UK Energy Policy and Hinkley Point C at a Tipping Point

UK Energy Policy is at a tipping point. Following the withdrawal of two Japanese giants – Toshiba and Hitachi – from nuclear projects at Moorside in Cumbria and Wylfa on Anglesey – it is now clearer than ever that it would be cheaper to build new renewable capacity rather than continue building Hinkley Point C. It’s now time to cut our losses and abandon the Hinkley Point C project altogether.

Even Business Secretary, Greg Clark has recognised that “The cost of renewable technologies such as offshore wind has fallen dramatically, to the point where they now require very little public subsidy and will soon require none.” (1) And the cost reductions for offshore wind are far from over. (2)

According to The Observer “the Hitachi fiasco confirms that our energy policy now lies in ruins”. Hinkley Point C is Britain’s only new reactor, currently under construction and this “is eight years behind schedule and faces huge cost overruns”. Its construction has proceeded only because the government agreed to pay vastly inflated prices for its electricity for a guaranteed 35 years. (3)

Financial markets commentator, Neil Collins, writing in the FT, says the “[g]rim truth is that these huge projects are a financial dead end.” He describes the Hinkley Point C project as promising “to be an epic financial disaster”. (4)

The contract for Hinkley Point C means that consumers will pay £92.50 per megawatt hour of electricity at 2012 prices for 35 years. At today’s prices this will now be more than £108.00/MWh. It is impossible to forecast future wholesale electricity market prices but if we assume that today’s prices (about £45/MWh) persist for the period of the contract Hinkley would add about £50bn to consumers’ bills. According to EDF Energy, construction proper at Hinkley will not officially start until June 2019. (5) So, whilst cancelling Hinkley Point C now might incur a cancellation cost of a few billion pounds, consumers could save almost £1.5bn per year for 35 years from 2027 if the deal is scrapped. (6)

We have also learnt from the Sunday Telegraph that cash-strapped EDF is weighing a range of options to distance itself from the British energy market. It is not clear what this could mean, but, according to the newspaper this could include the sale of a minority stake in its existing reactors such as Hinkley Point B. (7)

The basic problem is that the UK’s 2011 National Policy Statement on Energy has aged badly. Then, it was wrongly believed energy costs and demand would rise inexorably, creating a security of supply issues. As a result, the government gave the go-ahead to the super-expensive Hinkley project. In fact, demand is falling thanks to efficiency gains and new technology, and the cost of all forms of energy supply – with the glaring exception of nuclear – has fallen sharply.

Stop Hinkley spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said:

It is time to scrap the welfare scheme for the dying nuclear industry called Hinkley Point C. Business Secretary Greg Clark has virtually admitted that nuclear power is past its sell-by-date. (8) If Hitachi can’t make a profit with ‘significant and generous’ financial support from the Government, – its share price went up by 10% when Wylfa was suspended – and even EDF is getting cold feet despite the prospect of a £50bn bung from consumers – it must be time to get out of nuclear, cancel Hinkley and stop coming up with new ways of fleecing taxpayers and consumers to fund new reactors.”

(1) Greg Clark’s Parliamentary Statement 17th Jan 2019

(2) Offshore Wind Journal 22nd Jan 2019,no-nucar-no-problem_56521.htm

(3) Observer 20th Jan 2019

(4) FT 26th Jan 2019

(5) World Nuclear Industry Status Report 29th Dec 2018

(6) See Time to Cancel Hinkley Point C by Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas available here:

(7) Telegraph 26th Jan 2019

(8) FT 23rd Jan 2019

Posted: 30 January 2019

Paris Court Ruling on Hinkley Point C Risks

A court in Paris has ordered French utility EDF to release a risk analysis report to the group’s works council (CEE) concerning its Hinkley Point C nuclear project. The appeals court in Paris said the firm must communicate the report within a month and must consult the CEE regarding the project within two months.

