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On 18 October, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Chris Huhne, announced that the Government was clearing the way for the construction of new nuclear power stations and shelving plans for the Severn Tidal Power scheme (Severn Barrage).

The security of the energy supply will become an increasing problem and there are real concerns about electricity shortages in the medium term. It is vital to bring new generation online in the next 5-10 years to provide additional capacity, as well as developing sustainable energy sources to help address climate change. The Coalition’s recent announcement clarifies they will pursue a three pronged strategy of promoting nuclear, carbon capture and wind power to address this.

The Government has made a pragmatic choice to encourage the development of new nuclear facilities on economic and environmental grounds. Despite the well-known controversies around nuclear, it is a significantly lower-carbon source of electricity than those from fossil fuels – opinions vary significantly, but lifecycle carbon emissions per kWh from nuclear are in the range of 1-15% those of gas and 0.5-8% of coal.
However, the decision not to progress with the Severn Barrage is disappointing. The Severn estuary barrage could have been one of the largest tidal power schemes in the world and has the potential to generate around 5% of the UK’s electricity needs.

However, for now, the Government has decided that the risks and estimated £30bn cost of the project would be excessive compared with other low-carbon energy options and the Severn Barrage will not be reviewed again until 2015.

The Government has a target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive to produce 15% of its energy from renewable by 2020 and has decided to focus on wind power. In 2008, only about 2% of energy came from renewable, so the challenge is considerable. There are real concerns about the extent to which the UK is relying on wind power achieve this. Wind power is unpredictable and dependent upon weather conditions whereas tidal power is more reliable and predictable.

As an island nation, the UK should be leading the development of tidal and wave power. But since the first tidal power station was built in the 1960s, progress towards large scale deployment has been very slow. If the Government is going to meet its 2020 carbon targets and make Britain a “green leader” it should revisit its commitment tidal and wave power.