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Press release


  • 24 January 2006

University experts question Government energy review


Nuclear power - the only way to keep the lights on?

Nuclear power - the only way to keep the lights on?

Energy experts at the University of Sussex have challenged the idea that the UK faces an 'energy gap' or that nuclear power is the only answer to our future energy needs.

The comments come today (Tues Jan 24) from the Sussex Energy Group (SEG), a collective of academics based at SPRU, the science and technology policy research centre at the University, who specialise in energy issues. They are responding to a Government consultation, issued yesterday (January 23), as part of its current energy review.

According to the SEG, the Government risks asking the wrong questions - and jumping to the wrong conclusions - as the debate about our energy plans for the future continues.

Issuing a list of critical questions in the energy debate, many of them neglected to date, the Sussex Energy Group questions the 'energy gap' hypothesis and that nuclear power will be the single adequate response to our future energy needs, whether to help mitigate climate change or promote energy security. Questions asked by the SEG include:

  • If the UK faces an 'energy gap', how much does it matter and in what specific ways?
  • How should energy security be analysed, and what are the security implications of different energy supply options?
  • How do we compare the costs and risks of different energy technologies?

Professor Gordon Mackerron, Director of the Sussex Energy Group, says: "Most people in the energy community are surprised by the Government's decision to hold another energy review only three years after its previous one. The main reasons for the review - higher oil and gas prices and a perception that energy security is threatened - do not provide sufficient grounds to change the direction set in the 2003 review. The policies set out in the previous review have had little time to start taking effect let alone reveal their long-term potential.

"In the electricity sector, we now rely entirely upon private firms. Constantly re-opening the question of energy policy is only likely to create more uncertainties for investors. Quite the opposite of helping to identify solutions to our energy needs, such frequent revision of policy could lead to the worst possible outcome - no investment at all while players wait for the situation to become clear."

Dr Jim Watson of SEG adds: "We do see some potential short-term problems with gas supply as new infrastructure is built, but none of the lurid predictions about industry shutting down are coming true. Such predictions have been part of a sustained campaign to re-open the energy question, largely to provide a rationale to re-visit the nuclear question.

"However, none of the fundamentals around the costs of nuclear power or its contentious nature have changed. It would take at least ten years or more probably 15 before new nuclear power stations could come online. In the meantime, a host of supply and demand options could help meet our objectives, including energy efficiency, renewables and micro-generation. Nuclear may have a part to play in a low-carbon future, but in the short term there is a serious risk that it will only serve to take attention away from these other options."

Notes for editors

To view the list of questions the group has compiled regarding the energy review, see: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/documents/seg_20_questions_for_the_energy_review.pdf

For further information regarding the Sussex Energy Group, contact Dr Alister Scott on on 01273 877555 or 07904 500097 or the University of Sussex press office. Press office contacts: Maggie Clune or Jacqui Bealing. Tel 01273 678 888 or email M.T.Clune@sussex.ac.uk or J.A.Bealing@sussex.ac.uk

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