Bim Afolami MP: Nuclear energy is part of an essential mix
Speaking at an event hosted by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) at the annual Conservative Party Conference, Bim Afolami MP has defended nuclear power and the opportunities it presents to the UK.
Speaking at an event hosted by the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) at the annual Conservative Party Conference, Bim Afolami MP said nuclear power was “part of an essential mix” if the UK wants to hit the Government’s pledge of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Theresa May introduced the pledge in June to secure her legacy shortly before she stepped down as Prime Minster.
The MP was joined by a panel of industry experts. He homed in on supporters of renewable energy as being the most out-spoken against nuclear energy, which he termed “curious”.
“Nuclear is not particularly popular with MPs… people perceive nuclear to be dangerous and expensive,” Mr Afolami said.
Mr Afolami pointed out that nuclear energy had a perception problem: “People genuinely think [Chernobyl] can happen in Britain.”
He stated that no MPs had voted against net zero target in Parliament as they were “scared” of the repercussions.
Tom Greatrex, Chief Executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said it was certainly the case that some people “have a negative connotation of nuclear”.
“We should be re-discovering nuclear.
“Nuclear offers a way of complementing other sources to get us much closer towards the target.”
Mr Afolami added that the reason why nuclear is not “seen as green” was largely cultural.
“It is not factually evident. It is a cultural belief that somehow comes out of CND and a lot of that tradition.
“There is a cultural dislike of nuclear.”
Mr Afolami acknowledged cost was also a concern for the general public.
“One way we can sell this to people is to say look, we are going to work on safety and the decommissioning costs, and be honest about what those are, but this is a great skills opportunity for Britain.”
The UK’s new nuclear power station in Somerset, Hinkley Point C, has faced regular calls for Government to scrap the project due to the increasing costs. It was given the green light by Theresa May in 2016, with the guarantee of increased security.
“The reason why the strike price for Hinkley point is so high is the way it was designed by the treasury, to avoid it being on the government’s balance sheet,” Afolami explained.
On price increases for the general public, he added “you can make the case as long as it is gradual.”
The view of industry
Tom Greatrex emphasised that net zero had changed the debate on how to de-carbonise electricity in the UK.
“We are going to need more electricity as a proportion of our energy.”
“We need to make the best of technology to be able to manage demand. All aimed at the same thing – minimising the amount of fossil fuels that we burn to generate electricity.”
However, he warned, “there is not a single silver bullet answer.”
Greatrex spoke of how the debate surrounding nuclear energy often becomes one about competing technologies.
“I think it is the responsibility of industry… to actually try to discourage debate in those terms. Because it is not helpful, it is not actually realistic, it is not honest, and it does not stack up to very much.”
“People get confused about the merits and de-merits of different technologies when in fact what we need is the best of all of them to fit together to get us our diverse mix.”
“Net zero has changed this debate significantly but it has not changed what the answer is,” Greatrex stated.
“The answer is for a balanced mix, as low carbon as possible, to enable us to have the power we need for homes, businesses and public services.”
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“It is not that hard to de-carbonise the electricity mix. It is hard to de-carbonise the industrial process.
A lot of the key to this will be developing carbon capture and storage.”
Tom Greatrex was more sceptical.
“2050 is probably achievable. But it requires this to be the most important and significant and on-going policy driver for Government’s over the next 20 odd years,” he said.
Mr Afolami was similarly cautious about the target. He said “honestly, I think that there is the political will to get quite a long way there,” but raised concerns about the political pitfalls of the work needed to reach the pledge.
“There is a chunk that requires behavioural change and I worry about how easy that will be politically to do.”
Mr Afolami spoke of his concerns if de-carbonisation was not driven by the “centre-right”.
“At some point some lefty is going to get in. And when they do what they are going to do is to use this issue as an excuse to shut down as much as they can of the capitalist system.”
“So we have to make sure the structures are in place to make it as easy as possible to help people make behavioural changes because otherwise it will happen in a much more coercive and dangerous way”.
Mr Afolami said the expanded use of nuclear could bring new jobs to the UK.
“Look at what that can do for young people who want to be in science and STEM. This is exactly the sort of thing we want our young people to be doing.”
Tom Greatrex agreed, and added that nuclear communities “have a very, very strong affinity with the industry and what it provides and how it is an important part of their identity.”
When asked about nuclear waste, Julia Pyke stated “for new-nuclear all waste can sit on site in a dry store… it doesn’t cause harm to any human as it is extremely well managed.”
“Nuclear waste is not a massive problem, yet the waste product from fossil fuels is killing the world.”
Concluding the event, Mr Afolami called for the UK to bring in international experts and scientists to support the nuclear industry.
“Find the best people… the deal is, you train up our people. That is the sort of immigration we should see in a post-Brexit Britain”
“This is exactly where high skilled immigration benefits Britain.”