May Newsletter No188

Posted by SONE on 30 May 2014 in Newsletters

Let us spread the nuclear message like Professor Fells

Let us give thanks for Ian Fells. Newcastle Upon Tyne’s emeritus professor wrote a very simple letter to The Times on May19 in response to its leader a week earlier entitled: “Wanted: An energy policy”.

He said: “You emphasise fracking but do not mention nuclear power, which is secure, predictable and not subject to fluctuations in fuel price, as gas is. Nuclear can provide long-term security of supply with very low carbon emissions. It could play a dominant role in saving the world from the increasing reliance on fossil fuels”.

In little more than 50 words he set out what all SONE members should be saying at every opportunity. We should never allow anyone from the complacent to the crackpot to get away with the idea that they can have security of low carbon supply without nuclear power.

This is especially important at a time when, whatever they may say privately, the politicians tacitly confirm in their leisured approach to developing nuclear power that, like Micawber, they are hoping something else will turn up. Otherwise, with the dearth of power station building, the concentration on wind power, the pursuit of sources or measures yet to be proved and successively alarming predictions of supply, they would have shown some urgency years ago.

In the same Times collection of letters, Martin Livermore, of the Scientific Alliance, said that if next winter is cold the 2015 general election could well be won by the party with a realistic energy policy that will keep the lights on.

It seems unlikely to be Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s party. His contribution to The Times debate was just about as complacent as you can get: “We have set a clear path for investment and generation that will keep the lights on, reduce reliance on imports and increase supplies of secure energy – a very substantial energy policy indeed”.

Wheezes on the agenda

To be fair to Davey, he did claim to have planned a nuclear station, though at the moment it seems to be at the mercy of both the EU’s state aids inquiry and Areva’s balance sheet, given its reported concerns about contingencies in the UK Government/EdF deal over Hinkley Point. But everywhere you look the talk is not about the obvious longer term solution – nuclear power – to our growing concerns about security of supply but to other wheezes that will take perhaps even longer to come about.

For example, Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons’ Energy Select Committee, waxed lyrical about the potential of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) whereby CO2 produced by power stations is piped for storage in old oil and gas fields under the North Sea. The Times reported his committee saying Britain could earn £billions by charging other countries to store their CO2, notwithstanding the entire process has yet to be proved and could initially raise the price of electricity three-fold.

This was why Yeo called for the the Government to fast track two possible pilot projects at Peterhead in Scotland and Drax in Yorkshire and ensure that other projects can apply for contracts. “Fitting power stations with technology to capture and store carbon is absolutely vital if are to avoid dangerously de- stabilising the climate”, he said.

We might reasonably ask how he knows, given the continuing doubts about the scale of global warming, when we are not even at the experimental stage of CCS and when nuclear power is just waiting to be built.

Renewables over-subscribed

**Then the Sunday Times devoted a page to the possible development of Alex Salmond’s characterisation of Scotland as “the Saudi Arabia of tidal power”, even though Scotland so far produces next to no power from the tides and the company proposing to break the duck in the Pentland Firth has yet to raise the money. Even if it does, the estimated cost of early tidal electricity is six times the current wholesale market price.

All this after the Renewable Energy Foundation – the organisation that keeps a critical eye on renewables – claimed that the Government’s own figures show that enough projects to meet the 2020 target of 15% of energy from renewable sources have been either built, are under construction or have planning consent. This left 1,000 projects still in the planning system surplus to requirements.

As consumers, who have to meet the cost of the planning system as well as renewables subsidies, we are entitled to ask what the hell is going on .Is there any semblance of control over heavily subsidised projects within energy policy?

We are also entitled to point out that in nuclear power the nation has the answer to its needs if only it would acknowledge it.

”Cuts virtually inevitable”

This takes us back to The Times leader of May 15, which raised security of supply and was more remarkable for what it didn’t say than what it did. Picking up on Lord (Nigel) Lawson’s claim that the Coalition “doesn’t have an energy policy”, it said:

”What passes for a coalition energy policy is in fact a tangle of regulations, subsidies and incentives that is delaying investment, driving up prices over the long term and making blackouts a real possibility by as soon as next year. Britain’s lack of a coherent energy strategy is an emergency that will not go away just because of a short-term outlook for warm weather and long summer evenings. It is, as Dieter Helm, of Oxford University, says, a ‘very slow motion car crash’ that is already happening.

“The country has a capacity margin of just 2 per cent. Ofgem warns that this could shrink to zero by the winter of 2015-16 if predicted gains in the efficiency of power usage are not realised. With zero margin for error, cuts are virtually inevitable”.

The leader went on to regret the failure to attract fracking applications and bemoaned the lack of politicians with the courage and vision to embrace shale gas exploration. On May 22 the Government moved to break the fracking log jam with the prospect of compensation for communities. But, like The Times, it did not mention nuclear power. Hence Professor Fells’ letter. Let us follow his lead.

Energy = Prosperity

If our politicians want to keep the economy growing, they had better cross their fingers that next winter is not frigid, as Martin Livermore has suggested (above). Two researchers – Ross McKitrick and Elmira Aliakbari – have tended to demolish the idea that somehow you can limit energy use without damaging prosperity.

