Today the UK government approved Britain’s first new nuclear power plant in 20 years at Hinkley Point C.
Many of the reactions to the decision have been critical for a number of reasons, including cost, the role of foreign investment and the way that the decision has been made. STEPS co-director Andy Stirling is quoted in a Sussex University news story, suggesting that renewables offer a better prospect for investment.
“With virtually any industrial investment on this scale yielding at least as many high-skill jobs, current discussion on this point raises many questions.
“Why would a country subsidise jobs in an old and increasingly high cost global nuclear sector in which it has no strong internationally competitive position?
“Why not invest instead in renewable jobs, where the worldwide market is already massively larger than nuclear, becoming ever more competitive and where the UK enjoys the most favourable resource in Europe?
“Renewables offer huge national investment opportunities for less costly investment to create much more effective marketable jobs for the future.”
Energy and democracy
The decision appears to fly in the face of much UK public opinion about the best ways to provide energy – even among those broadly in favour of nuclear power – given the potential cost, and uncertainties about the technology to be used at Hinkley C.
The government’s announcement is also worded to acknowledge concerns about the security of foreign investments in nuclear infrastructure. The recent debate has been marked by concerns over China’s potential involvement in this and particularly in future proposed nuclear power projects.
The Hinkley decision raises again some key questions asked by the STEPS Centre in the past: what are the forces that drive innovation in certain directions, and how can they be scrutinised? How can alternative directions be debated properly in public? How can we avoid getting locked in to costly technologies that crowd out alternatives?