A source at the Department of Trade and Industry has admitted that the recent Energy White Paper has purposely left the door open for the revival of nuclear power in the UK.
While the government’s focus on obtaining energy from renewable resources is popular with the public, the country’s increasing power demands and international pressure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions means nuclear reactors will have to continue to be used.
The source, who did not want to be named, told The Engineer: ‘The white paper has left the nuclear question open for a reason. It will remain necessary, especially as some renewable energy systems will take years to develop.’
The view, also set forward by The Engineer magazine, was echoed by DTI consultant Philip Sharman, who has worked with the department’s Cleaner Fossil Fuel Unit.
‘My personal view is that in order to meet the demands of the Kyoto Treaty, particularly after 2010, and stabilise atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, we may have to cut emissions by as much as 80 per cent,’ he said.
‘I am a big fan of renewables, but they will not provide a total solution. Fuel cells, hydrogen and increased efficiency will help, but at present nuclear power is the only technology that can really help to solve the emissions problem. Though the others should be expanded as much as they can, building some new nuclear stations will be the sensible thing to do.’
Other options for reducing emissions seem to be running out for the UK government. serious questions have arisen over one of the white paper’s showcase technologies, carbon sequestration.
Carbon storage was also the subject of a DTI feasibility review announced by energy minister Brian Wilson last September, while an implementation study is due for completion at the end of this year.
The US and Canada are investing heavily in promoting the technology, and several working systems are in place.
In the UK, sequestration would involve capturing carbon dioxide from power stations or electricity- producing gasified coal and pumping it into aquifers and disused oil and gas wells for storage under the North Sea.
It could also be used to increase oil recovery in operational wells, though the decline of North Sea operations and the dismantling of rigs means a system would have to be in place by 2008.
Injection burial of emissions released alongside natural gas during drilling is currently being evaluated at the Sleipner Vest field off Norway.
However, the project does not involve emissions pumped from land, and is also made worthwhile owing to Norway’s high carbon tax.
Separately, DTI review manager Brian Morris told The Engineer that so far, implementing sequestration was looking to be prohibitively expensive, though construction of pipelines and the deferred retirement of oil platforms would help to safeguard jobs, as well as putting the UK in a world-leading position.
‘Here, we would be pumping gas captured on land out to sea,’ he said. ‘The cost of capture, transportation and injection would cost billions, and we need to find the cheapest way.’
‘The technology is there and has been successfully demonstrated, but the economics are less clear cut,’ agreed Sharman. ‘Though it could be used to increase North Sea oil output, the viability of pumping the gas offshore is dependent on oil prices and the amount of CO2 required to extract each extra tonne of oil.’
Meanwhile Australia has spent almost £4m on investigating sequestration. It recently announced a major new programme for a Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies (CO2CRC) with a budget of £45m over seven years.
‘Sequestration will provide time until renewable energy does become more reliable and cheaper,’ said the centre’s executive director Peter Cook. ‘it will ultimately be a critical part of the hydrogen economy. when it is initiated, for many years it will be dependent on fossil fuels as the source of hydrogen.’