12 january 2010

[The following letter to the editor appeared in the Financial Times of January 12 2010

Subsidies disguise the real cost of nuclear power

From Dr Gerry Wolff.

Sir, It is not correct to say that nuclear power is “the cheapest large-scale low-carbon electricity source” (“A nuclear Britain can lead the way on emissions”,, January 8). The report “Nuclear Subsidies” from the Energy Fair group shows how the real cost of nuclear power is disguised by several subsidies. Without those subsidies, the price of nuclear electricity would rise to a level that would make it deeply unattractive to investors.

There are more than enough alternatives that are cheaper than nuclear power, quicker to build, and with none of the other headaches of nuclear power.

Research that is reviewed in the November issue of Scientific American shows that renewables can meet 100 per cent of the world’s energy needs (not just electricity) and that it is technically feasible to do it by 2030. This is in line with several other reports showing how to decarbonise the world’s economies via renewables and improvements in efficiency. For example, the US National Academy of Sciences published a report showing that wind power could supply more than 40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity and more than five times total global use of energy in all forms. Another report from the European Environment Agency shows that the “economically competitive potential” of wind power in Europe is three times projected demand for electricity in 2020 and seven times projected demand in 2030. Offshore wind power alone could meet between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of projected European demand for electricity in 2020 and about 80 per cent of projected demand in 2030.

The supposed problem of variability in wind power is much less of an issue than is sometimes suggested. There is a range of techniques available for matching variable supplies with constantly varying demands.

A report from the Tyndall Centre shows that photovoltaics (PV) could generate about 266 terawatt hours in the UK – about 66 per cent of the UK’s present electricity demand.

Dr Gerry Wolff,
Energy Fair,
Menai Bridge, Anglesey, UK

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