In 2016, EDF refused to release all documents required by the council for it to be able to issue its advice on the project, triggering CEE’s legal action. (1) The CEE say EDF failure to give elected representatives of the staff objective, precise and complete information on the technical and financial issues raised by the Hinkley project meant they had not been able “to give a reasoned opinion on this project“. (2)

Commenting on the news, Steve Thomas Emeritus Professor of Energy Policy at Greenwich University and author of ‘Time to Cancel Hinkley?’ (3) said:

Some senior EDF management and some EDF trade unions have long been concerned about EDF’s participation in the Hinkley Point C project. The 3-year old report the EDF Central Works Council (CCE) has won access to will show that EDF is well aware of these risks. The continuing delays and cost overruns (more than 3 times over budget and 8 years late) at Hinkley’s reference plant, Flamanville, significantly worse than when the report was written, illustrate graphically the scale of the risk. The Works Council see Hinkley as a financially risky project that will divert EDF’s scarce finances away from the strategically more important task of upgrading and life-extending EDF’s fleet of 58 reactors, many of which are at or near the end of the 40-year design life.”

Stop Hinkley spokesperson, Roy Pumfrey says:

Even the long standing nuclear advocate, former International Energy Agency boss, Nobuaki Tanaka, says nuclear power can’t compete with renewables. He says it’s ‘ridiculously expensive’ and ‘utterly uncompetitive’ (4) Electricity consumers would almost certainly still be able to make savings if the project were halted now and the south-west were given the chance to develop sustainable energy industries. Full construction start is still a year or more away so not too late to stop it.

(1) Montel 12th Sept 2018 and L’usine nouvelle 12th Sept 2018

(2) CEE Press Release 12th Sept 2018

(3) See

(4) Asahi Shimbun 24th July 2018


Posted: 18 September 2018

It’s the flexibility stupid!

The Nuclear Industry Association says we should ignore the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC’s) recommendation that we only order one more nuclear station on top of Hinkley Point C before 2025, because cutting carbon without the help of nuclear is a “risky business”. It says the Government understands the inherent value of a baseload low carbon source of generation.

Australia is having similar debates where the fossil fuel lobby argues that because “coal” is “baseload”, it must therefore be “reliable”- wind and solar are intermittent so not reliable. But what we need is dispatchable, reliable generation we can count on, at times of peak demand not traditional “baseload” which can break down and remove a huge slice from the grid at short notice. One of Australia’s leading electrical engineers, Kate Summers says large diverse renewable resources are far more stable in output than singular sources.

A new report from Chatham House says evidence is growing that highly flexible electricity systems could deliver lower whole-system costs, especially given the dramatic projected falls in solar and wind power costs by 2030. New technologies that enhance system flexibility, like smart electric vehicle (EV) charging, battery storage, digitalization with intelligent control and demand-side management, are unleashing a new phase of transformations in the power sector. Companies providing these solutions may come to dominate the power sector in the coming decades. The accelerating deployment of this array of ‘flexibility enablers’ means the spectre of cost escalation – resulting from the expense of managing intermittent wind and solar power at huge volumes – may never materialize.

Smart, staggered EV charging could enable significant advances in system flexibility. By 2030, smart EV charging in the UK could be equivalent to 18% of the country’s current generating capacity. Rapid cost reductions in battery manufacturing, driven by increased deployment of EVs, are enabling affordable static, grid-level storage, in turn enhancing power system flexibility.

“Energy storage is all the rage”, says Dave Elliott, Emeritus Professor of Technology Policy at the Open University. But while the field is full of innovation at present, and pumped hydro storage continues to dominate,  storage is not the only way to respond to the variability of some renewables. Other options include smart grid demand management (to time-shift demand peaks) and super-grid imports and exports (to balance local supply and demand variations across wide areas). “There is nothing that storage can do that something else can’t do,” according to Professor Mark O’Malley of Canada’s McGill University and University College Dublin.

Digitalization of the electricity sector will lead to significant advances in system efficiency and flexibility. Residential demand will become flexible and networks functionally ‘smarter’. Machine-learning algorithms could be a game-changer, helping to manage the increasing complexity of electricity systems and identify new system-level efficiencies. Energy, like every other sector, is going digital. From smart home products such as Hive that allow home owners to control their energy use from their smartphone, through to companies like REstore employing artificial intelligence to calculate just how much energy capacity a factory can offer as a virtual power plant. Centrica’s CEO Iain Conn says he expects demand side response to become one of the fastest growing elements of the energy market over the next few years. Europe’s largest demand side response aggregator, REstore, was acquired by Centrica in 2017.

Greater insight through digital technology is just the start of the shift of power away from energy companies and towards the customer. Centrica is currently piloting a project in the south west of England that will allow local residents and businesses to buy and sell energy between themselves without the intervention of their energy supplier. The £19 million Local Energy Market in Cornwall is enabling 200 homes and businesses to do this using a digital record known as Blockchain. It is used to create a secure electronic ledger of transactions between participants. Iain Conn says he believes such local networks will become the norm in a new decentralised energy market.

