Earlier today on Radio 4’s PM, Evan Davies interviewed the Greens’ sole MP about nuclear power. Your correspondent was sufficiently horrified to listen twice, the second time with a goodly number of pauses. Transcript follows, with my inline snark:
Evan Davies: So what role does nuclear power play in helping the UK reach its Net Zero target? You’ve heard the government’s position there. Let’s talk to Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party, MP. Caroline [sic] thanks so much for joining us. Summarise for us where you are on nuclear now.
[We already know where they are on nuclear, which is nowhere. However, let’s hear what the reasons for that are.]
Caroline Lucas: Well that’s easy. We think that nuclear is eye-wateringly expensive. It is as you said painfully slow, and frankly it’s unnecessary. Look, this £100 million cash injection is an admission by the government that nuclear isn’t commercially viable and that new nuclear projects require enormous levels of subsidy even to get them to the point where they get the green light. Renewables, by contrast, have costs that are plummetting in recent years, so in a sense, if we’re concerned as we should be about costs for consumers it is far cheaper for them if we were to invest properly in renewable energy, in energy efficiency, rather than being fixated by a twentieth century technology which doesn’t have a place right now in terms of the green transition which is incredibly slow. I think it’s worth pointing out that the EDF plant in France, the so-called Flamanville 3 reactor is going to cost 300 million Euros more than was forecast and it is already running more than a decade late. Even if this went to plan –
[Yes, it takes a long time to build a nuclear reactor. That makes the strategy of opposing one so much more effective. The story of Sizewell B is salutary. First announced in 1969, it was synchronized with the grid in 1995. At the time, I was employed as a grunt planting sheep’s bit and thrift etc on the seaward dunes. Friends were doing things like padlocking themselves to the gates. According to Wiki,
“Before construction commenced, the design of Sizewell B was subjected to a detailed safety review by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), and a lengthy public inquiry. The Pre-Construction Safety Case was submitted to the NII in August 1981. The public inquiry was held between 1982 and 1985, and took over 16 million words of evidence, a record at the time.”
In case anyone is unaware, we haven’t plugged in a nuke since Sizewell B, 27 years ago. This followed on from the pioneering Calder Hall which was the first nuke plugged into a grid anywhere in 1956. We managed to hook up 17 more in the next 32 years, about 1 every 2 years. Then there was a 7 year hiatus until Sizewell B. Then nothing for a long time. Most of those are gone now, even with 40 year lifespans not being uncommon.
She speaks of twentieth-century energy and finds that proposing to replace it with seventeenth-century energy does not jar.]
Davies: A lot to discuss there.
Lucas: A lot.
Davies: Obviously renewables got a lot of subsidy before the costs fell so there was a learning experience as we went through but talk to me about this because what you’ve seen in Germany where they have said we don’t like our nuclear power stations, where they’ve really gone with the strategy you’ve outlined, they have just found themselves burning enormous amounts of the dirtiest kinds of coal to keep their power stations going.
Lucas: Well there are two things there. First of all, just to be clear about the amount of subsidy that goes to nuclear versus renewables you’re quite right that renewables in their early stages needed subsidy but for example onshore wind hardly needs any subsidy at all now and all of them are coming off subsidies so they are commercially viable, renewable energies are commercially viable after a few years. Nuclear after – how many years have we been doing it? Decades – is still costing us an arm and a leg. And I would like to come back to the fact that this new funding model that the government’s proposing actually means that consumers have to pay twice. They have to pay first for a plant’s construction through their energy bills long before any electricity is generated, then they have to pay again in more expensive energy bills. In Germany they didn’t invest in the kind of um panoply of different renewables that we could be doing right now. What we need to be doing now is solar, it’s wind, it’s storage, it’s demand management, it’s electric vehicles –
[This seems to come from the land of unicorns and rainbows. How could Lucas not be aware that there is a £10 billion per year subsidy for renewables admitted to by the OBR? There is also the little matter of a bill or so for juggling the erratic grid. Then someone has to pay for the standby reserve when it isn’t working.
