Nuclear’s contribution to the security of UK Energy Supply and Net Zero

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2023 National Energy Service Group Conference
20 February 2023

In 2006 a motion was carried at energy conference to promote a non-nuclear energy policy for the UK. Recognising the initiatives taken by energy companies to invest in renewable energy facilities in difficult market conditions. However, stating that much more needed to be done to encourage the commissioning of green renewable sources of energy including the use of low carbon technology.

The motion also highlighted the UKs coal reserves at the time that could prove to be economically viable. As well as calling on the SGE to carry out an independent assessment of potentially re-opening suitable UK coal mines combined with greater use of clean coal technologies and to support the development of a pan European network of gas and electricity supply infrastructure that was publicly owned.

A Subsequent motion was submitted the national delegates conference the same year regarding climate change and stated the following on nuclear:

“Conference notes that, following the Energy White Paper in 2003, the development of a low carbon economy by greater use of renewable sources of energy and more energy efficiency/conservation was among the key measures advocated to achieve Kyoto targets. Conference further notes that, despite intensive lobbying by the supporters of nuclear power, the White Paper did not identify the need for new nuclear capacity to replace older power stations as they close”.

“Conference does not accept that any case has been made for new nuclear capacity in terms of UK energy needs, especially in the continuing absence of an agreed strategy for the long- term, safe disposal, and management of nuclear waste. Nor has any case been made to warrant the further use of public funds for a nuclear power programme”.

Conference instructed the NEC to campaign for a UK Energy policy which achieved our obligations on carbon reduction under the Kyoto protocol and other international treaties and which was based on the principles of sustainable development, equity, and social inclusion.

Promote a low carbon economy by increased use of renewable energy sources, carbon sequestration and clean coal technologies, carbon trading, combined heat and power and biofuels.

Achieve an agreed UK consensus on a system for the safe and secure management of current and future nuclear waste irrespective of whether new nuclear capacity is commissioned.

While both motions were carried, the motion submitted to Energy Conference is clear regarding the policy on Nuclear, the motion to National Delegates Conference is not so clear.

In 2011 another motion “Nuclear Energy, Let’s consider the options” was submitted to Energy conference by the Western Energy Branch to revisit our stance on nuclear energy stating the following:

“We believe the time has come for UNISON to consult widely to consider whether nuclear energy has a role to play, alongside other low carbon generation and energy efficiency measures, in the sustainable provision of our long-term energy needs. As companies grow the opportunity to recruit, retain and engage in a meaningful Company dialogue is severely pressurised by our historic resistance to all things nuclear! Other Trade Unions are able to successfully express their pro-nuclear credentials to the detriment of our own union particularly with regard to European Works Council multinational forums”.

And called on the ESGE to identify and report back to the 2012 conference

(1) Whether nuclear energy has a role to play in the delivery of consumer price reductions and price stability.

(2) Whether nuclear can contribute to security of supply for the next generation and beyond.

(3) Whether the use of nuclear generation as an alternative to carbon-based fossil fuels can have a positive impact on reducing global warming and climate change concerns and therefore will be considered an environmental benefit.

(4) Whether the expansion of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency measures can seriously solve the energy supply deficit.

Again, this motion was carried.

Although nuclear power has previously received bad press and public opinion has been mixed, this is changing. A report on published October 2022 reveals that support in the UK has been on the rise since the summer of 2021 with 48% of Britons now backing the use of nuclear energy compared to 31% who are opposed. Over the same period, the number of Britons who say nuclear power is the source they support most for helping meet Britain’s future energy needs has risen from 16% to 24%, seemingly eating into the traditional renewables vote slightly. And safety does not seem to be a concern as between 54 and 59% of Britons, during the three-year span of the tracker, have said that nuclear energy is safe, while a number considering it unsafe has never been higher than a quarter.

The World Nuclear association states there have been 2 major accidents in the history of civil nuclear power, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Chernobyl involved an intense fire without provision for containment and Fukushima severely tested the containment, allowing some release of radio activity. Those are the only major accidents to have occurred in over 18,500 accumulative reactor years of commercial nuclear power operation in 36 countries.

It has been accepted by both major political parties in the UK that new nuclear is now essential to the ambition of achieving net zero by 2050. This date remains ambitious as the Government have failed to make the necessary progress to a decarbonised future. One of the positive developments has been a significant investment in wind generation especially offshore. This is very welcome but on many days in the UK the wind is not sufficient to meet the UKs energy demands meaning continued use of fossil fuels including this winter much more coal than had been foreseen.

A clear solution is the development of new nuclear working in tandem with wind generation to ensure adequate baseload of power is available and to support the development of clean hydrogen production.

Nuclear technology has moved on and the environmental risks are insignificant with waste minimalization technology changing the face of the industry. The environmental risks we all face is that from carbon emissions and the resulting global warming and that without new nuclear the UK will fail to provide a consistent, stable, affordable and carbon free electricity supply. It is not lost on us that our neighbours across the English Channel with whom we have fraternal trade union relations, are very positive about nuclear power and have pushed for and secured significant new investment in French nuclear power from the French Government.

The energy crisis has also shown that over reliance on one source (as we have seen with Gas) can be a major energy security challenge which needs to be addressed if we are not to suffer further repeats.

At last year’s conference a motion was passed supporting the energy service group exploring with its membership the pros and cons of new nuclear and in having a conversation about how we should proceed and create a deliverable balanced energy policy that was fit for the future. We had presentations at the service group seminar in Newcastle and the issue was highlighted in the energy service group magazine.

Conference we now believe that the energy service group needs to take a lead on this important source of electricity generation that is carbon free. We have for too long lost out on the huge recruitment opportunities that are available in the sector to rebuild our energy membership in nuclear and with it a credible position at the bargaining table.

Conference we therefore call on the Energy Service Group Executive to:

1. Draft a pro nuclear energy policy position as part of a balanced zero carbon electricity generation system fit for the future.

2. Such a policy must place at its heart the economic and environmental sustainability of nuclear power, the creation of new employment opportunities in the energy sector which we can recruit into, the development of new academic, research and apprentice opportunities, and clean economic growth in regional economies.

3. Engage with key stakeholders within the lay side in UNISON to consider a wider policy change recognising the very different landscape we face into compared to when this matter was last appraised.

4. Seek recognition with key employers in the nuclear industry that we previously had a relationship with or still do such as in EDF.