Letter to The Times (unpublished) Rachel Fulcher Suffolk Costal FOE: The Sizewell C debate is salty indeed (Alistair Osborne, 10/06/20). Anyone taking a brisk walk along the Suffolk coast around Sizewell can see clearly how unstable and dynamic it is. Defensive anti-tank blocks from World War II spill down the collapsed cliffs, and here and there the remains of a pill box, once aloft, can be seen lying on the shingle. ‘Dragons’ teeth’ have disappeared under the sea and then re-appeared before being finally removed – some by EDF ironically. Signs warn of cliff falls, yet, sadly, a man was killed not long ago walking his dog along the beach. EDF Energy maintains that the two offshore sand banks will continue to protect the nuclear power stations at Sizewell from storm surges for the projected lifetime of Sizewell C, including the long-term storage of high-level nuclear waste. What madness is this? Local swimmers and sailors know only too well how these shift and change. Once you could swim out and stand on one – no longer possible as it has eroded and flattened. Equally, as Nick Scarr correctly points out, and as our own in-depth researches demonstrate, the two banks have been moving apart, allowing the larger waves to reach the shore during storms. The power of the sea should not be under-estimated. At nearby Thorpeness, thought to be stable due to the out-lying coralline crag, houses are now teetering on the edge, despite the revetment hastily put in place. Gabions are already rusting away and the huge sand bags have been tossed about by the waves. EDF Energy says in their consultation documents that their new defences would guard Sizewell C against projected climate change and sea level rise. Even if that were the case, which cannot be proven, what would be the result of these? For a start, they would cause ‘coastal squeeze’, preventing natural roll-back and resulting in flanking erosion and flooding. Not only would this put at increased risk villagers living either side of the station, but the RSPB’s flagship reserve of Minsmere immediately to the north and Sizewell Marshes SSSI at the rear. Indeed, this would leave a highly unsafe nuclear island. Water in the wrong place at a nuclear power station can have devastating consequences, as the catastrophe at Fukushima demonstrates only too well. Let’s hope that the Planning Inspectorate puts the precautionary principle in place and turns down this hazardous development.
In 2018 EdeF Energy applied for and received permission to dredge 300,000 tons of radioactively contaminated sediment from Bridgwater Bay and dump it off Cardiff. (1) The sediment contains everything that has come out of the outflow pipes over the last 50 years from the Hinkley Point A and B nuclear power stations.
EdeF now wants to deposit up to a further 780,000 tonnes of sediment. The developers have submitted a plan to Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for sampling and testing the mud, which will now be subject to a six-week consultation with specialists and the public. (2)
Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey asked:
“Why at this stage has EdeF discovered it needs to shift another 780,000 tonnes of sludge? Why weren’t we warned about this in 2018? In fact, where was this mentioned in all the thousands of pages of detailed plans in the Development Consent Order for Hinkley Point C? Why has the Company only announced this now? This is what’s called ‘salami slicing’ of plans, and it is the enemy of democratic accountability. If the full extent of HPC’s impact on the environment had been known at the beginning, decision-makers might have come to a different conclusion on whether it was worth putting up with all the disruption this development has caused.”
We now know that the impact of the previous dump is not only on the Welsh side of the estuary. Data from the Government funded “Radioactivity in Food and the Environment” (RIFE) reports for 2016, 2017 and 2018 show significantly increased radioactivity levels in the environment on the Somerset side of the estuary. Dredging operations have disturbed radioactive particles from the Hinkley Point A and B nuclear power stations, which had previously been relatively contained within the sediments. (see Appendix)
EdeF now wants to dredge the seabed alongside Hinkley Point C so that the power station’s water-cooling system can be installed. This involves tunnelling more than 3km into the Bristol Channel.
Roy Pumfrey continued:
“The two Hinkley C reactors will need vast amounts of cooling water for their steam power generation. The sea water intake will indiscriminately suck in huge amounts of sea life, ranging from marine mammals, crustaceans, fish, their eggs and larvae, most of which will not survive the journey through 3 km of pipework at high pressure flow rate to the condenser, and the discharge back to the sea. Do we want to sacrifice the unique fauna of our Severn Estuary to allow HPC to leave us a legacy of nuclear waste in exchange?” (3)
The Stop Hinkley campaign calls on Natural Resources Wales to reject this latest application.
