Nu­clear power may not keep UK’s lights on, warn Lib Dems

Party cites is­sues over costs and tim­ing of plants Wind­farms se­cur­ing much cheaper state sup­port

The Guardian - - FINANCIAL - Adam Vaughan and Jes­sica El­got

New nu­clear power sta­tions may not be the best op­tion for keep­ing Britain’s lights on and meet­ing the coun­try’s car­bon tar­gets, the Lib­eral Democrats have said.

The party said there were le­git­i­mate con­cerns over nu­clear’s cost and the risks that new plants would not be de­liv­ered on time, just days af­ter wind­farms se­cured state sup­port far more cheaply than the Hink­ley Point C atomic power sta­tion.

How­ever, the party, which backed nu­clear power four years ago af­ter decades of op­po­si­tion, said the tech­nol­ogy should still be con­sid­ered an op­tion in the UK’s fu­ture en­ergy mix.

“Nu­clear power should be kept open as an op­tion – but there is a risk that it may not be able to keep the lights on and that it may not be the low­est-cost op­tion,” said the Lib Dems in a report by for­mer coali­tion min­is­ter Lynne Feather­stone.

Sir Vince Cable, the party’s leader, said this week that the break­through low sub­sidy prices for off­shore wind­farms should spark a “rad­i­cal reap­praisal” of how Britain is pow­ered.

If the Lib Dems were to go so far as op­pos­ing atomic power again, it would mark a break in the pro-nu­clear con­sen­sus of the three main par­ties.

Se­nior Lib Dems be­lieve the party has an op­por­tu­nity to seize the mo­men­tum on the en­vi­ron­ment, with Labour con­strained on is­sues such as nu­clear power be­cause of its close as­so­ci­a­tion with the trade unions.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem MP and for­mer en­ergy min­is­ter who was piv­otal in the party’s sup­port for nu­clear power, said of the report: “It’s not about tak­ing nu­clear off the table, it’s re­spond­ing to the ev­i­dence of the last two years. It’s a re­cal­i­bra­tion off the back of the fact nu­clear is not prov­ing to be a prac­ti­cal, af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy. It’s not say­ing never [to nu­clear], but the costs are com­ing down fast with re­new­ables.”

The report also backed a greater use of re­new­able en­ergy, car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (CCS) and greater flex­i­bil­ity of the en­ergy sys­tem through stor­age and in­ter­con­nec­tors with other coun­tries.

The party ac­cused the Con­ser­va­tives of “un­rav­el­ling” progress on cli­mate change made by the Lib Dems dur­ing the coali­tion. “What wor­ries me about the Tories is they have taken CCS off table, they’re not push­ing for­ward with re­new­ables,” said Davey.

The report con­cludes that the UK is on course to miss its con­tri­bu­tion to­wards the Paris cli­mate agree­ment’s as­pi­ra­tional tar­get of keep­ing global tem­per­a­ture rises to be­low 1.5C.

To get back on track, the Lib Dems are call­ing for the Cli­mate Change Act’s tar­get of an 80% cut in car­bon emis­sions by 2050 to be brought for­ward by five to 10 years.

Last year the gov­ern­ment’s cli­mate ad­vis­ers warned that the UK lacked poli­cies to meet half of the car­bon cuts re­quired by 2030. Min­is­ters have pro­duced a blue­print on how to close the gap, the Clean Growth Plan, which could be pub­lished as soon as next week.

Be­fore the party’s an­nual con­fer­ence in Bournemouth this week­end, Cable said the world would “soon reach a tip­ping point be­yond which cat­a­strophic global warm­ing will be­come ir­re­versible” and Britain had to set an ex­am­ple.

“In­stead, these past two years the Con­ser­va­tives have done their best to trash our green in­dus­tries and undo the progress made dur­ing the coali­tion years,” he said.

“This report shows that be­com­ing car­bon-free by 2050 will be cru­cial if we are to meet the Paris agree­ment’s am­bi­tious tar­get of lim­it­ing tem­per­a­ture rise to 1.5C. Fur­ther­more, it sets out how this am­bi­tion can be de­liv­ered.”

The party will also hope to bur­nish its en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials in the com­ing months with the de­bate over Heathrow ex­pan­sion, which it op­poses. The ma­jor­ity of Labour MPs are in favour of ex­pan­sion, as is the Unite trade union, though the Labour leader, Jeremy Cor­byn, and the shadow chan­cel­lor, John McDon­nell, are against fur­ther ex­pan­sion.

Sir Vince Cable said the Tories were try­ing to ‘trash’ the UK’s green in­dus­tries and undo progress made dur­ing the coali­tion

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