Nuclear decommissioning costs amount to €66 billion in UK alone

The nuclear industry’s ‘Foratom’ blog recently criticised EWEA’s argument in a recent report that “massive subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear energy…. remain the rule”.

Foratom instead claimed that “it is renewable energies, especially wind and solar energy that are the most systematically subsidised forms of energy, not nuclear energy.”

Foratom then set out some of the subsidies renewables receive. The highest figure they quote is “In Germany, total subsidies amount to €5 billion per year”.

But Foratom does not mention the massive amounts of public money set aside for nuclear decommissioning. €5 billion is a trivial sum compared to the money the UK Government has set aside just for nuclear decommissioning.

Former UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said in October 2011 “the provisions for nuclear decommissioning costs in total were £2 million in 1970, £472 million in 1980, £9.5 billion in 1990, £22.5 billion in 2000. And now, £53.7 billion.”

EWEA did a calculation to see how much wind energy you could get for the £53.7 billion set aside only for decommissioning the UK’s nuclear power stations.

A similar investment in onshore wind energy in the UK would result in 53 GW, producing 140 TWh of electricity or about 40% of UK total electricity consumption. Current nuclear production in the UK is around 62 TWh, meeting 18% of power demand.

And that’s not the end of the subsidies. According to the former Minister the UK spends £2.4 billion a year cleaning up nuclear waste. “That is £2 billion a year, year in and year out, that we are continuing to pay for electricity that was consumed in the 50s, 60s and 70s on a false prospectus,”  said Huhne.

Foratom also write that “so-called “nuclear subsidies” through research and development…..seem rather insignificant”.

They might not seem much for Foratom but they are a lot more than renewables get! According to the OECD/IEA Clean Energy Progress Report 2011 governments in 23 leading nations (including 8 EU members) spent $56 billion on nuclear R&D 2000-2010 compared to just $16 billion on all renewables (and ‘renewables’ are many technologies: wind, solar, tidal, wave, geothermal etc).

There is also a puzzling contradiction in Foratom’s blog. First it claims, “today nuclear energy is competitive in the internal energy market without requiring public financial support.” Later in the same article it says, “because the initial capital cost of nuclear power is relatively high, long-term guaranteed price for electricity are probably the best way to make investment in nuclear attractive enough”. Surely if it is competitive in the market it doesn’t need a guaranteed price?

The reality is that building onshore wind energy is a very considerably cheaper way to produce electricity than new nuclear, and Governments could save themselves a lot of subsidies, and hasten the phasing out of subsidies for mature renewables (including onshore wind) if they removed the much higher and longer-standing subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear.



By Julian Scola,