Secure, reliable, and affordable nuclear is a safe bet for Labour
Torness Nuclear Power Station in Dunbar is one of four stations which will retire by 2028 | Credit: EDF
Labour should embrace nuclear to deliver on energy security and decarbonisation.
When gas was relatively cheap, and in abundance, the cost of decarbonisation was set against the urgency to reduce emissions. As recently as COP26 last November, when power prices had stealthily doubled, energy security and price predictability benefits of a low carbon system were woefully under-appreciated.
An unwelcome dose of the reality about our fossil fuel addiction has led to a rapid change in the political debate on energy. Energy security has become paramount – but too late to avert an escalation in prices that, in turn, results in an inflationary impact the likes of which we have not seen for a generation.
The unit price of natural gas – bearing in mind half of our electricity comes from burning gas – has risen to over ten times what it was in 2021. In July, typically one of the calmer months in power markets, the UK had to pay Belgium nearly £10,000 per mega-watt hour, 50 times the usual price, just to avoid disruption to power supplies in the south-east.
As we head into the colder and darker months, the price and availability of power for homes, businesses and public services will be determined by air temperature and wind speed. Will we have enough energy for all our needs, whatever the cost? A mild, windy winter and some good fortune and our system may well scrape though – but a high-pressure weather system sitting over northern Europe for a few days in mid-January, as reasonably frequently happens, and everything could well be a lot more worrying.
The most damning aspect of the situation we are in is that not only was it predictable – it was predicted. A combination of high demand for expensive gas; less than anticipated yield from wind and solar; an over-reliance on importing power from neighbouring countries; and the retirement of our nuclear fleet were all foreseen. There were enough warning signs – and while the additional impact of Russian invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly exacerbated the situation – we should never have been here.
It is the easiest thing in the world to say ‘I told you so’ – but the poorest are now paying the highest price for a lack of long-term thinking. Complacency amongst decision makers and the toxic combination of wilful ignorance and wishful thinking has all too often set the parameters of the political debate on energy.
The most damning aspect of the situation we are in is that not only was it predictable – it was predicted
Providing reliable, plentiful, and clean energy is what our ageing nuclear fleet has done for more than half a century. Had we got on with replacing those power stations earlier, the situation people are facing now would be significantly less acute. If Hinkley Point C were online today, the consumer would be saving £3bn a year.
It is with a mix of low carbon power- nuclear, wind and solar – that we can achieve a secure, reliable, and predictably priced electricity mix. There is no other responsible route. Both the current and next government will need to be focussed on delivering that change – or else leaving the public exposed to the twin risks of high prices and high emissions for generations to come – energy security and decarbonisation are two sides of the same important coin.
Join us at Labour Party Conference for our fringe event on financing energy security. We will explore how, by investing in technologies such as nuclear, we would become significantly less reliant on importing energy, be it gas or electricity.
27th September 2022
12:00 - 13:15
Meeting Room 4A, ACC Liverpool
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