Demand management is what we need to be doing just after we use our right hand to nail our left hand to our temple. Unless anyone knows different, demand management means making electricity more expensive. That makes life harder for everyone, and it makes the cost of everything go up. Electric vehicles she tosses into the salad, seemingly unaware that such vehicles require electricity, whereas the disgusting diesels do not.]
Davies: And what is Germany’s plan when they’ve arrived at the final destination for their energy future, what is their plan for when the wind drops? And it’s actually – last year was a very windless year – it was difficult for the grid because all over Europe we just had less wind. What is their plan? Is it to buy French nuclear?
Lucas: Well, I can – I don’t know the German plan is but I can tell what our –
Davies: I think it’s in connectors – interconnectors with the rest of Europe which will end up inevitably being fossil fuels from elsewhere or end up being nuclear from elsewhere, won’t it?
Lucas: No, not ne – not at all. The kind of interconnectors that we’re talking about would absolutely be taking wind from some of the Nordic countries for example so when the wind’s blowing there, we can have interconnectors that would allow us to import that energy, similarly, you know, we can be exporting when we’ve got an excess. That is the way forward, and the idea that we need baseload is just from another century, we don’t need that nuclear baseload any more. Even the head of the grid has said that we need a smart grid and that instead can supply us with the kind of security of supply that we need. People are talking about the fact that the wind doesn’t blow from time to time. That is certainly true. But don’t forget the fact that one of the reasons that we’ve been hit so hard by the current gas crisis is also because a nuclear power stations [sic] went offline in an unpredictable way and for a long time.
[In the land of rainbows and unicorns, it is always windy somewhere, windy enough for the inhabitants and for an excess to be piped to their distant friends where the air is still. All I can say is, thank the stars that the role of the Greens is only to propose utterly asinine solutions, thereby making the mainstream stupid solutions of the incumbent party and its loyal opposition seem like strokes of genius.
Yes, you probably need a smart grid. Just as you need someone on hand to correct the steering every millisecond when pushing a poorly-designed trolley.
The term she uses there – “gas crisis” – seems to indicate to me a shortage of gas. If we had a “food crisis” we would not be planning to reduce food production.]
[Incoming Skype call]
Davies: Well they do go off indeed so. I’m tempted to say take that Skype call but thankfully it’s stopped. Just one last one for you though. The green movement, I don’t know about the Green Party, the green movement has been somewhat split on this issue of nuclear because many I think in the green movement think credibility of a strategy towards Net Zero probably does involve, not massive amounts of nuclear, but maybe 15 or 20 percent of that baseload.
Lucas: I disagree with you. I don’t think you would find a majority, or even most, or even a large part of the movement –
Davies: People like George Monbiot, George Monbiot, you know, great writers on the environmental side of this have been turned around to the idea that somewhere in the system you might want some nuclear. Maybe not Hinckley Point or Sizewell, but something nuclear.
Lucas: Well, you’d need to have him on to explain that point. But what I can tell you is that the big environmental NGOs, the GreenPeaces, the Friends of the Earths, and those big organisations that have been working on this for years have not changed their position and neither has the Green Party. If we were to go down the nuclear route, it would be slow, as I said, it’s going to take at least ten years even if there weren’t any overruns to get this new nuclear power station up and running, it is eye-wateringly expensive, why, at a time when people are rightly concerned about their energy bills would we be deliberately going down a route that requires more costly energy. What we should be doing is making the transition to renewables which is must faster, much cheaper, and much more secure.
Davies: Caroline Lucas, thanks for making that argument.
[Renewables are more secure? They’re spread out over vast areas in far-flung places that used to be fairly wild before we industrialised them, and the offshore ones at least are connected by vulnerable cables. The onshore ones are hardly secure either. And if Lucas thinks the cost of nuclear is eye-wateringly expensive, perhaps she should be advocating gas power stations. Of course not, because everything Green now revolves around a single axis, carbon dioxide. Nothing else – not poverty, not security of supply, not birds swatted from the sky – matters.
Nuclear is an obvious solution because it is the one energy source that sceptics and alarmists alike can agree to.]
PS. the Green logo that I have rudely mutilated with a brassica is actually the Earth, haloed by the nuclear fires of armageddon. Or the designer might have intended a sunflower. It’s unclear which.