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David Dundas: Our energy future

David_dundas_1 David Dundas is a Lichfield City Councillor, Managing Director of Lion Industries and an active member of CPF.  He has a science degree from St Andrews and an early career as a field service engineer in the oil industry that finally took him to Brussels, where he worked for Texaco Europe.  He stayed on in Belgium for 22 years, working for several American companies including Dow Corning in their Energy department, and for a time, was a consultant to the European Commission on toxic waste disposal.

A realistic energy policy should be central to any government's plans, for reliable energy at reasonable cost is vital to our future.  Whilst there has been much talk about the important subject of climate change that is threatening our environment, this has sidelined the equally important subject of the security of our energy supplies.  Since the industrial revolution, we have had control of our energy supplies, first with coal, then oil and gas, but these are either running out, or in the case of coal, have been abandoned as a largely unacceptable source of energy.

We all want to save the planet from climate change, but there is a great risk that we will be swept along by popular dogma, at the expense of reasoned thought.  It is important that the Conservative Party adopts a realistic energy policy that combines energy security with technologies to quickly combat climate change.

On climate change, it can be argued that this has been accelerated by the misguided actions of  arious green parties around the world, in particular here in Europe.  For example: in Germany, the Green Party has been largely responsible for the closure of nuclear power stations which have been replaced by gas fired power stations, fuelled by Russian gas.  The Russians, in their rush to sell ever increasing amounts of gas to western countries, including the UK, to earn valuable foreign currency, are now expanding their nuclear electricity generation, to release their gas for sale to the west.  This has effectively moved the nuclear power stations from Germany to Russia. If we replace our aging nuclear power stations with gas fired ones, fuelled by Russian gas, we will be doing the same.  Are Russian nuclear power stations preferable to our own?

In any event, we must progressively reduce the burning of all fossil fuels as quickly as possible, to halt the rise in CO2 in the atmosphere, which on a geological time scale, has been rising very fast.  Failure to do this will have catastrophic results which are already starting to show.  Whilst we can generate more electricity from wind and capture the sun's energy to heat our buildings, these sources are minute compared with the present generation of electricity from fossil fuels, which are increasingly imported as ours run out.  There is no way that the alternative sources of energy can realistically replace electricity from fossil fuels in a sufficiently short space of time, or ever, to halt the rise in CO2.

We need our energy sources to be at home for strategic reasons, and they need to produce as little CO2 as possible.   I am therefore arguing in favour of nuclear power stations, whilst recognising that fission nuclear power has significant drawbacks in terms of the long term disposal of radioactive waste.  If all our power stations were converted to nuclear, the production of CO2 would be a fraction of what it is today.  Many other types of fossil fuel burning equipment, such as central heating systems, busses and private vehicles operating in towns, could be converted to electric power.  The remaining carbon burning machines that would be difficult to convert to electric power, such as aircraft, cars for long distances and road freight, could ultimately be fuelled by renewable sources such as ethanol and biodiesel, which are carbon neutral, but these fuels would probably have to be imported from hotter countries, diluting our energy independence.

Ultimately, the holy grail of energy production has to be fusion nuclear power, which is essentially clean with an abundant fuel supply from sea water, unlike the present dirty fission process.  Unfortunately, insufficient funds have been directed into research on fusion power, but it is heartening that a new 13 billion Euro, fusion energy research initiative with the acronym ITER, located near Marseille, has been recently agreed between China, the EU, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the USA.  It has a predicted time scale of 30 years before viable commercial fusion power can be produced, so even if it works, we are going to have to wait a very long time before fusion energy can drive commercial power stations.  In the meantime, fission nuclear power is a far better environmental risk, than the escalating level of CO2 in the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect that it produces.

In a recent speech at Chatham House, Dr. Liam Fox has underlined in great detail, the precarious security of our energy supplies, calling for international military and political cooperation to guard them.  Whilst this may need to be an important part of our short term strategy, it does not address the underlying problem, that the whole world must start the process of switching away from burning any fossil fuel.  The additional cost of military protection of our energy supply routes advocated by Dr. Fox may well be far greater than any extra cost of conventional nuclear over fossil fuel power.

Whilst it may be fashionable and possibly vote gathering, to go along with the anti-nuclear lobby, Conservatives should not follow them blindly, but show leadership in the recognition that the conversion of our electric power generation from fossil fuels to nuclear, is the only realistic way to secure our energy independence and the future health of our planet.


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