Home owners using Blockchain to become their own micro-energy companies may seem like something for the distant future, but Microsoft’s Michael Wignall says that digital technology is accelerating at such a pace that these kinds of radical changes will be delivered over a short period of time. The Fourth Industrial Revolution we are currently experiencing will make energy systems of the future completely unrecognisable from what they are today.

The transformations which have happened so far, with the rapid introduction of renewable technologies and falling demand due to greater energy efficiency, have undermined the business models of traditional power utilities. Now they face the prospect that renewables will achieve ever higher penetrations within the electricity market, aided by greater system flexibility. This will continue to erode the role of large power stations in ‘system balancing’ – balancing supply and demand – and will put further pressure on existing business models.

For more on flexibility see nuClear News No.110

Posted: 6 September 2018

100% Renewables is Possible

This week’s New Scientist says Donald Trump’s efforts to prevent the closure of unprofitable coal and nuclear are as “forlorn” as they are misguided. “It is because of sound economic reasons, not just environmental concerns that coal and nuclear are struggling to compete with natural gas and renewables such as as wind and solar. Thanks to an explosion of technology designed to counter variability of wind and solar, the reliability issue is a red herring that’s getting redder. Covering 100 per cent of our energy needs through renewable resources is no longer the impossible dream.”

The Observer called the proposed Wylfa deal “a rip-off” and “ridiculously costly for consumers” Alternatives are much cheaper. “Clark’s intervention shows the economics of new nuclear do not work. Why should consumers pay through the nose when there are lower-cost alternatives?”

The electricity generated at Wylfa “is likely to be much more expensive than power from the latest offshore wind farms.”

The decision to help to bankroll Japan’s troubled nuclear industry seems like an odd way to prove that the government can be trusted as a shrewd steward of public money”, says The Times. “While the cost of nuclear power seems to climb inexorably higher, the cost of viable renewable alternatives continues to plunge. Taxpayers should brace themselves for another fat loss.”

Every government makes mistakes”, says the FTbut it takes a really special administration to make a massive blunder and then go on to make the same fundamental error again, just months later.

You  have to wonder what on earth the Government is thinking about?

Posted: 11 June 2018

Wylfa can kicked down the road

Tom Burke, chair of the E3G consultancy, says the news from Hitachi’s Board meeting today (29th May) about Wylfa Newydd does not add a great deal of light. The only firm point is that talks will  continue. Much will depend on the exact legal status of the ‘basic agreement’. There is a vast difference between a binding contract and a memorandum of understanding. It is also not clear what is meant by ‘loans directly and indirectly’. The phrase ‘through a local financial institution’ is also obscure. If they are from HMG they will have to go on the UK’s balance sheet. Equally obscure is the phrase ‘a British group’. There is quite a big difference in both the economics and the politics between providing a loan and providing a loan guarantee.

Two other things to bear in mind: the loans for construction will not be forthcoming unless there is a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) to cover the commercial risk, and  any legally binding PPA would be subject to EU state aids clearance until March 2019 and potentially much longer depending on what else happens in Brexit. It is very hard to see how another tender free contract to build nuclear reactors would get such clearance.

In summary, this looks to me like another kick of the can down the road. There is just enough in this report for people, if they want to, to claim that negotiations are continuing but not enough for anyone to say the project is going to go ahead. It suits just about every one involved to save face by avoiding a decision of any kind.

Posted: 29 May 2018

No Need for New Nukes

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been consulting on proposals for a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for nuclear power above 1GW single reactor capacity for deployment between 2026 and the end of 2035. National Policy Statements (NPS) are intended to establish the case for Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects, as defined in the Planning Act 2008. The current nuclear NPS (EN-6), published in 2011, lists 8 sites as potentially suitable for the deployment of new nuclear power stations by the end of 2025 (Hinkley Point C, Wylfa, Moorside, Sizewell, Bradwell, Oldbury, Hartlepool and Heysham).

