by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Whilst the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) applauds the Government’s commitment to combat climate change and to ensure energy security, the Institution believes that Britain can meet its targets without building new nuclear power stations. And although the aim for no new coal-fired power stations to be built without carbon capture and storage (CCS) is well intentioned, very significant questions remain unanswered regarding its ability to help reduce our carbon emissions.

Because of concerns over the disposal of radioactive waste, the wider carbon emissions of uranium extraction and processing, and a lack of clarity regarding the availability of economically extractable uranium reserves, the CIWEM does not support Ed Miliband's statement that nuclear power is a “proven, reliable source of low carbon energy.” And the Government’s belief in clean coal technology may be misguided as it is still not known if it is possible to convert unproven CCS technology into an affordable reality that can work on the scale required to make a difference in tackling climate change.

As an environmental journalist I also have to say that in my view nuclear is not an option and a route that Britain – nor other countries – should take as especially the storage of spent fuels is on of the greatest concerns, to me, as well as to most of the population.

“Clean” coal – and now there is a misnomer – also is, in my opinion, not a route that we should be going as the capture and storage of the carbon is an unproved technology and one that could easily backfire should there be the slightest flaw in it.

Instead, the CIWEM believes that we need a radical increase in our supply of renewable energy, with electricity generation virtually de-carbonised by 2030, and increased investment in energy efficiency measures. In the CIWEM’s recently published Manifesto, the Institution calls for the fast-tracking of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy production, with work to deliver a renewables-friendly grid being a strong priority for the next Government.

De-carbonising electricity generation is a relatively low-cost option and would make a major contribution to targets. An evolving energy mix is required, with an increasing proportion of low-carbon and renewable fuels and methods of generation. Offshore wind, wave and tidal technologies are existing or emerging technologies which can harness some of the UK’s most abundant renewable energy sources on a large scale, ensuring greater security of supply. Renewable energy derived from the nation’s waste and using advanced technologies must also be promoted.

Nick Reeves, Executive Director of CIWEM says: “We need a new approach to energy use that is rooted in environmental sustainability. The UK’s accessible offshore wind resource is potentially among the greatest in the world, and with a large tidal range and wide ocean swell window, we also has very significant tidal and wave resources.”

“Like a craven alchemist, Ed Miliband promises a new era of energy from coal without any idea of whether it is possible, and nuclear is based on a finite resource that pollutes and perpetuates the current inefficient pattern of electricity generation. As it stands, the Government’s proposal would deflect scarce resources and attention away from the real solutions: renewables and energy efficiency. Many millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money will be diverted to developing uncertain technologies that could be better and more productively invested in technologies that actually work and provide a genuinely clean and sustainable source of energy.”

Renewable energy, and here, in the UK, wind would be one of the primary candidates as we do have our fair share of wind – most of the time. Other options too could be utilized, including methane from landfill sites and sewage works and also, and especially, micro-generation of electricity by the latter means and also the former, on farms, smallholdings and such like. Small wind also would work well on apartment blocks.

If Spain can manage to have 50% of all its energy needs met by just wind then I am sure that the same could be achieved in the UK. The political will does seems to be lacking, however.

Having said that, though, we must change the way that we generate electricity and we much change the voltage in use and bring power generation (once again) closer to the consumer, thus removing the need for the high voltages in which we currently produce electricity.

I am sure, however, that it can be done.

© 2009