An inevitable drop in the nuclear contribution to the UK’s power generation by 2010 will make it impossible for the Government to achieve its target of a 20% reduction in emissions of the main global warming gas – CO2 – a senior industry figure warned last week.
Robin Jeffrey, deputy chairman of British Energy, said that by the end of the first decade of the next century nuclear generation is projected to provide only 15% of the nation’s requirement against 30% today. The first-generation Magnox stations and two of his own company’s advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) would have closed by then.
Jeffrey said that if this lost capacity was replaced with gas-fired generation, the net impact of CO2 emissions would be an additional 4 million tonnes a year – and double that figure if it was substituted by coal-fired plant. The expected 1-2% annual growth in demand for electricity could only increase emissions further.
Jeffrey said there was no chance of the retired nuclear plants being replaced with new ones within that time.
`The phased closure of the older Magnox stations will mean that an increasing proportion of the UK’s energy needs will probably be met from fossil-fuel sources,’ he said.
Power generation accounts for 27% of Britain’s CO2 emissions, but improvements in the sector will be almost entirely responsible for the UK meeting the target set at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. No improvement, by contrast, has been made in transport or industry.
However, the reduction has been achieved by the switch from coal to gas in electricity generation and substantial increase in the output from nuclear plants.
Malcolm Grimston, an academic at the Imperial College for Environmental Technology, warned that both these factors had been `one-off’ benefits.
He said the Environment Department expected vehicle emissions to increase by 5 million tonnes a year – whereas the Government’s 20% reduction target would require an annual saving of 29 million tonnes.