From Mr R. L. Skelton
Sir, - I was very interested to read the article on thorium by
the Bishop of Hereford , the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis (
Comment, 3 May). I cannot, however, let the comments by Clare
Bryden (Letters, 10 May) go unchallenged.
As Christians, we should be taking far more interest in the
future of our energy supplies, taking into consideration justice
for present and future generations. Decisions that we make now will
affect our children and grandchildren, and also those people now
deemed to be in fuel poverty. Last week, carbon-dioxide levels
reached 400ppm for the first time in several million years, and any
future energy policy must take notice of this.
The UK needs a generation mix that will deliver a reliable
electricity supply with a low carbon footprint at a cost that does
not put even more people into fuel poverty. This can only be done
if we include nuclear in that mix.
Most of our coal-fired power stations are more than 50 years
old, and many of our nuclear stations are approaching the end of
their lives, leaving a large gap in capacity, which must be filled.
While renewables, mostly wind, have a part to play, they can never
completely fill the gap.
Offshore wind is particularly expensive. According to figures
obtained for DECC by Mott McDonald in June 2010, offshore wind
costs about £160/MWhr, nuclear about £99/MWhr, and onshore wind
£94/MWhr. Hence your correspondent is wrong in implying that
nuclear is the most expensive option.
Photo-voltaics come in at about £250/MWhr, which is why all
renewables need a significant incentive compared with gas, at about
£80/MWhr. This incentive at the moment comes from the electricity
consumer in the form of higher charges, which drive people into
Nuclear electricity has the advantage of being almost as cheap
as onshore wind and much cheaper than any other form of low-carbon
electricity, and is far more reliable. It does not need vast
expenditure on the grid, as the planned new stations will make use
of existing infrastruscture, and is much easier to control, as,
unlike wind, it is predictable. The real problem with nuclear is
that it is very capital-intensive; so investors understandably want
some guarantee of a return.
That is what the debate between the Government and ÉDF is all
about. ÉDF is not prepared to risk very large sums of money while
the UK electricity market is so complex. All that it is asking for
is comparable treatment to that of other low-carbon electricity
I do agree with Ms Bryden that there is scope for more
energy-saving; but, until the price gets very much higher, we are
unlikely to see much progress in this area. The effect of smart
meters generally lasts less than six months. Perhaps if the
universal pensioners' winter fuel allowance was used instead to
help all in fuel poverty, including young families, to reduce their
consumption, we might achieve something.
If, as Christians, we want to conserve the environment without
burdening the vulnerable with large energy bills, I do not see that
we have much choice. As for thorium, yes, it may have a future, but
we need conventional uranium fission now.
R. L. SKELTON
Cambridge CB3 0AG
From the Revd Dr David L. Gosling
Sir, - Clare Bryden's letter presents a totally misleading case
against nuclear power in her criticisms of Bishop Priddis's
article. In the short-term future, coal power stations are closing
at a time when coal prices are low and gas is more costly.
Gas is plentiful and relatively clean, but the pipeline and
liquefaction infrastructure does not exist to allow it to be easily
transported to the UK. Gas throughout Europe is, therefore,
currently more expensive than in the United States.
Against this background, nuclear power is behind schedule, and
the renewables are very costly, though the industry believes that
it can reduce prices if it receives more orders, facilitated, it is
hoped, by government incentives. In the longer, mid-century term,
we need to look at the full range of energy options, maximising the
opportunities to use less energy, and balancing use of all
low-carbon energy sources, including both the renewables and
nuclear power, to give us a clean energy system without
vulnerability to price shocks.
If I have any quibble with Bishop Priddis's pro-nuclear article,
it is that he does not appear to appreciate that thorium reactors
are based on uranium as much as more conventional ones, only using
a different uranium isotope (uranium-233), which can also be used
to make a nuclear explosion.
DAVID L. GOSLING
2 St Luke's Mews, Searle Street
Cambridge CB4 3DF