Facing the Energy Crisis

The environment has become a key focus of concern for politicians and campaign groups in recent years, yet the related debate about energy supply is all too often sidelined. If we intend to deal with the inevitable energy crisis in the coming decades, then we need to start building now. If we do not take the correct decisions, we risk escalating costs, environmental damage and much greater dependence on unstable and potentially hostile regimes.

The consumption of fossil fuels at the present rate is plainly unsustainable. Valuable hydrocarbon resources need to be conserved for use as raw materials for the chemical industry, and environmental considerations dictate a move away from fossil fuels for power generation.

Renewable energy sources should play a bigger part in the overall energy picture. Most forms of renewable energy, suitable for use in Britain, have a valuable role in topping up supplies from conventional means but cannot be scaled to meet peak demand. For example, wind turbines suffer from variability and only generate electricity at around 25% of their stated output thus requiring conventional power stations on constant stand-by to meet demand. A number of countries have already shelved plans for additional wind-farms as their unreliability and huge cost becomes plain.

Safe nuclear power

The problem of nuclear waste is already with us and the commissioning of new nuclear stations will add but a small fraction to the problem.

New generation nuclear power technologies such as fusion reactors are cleaner, safer and more efficient than the older designs. They recycle fuel and produce relatively small amounts of waste which becomes safe in a much shorter time. According to the Director of Reactor Technology at BNFL, the new APR reactor designs will produce only 10% of the waste of existing plants. A Royal Academy of Engineering report estimates that electricity generating costs of new nuclear power stations will be broadly equivalent to those of gas and cheaper than other sources, even when decommissioning costs are included.

But there is another nuclear technology that is available now, is much safer than existing designs, creates fewer waste problems and is easily scalable. This is the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR). Unlike most current commercial reactors, the PBMR does not require cooling water. Most incidents involving the release of radioactivity from nuclear plants have been caused by malfunctions of the cooling water system. The PBMR is cooled by helium, which is an inert gas that does not degrade the materials it is contained in.

New technologies

For reasons of cost, environmental protection and strategic protection of our energy supplies, the New Party would replace older nuclear plants with a new generation of advanced nuclear power stations. We will promote research into additional sources of energy, including renewable sources, advanced nuclear fission, nuclear fusion and other potential new technologies. We will also encourage additional reduction of carbon burning by providing greater economic incentives for the early take-up of new energy technologies and the use of alternative sources of power in vehicles and buildings. Our aim in the medium term is to phase in the use of coal for chemical production thus minimising our dependence on oil and conserving it for more specialist uses.

However, we recognise the absolute need to conserve finite reserves and our proposals to build new self contained and environmentally friendly towns would also make a significant impact on reducing demand.