28 Jan 2011 04:01:21
Households at forefront of clean energy
Under new rules being considered by the UK government, nuclear firms will be forced to fund the maximum costs allowable under EU legislation for clean-up after decommissioning or accident. In a statement to the , published on 23 January 2011, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne stated that "operators will be required to put aside money from day one for their eventual clean-up and waste storage".
This is bad news for prospective nuclear investors, and potentially worse news for Britain's carbon reduction commitments. The current ceiling to private sector clean-up costs is £140 million, with any additional costs met by public subsidy. The new rules increase the private sector burden to £1 billion.
According to the , "The cost of constructing nuclear reactors has soared, and companies have threatened to build elsewhere if the UK government does not introduce the right regulatory breaks to make them economic". In spite of its controversial nature, nuclear power is considered a clean energy. It does not rely on the burning of fossil fuels and produces negligible carbon emissions. A flight away the opportunity of private sector investment in nuclear power may cause the UK's low-carbon obligations may falter. The dramatic reduction in public subsidy for potential nuclear clean-up may seem appropriate in the current climate of streamlining government spending and passing the burden onto the private sector, but it may also present a cynical move in the UK's contribution to combatting climate change.
The UK government has pledged its continued commitment to the Renewable Heat Incentive with backing Labour's Feed-in Tariffs over the next 25 years. It would seem that the main protagonists in the UK's battle against global warming are the general public. In many ways this is entirely appropriate. Reducing carbon emissions requires action on a personal as well as a national level, and must involve a change of mind-set, if not a change in lifestyle.
It must be all about balance. Current government subsidy aimed at improving insulation and rewarding renewable energy production enables households to participate fully in the UK's commitment to reduced carbon emissions. Alongside heavy taxation on motor fuels, this measure is designed to encourage lifestyle change and enable individuals to make definite choices about their energy consumption. However, central government still has a part to play. Over-burdening potential investors with huge financial guarantees is not the best way to attract clean energy providers to provide services in the UK. Nuclear energy production is unique in the potential dangers associated with accidents or incidents. However, these are extremely rare occurrences. A government prepared to offer an appropriate level of 'insurance' against potential disaster is surely a government who continues to show a national commitment to clean energy production.