From Clare Bryden
Sir, - I would like to question the assumptions underlying the
Bishop of Hereford's article on thorium (Comment, 3 May). The
Department of Energy and Climate Change outlines four scenarios for
the energy mix in 2050. The "higher renewables, more energy
efficiency" scenario shows that there does not need to be a nuclear
future. And this is the cheapest option; the high-nuclear scenario
is the most expensive.
DECC is aiming for a low-carbon, low-cost, energy-secure future.
If thorium is a low-carbon option, I would like to see the figures
for the embodied energy and energy consumption over the whole
lifecycle of the R&D, plant construction, and decommissioning.
I would also like to see the costs for the whole lifecycle (using
unbiased discount rates), and the opportunity cost of not investing
in cheaper alternatives.
As for UK energy security, Bishop Priddis's article says that
thorium is found in Australia, India, the United States, and
Norway, and the technology is being developed in China, India,
Norway, and France. The UK company Centrica has abandoned nuclear,
leaving those power stations currently planned to Électricité de
France. ÉdF is in financial trouble, and trying to lock the
Government in to 40 years of guaranteed prices. Moreover, an
electricity grid made up of few large-scale stations is vulnerable
when one of those stations fails or requires maintenance.
Then the article gives an R&D lead-time of 10-15 years.
Goodness knows how many years will then be needed for
decision-making, planning, and negotiating contracts; then goodness
knows how many more to build and commission the plant. Nuclear has
a long history of delays.
Renewable energy is from the UK. The technologies are
human-scale. They are available now, and because they are
small-scale, and they can be continually refined as they are
installed. The UK is already involved in R&D and manufacture,
and there is still an opportunity to invest in further capacity,
combined with R&D in electricity storage and demand-side
management aiming at creating resilient and more local grids.
But the most important component of future electricity supply is
"negawatts", reducing consumption through energy efficiency and
modifying lifestyles. DECC's "higher nuclear" scenario also assumes
"less energy efficiency". Maybe DECC is implying that nuclear is
part and parcel of the myopic mindset locked into unsustainable
high-consumption lifestyles. Certainly, thorium smacks of being yet
another technology fix aiming to shore up business as usual.
1 Miller Close, Exeter EX2 5NE