As a former long time activist with Friends of the Earth this is horrifying. Simon Bullock, Friends of the Earth’s senior campaigner on Climate Change and Energy has outlined the top ten priorities for Amber Rudd, the new head of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. DECC was formed in 2008 amidst great hope for a new future tackling climate change and ensuring a genuinely sustainable future. The grim reality of DECC is that 95% of its budget goes to nuclear . Almost all of the roughly £7.9 billion DECC budget during 2013/14 went towards “cleaning up” the UK’s nuclear legacy largely at Sellafield through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), a government quango. The NDA has also spent public money on buying up large areas of land around Sellafield – one would think as a buffer zone as a measure of protection for the public but no. This green land near Sellafield is now being offered for sale to the companies responsible for Fukushima to build untried untested AP1000 reactors.
Nuclear is the most extreme energy blocking the move to a sustainable renewable future. Room must be made for the inflexible leviathan of nuclear electricity in the national grid which is why exciting new renewable schemes are briefed against and scrapped repeatedly. Divestment away from nuclear and into renewable technology is happening across the globe, even in China carbon emissions are falling as a result of investment in renewable technologies. Despite DECC’s budget being blown on nuclear, Friends of the Earth’s top ten priorities make only one reference to nuclear and that is to the fact that solar is cheaper than nuclear. Talk about giving the nuclear industry an easy ride! People are beginning to talk about the damage this lack of action from FoE and it has to be said Greenpeace is doing. That is not to detract from the fantastic work that FoE and Greenpeace do otherwise. Also Greenpeace and FoE are being fantastically successful in vigorously campaigning to secure a divestment away from nuclear internationally – just not here in the UK for whatever reason.
This is what Friends of the Earth’s top ten priorities for Amber Rudd should be:
1. Solidarity with those countries around the world phasing out nuclear energy in favour of renewable technology. Here in the UK just 3% of final energy demand was provided by nuclear in 2013. Nuclear is fuel based, Renewables are a technology. Investment into renewable technology and divestment away from nuclear fuel burning reactors.
2. A Moratorium on Decommissioning of Nuclear Sites. The nuclear industry is being deregulated to allow novel pathways for nuclear waste in order to clear the decks for new nuclear waste. For example nuclear waste has been classified as “exempt” to dump into landfill and “free release” for metal recycling into the open market. Investment into R&D and the containment of nuclear wastes on site of production
3. Investment into energy efficient technologies and Warm Homes.
4. Investment in Solar
5. Investment in Wind. Onshore and Offshore. More support for community owned projects.
6. Support for Employment in Renewable Sectors
7. Moratorium on Fracking. The largest user of gas in Cumbria is Sellafield. There is a high pressure gas pipe from Barrow to Sellafield. Tens of £millions of gas every year to cool the wastes and reprocess spent fuel thereby making the volume of nuclear wastes greater and more complex. Sellafield stopped producing electricity in 2003
8. Protection of water resources. Currently Thirlmere is being eyed up as a fresh water resource by NuGen the consortium planning to build three Ap1000 reactors near Sellafield. Sellafield itself already abstracts 4 million gallons of water daily to cool the wastes and for other processes on site.
10. Moratorium on “Implementation of Geological Disposal” of nuclear wastes. The rejected plan in the 1990s was for intermediate level wastes. DECCS new plan which has already been rejected by Cumbria County Council is many times larger and includes heat generating wastes to be buried 3000 ft underground in an area one fifth the size of Cumbria.
We would agree with the last three points FoE make-
but would include uranium as a chemical element akin to fossil fuel, making nuclear power the most extreme energy there is.
No new dash for gas or biomass The Conservative Manifesto pledges a major expansion in new gas plants, which is set to break carbon targets, and mean more imports of gas, irrespective of whether fracking happens. A dash-for-gas is bad for the UK’s energy security and our climate. These plans should be dropped, and replaced with a focus on cutting gas use and a 2030 power decarbonisation target. Phase-out coal Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel.
We strongly support the Prime Minister’s pledge to phase-out coal power. It needs to happen by 2023 at the latest. But to get a phase-out means tougher policy from DECC. This should be linked with a ban on open-cast coal mining – a blight on local communities.
Build strong bridges with DfT, DEFRA and Treasury DECC needs to work strongly with all departments on climate change – but three are critical: The Department for Transport needs to seize the huge economic opportunities from a switch to electric vehicles, and in the first year the decision on airport expansion is crucial. On both air and road transport, the Department needs to reverse its strategy to support all predicted growth in demand. The Treasury can be a huge enabler or blocker of all climate policy. It could allow the Green Investment Bank to borrow as a first signal of a changed approach.
Finally, DEFRA has the lead role in reducing the air pollution that is killing thousands of people every year, and costing the NHS billions, and in adequately protecting people from the climate change we can no longer avoid.