Australian news, and some related international items

Boris Johnson’s energy policy ignores energy demand reduction, focuses on costly nuclear power.

 Can the UK really build eight nuclear reactors in eight years? In a factory near Edinburgh, Andrew Bissell is overseeing his next batch of space heaters. His start-up, Sunamp, produces thermal batteries that can
warm homes from the power generated by a heat pump. The batteries use a salt solution similar to the flavouring used in salt and vinegar crisps.
“It’s actually a food ingredient, though I wouldn’t encourage people to eat batteries,” Bissell said. Sunamp wants to wean British homes off burning gas, which has rocketed in price, sent bills soaring and plunged
millions into misery. Many such solutions will be needed if the UK is to escape its energy crisis — and Boris Johnson’s future arguably depends on it. Unfortunately, the options at hand are neither quick, easy, or cheap. 

Earlier this year, the prime minister set out an energy security strategy that put nuclear at its heart, including plans to build up to eight new reactors to replace a fleet that is coming to the end of its life. That ambition has put critics in a lather.

Last week, the Tory MP Jesse Norman, in a public call for the prime minister to quit, was scathing: “As a former energy minister I can tell you there is zero chance that this or any government will be able to build a nuclear power station a year at any point in the next decade.” Others go further:

Paul Dorfman, a science policy researcher at Sussex University, said Johnson’s nuclear dreams were “laughable … clinging on to nuclear as a quick fix is not only ludicrous, it’s dangerous, as it is too costly and will take too long”.

In the coming weeks, the UK may finally approve a new plant at Sizewell in Suffolk that will use a European pressurised water reactor (EPR) design developed by the French energy giant EDF. But EPRs have run into difficulties wherever they have been built.

One at Taishan in China has been out of action since last July. ASN, the French nuclear regulator, has asked EDF for a report on anomalies found in both Tasihan EPRs. The EPR design is also being used at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, where EDF admitted last month that the project would slip behind schedule yet again and cost an extra £3 billion, taking the total bill to up to £26 billion.

The energy strategy is also betting on small modular reactors (SMRs), in particular a design by Rolls-Royce that would be about a third the size of an EPR. Paul Stein, chairman of the Rolls-Royce SMR partnership, insisted this was “the fastest route to get nuclear power on the grid by the end of the decade”. The Rolls-Royce SMR Consortium is in talks with ministers about securing an order for the first four SMRs by the end of the year, which could be worth up to £8 billion. This would help kick-start
manufacturing of the reactors, which are expected to cost about £2 billion each.

Fans of nuclear have long argued it can provide the “baseload” power to keep the lights on when the wind drops. In the race to cut emissions “we’re going to need a vast amount more electricity than we’ve got at the moment”, said Guy Newey, chief executive of the Energy Systems Catapult, which supports start-ups.

The debate hinges on just how much “big” nuclear is really needed: the strategy calls for a whopping
24GW by 2050, up from 7GW now. ……

Johnson’s strategy, with its focus on power generation, gave scant consideration to “demand-side” measures: helping businesses and households cut back their energy usage. “It’s less sexy than a new nuclear power station, but it’s about making sure that boilers work efficiently and how well insulated people’s homes are,” Newey said. That view finds favour with Bissell in Edinburgh, who dreams of
opening three factories to churn out thermal batteries that could one day replace Britain’s gas boilers.

 Times 12th June 2022


June 13, 2022 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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