SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Energy consumers unknowingly subsidising nuclear submarines

In order to try and encourage a more transparent discussion about an issue that has been largely ignored in prominent debates on energy policy in the UK, Prof Andy Stirling and Dr Phil Johnstone held a multi-stakeholder meeting in Westminster to discuss the links between civil and military nuclear on 28 November 2018,. The forum was well attended by a diverse range of high-profile stakeholders, from politicians charged with scrutinising policy to energy journalists, and other key actors involved in the policy process and the energy sector.

The forum builds on research carried out over a number of years by Prof Stirling and Dr Johnstone, which suggests that the direction of UK energy policy is being swayed by hidden military drivers of nuclear power, and this is leading to significantly increased future costs for consumers.

The particular issue explored by Stirling and Johnstone is that UK electricity consumers are unwittingly subsidising the industrial base required for the construction, maintenance and operation of nuclear propelled submarines. This has not previously been acknowledged in civil energy policy debates within the UK, and the lack of opportunity for public scrutiny is highly significant for UK policy process, and democracy as a whole.

A number of notable names within the energy and nuclear industry sector spoke at the event to give their views on the emerging evidence relating to civil and military nuclear interdependencies. These included representatives from Rolls Royce, the National Audit Office, the nuclear Trade Union Prospect and Nuclear Industry Commission, E3G and the Liberal Democrat Party. The aim was to help foster a more rigorous and open discussion surrounding the key policy implications of military nuclear infrastructures in order to inform debates about why nuclear technologies continue to be prioritised over increasingly favourable low carbon alternatives.

During the workshop, the cost of the subsidy per UK household for the construction, maintenance and operation of nuclear propelled submarines was discussed. Some speakers estimated it to be at least £1,000, and others saying it could ultimately be up to ten times higher. In other quarters, a key response to these concerns was “so what?”. Other speakers highlighted the lack of investment and support for renewable energy, despite their lower cost, more sustainable and arguably more ‘secure’ then the nuclear alternative. One speaker said “Nuclear power cannot contribute in any meaningful way to tackling climate change”.

Tom Burke, chairman of the environmental think tank E3G and former special advisor to three Secretaries of State for the Environment, said on his blog about the event:

“Phil and Andy have done something very important in picking up an overlooked aspect of the public conversation on the future of nuclear power in this country.”

For their part, the SPRU researchers are calling for greater transparency and informed political discussion concerning the scale and rationale for this large scale but effectively hidden military nuclear subsidy. The key concerns raised by current silence on this issue, concern the need for improved policy rigour and democratic accountability.

Further information

Read more about SPRU’s nuclear research and the research into links between civil and military nuclear power




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