This week’s leaked spat between climate secretary Chris Huhne and business secretary Vince Cable over whether or not to take the climate change committee’s advice over energy targets comes hot on the heels of its report yesterday into how that energy will be generated.
Its conclusions will be controversial in many areas, which can be broadly summed up that nuclear power looks like the most cost effective and reliable medium term bet for generating low-carbon power. While parts of the environmental movement will object to this – though not all, the Guardian’s George Monbiot is just one of the latest to come out in favour of nuclear power – it is difficult to argue with the current figures.
Environmentalists argue that nuclear only works because it has in the past received a huge state subsidy, in the form of help with capital costs, to promises to pay for the cost of decommissioning (thus far unknown).
This is largely true. However, that subsidy will from now in effect be supporting all low carbon power sources through the carbon floor price, so nuclear will only get a similar leg up to competing low carbon technologies such as solar and offshore wind.
The basic issue remains that, at the moment, the other technologies, even with a carbon floor price, are too expensive and too intermittent to provide a serious help to the problem of generating electricity.
As this data shows, the cost of nuclear is the cheapest of all technologies bar onshore wind power – which is limited in scale by the availability of locations and ubiquitous local opposition.
The best estimates for the relative costs, which include the impact of carbon tariffs are contained in this work by Mott MacDonald, and the report, updating the figures, from the Climate Change Committee yesterday.
From now on all eyes are on the cabinet to decide whether the targets which are supposed to trigger this investment are kept, and whether the committee’s recommendations are adhered to.