Nuclear may be well established, but it needs to make a strong case
6 November 2019
Pepper Media Group
Atomic power has been with us in this country since Queen Elizabeth II switched on one of four magnox reactors at Calder Hall on 17 October 1956. Sixty-three years on, nuclear power accounts for a quarter of the UK’s and a tenth of the world’s overall power supply.
Back then, the public was deeply divided as to the merits of atomic energy, with many people concerned about its military applications, the environmental impact of waste disposal and potential accidents at the site. Over the subsequent decades, as it became increasingly apparent that the burning of fossil fuels was generating dangerous quantities of carbon dioxide, nuclear has come to be regarded as a climate-neutral source of energy.
The opinion research that the Pepper Media Group has undertaken over the past ten years in communities living close to nuclear power stations has revealed that most people buy into the arguments that nuclear energy prevents provides national energy security as well as stability of supply. Nuclear power is also extremely popular with local communities for the jobs and local spending that it supports.
The big question hanging over the industry is whether can produce power at the right price. Its detractors argue that, in a market with internationally mobile global capital, independent consortia should be able to bring together enough investment in one place and invest in its future. There should be no need for governments to invest themselves, nor to underwrite or guarantee the price at which energy will be sold into the grid.
But no country’s energy market is perfect. Governments and regulators always get involved in major infrastructure planning decisions, in strategic planning of the energy mix, in domestic energy prices and in decisions over how best to tackle the climate challenge. For the past 63 years, the nuclear industry has always been dependent on political backing.
In democracies, politicians keep a careful eye on the fluctuations of public opinion. It is not enough for the nuclear industry simply to make its case to the political and regulatory class. If nuclear is to have a long term future in the age of renewables, it must make the case to the public that it is already a source of green energy and that it too can provide new green energy jobs in the communities where they are most needed.
Growth in the world’s population will result in substantial increased energy demand over the coming decades. Nuclear will have make a strong case to be part of the new energy mix.