The government needs a “plan B” on nuclear power, because of the danger that new reactors will not be built in time to avoid energy shortages and possible blackouts, an influential committee of MPs has warned.
The warning follows concerns raised by Alistair Buchanan, the outgoing chief executive of the energy regulator, Ofgem, that the decommissioning of many of the UK’s ageing fleet of power stations could sharply increase the risk of shortages within a few years.
Already, the ambitions of the UK’s nuclear industry have been dealt significant blows in recent months. The Horizon consortium fell apart and is seeking a buyer, possibly from China, and Cumbria’s councillors rejected the building of a long-term waste repository there. EDF Energy, the French national energy company that will lead the building of the first plant, is in a stand-off with ministers over demands for higher prices for its energy, and work on the first potential reactor is likely to face further opposition, endangering the government’s timetable for new plants.
Any power shortages are unlikely to result in blackouts for consumers in the short term, but could affect businesses that are on contracts, forcing them to close if there is an imbalance between supply and demand, and this could be expensive.
Tim Yeo, chairman of the energy and climate change select committee, said: “The government seems to be crossing its fingers that private companies will deliver a fleet of new nuclear power stations on time and on budget. Ministers need to urgently come up with a contingency plan in case the nuclear industry does not deliver the new power stations we need.”