power stations. I want to dispute that. Apart from anything else, it seems incredible that successive governments in the UK have been willing to hand over the financial if not the technical control of our energy supplies, by granting the construction of nuclear power stations to foreign countries. Governments were seduced by the prospect that immediately it is others and not we who will pay for it, although in the long run we will pay far more. The Hinkley Point deal was surely as mad as it gets. There was no way of ensuring that the Chinese would not be able to insert an undetectable facility that could blow up Hinkley and much of Britain as well any time they chose. They were guaranteed a perpetual price of £92.50 per megawatt hour which was double the price at the time, taken in the canny knowledge – how cleverly did we outsmart the Chinese – that in time the price would grow far beyond that. But the opposite has happened. Currently the price is very high because of the sudden international post-covid demand for energy, but the base price is becoming less, because the cost of renewables is falling rapidly in a way Osborne and Cameron never foresaw. The lesson is we need to be self-sufficient in energy.
Nuclear waste will have to be stored for thousands of years before it becomes safe. But no human invention has ever been completely safe, despite all the precautions that have been taken. The supposedly unsinkable Titanic immediately springs to mind, but more pertinently think Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Some degree of risk you always have to take. But this? Over thousands of years there could be profound geological shifts, underground explosionsand hitherto unexpected earthquakes. If this went wrong it could be devastating. Is it fair to load future generations with such a risk? My main reason for objecting, though, is a more immediate one. We are creating sitting ducks for terrorists. Can anybody guarantee without question that in an age of bunker busting shells and bombs, and goodness knows what hideous inventions we have yet to see, nobody could ever breach Sellafield, for example, and spread radio-active material far and wide? The whole of the north of England could become uninhabitable for centuries. Is that a risk it is ever reasonable to take? I’d be delighted if somebody could prove to me that such a scenario is impossible. But so far such a proof has not come my way, and since successive governments have been determined to install nuclear power stations, the prospect adds greatly to my climate anxiety. You get what you pay for I suppose.
Because there are much cheaper and safer alternatives. The UK has not yet nearly exploited the vast resources of wind round our coasts. Ecotricity are building a facility to turn grass into methane which in turn can be converted to CO2 and used in domestic boilers. Ecotricity claim there is already enough unused rough ground in Britain to grow enough grass to meet all our domestic energy needs. The beauty of it is that next year’s grass will soak up the CO2 generated by this year’s. One of the keys to our future is lab cultured meat and fish, but there is little appetite for it. Without large herds of cows to support, some at least of the UK’S land could return to forests and wild places and become a huge carbon sink. Imagine hundreds of miles of motorway with solar panels every twenty yards. The problem here is shortage of the rare metals that solar panels need. But do you hear of government backed efforts to solve this problem? Vaccines to fight covid-19? With extensive financial backing scientists solved it. Magnetic mines during WW2? Scientists solved it. Are we totally sure they could not solve this? Why aren’t we even trying? I once attended a lecture by a man who had invented a simple device to harvest electricity from the sea. It consisted of one of those containers you see on cargo ships with a hole drilled at each end and a device generating electricity in the middle. The idea was to moor it just under the surface of the sea so that waves drove water into one end of the container that turned the generator, with a valve to let the water out at the other end. Believing this could make his fortune, he had had it tested at his own expense and it worked. It was under the then Labour Government. His invention was never heard of again. Why are we ignoring these ideas that could generate electricity so abundantly at almost no cost? Have you noticed, said the inventor of the container moored just under the surface of the sea, how the Government always ensures that electricity turbines are erected in local beauty spots? The idea is to maximise local outrage, hopefully get David Bellamy down to lead protest marches, hold an enquiry to show how sensitive the Government and the electricity companies are about local environmental concerns, and then, after Bellamy has gone home and the local papers have moved on to the usual outrages of dog faeces and yobs, would you believe the enquiries regularly find in the Government’s favour. At the time, I thought this absurdly cynical. I don’t now. I asked the head of Ecotricity why the big energy companies are not interested in his gas from grass project. The answer is simple he said. Profit is always in proportion to price, and energy companies are not interested in electricity and gas that can be produced as cheap as chips, indeed given the present high cost of cooking the chips cheaper. We don’t need any more nuclear power stations. We can produce power far more cheaply without risk and not open to foreign control or the vagaries of the international energy markets. What benefit this would be to consumers. But who cares about them, least of all, sadly, as people are so very, very easily told what to think and believe what they are told, themselves.