- BBC Wales has been told it involved 120,000 tonnes of mud, although permission was granted for 300,000. BBC Wales 5th Feb 2020 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-51375497
- Natural Resources Wales 5th Feb 2020 https://nrw-newsroom.prgloo.com/news/new-plans-for-hinkley-point-c-sediment-disposal
- For more on the threat to sea life in the Severn Estuary See pages 20-24 here: https://www.nuclearpolicy.info/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Stop_Hinkley_HPC_Presentation.pdf
Tables produced by the Stop the Cardiff Mud Dump campaign from the RIFE reports.
Table 1: Cobalt 60 in sediments from Hinkley Point (Becquerels per kilogram)
|Site||2016||2017||2018||Increase since 2016|
|Steart Flats||<0.52||<0.66||<0.71||36% increase|
|River Parrett estuary||<0.99||<0.88||<1.00||1% increase|
|River Parrett Bridgwater||<0.50||<0.57||<0.99||98% increase|
Table 2: Americium 241 in sediments from Hinkley Point (Becquerels per kilogram)
|Site||2016||2017||2018||Increase since 2016|
|Steart Flats||<0.52||<0.66||<0.88||69% increase|
|River Parrett estuary||<1.20||<0.92||<2.00||67% increase|
|River Parrett Bridgwater||<0.65||<0.78||<1.60||139% increase|
Table 3: Organically Bound Tritium in shellfish at Stolford (Becquerels per kilogram)
|Type||2016||2017||2018||Increase since 2016|
NB: not analysed for at any other sites or in any other media
Table 4: Tritium (as tritiated water) in shellfish at Stolford (Becquerels per kilogram)
|Type||2016||2017||2018||Increase since 2016|
NB: not analysed for at any other sites or in any other media
Government analysis suggests we might need up to 40GW of firm power – nuclear or power plants with carbon capture and storage by 2050. On the other hand a growing number of studies suggest that with flexibility and ever cheaper renewables it is perfectly possible to run our energy system on 100% renewables.
According to The Times, a leaked Government analysis suggests that Britain needs to build a fleet of nuclear or carbon-capture power plants equivalent to a dozen Hinkley Point Cs – up to 40GW of non-intermittent low carbon power stations to hit climate change targets. In its consultation on the nuclear funding model the Government said that while wind and solar energy would provide the majority of low-carbon capacity in 2050, there would still be a role for firm power supplies available when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.
Carbon Brief says the idea that electricity from nuclear and CCS will be required to get to net-zero is broadly in line with advice from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and some other research, whereas the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) recommended a focus on renewables instead.
Unfortunately, the government’s justification appears to rest on model simulations run internally, which have not been published. The lack of transparency makes this analysis impossible to judge, says Michael Liebreich, founder of and now senior contributor to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. He told Carbon Brief:
“Any case for ‘firm’ power is essentially valueless without knowing the detail of the assumptions. Firm power which cannot be switched off when you don’t need it will be as much of a problem as variable power which cannot be switched on when you do. What is called for is flexibility, in huge quantities and of all types. Does the nuclear power in the government model provide it? We just aren’t told.”
Recent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) advice on reaching net-zero broadly supports the internal BEIS analysis but it includes a wider range of sources with different characteristics and levels of flexibility. The CCC’s ‘Further Ambition’ scenario, for instance, sees low-carbon sources providing 100% of power generation in 2050, through a mixture of variable renewables (57%), firm low-carbon power like nuclear or plants fitted with carbon capture and storage (38%) and decarbonised gas such as hydrogen (5%). But as we point out in nuClear News No.118 the reason for the view on firm power in this analysis seems to boil down to cost.
CCC says you can only go so far with the proportion of our energy supplied by renewables before costs start to rise. Yet the CCC doesn’t have a good record of estimating future energy costs. Back in 2008, it estimated that offshore and onshore wind costs would to be around £88/MWh and £76/MWh, respectively, by 2020 (expressed in 2008 prices). And it suggested that the potential for emissions reductions from solar PV was ‘very small’ within the first three budget periods, because of the high cost. In fact offshore wind generation dropped to under £65/MWh in 2017, and onshore wind would be around £46/MWh and the cost of installing new solar PV capacity is now around £56/MWh. It currently expects to see nuclear costs fall by 28% by 2050, which given past experience seems highly unlikely.