An examination of the Canadian economy has led them to conclude that energy use there is not a mere by-product of prosperity but a limiting factor in growth. Real per capita income is constrained by policies that restrict energy availability and/or increase energy costs. Energy abundance leads to growth in GDP per capita. Abundant energy is important for sustaining strong economic growth. Limiting energy availability is likely to have negative macroeconomic consequences.

Energy Secretary Ed Davey, who would have problems surviving a serious blackout, please note. If we had replicated Sizewell B in the 1990s, he would not be in this uncertain mess. We would also be much better off as consumers.

Turning global warming cost estimates upside down

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent fifth assessment keeps coming back like a bad penny. Bjorn Lomborg, Denmark’s sceptical environmentalist, has just savaged (again) the economic justification for policies to counter global warming across the world.

In an article in April he said climate change had been portrayed as a huge catastrophe costing as much as 20% of GDP, though the Stern Review commissioned by the UK Government in 2006 claimed it could be curtailed by policies costing only 1% of GDP.

“The reality is just the opposite”, says Lomborg. “We now know that the damage cost will be perhaps 2% of world GDP whereas climate policies can end up costing more than 11% of GDP. What makes this story all the more amazing is that experts have known all of these facts for a long time. The Stern Review was produced by bureaucrats and never subjected to peer review.

Economists knew that the damage costs had been extensively massaged and that estimates were outliers compared to the academic literature. The unfathomably low projections for policy costs were artefacts of ignoring most liabilities, again contradicting the economic literature.

“We live in a world where one in six deaths is caused by easily curable infectious diseases, one in eight deaths stem from air pollution, mostly from cooking indoors with dung and; twigs; and billions of people live in abject poverty, with no electricity and little food. We ought never to have entertained the notion that the world’s greatest challenge could be to reduce temperature rises in our generation by a fraction of a degree”.

We would add that it is a peculiar kind of madness to try to reduce these temperature rises with methods of generating electricity which provide neither security of supply nor much CO2 reduction while costing consumers a bomb when nuclear, a secure, competitive, low carbon source, has been available for very nearly 60 years.

The intolerance of science

What is just as serious, though it may not have an immediate price tag attached to it, is the damage the scientific community is doing to its reputation over global warming. It is occurring too often, even though critics like Lomborg do not deny the theory of man-made global warming but question its extent and pace. It seems you are beyond the pale unless you embrace the concept of chucking everything, including the kitchen sink, regardless of expense, at CO2, however essential it is to life on this planet.

The latest to suffer is Professor Lennart Bengtsson, 79, a meteorologist at Reading University. A paper he co-authored with four others suggesting that the planet might be much less sensitive to greenhouse gases than has been claimed was rejected for publication by Environmental Research Letters after reviewers had described it as “harmful” and “less than helpful”.

He then resigned from the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord (Nigel) Lawson, under “McCarthy-style” pressure from fellow scientists, saying he feared for his health. Lord Lawson said the comparison with McCarthy was fully justified. The Met Office’s chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo, promptly called for an end to personal attacks (which she herself has known) and for scientists to acknowledge the uncertainties in their understanding of global warming.

“ Away with alarmism”

All this occurred after the UK economist, Richard Jol, stood down from the IPCC policymaking group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability from global warming after its report contained, he suggested, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – famine, pestilence, war and death. He wrote: “Away with alarmism. That has been tried for 25 years with no discernible impact on emissions. Away with activists posing as scientists. Just good, sober solid science. Let the chips fall where they may”.

Harvard University Professor Robert Stavins also claimed that 75% of a section of the IPCC report on the impact of international climate negotiations was deleted by officials seeking to protect their government’s position.

All this suggests neither scientific nor official open mindedness. This is not science, which is supposed to proceed by trial and error, observation and verification, evidence and proof. It is time the scientific community returned to first principles, applied itself to science and eschewed environmental propaganda. If not, it is far from clear to us how, if Professor Bengtsson is right, it can retain much credibility. That would be a global disaster.

Wade Allison’s renewed plea for realism

This month one of our scientist-members, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Oxford, Wade Allison, has renewed his call for more realistic safety limits over nuclear radiation and more education of the public.

In a new paper he makes the point that you pay for what you insist on – and the more you insist, the more you pay. That is the law of the street and it applies to the safety of nuclear radiation. For more than 60 years people around the world have demanded that any public exposure to radiation should be kept As Low As
Reasonably Achieveable (the ALARA principle). This is because nuclear radiation is seen as quite exceptionally dangerous in a way that applies to no other risks. Nuclear costs have risen as this demand has become more strident.

Yet, he says, there is no scientific justification for the fear of radiation that pervades much public opinion. Radiation has been a feature of the natural world for 1,000m years and life has evolved an extraordinary degree of natural protection, so there is no scientific justification for the primitive fear of radiation that pervades much public opinion today as a result of the Cold War. Professor Allison says the real threats to life on the planet are no mystery – population, social and economic stability, water, food and environmental change. Radiation has no place on that list and nuclear is an essential part of the answer. “But can you afford the electricity bills?” he asks. “These are inflated artificially by the safety industry on the back of popular fear and the fossil fuel industries are very happy about it. So is the Russian bear. And this hike? 30- 40% perhaps. Whoever dares to prick this bubble should scoop the future energy market and make a great stride in competitiveness”.

