Friday, 8 October 2010

First nuclear, then CCS

After months of negotiation a new Dutch government is almost in place. The coalition of the Christen Democrats and Liberals, with support from the Party for Freedom, is planning major budget cuts including those for energy and environment. National ambitions for renewable energy are reduced from 20% in 2020 to the European target of 14%. Support for environmental organisations is removed. And nuclear energy is prioritized.

The priority given to nuclear is not so surprising. Over the past years several utilities expressed an interest in building a new nuclear power plant next to the only existing one in Borssele. In many other countries nuclear has seen a revival with many plans for, and actual construction of a few, new plants. In the light of the climate change challenge, nuclear promises large-scale, low carbon power generation. Social protests are limited, safety has improved with third-generation plants, and nuclear waste problems and proliferation issues can be controlled. And renewable energy capacity will not be able to increase sufficiently fast to meet ambitious climate change targets, so nuclear power advocates say.

The central-right government is responding to these claims by promising in its coalition agreement that new permit applications for nuclear plants will be granted. Nuclear power advocates will be happy with this political support.

Advocates of another low-carbon technology, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), are responding differently. The coalition agreement makes a coupling between CCS and nuclear by arguing that CCS will only be allowed after one or more permits for nuclear power have been granted. Environmental organisations in the Groningen and Drenthe regions speak of blackmailing. CCS initiatives in these regions, with a large geographical potential to store carbon, will now have to be delayed and wait for nuclear power plant permits.

What will the CCS community do? There seems little choice but to become part of the nuclear lobby. The faster a nuclear power plant permit is granted, the faster CCS advocates can start up their initiatives again.