The pollsters lost but did energy win?

After six weeks of campaigning and uncertainly right up to the final day, we finally have a result. David Cameron remains Prime Minister backed by a small majority Government, the SNP has almost complete control of Scottish representation in Westminster; badly denting Labour’s result; the Lib Dems and minor parties all lost, and lost badly. So what does this mean for energy policy, an area which was largely ignored throughout one of the most laborious campaigns in modern British electoral history?

With a Conservative majority in place they are in a position to enact their manifesto which will likely benefit the civil nuclear sector and curtail the expansion of onshore wind power. It promised a “significant expansion in new nuclear and gas” and to “halt the spread of onshore windfarms”, adding it would end any new public subsidy for the renewable technology and change the law so “local people have the final say.”

Coal is likely to suffer because of EU carbon emission targets although will still play a fundamental role in the UK’s energy mix because of its cheap availability on the global market. The technology which is set to gain the most from a Tory majority is shale gas: in the manifesto, the party supported “the safe development of shale gas” and promised local communities will gain “through generous community benefits.”

At DECC, a department previously led by Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, change was inevitable. Amber Rudd MP has been promoted from her dual role in the Treasury and DECC to Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and Andrea Leadsom MP has made a similar move from Treasury to Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Rudd’s appointment has been welcomed by the low carbon community and one of her first tasks will be to ensure the UK’s first new nuclear station for a decade at Hinkley Point C clears its final hurdles before the main building works begin. Her next milestone will be to secure a strong deal on global warming at the COP 21 negotiations in Paris this December. Described by the Guardian as “really green and no-nonsense”, her experience in investment banking and business will be crucial in delivering the huge investment needed to revitalise an ageing energy infrastructure. Her appointment also signals continuity as opposed to comprehensive reform, vital for a brief in desperate need for a long term plan – to coin a phrase!

Leadsom who replaces Matthew Hancock, will probably play a role in implementing the Conservative’s pledge to end any new subsidies for onshore wind farms. She has voiced her concerns on the issue before, arguing on Conservativehome that “the benefits of onshore wind have been hugely exaggerated by the developers who stand to make huge sums from the taxpayer incentives”. She also criticised the previous Labour’s government’s willingness to sign up to EU renewable energy targets. However she is a supporter of other clean technologies, including nuclear and has distanced herself from climate change deniers.

Read the full briefing of all cabinet positions.

Rupert LewisRupert Lewis
Communications Executive

Wildfire near Chernobyl

Two leading academics share their views with the NIA on the risk posed by the reports of wildfires near the Chernobyl plant, concluding there is no radiobiological risk.

There have been a number of reports concerning wildfires close to the Chernobyl plant that in some cases have resulted in alarmist headlines. These fires are some way from the plant itself and therefore present no danger to it.

The concern is therefore only for combustion of contaminated vegetation. It is now 29 years since the accident, and over time there is a considerable reduction in radioactive contamination of the area due to the physical half-lives of the radioisotopes released.

All the radioactive iodine, which was responsible for the increase in thyroid cancer, is eliminated from the environment within three months, due to the short half-life of 8.1 days for 131-I. The other major contaminant Cs-137, has a half-life of 30 years, and it therefore follows that only half of the original release still remains active in the environment today.

There is no evidence thus far for an increase in any form of cancer other than thyroid cancer, which is caused by exposure to 131-I. This suggests that exposure to Cs-137 has not produced a discernible increase in cancer.

It is possible that some of the remaining contamination may become airborne as the result of these fires, but the dose of radiation will be minimal in comparison with that from the original release.

Indeed, there have previously been forest fires in the Chernobyl exclusion zone as well as an experimental fire which was used to determine how much radioactivity would be resuspended. In studies of these real and experimental fires, Ukrainian scientists found that though the air concentration of radionuclides was increased, it remained at very low levels and didn’t present a significant inhalation risk.

The area is still heavily monitored and the data suggest that there has been no increase in the levels of radiation recorded. These fires therefore pose no radiobiological consequences for human health.

Prof. Gerry Thomas
Professor of Molecular Pathology,
Imperial College London

Prof. James Smith
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Portsmouth