The Minister for Energy and Industry admits that the new nuclear programme has taken a long time to progress so he says it is now necessary to designate a new nuclear NPS. In July 2017, EDF Energy revealed that Hinkley Point C is likely to be delayed by 15 months to 2027 (1). More recently the former energy secretary, Sir Edward Davey, who signed off on Hinkley Point C has cast doubt on whether the project will ever get built at all, let alone by 2027. (2)

So, it’s now almost certain that no new nuclear power stations will be operational on any of the sites designated in the current NPS by 2025. Horizon Nuclear says it is aiming to generate the first electricity from Wylfa Newydd in the mid-2020s. (3) But it has yet to reach a deal on financing the reactors with the Government. (4) NuGen, which is planning to build new reactors at Moorside, near Sellafield, has said they will not be up and running by 2025 either. (5) Horizon says it’s unlikely that construction would even start at Oldbury until the late 2020s at the earliest. (6) Sizewell C is not expected to begin generating electricity until 2031 (7) and there is currently no overall defined timeline for the Bradwell B project. (8) No proposals have been put forward for Hartlepool or Heysham.

Instead of admitting that its new nuclear programme has been a failure, and that by the time any of the proposed reactors come on line nuclear power will be obsolete (9) the proposed new NPS simply carries forward the designated sites from the current NPS, and suggests that new sites may be designated in the 2020s.

Taken together with the overarching NPS for Energy (EN1), the Government says the current nuclear NPS sets out the need for nuclear power. Yet when the Government first endorsed Hinkley Point C, (HPC) it was projecting an increase in electricity consumption of 15% by now, whereas in practice we are consuming 15% less than a decade ago. (In 2005 it was 29,981 ktoe. By 2015 it had fallen to 26,031 ktoe –a 15.2% decrease.) In other words it made a 30% error. This is despite a 13% increase in GDP over the last decade. HPC is only due to deliver 7% of consumption. So, in fact, there is no “need” for new nuclear power stations before or after 2025. (10)

The Blackwater Against New Nuclear Response to the consultation is available here:

The Stop Hinkley Campaign Response is here: StopHinkley_NPS_Response[1]

The Together Against Sizewell C response is here:

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities Briefing on the consultation is here:


(1) BBC 3rd July 2017

(2) Sir Ed Davey: ‘There are doubts about whether Hinkley will ever get built’ Unearthed 15th December 2017.

(3) Horizon Nuclear website (accessed 2nd January 2018)

(4) Collingridge, J. Hitachi boss Hiraoki Nakanishi ups the ante over £10bn Wales nuclear site, Sunday Times 10th December 2017 

(5) Cumbrian nuclear plant set to be delayed, Whitehaven News 3rd October 2017.

(6) Horizon Nuclear website (accessed 2nd Jan 2018)

(7) Brodie, D Sizewell C nuclear power station could become operational in 2031, says head of EDF Energy, East Anglian Daily Times 30th October 2017.

(8) Bradwell B Project website (accessed 2nd January 2018)

(9). Vidal, J. Big power out, solar in: UBS urges investors to join renewables revolution, Guardian 27th August 2014 See also Green World 27th August 2014 

(10) Letter from Andrew Warren, Chair of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, Guardian 5th July 2017 

For more information on the need for nuclear power on energy efficiency watch Andrew Warren speaking at the CND Conference “No Need for Nuclear” in June 2017

Posted: 23 March 2018

Time to Cancel Hinkley Point C

Reflecting much of the media comment, since offshore wind costs as low as £57.50/MWh were announced earlier this month, (1) The Guardian’s editorial said the precipitous drop in the price of electricity from offshore wind turbines should “blow away” the UK’s nuclear plans. It describes Hinkley Point C as “like a dinosaur even before it arrives on earth”. Ministers should “open the door to a greener, cleaner future where Britain meets greenhouse gas targets without more expensive nuclear plants.” (2)

Now, in a new report, Emeritus Professor of Energy Policy, Steve Thomas, says it is time to cancel Hinkley Point C. EDF and the French and  UK governments may try to suggest that it’s too late to stop and will talk up the costs which have already been incurred. But the start of construction, when the first structural concrete is poured, is still between 2 and 4 years away. Preliminary works are conspicuous but relatively cheap. EDF Energy will have incurred expenses since signing the deal with the UK Government in October 2016 and some of these may be compensatable. But these costs would be dwarfed by the costs of going ahead

If wholesale electricity prices do not rise, the extra cost to consumers over the 35 years from opening the plant would be about £50bn. If the wholesale price rises to, say £70/MWh, the cost would be about £27bn.

