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Unclear nuclear: How UK energy consumers unwittingly pay for military infrastructures

UK energy consumers are unknowingly subsidising the high cost of military nuclear infrastructures, testimony by University of Sussex academics to a Parliamentary inquiry has documented.

Professor Andy Stirling and Dr Philip Johnstone have told the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that UK energy consumers could be paying a minimum of 7% extra on their bills in order to cover additional costs of a civil nuclear programme that they claim is supported by Government mainly to cover hidden expenses of a military nuclear industry.

The researchers at the university’s Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) state in evidence to the Financing Energy Infrastructure inquiry published today (Wednesday 12 June) that the hidden subsidy, running into the tens of billions of pounds, will only increase in the future if further planned nuclear projects (including Wylfa, Moorside, Bradwell, Oldbury and Sizewell), are realised and if longstanding trends continue for renewable energy prices to fall and nuclear costs to rise.

Prof Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at SPRU, said: “The rapidly growing competitiveness of renewables means persistent UK support for nuclear makes little sense in energy policy terms.
“What is shown clearly in UK defence policy documents – but entirely unmentioned in energy policy – is that the real reason for continuing support for new civil nuclear power stations, is the aim of subsidising the industry needed to build and operate nuclear submarines.
“As renewables leave nuclear further behind, it is becoming increasingly difficult to hide this large additional cost falling on electricity consumers. The concealing of this regressive burden raises serious questions about the rigour of UK policy processes and the quality of British democracy.”

The Sussex evidence to the committee documents how information available to Government shows that many renewable energy sources already significantly out-compete nuclear power in terms of cost, lead times, operational performance, public popularity, strategic resilience and job creation.

The University of Sussex academics show how funds flowing from consumers help meet costs of second and third tier civil nuclear construction contracts falling to the UK nuclear industry.

They added that the specialist nuclear design firms, engineering companies, training facilities and research centres which benefit from this flow of money, are also central to an increasingly unaffordable wider infrastructure around nuclear submarines allowing for the military ‘nuclear industrial base’ to be maintained outside the defence budget – entirely off the public books and hidden from public scrutiny.

The researchers argue that if UK energy investments focused on renewables rather than nuclear power, then diverse low carbon energy would be available more quickly and cheaply. Investment in renewables would also better position the UK to compete for jobs in a growing international renewable market at a time when the global nuclear market is contracting.

Dr Johnstone, Research Fellow at SPRU, said: “UK electricity consumers are being locked into an expensive energy trajectory through the UK Government’s nuclear new-build commitments. Yet the military-drivers influencing this remain undiscussed. We hope that this inquiry will lead to a more transparent and rigorous assessment of the full cost implications of the UK’s nuclear infrastructures”.

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By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Wednesday, 12 June 2019