A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Bringing UK energy policy down to earth.....

The 'Summer' Issue (July, 2004) of Country Illustrated magazine (just out) carries my very serious article entitled 'Blueprint for filling the energy gap'. In my opinion, the UK Government's energy policy will prove a lethal Achilles heel for 'New Labour'. Here, below, I summarise an alternative policy for truly energising Britain for the future:

Manifesto for energising Britain

a) Ditch as quickly as possible the predication of energy policy on the foolish notion that we can manage in any predictable manner inexorable and complex climate change. What we need is a strong economy that can adapt to climate change, whatever its ultimate direction(s);

b) Base energy policy on the need to provide a reliable mix of energy generation to support economic growth with the least possible dependence on imported fuels;

c) Recognize the wisdom of James Lovelock's brave declaration that, for the mid–term (the next 40-to-50 years), there is no alternative to nuclear power. As the Royal Society likewise concluded recently: "In the short to medium term, it is difficult to see how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels without the help of nuclear power." Moreover, it is time to acknowledge that much of what has been written about the dangers of nuclear power is pure myth. Indeed, statistics prove precisely the opposite. Nuclear power (currently 17% of the world's electricity supply) has the safest record of any major form of energy production. In the West, it has killed no one and injured no one. An analysis by The Paul Scherrer Institute of the number of serious accidents worldwide (i.e., those that killed at least 5 people) in the energy sector between 1969 and 1996 provides the following telling results: oil = 334; coal = 187; natural gas = 86; LPG = 77; hydropower = 9; nuclear = 1. We should further note that nuclear weapons require enrichment of over 90%; nuclear power needs less than 10%. Most nuclear waste is useless for making weapons. Moreover, the radiation from a nuclear power station is less than that from a coal-powered station or from a large hospital (and there are fewer superbugs too!). Lastly, if you remain worried about 'global warming', nuclear power stations release no 'greenhouse gases'. Indeed, over the whole energy cycle audit, they release lower levels of 'greenhouse gases' than any other energy source, including solar power and wind power. It is further worth noting that, by sharp contrast with the UK, China, Finland, France, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Taiwan and the US, among others, including some smaller developing countries, all acknowledge the inestimable value of nuclear power for their future energy mixes. China, for example, is currently planning to develop one large nuclear power plant per year for the next ten years, while - of all countries, you might say - Sweden is developing one of the most politically-enlightened policies with regard to the safe storage of nuclear waste;

d) Encourage and support long-term (40-50 year) research into nuclear fusion;

e) While being entirely honest and open about the future reserves and the peaking of fossil fuels, continue to support their efficient use, including the 'Orimulsion' tars, but especially coal, which is due for a major resurgence. Even on conservative estimates, there are some 350-500 years of coal reserves in the world, and, with modern coal technologies, from advanced fluidized beds to gasification, coal is on an exciting new road to clean energy. Methods currently in use for CO2 capture include physical and chemical solvents, particularly monoethanolamine (MEA), membranes, adsorption onto zeolites, and cryogenic separation. The Canadian Clean Power Coalition (CCPC), for example, is a public-private partnership aiming to demonstrate CO2 removal from coal-fired plants by 2007-2010;

f) Do not be fooled by the doomsayers who predict an early demise for oil. According to a fascinating analysis, entitled 'Never cry wolf - why the Petroleum Age is far from over', which has just been published in a recent edition of Science magazine, proven world oil reserves exceed one trillion barrels. Far from the oil 'running out', the real story of the oil industry over the past 50 years has been the way in which technological change has continuously worked miracles, not only to yield new discoveries, but also to upgrade the size and extent of existing fields;

g) Support research into the long-term sequestration and storage of CO2 by ocean storage, by mineral storage, but, above all, by deep geological storage;

h) Be more open and honest about the genuine limitations of so-called 'renewables', including both the problem of intermittency of supply and their environmental downsides. Large-scale hydroelectric power involves the re-settlement of local people, interrupts fish migration, and causes the loss of habitat. Micro- and pico-scale hydroelectric systems become easily blocked with debris and are able to make only a marginal contribution overall. Tidal barrages disrupt complex and layered ecosystems. Geothermal projects mar sensitive ecological habitats. Wind farms are now known to kill important bird and bat species, including such iconic returnees as the red kite in Wales. They also despoil quite unacceptably rare remaining 'wilderness';

i) Be honest about the carbon and energy costs of manufacture in products such as solar panels;

j) Be more aware of the potential architectural damage to historic buildings that may be caused by over-enthusiastic schemes for energy efficiency and solar panels, and carry out much more research into the health problems of heavily-insulated houses and offices, from 'sick building syndrome' to fleas and radon;

k) Support realistic work on alternative fuels for vehicles, including compressed air, hydrogen fuel cells, sodium borohydride, and biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol, and biomass fuels, like short-rotation willow coppice);

l) Always seek an energy mix that will support economic growth, and, above all, where appropriate, also assist the developing world in the provision of the best energy mixes for their own urgent growth and development;

m) Ditch the political paranoia about 'Saving the World', and, focus, instead, on practical energy development for people, for the countryside, and for industry.

I honestly believe that, if we continue to follow current Government policy on energy, we could pay extremely dearly for its foolish attempt to appease the vocifierous, but hopelessly utopian, Green lobby.

Philip, demanding a realistic energy policy for all our futures. Now, off to the Great Wen for the day.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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