He calls on the International Atomic Energy Agency to withdraw support for ALARA and the accompanying scientifically unsupported LNT (linear no- threshold) theory) and embark on educating our children and grandchildren on the basis of science, not blame and fear. We would add that to do that the warring tribes of science should stop eroding trust in themselves – now.

Campaign against Navitus

Brendan McNamara, a consultant member of SONE in Bournemouth, has just launched a campaign against the Navitus offshore wind farm off Dorset’s so- called Jurassic Coast world heritage site. The proposed wind farm would be just under nine miles from the coast and incorporate 194 turbines across 60 square miles of the Channel.

The body of research he has assembled from UK and international sources is available on He says badly placed or designed renewable energy sources damage the environment and ecology on which they stand and Navitus is the worst in the UK so far.

The case for SMRS

Barrie Skelcher, a member in Leiston, Suffolk, has become so concerned about the implications of building very large power stations that he has tried, without success, to raise the issue with the Department of Energy and the Prime Minister. He has therefore written a short novel – The Day England Died – published by the Book Guild (£8.99) and available on e-Bay or from online retailers such as Amazon.

He summarises his book as follows: “Electricity is the lifeblood of our nation. Generating it at just a few locations in large stations, whether they are nuclear or otherwise, especially when they are a long way from demand, means that the nation’s supply could be shut off by terrorists or natural disasters, demolishing a few pylons. The solution is to build small stations, preferably nuclear to save CO2 emissions, closer to where the power is needed”.

Are we going soft?

You will recall that last month we took The Guardian to task for its rank scaremongering about the risk of the Drigg low level nuclear waste store in West Cumbria being affected by coastal erosion in the context of global warming sometime over the next few hundred years or millennia. We were so taken with the absurdity of the authorities doing nothing to protect it over that time that we underplayed The Guardian’s mischief.

Dr A C Littlejohn, a SONE member in Oakham, Rutland, wrote that he was surprised we had not mentioned that “in a few hundred to a few thousand years” the already low levels of radioactivity in Drigg would have decayed significantly. Now that he has mentioned it, we are surprised at ourselves. It is not like us to let the pathetic propagandists off lightly. We must be going soft. Thank you, Dr Littlejohn.

The things people say

At the end of April, Maria McCaffery, CEO of RenewableUK, representing wind, wave and tidal energy, claimed that onshore wind would be cheaper than new nuclear. She has, of course, not the slightest idea which will be cheaper because the Government is gambling with the nuclear price in 2023 through Contracts for Difference. But we would be interested to know how onshore wind overcomes the cost of back up fossil fuels when the wind isn’t blowing. Answer, please.


We regret to record the deaths of two valued members – Dr Dennis Leason, of Dorking, Surrey, and Roger Bexon, of London NW1.

 More nuggets for your use

We have promised to supply members with positive points about nuclear power for public use. Our latest offering is as follows:

  • The installed capacity of nuclear reactors in commercial operation or under construction in China is expected to virtually double to 80GW by 2020, according to the State news agency. Currently 16,900GW (21 units) are in operation and 27,756GW under construction.
  • Uprating of Exelon’s reactors in the USA has enabled the company to meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets seven years earlier than planned; it calls on US policymakers to recognise nuclear’s role in meeting the USA’s emission reduction targets.
  • The US Energy Information Administration says the early retirement of nuclear power stations instead of coal-fired plants could see CO2 emissions 500m tonnes higher by 2040.
  • G7 Energy Ministers, meeting to strengthen security of energy supply in the light of the Ukraine situation, agreed to promote the use of low carbon power, including nuclear.
  • Among a number of co-operation agreements signed during the month, Sellafield Ltd and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), said to be the two companies facing the biggest nuclear clean up, are to work together on decommissioning.
  • Finland’s nuclear safety authority is co-operating with Saudi Arabia to establish a radiation and nuclear safety authority as the “first practical step” towards a Saudi nuclear programme, with 16 units planned by 2032.
  • Poland is proposing to generate 12% of its electricity by nuclear by 2030, with the first reactor on line by 2024.
  • The chairman of France’s atomic energy commission says the country will need 35 new nuclear reactors within the next 35 years if it is to meet its target to generate 50% of its power by nuclear.
  • An industry group has proposed to the government that Chile should build nuclear plants to supply 30% of its power by 2030.
  • Florida Power and Light has been given permission by the state to build two Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors at its major Turkey Point plant, with the first on stream by 2022.
  • Voters in the Swiss canton of Bern have rejected by 63% a proposal for the premature closure of the Muhleberg nuclear power station, scheduled for closure in 2019; after Fukushima, the federal government decided to ban new build and close all five of the country’s nuclear plants at the end of their useful lives.

Published by: Supporters of Nuclear Energy, c/o 9 Monahan Avenue, Purley, Surrey CR8 3BB Tel: 020 8660 8970
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