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Open letter to Commissioner Almunia: No valid justification for subsidising nuclear power

If you would like to endorse this open letter, please write to the Commissioner as described in Writing to Commissioner Almunia.

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Current signatories are shown at the bottom of the letter. Copies of the letter, with endorsements, will be sent to Joaquín Almunia, European Commissioner for Competition, and also to Günther Oettinger, European Commissioner for Energy, Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action, and José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

Open Letter in the media.


Dear Commissioner Almunia,

No valid justification for subsidising nuclear power

In connection with the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in south-west England (reut.rs/1fPaYlx), we are writing to urge you to oppose the new subsidies for the project that are proposed by the UK government and also existing subsidies for nuclear operators (details below). Please open a formal investigation into this project and associated subsidies.

There is no valid justification for subsidising nuclear power. It diverts resources from other options that are better and cheaper. For reasons given below, nuclear subsidies are bad for energy security, bad for the fight against climate change, bad financially for consumers and taxpayers in the UK, and bad for the development, throughout Europe, of the good alternatives which are ready to go, cheaper than nuclear power, and very much quicker to build.

Here are the main reasons:

  • Nuclear power is a mature technology that should not require any subsidy. Subsidies are for newer technologies that are still finding their feet commercially.
  • Contrary to what the UK government suggests:
    • Nuclear power is a hindrance, not a help, in ensuring security of energy supplies:
      • Like all kinds of equipment, nuclear power stations can and do fail. Failure of a nuclear power station is normally very disruptive on the grid because a relatively large amount of electricity is lost, often quite suddenly and with little warning.
      • By contrast, variations in the output of renewables are much easier to manage because they are gradual and predictable. There are several techniques for managing that kind of variation and also variations in the demand for electricity (see bit.ly/I4E5vr). The supposed problem of intermittency in renewables is overplayed.
      • Nuclear power lacks the flexibility needed for balancing supply and demand on the grid.
      • Contrary to popular belief, nuclear plants are not "always on", 24/7. Apart from unscheduled failures, nuclear power stations often operate at reduced capacity or are taken out of service for routine maintenance.
    • Nuclear power is a poor means of plugging the supposed "energy gap" or "keeping the lights on":
      • Nuclear plants are notoriously slow to build: they can take 17 years or more to complete (see bit.ly/1a7idjS, p. 4).
      • In general, renewables can be built very much faster.
      • There is good evidence for a superabundance of renewable sources of energy (see bit.ly/9MKP5i).
      • There are now many reports showing how to decarbonise the world's economies without using nuclear power (see bit.ly/wRQ8ro).
    • Nuclear power is a poor means of cutting emissions. Peer-reviewed research shows that the nuclear cycle produces between 9 and 25 times more CO2 than wind power (see bit.ly/1afpW06). Other renewables also have much lower emissions than nuclear power.
    • Taking account of all subsidies, nuclear power is much more expensive than the clean and safe alternatives and likely to remain so in the future:
      • Withdrawal of just one of the present subsidies for nuclear power (the cap on liabilities) would raise the price of new-build nuclear electricity to at least £200 per MWh, substantially more than the unsubsidised cost of offshore wind power (about £140 per MWh), itself considered to be one of the more expensive kinds of renewable energy (see bit.ly/KisjOT).
      • The cost of renewables is falling. Greg Barker MP, UK Minister of State for Climate Change, has said (bit.ly/19YlI8W) "There is the potential for solar power to become competitive with fossil fuels without subsidy within the lifetime of this parliament [ie before May 2015]". This trend is confirmed by other sources of evidence. When that tipping point is reached, there is likely to be explosive growth in solar power. The cost of other renewables is also falling.
      • In view of the falling cost of renewables, the proposed "contracts for difference" for nuclear power is likely to be a permanent large subsidy for nuclear power throughout the proposed 35 years of the contract.
    • There are many acceptable options for siting wind and solar power plants, including wind farms out at sea (where costs are coming down), and solar plants on factory roofs and in association with roads and railways. There is also great potential for importing solar power from southern Europe and beyond, and wind power from Ireland or continental Europe.
  • In addition, renewables, with conservation of energy:
    • Provide more flexibility than nuclear power;
    • Provide diversity in energy supplies;
    • Are largely free of the several problems with nuclear power (bit.ly/1bScDSg), including the significant risk of nuclear disaster and the still-unsolved problem of what to do with long-lived nuclear waste.

Evidence in support of these points is in the web page "Opportunity cost" (bit.ly/KisjOT).

Existing subsidies for nuclear power, all of which would be available for the Hinkley Point project, are described in "Nuclear Subsidies" (PDF, bit.ly/1bSgGhx). One of the largest of these is the cap on liabilities for nuclear disasters.

Proposed new subsidies are chiefly the "contracts for difference" and government guarantees against the financial risks of building new nuclear plants. (see also "Subsidies for nuclear power in the UK government’s proposals for electricity market reform", PDF, bit.ly/1de3BTE).

