The Climate Post: U.K.’s “Greenest Government Ever” Charges Ahead with Nuclear Power
20 May 2011
Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, has repeatedly pledged to create the “greenest government ever,” and now the country has adopted a new, ambitious goal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, aiming by 2025 to slash them by half, compared with 1990.
The goal, agreed to by Cabinet ministers in the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, is in line with the legally binding targets the country adopted in 2008 when the Labor Party was in charge, for a 60 percent cut in emissions by 2030, and an 80 percent cut by 2050.
The new target goes beyond European Union targets, and some in industry are pushing for the targets to be conditional, depending on whether Europe as a whole sets similar goals. Much depends on how the figures are calculated; a study last year found that including emissions from Britain’s imports would make their emissions the highest in Europe.
However, there is “no clear agreement on how to achieve the target,” says The Independent. To help reach these goals, though, the U.K. plans to keep existing nuclear plants running, and will push ahead with plans to build more, after the country’s nuclear watchdog group reported there was no reason to revise safety standards in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster. Energy minister Chris Huhne said, “We want to see new nuclear as part of a low carbon energy mix going forward, provided there is no public subsidy.”
Concerns about Nuclear Safety Raised, Dismissed
In Japan, a new assessment by power company TEPCO confirmed suspicions that one of the reactors did suffer a partial meltdown soon after the earthquake and tsunami.
The country has a long history of officials concealing or ignoring dangers in the nuclear industry, according to a New York Times investigation. Lawsuits stretching back nearly a decade tried to raise concern about safety standards. One of the plaintiffs, Yuichi Kaido of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, said of Fukushima: “This accident could have been prevented.”
The technical failures in the nuclear power plant—especially emergency vents—raise concerns about the safety of U.S. nuclear plants, another New York Times investigation says, rebutting American officials’ statements that the U.S. plants aren’t vulnerable to the kinds of problems that occurred in Japan.
European countries other than the U.K., such as Germany and Italy, have paused plans for nuclear expansion, and shut down some plants. Some developing countries are pushing ahead with nuclear power, though. Iran has brushed off warnings of earthquake dangers and is continuing with plans for nuclear plants, the Associated Press reported, and Pakistan opened a new nuclear power plant, built with China’s help.
Driving in a Wedge
Nuclear power was one of several “wedges” that could help the world counter climate change, according to a popular way of thinking about emissions cuts developed in 2004 by two Princeton University professors. The approach was meant to break targets—such as the U.K.’s emissions targets—into a number of pieces, to see how quickly measures would have to be ramped up.
But the study was misunderstood and the basic message distorted, one of the authors, Robert Socolow, told National Geographic News. “With some help from wedges, the world decided that dealing with global warming wasn’t impossible, so it must be easy,” he said. “The intensity of belief that renewables and conservation would do the job approached religious.” Nonetheless, he stands by the general approach, Socolow wrote in a comment to Climate Progress.
Congressional Log Jam
Both Republicans and Democrats introduced major oil bills—but neither managed to pass. Democrats introduced a bill to end $2 billion in tax breaks for big oil companies, a measure President Obama has been pushing for. In Senate hearings, oil company executives were asked to defend the tax breaks—eliciting what a New York Timeseditorial called “a big whine from Big Oil.”
While Obama had urged that the money be put toward clean energy, the defeated bill would have put the extra revenue toward paying down federal debt. A narrow majority voted for it, but it needed 60 votes to advance.
Republicans, on the other hand, supported a bill to allow more offshore drilling and speed up the process for drilling permits. That bill was rejected with 42 to 57; it, too, needed 60 votes to advance.
Rex Tillerson—the CEO of Exxon, the world’s biggest independent oil company—was booked to speak at the commencement at Worcester Polytechnic Institute near Boston, but the choice was controversial with both faculty and staff.
Student protesters said Tillerson was not fit to speak at the commencement because of (among other things) Exxon’s contributions to “a disinformation campaign against global warming.”
Rather than trying to block Tillerson’s speech, however, students invited peak oil expert Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute to speak after Tillerson—and some students walked out of the quad when Tillerson spoke, returning to hear Heinberg afterward.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. Written by Mason Inman, it is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.