Britain's energy future lies in renewables and energy saving, not nuclear power

Craig Bennett

14 June 2012

Today Friends of the Earth launched a new phase in our campaign for Clean British Energy  calling on David Cameron to listen to the public’s overwhelming vote of confidence for clean home-grown sources of energy from the wind, sun and water. We’ve now joined forces with Ecotricity and Good Energy to make our case – and offer people the opportunity to switch to one of these two ‘gold standard’ green energy providers.

 The case we are making couldn’t be more important.  The Government’s ‘Electricity Market Reform’ Energy Bill, being examined by a committee of MPs, is set to determine our energy future for a generation.  As our joint statement on the Bill outlines, it is skewed to provide hidden subsides to nuclear power at the expense of renewables and energy efficiency – as well as opening the door to a costly and polluting dash for gas.

Today has also seen some speculation in the blogosphere about Friends of the Earth’s position on nuclear power (never a quiet day in the office). This is because we recently announced that we were commissioning the Tyndall Centre to review the background evidence that is relevant to our position on nuclear. Anyone that knows Friends of the Earth well will know that this is the kind of thing we do on a fairly routine basis because for the last 40 years, we have been proud to be an organisation that is evidence-based. But it caused author and journalist Mark Lynas (who doesn’t know Friends of the Earth very well) to blog that we were “considering abandoning our anti-nuclear stance”. This is a deeply misleading headline.

Let me make one thing clear – as the Energy Bill prepares to come to Parliament, Friends of the Earth is convinced that our energy future relies on a swift and substantial shift to a system based on renewable energy and cutting energy waste. Only this combination can cut dangerous carbon emissions in the time frame needed, protect consumers from the oil price shocks, and secure our energy needs. What’s more – the global switch to green energy is astonishing in its speed and its results. For the last three years more money has been invested globally in clean energy than conventional fuels. Growth has outstripped other sectors, and kept going while the UK lags in recession.

The evidence shows that this path is the only one to secure our energy future fast enough to avoid the looming climate crisis, and is the most cost-effective route to carbon free power.  Nuclear is impossible to build without massive public subsidy – no reactor has ever been built without it.  And that subsidy is increasing, with latest estimates of £115 per megawatt hour: almost one and a half times the support for of offshore wind.  This poses massive problems in the diversion of funding from green energy and energy saving - nowhere more aptly demonstrated than in the widely recognised skewing of the Governments so called ‘ Electricity Market Reform’ to shore up new nuclear at the expense of renewables.  Neither can nuclear be built fast enough, even with these subsidies, to help close the energy gap.  Of the 10 new reactors the Government wants to build (most of which are unlikely to get off the ground as company after company pulls out due to spiralling costs) the first cannot be ready until at least 2020.  According to the Sustainable Development Commission  - abolished by the Government last year - even if all 10 reactors were built, they would only cut CO2 emissions by 4% sometime around 2025.

Under these circumstances, it is right that number of countries have concluded nuclear not a risk worth taking. The Fukushima disaster - which Friends of the Earth took part in a vigil for last year, alongside CND – took place in one of the world’s most technologically advanced countries.  New reactors cannot be considered especially while the lessons of Fukushima have not yet been learned. Aside from the dangers of nuclear waste, the Department of Energy and Climate Change currently spends £6.93 billion a year managing this and other liabilities from the current nuclear programme – 86% of its entire budget.

Instead of throwing money into the nuclear black hole, Britain should be exploiting the strategic opportunity it has to use renewables to give the economy a globally competitive edge.  Using just a third of our offshore renewable resource would make Britain a net exporter of electricity rather than continually sending the money we pay for our energy overseas.  The UK’s renewable energy industry now  supports 110,000 jobs,  and could support 400,000 jobs by 2020. Germany is already a major exporter of renewable technology, with 370,000 people employed in its renewables sector.

Under the current evidence, there is nothing to suggest these trends  - with such risk on the one hand and such potential on the other – are set to change. And Friends of the Earth has always been an evidence based organisation. We always look at new evidence to inform all our areas of campaigning – nothing new here. Putting renewable energy and energy efficiency at the heart of Government policy would support the green economy and has the potential to make the UK a world centre for green technology manufacturing – as well as tackling climate change.  That’s why we are campaigning for clean British energy - renewables and energy efficiency – to be put at the centre of Electricity Market Reform.

You can join us by signing our petition to Secretary of State Ed Davey.

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