Subsidies for nuclear power have the effect of diverting resources away from technologies which are cheaper than nuclear power and altogether more effective as a means of meeting our energy needs and cutting emissions.

In terms of competition within the EU, state aid for nuclear power in the UK is entirely at odds with the coming single market for electricity in the EU and with the principle that there should be free movement of goods and services throughout the region. It is bad for the development, throughout Europe, of the good, effective alternatives -- renewables with conservation of energy -- which are ready to go, cheaper than nuclear power, and very much quicker to build.

Please oppose state aid for nuclear power in the UK or anywhere else in the EU. Please open a formal investigation into the proposed Hinkley Point project and associated subsidies.

With thanks,

Martin Caton MP, www.martin-caton.co.uk

Jill Evans MEP, www.jillevans.net/jill_evans_english.html

Kelvin Hopkins MP, www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/kelvin-hopkins

Bethan Jenkins AM, www.partyofwales.org/bethan-jenkins-am

Caroline Lucas MP, www.carolinelucas.com

Mike MacKenzie MSP, www.snp.org/people/mike-mackenzie

John Mason MSP, www.john-mason.org

John McDonnell MP, www.john-mcdonnell.net

Senator David Norris, www.senatordavidnorris.ie

Franz Obermayr MEP, bit.ly/1cKYDcV

Niccolò Rinaldi MEP, www.niccolorinaldi.it

Margaret Ritchie MP, www.margaretritchie.com

Michèle Rivasi MEP europeangreens.eu/people/michèle-rivasi

Emmet Stagg TD, Labour Party whip, Houses of the Oireachtas, Ireland, www.labour.ie/emmetstagg

Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, www.rhodriglynthomas.org

Britta Thomsen MEP, www.brittathomsen.dk

Dr Abhishek Agarwal, senior lecturer, energy strategy, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, www.rgu.ac.uk/abhishek-agarwal

Dr Ruth Balogh, nuclear issues campaigner, W Cumbria & N Lakes Friends of the Earth

Professor Keith Barnham, emeritus professor of physics, Imperial College London, bit.ly/1aZUEq6

Emmanuel Bergasse, energy economist, www.case-research.eu/en/node/51834

Marianne Birkby, Radiation Free Lakeland, mariannewildart.wordpress.com

Professor Andy Blowers, chair, Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, co-chair, DECC/NGO Nuclear Forum bit.ly/18vjFj4

Paul Brown, editor, Climate News Network, www.climatenewsnetwork.net

Shaun Burnie, member, Nuclear Consulting Group, www.nuclearconsult.com

John Busby, The Busby Report, www.after-oil.co.uk

Councillor Mark Dearey, all Ireland forum chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, nfznsc.gn.apc.org

Paul Dorfman, coordinator, Nuclear Consulting Group, www.nuclearconsult.com

Jill Gough, CND Cymru, www.cndcymru.org

Councillor Mark Hackett, NFLA steering committee and UK chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, nfznsc.gn.apc.org

Reg Illingworth, Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy, www.shepperdineagainstnuclearenergy.org.uk

Velizar Kiriakov, Association of Producers of Ecological Energy, www.apee.bg

Dr Fulcieri Maltini, FM Consultants Associates

Charlotte Mijeon, international relations representative for Sortir du Nucléaire, www.sortirdunucleaire.org/

Professor Ian Miles, professor of technological innovation and social change, University of Manchester, research.mbs.ac.uk/innovation

Dylan Morgan, PAWB, Pobl Atal Wylfa B/People Against Wylfa B, stop-wylfa.org

Jouni Nissinen, head of environmental policy unit, The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC), www.sll.fi/site-actions/english

Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director, Scientists for Global Responsibility, www.sgr.org.uk

David Polden, Kick Nuclear, stopnuclearpoweruk.net/groups/kicknuclear

Sir Jonathon Porritt CBE, founder director, Forum for the Future, www.forumforthefuture.org

Peter Roche, coordinator, No2NuclearPower and MicrogenScotland.org.uk, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk, www.microgenscotland.org.uk

Ornella Saibene, Nikki Clark, South West Against Nuclear, southwestagainstnuclear.wordpress.com

Heffa Schücking, coordinator, Urgewald, urgewald.org

Oliver Tickell, coordinator, Nuclear Pledge and Kyoto2, www.nuclearpledge.com, www.kyoto2.org

Dale Vince, founder and managing director, Ecotricity, www.ecotricity.co.uk

Andrew Warren, director, Association for the Conservation of Energy, www.ukace.org

Pete Wilkinson, Wilkinson Environmental Consulting Ltd, www.nuclearwasteadvisory.co.uk

Susanne Wixforth, economic policies department, AK Wien, wien.arbeiterkammer.at

Dr Gerry Wolff, coordinator, Energy Fair, www.energyfair.org.uk

If you would like to endorse this open letter, please write to the Commissioner as described in Writing to Commissioner Almunia.

Please spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, etc.