Arguments on nuclear power have moved on from ‘do we have it, do we not’ – Richard Harrington MP
The Business and Industry minister Richard Harrington joined a panel of energy experts including the Nuclear Industry Association and Sellafield, to discuss nuclear power and renewables at Conservative party conference.
Richard Harrington, the Business and Industry minister explained that the gap which exists in energy provision in the UK cannot be solely filled by renewables and that nuclear is required, with the costs hopefully reducing, saying “I still believe the whole base case with nuclear power that we do need this base of power production.”
He stated that the arguments have matured a lot from “do we have it, do we not.”
He said the costs of new nuclear power stations needed to come down, as they are currently only met by national government’s or mean a higher ‘strike price’ for the length of a project where a loan needs to be repaid.
“The second thing is the reduction in the actual cost of it; the cost of producing the reactors. Some of that will be because of change in technology... Some of it will be if there’s a consistency of supply i.e. it’s not just building a one-off, I’m sure that the basics of any form of business, that will lead to lower construction costs and therefore lower strike prices”.
Mr Harrington welcomed the jobs the industry provides, given they are often highly paid and in remote parts of the country:
“So as far as the government is concerned it is often forgotten, not by Jamie Reed at Sellafield or Tom Greatrex at the NIA, that there are more than 80,000 people currently working in the nuclear industry in the UK. The spin on for it is that they are often in geographical areas that have struggled with other sorts of high paid employment because of where they are, in quite isolated places”.
Citing the Sellafield site in Cumbria, he said “it is not just the people you employ at Sellafield, but our skill in it is becoming a very exportable product”.
He added that on the skills side of the industry it was clear that many more women should be working in industry, and this was tackled in the sector deal.
Lesley Rudd from the Sustainable Energy Association said it was important to transition away from fossil fuels, given we have a growing population and are building new homes all the time.
She said nuclear and renewables can work together and be part of the answer but added that demand should not be ignored, given discussions focus frequently on just the supply side.
She said using less energy and reducing consumer bills was important but that we should also strive to decarbonise heat through low carbon heating systems and solar. She also said that greater innovation in the sector would help including developing battery storage.
Jamie Reed said the title of the discussion was a “false choice” and that it was widely accepted that the UK needed a balanced energy policy.
“We need to accept that both are an absolutely essential part of what will be the UK’s economic, manufacturing and industrial base in the future.
“If we are serious about decarbonising our economy and we are and if we are serious about maintaining the security of our energy supplies in this country, if we are serious about electric growth, electric public transport, electric cars being rolled out further and further then we really need to stop pontificating about this.
“There is no fight between renewables and nuclear. We need them both”.
Lawrence Slade from Energy UK said that the UK has a responsibility to keep supplies going.
He added that the poor housing stock in the UK is not helpful to reducing our energy consumption but that we were digitizing an analogue system through the use of smart meters.
He praised the growing number of energy sources of electricity generation in the country which has risen from 100 to over a million, including roof-top solar panels.
He said it was essential to make sure everyone has affordable energy as and when they need it.
Tom Greatrex explained the day’s 8am official breakdown of energy sources on the grid and said the challenge to meet was to reduce the carbon intensity of the power used given it was 268g per kilowatt.
Mr Greatrex said that demand management was more important that reducing demand for electricity overall, and he supported better insultation of buildings and retrofitting, though this was often difficult to do. He also said that more local power generation on new homes and commercial buildings was important.
He said increasingly the energy sector should be viewed together as a range of different technologies which all had a part to play in providing electricity for consumers and businesses.