Thomas says it would be surprising if there aren’t further delays and cost increases. EDF’s claim it will take the risk of cost increases does not seem credible, so further costs could fall on electricity consumers and taxpayers.

Thomas continued “Hinkley Point C would use a technology unproven in operation – the EPR – which has run into appalling problems of cost & time overruns in the 3 projects using it. It would be supplied by Areva NP, which is in financial collapse and might not be saveable and has been found to be falsifying quality control records for safety critical items of equipment for up to 50 years – a bizarre situation.

Stop Hinkley Spokesperson, Roy Pumfrey said:

We keep hearing warnings about the so-called energy gap. But when the government first endorsed Hinkley Point C, (HPC) it was projecting an increase in electricity consumption of 15% by now, whereas in practice we are consuming 15% less than a decade ago. In other words it made a 30 % error. We don’t need worry about the gap left by HPC – there isn’t one. The news has focussed on the rapidly falling cost of offshore wind, but  we have also learnt that Energy efficiency improvements could reduce the average householders bill by £270 a year and save the equivalent to the output of six Hinkley Point Cs”. (3)

Steve Thomas’ report is available here Time to Cancel Hinkley


(1) For instance even the Spectator says “Hinkley Point C was the best idea available when it was first mooted seven years ago, but time and technology are inexorably overtaking it.” Spectator 16th Sept 2017

(2) Guardian 13th September 2017 

(3) UK Energy Research Centre 6th Sept 2017

Posted: 25 September 2017

Risk of Hinkley Point C no longer justified (if it ever was)

According to the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), energy efficiency improvements to home heating, insulation, lighting and appliances could reduce the energy consumed in UK households each year by the equivalent to the output of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinkley Point C, saving consumers £270 off the average household energy bill of £1,100. (1) In fact, when the UK government first endorsed Hinkley Point C, (HPC) it was projecting an increase in electricity consumption of 15% by now, whereas in practice the UK is consuming 15% less than a decade ago. In other words Government projections were out by 30 %. (2)

The price of £57.50 per megawatt hour (MWh) unveiled recently for two giant wind projects, off the coast of the UK is almost half the level expected to be paid for electicity generated by Hinkley Point C – £92.50/MWh at 2012 prices (which by now will be around £100/MWh). What is more the offshore wind payments only continue for 15 years compared with nuclear payments which continue for 35 years.

According to the Daily Telegraph Britain could theoretically produce up to 595GW from offshore wind at competitive cost, an order of magnitude more than Britain’s entire power needs, even at peak times in the dead of winter (53GW). Some excess power could be sold to Europe through interconnectors, and some could be turned into hydrogen through electrolysis and used to replace fossil gas. (3)

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming so cheap that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) outlook. (4) According to the 100% renewable utility, Good Energy, the wholesale price of electricity in the UK is falling, mainly due to the rise in solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind power. (5)  Emeritus Professor Keith Barnham says if renewable expansion had continued at the same rate it did between 2010 and 2015 we could have achieved an all-renewable UK electricity supply by 2025.Why cull such popular and successful industries? The UK has more than 32GW of renewable power, 10 times the power the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant may achieve in 2030. Hinkley’s power is not only almost irrelevant; its inflexible nature will make it redundant. Once operating, a nuclear reactor should run with constant output, 24/7, month to month, but power that complements wind and PV has to vary in less than one hour. What the UK needs is flexible, not continuous baseload power generation to back up wind and photovoltaic (PV) power. (6)

Clearly, the electricity which Hinkley Point C is expected to generate could be replaced by energy efficiency measures or renewable energy systems more cheaply, more quickly and without radioactive discharges to the environment or the generation of radioactive waste. The risk that the UK and European public will be subjected to by the construction of Hinkley Point C can, therefore, no longer be justified.

