White Paper puts nuclear power top of the agenda

Scientists have cautiously welcomed the UK government’s drive towards renewable energy and nuclear power, revealed in its Energy White Paper published today.     

Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling confirmed the government’s aims to triple electricity production from renewable sources by 2015; to encourage private investment in new nuclear power plants; and to have a demonstration carbon capture and storage plant operating in the next decade.   

’There are challenges ahead but the White Paper puts the UK on the right track,’ said Richard Clegg, director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University, while Ian Fells, of the Royal Academy of Engineering, told Chemistry World that the move towards nuclear power injected a ’refreshing sense of realism’.        

Though opposition MPs said ministers had already decided to back nuclear power, Darling insisted that no decision would be taken until the end of a public consultation, finishing on 10 October. Earlier this year, plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations suffered a setback after a first public consultation was condemned by a High Court judge as ’inadequate’ and ’misleading’. And John Sauven, director of environmental group Greenpeace, said the second consultation needed to be truly genuine and open-minded. ’If the government fails to carry out a fair consultation, Greenpeace will not hesitate to take up the issue in the courts once again,’ he said.     

On other energy decisions the government was less defensive. A competition to build a complete carbon capture and storage plant would be launched in November 2007, said the White Paper. And  a carbon trading scheme for businesses and public sector organisations, which would be the first such mandatory scheme in the world, headlined a raft of energy efficiency measures. Those included suggestions for households to have ’smart meters’ showing energy use throughout the home, and a consultation on how to improve the energy efficiency of consumer electronics. Darling also announced ?50 million total investment into R&D and procurement of low carbon transport vehicles.     

But the true impact of the White Paper would only be seen when the dust has settled on the flurry of consultations launched alongside it, scientists agreed. ’I sometimes think the government mistakes consultations for action,’ said Fells.     

Brian Robinson, head of Energy, Environment and Climate Change at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers said: ’This Government must produce a tangible framework from this document. It is down to them to deliver the results that the 2003 White Paper didn’t.’     

Richard Van Noorden