Nuclear costs underestimated: study

4 July 2005

The cost of new nuclear power has been underestimated by almost a factor of three, according to a new report from radical think tank the New Economics Foundation, Mirage and Oasis.

The UK nuclear industry have systematically underestimated the cost of new nuclear power, the report says, with more realistic estimates for construction, delays and overruns, the cost of early reactors and actual performance all pushing the likely costs of new nuclear power up.

The report goes on to say that while nuclear power has been promoted as the answer to climate change and energy insecurity, it is too slow, too expensive and too limited and, furthermore, is a security risk.

The report also argues that the potential of small-scale renewables has been critically overlooked given that it offers safe, secure and climate-friendly energy supply.

The New Economics Foundation report reveals that a broad combination of renewable energy sources with a range of micro, small, medium and large-scale technologies, and applied flexibly, could more than meet energy needs.

Andrew Simms, New Economics Foundation policy director says: “Without sustainable, reliable supplies of energy the world faces a future in which climate change and fuel shortages will combine with catastrophic results. The poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the worst. But a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, justified by voodoo economics, stands to hinder and potentially derail renewable energy.”

The report concludes that if around one third of the UK's electricty customers installed 2 kW photovoltaic or wind systems it would match the capacity of the UK nuclear programme. It adds that renewables are quick to build, abundant and cheap to harvest. It is also flexible, safe, secure and climate friendly.

But, says Mirage and Oasis, in order to realise the full benefits of renewable energy and micro-generation a number of key steps must be taken. The report calls for a fundamental shift of public support away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, to renewables and micro-generation – to remove anti-renewable distortions and enable them to play ‘catch up’.

The comments reflect recent remarks attributed to UK energy minister Malcolm Wicks who has said that households could generate their own electricity and sell surplus power to utility companies. Wicks reportedly said that the government is investigating the development of micro-generation using water, wind and solar power.

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