(1) UK Energy Research Centre 6th Sept 2017
(2) Guardian 5th July 2017 
(3) Telegraph 13th September 2017
(4) Bloomberg 15th June 2017
(5) Good Energy, “Wind and solar reducing consumer bills: an investigation into the merit order effect”, (2015)
(6) Guardian 10th May 2017

Posted: 15 September 2017

UK Nuclear Policies – recent changes and likely developments

Steve Thomas, Emeritus Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Greenwich, says many of the issues that arise with Hinkley Point C (HPC) that might derail it apply equally to the whole Government programme. He says we are probably at the point where we are looking at a public spending disaster. Financing HPC will stretch EDF Energy to the limit and maybe beyond. He thinks there is no possibility of Sizewell C being built on the timetable that the Government is looking at. He says we are in a surreal situation where we are planning the two largest construction projects ever built on UK soil – HPC and Moorside – and we are contemplating buying the equipment from bankrupt and disgraced companies using technologies that have abjectly failed wherever they have been built. None of the three consortia (excluding Bradwell which is further off in the future) are financeable in their present state. Here we look at the evidence presented by Steve Thomas and others which questions whether any of these projects will ever be successfully completed. On the other hand continuing with these projects will seriously damage renewable and energy efficiency programmes and delay real action to combat climate change.

UK Nuclear Policies[final]

Posted: 5 September 2017

The Legacy of Nuclear Power by Andrew Blowers, Earthscan, 2017 £37.99

From the resigned embrace of nuclear clean-up at Hanford in the USA to the resolute approach towards geological disposal as a permanent solution pursued in France, to the conflicting priorities that have beset Sellafield in the UK, and the vigorous resistance to nuclear developments at Gorleben in Germany, all have been socially shaped, says Blowers, by the evolving power relations of the nuclear industry and its antagonists. Each of these has the characteristics of what he calls ‘peripheral communities’.

Blowers has been involved with the nuclear waste issue since October 1983 when a site just south of Bedford near the village of Elstow, birthplace of Pilgrim’s Progress author John Bunyan, was designated as a possible nuclear waste site by Nirex. Blowers told TV audiences that Bunyan would be turning in his grave at the thought that the Slough of Despond could reappear in contemporary form as a nuclear waste dump. Blowers says he believes he was one of the first to pronounce that nuclear waste is a social as well as a scientific problem, so he feels an obligation to try to understand what this means and to fathom the consequences of this understanding.

The overarching theme of this book is the relationship between nuclear communities and radioactive waste – the inevitable and long-lasting arising from routine operations and accidents. The waste tends to be confined to established locations which tend to manifest ‘peripheral’ characteristics with a particular power relationship between the industry and community. Blowers’ hope is that understanding this may suggest some implications for radioactive waste management strategy.

Locally unwanted land uses – or LULUs – tend to be located in peripheral communities, and nuclear facilities – especially those associated with waste management are perhaps the classic case of a LULU. So much so that their location reproduces and reinforces processes of peripheralisation. Such communities are geographically remote and tend to be dominated by a single employer or sector. The economic power exercised by dominant companies may also be translated into political power and pre-existing traditional economic activities, like farming and fishing, become subordinated. There may be a growing inequality between those benefitting from the wealth and incomes generated by the new industry and those remaining in traditional occupations.

Acceptance of the environmental risk is a necessary condition of living in an established nuclear community and Blowers contrasts this with communities determined to resist environmental risks which could explain why it is so difficult to establish new nuclear sites beyond existing frontiers. Blowers contends that it is the inequality in resources possessed and mobilised by those communities able to resist, combined with the powerlessness of communities that have little choice but to accept, that ultimately and inevitably confirms a pattern of location of hazardous industries in peripheral locations.


The Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State is truly massive – almost as big as Hertfordshire. It is the largest clean-up project anywhere in the world at an annual cost of $2bn. Established to produce plutonium for America’s nuclear weapons, by the early 1960s the workforce on the site was nearly 10,000. By 1962 the population of the Tri-Cities was 54,000 with around half in Richland – the company town. Even in the early years there was a concern about stigma and the awesome destructive power of the materials produced, but those feelings tended to be muted in a condition of willingly repressed awareness. Hanford’s defence lay in its purpose in the defence of the nation.

Eventually the community had to undergo a painful adjustment in attitudes and beliefs and face up to the fact that Hanford’s role in the defence of the nation had been replaced by its role in defence of the environment. The sheer scale of the legacy and the casual attitudes to risk that prevailed in the past are now revealed. Bob Alvarez, former advisor to President Clinton says “The costs, complexity and risks of the Hanford high level waste project rival those of the US manned space programme by have far greater potential consequences to the human environment.”

From the late 1980s to the early part of this century the community showed a marked reluctance to let go of production, a resistance to its new role and a yearning to grasp any activities which might prolong the nuclear culture. But as the commitment to clean-up has developed and the non-nuclear economy has begun to flourish, fears of decline have diminished. An economic transformation is taking place. Many mining, steel and textile towns in the US, though scarred by environmental degradation and toxic waste, have simply been left to die once their industry shuts down. But Hanford has survived in changing circumstances. Although the clean-up process displays institutional inertia, Hanford is no longer a mono-cultural economy. Although the stigma persists, in some ways there is a belief that the image of the area has improved as the benefits and achievement of clean-up campaigns are recognised.

There may be some lessons here for those supporters of President Trump who support the perpetuation of old fossil fuel-based industries.


Similar to Hanford, the main focus of activity at Sellafield has shifted from production to clean-up and especially clearing up the legacy from the early days of the nuclear programme when little attention was paid to dealing with the wastes. Blowers’ chapter on Sellafield also covers recent events in the nuclear waste ‘disposal’ saga, including the CoRWM recommendations of 2006 and how these were seized upon by the Government as a “sound basis for moving forward” with a focus on geological disposal as a means of demonstrating that radioactive waste would not be a barrier to a new nuclear programme. As at Hanford there has been a tendency among the workforce to cling on to production and to plead for new plants when the need for them is diminishing. Sellafield however, is spending more than Hanford – around $2.2bn per year.

According to former Cumbria County Council leader, Eddie Martin: “Copeland has some of the highest wages in Cumbria but Sellafield sits beside people living in abject poverty. We’ve borne the burden and are paying the penalty for living next door to Sellafield. We have a prehistoric infrastructure” and his successor Stewart Young said “We have some of the most deprived communities living in the shadow of a multi-million pound industry. It’s an absolute scandal”.

Sellafield drives a monocultural and unevenly developed economy that is relatively weak in its ability to diversify and draw inward investment. On the other hand the relationship of dominance and dependence between the nuclear industry and West Cumbria gives the area a measure of economic stability and leverage with the nation.

Breaking out of that vicious cycle which appears to leave an area dependent on a single hazardous industry, and the stigma attached, with only the option of hunting for yet more hazardous employment could be the best way to move beyond the resulting unequal society. There seems to be a way to go yet before the green shoots of a new economy beginning to appear at Hanford show signs of sprouting in West Cumbria.

La Hague and Bure

Unlike Sellafield and La Hague, Bure is not a nuclear community in the sense of an established population living and working in the area. While geology was the leading consideration in selecting Bure as a good site for a deep underground repository, it is an area which seems isolated and empty. The prospect of an underground laboratory was widely welcomed at the political level for the economic benefits it might bring. Bure is already showing the signs of the kind of social acceptance that are characteristic of peripheral locations. A major reason, according to Blowers, is the way the notion of geological disposal has been progressively embedded in the community as other options have, one by one, disappeared.


Gorleben is different from the other three communities Blowers examines. The industry has never become established on anything like the scale originally envisaged. Blowers considers, amongst other things, the opportunities Gorleben presents for a new approach to waste policy and the role of Gorleben in the continuing uncertainty about radioactive waste management in Germany.

One of the outcomes of the “consensual transformation of energy policy in Germany was the reanimation of the efforts to find a permanent solution to the management of highly radioactive wastes”. But a solution may not easily be found because it seems impossible to make progress while Gorleben remains a potential site, but also impossible without it.


Nuclear communities must endure both the physical threat of living with environmental risk and the social stigma that is often associated with proximity to radioactive waste. Blowers says they cannot live in a perpetual state of anxiety and dread, nor should they since, as custodians of these wastes, they have an obvious interest in their safe and secure management. But the possibility of an accident, however small, places these communities at a disadvantage compared to other non-nuclear communities.

Progress in finding sites for deep geological repositories for nuclear waste has been slow. Where progress has been made, as in Finland and Sweden, it has been through a process of comparative site evaluation eliminating all but those sites in existing nuclear locations. In Finland the choice has fallen on Eurajoki where there are two reactors at Olkiluoto and a third under construction. In Sweden the site chosen is Osthammar near the Forsmark nuclear power station and intermediate level waste repository. The tendency in almost every country is to proceed slowly and to focus on those locations where nuclear facilities are well established.

The problems associated with the safe management of the legacy of nuclear waste we have produced may be more complex than sending humans to the moon. If Whitehall is to have any hope of solving these intractable problems it is going to need people, like Blowers who have been analysing the sociology of these issues for more than 30 years. Civil servants involved today could do a lot worse than to start by reading this book.

Posted: 1 August 2017