The other thing which the CCC has been bad at forecasting is electricity demand. In 2008 it expected that electricity demand would continue to increase overall, but demand has actually dropped. The CCC now expects a doubling of demand by 2050 due to extensive electrification of heat and transport. As we have reported here many times, the incoming Conservative-LibDem Coalition Government of 2010 was officially planning on the basis of a doubling or possibly even a tripling of electricity consumption by 2050. The 2005 Energy White Paper was expecting that by 2020 electricity consumption would have increased by 15%. In reality it has decreased by 16%. Nowadays primary energy demand is expected to continue falling by a further 11% by 2025. But after that projections revert to the bad old days. Within ten years Government forecasters expect consumption to be 2% more than today. As we point out in nuClear News No.118, it is becoming increasingly clear that car use will still need to be curbed even when all vehicles are powered by clean electricity, In nuClear News No.117 we looked at a report which said the increase in demand as a result of the electrification of transport may only be very limited and won’t dent the trends towards reduced electricity consumption.
Forecasting the impact of heat decarbonisation on electricity demand is much more complex. CCC says low-carbon hydrogen cannot be produced in large enough quantities to completely replace natural gas but this view is being challenged by the falling cost of renewables combined with the significant cost reduction potential of power-to-gas technology which could lead to much cheaper electrolytic hydrogen production than many have previously thought. Energy commentator Chris Goodall told Carbon Brief that “Cost competitive hydrogen from renewables makes full decarbonisation possible through power-to-gas and power-to-liquids.” German think thank Energy Brainpool claimed hydrogen produced by surplus wind and solar energy could be cheaper than natural gas as an energy source itself by the 2030s. And in the absence of a final decision on the decarbonisation of the gas grid energy efficiency measures, which could save around 130TWh, would be a no regrets option.
The BEIS assertion that up to 40GW of firm power will be “required” by 2050 is more clearly at odds with the views of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which said last year that a focus on renewables “looks like a safer bet than constructing multiple new nuclear plants”. The NIC also gave short shrift to small nuclear plants (“their benefits remain speculative”) and CCS in the power sector (“unlikely to form part of a cost competitive generation mix”).
As Doug Parr, Chief Scientist at Greenpeace, points out there are a number of studies which show that a 100% renewable energy system is deliverable. The myth that a very high level of renewables can’t be integrated into the electric grid is being demolished by the clean tech and battery storage revolution. “By 2040, renewables make up 90% of the electricity mix in Europe, with wind and solar accounting for 80%,” according to projections by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) in their annual energy outlook. “Cheap renewable energy and batteries fundamentally reshape the electricity system,” explains BNEF. Since 2010, wind power globally has dropped 49% in cost. Both solar and battery prices have plummeted 85%.
Mark Jacobson and his team from Stanford University, reckon that 100% of all global energy can come from renewable sources (with biomass excluded) by 2050 with full grid balancing. A new report by LUT University in Finland and the Energy Watch Group (EWG) in Germany outlines a cross-sector, global 100% renewable energy system.
An article published in Energy in May found that 180 studies on 100% renewables had been published since 2004. The authors of that paper say that six months later the number has jumped to 280.
Cornwall Insight – an influential energy consulting firm – says wind and solar capacity could replace the need for additional nuclear power in the UK, but some form of support for them will probably still be needed.
Findings from their Benchmark Power Curve show that meeting UK’s fourth and fifth carbon budgets without commissioning new nuclear capacity is a real possibility. Not only this, but the forecasts predict that meeting these targets can be achieved at a lower cost compared to developing a new fleet of reactors.
Continual improvements to the development and operation of renewable technologies such as wind and solar see them become increasingly cost-effective, allowing the UK to meet its targets without the need for additional new nuclear capacity. But deployment may still need some form of support above and beyond the power markets. (1)
Ben Hall, head of new business at Cornwall Insight, said its latest forecast marked a “notable shift away from previous thinking” that new nuclear would be needed to meet climate targets in the UK. Wind and solar are increasingly competitive on costs and could well negate the need for new nuclear capacity, he argued. (2)
Further delays have been announced for the planned opening dates for the European Pressurised Reactors (EPR’s) at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland. These are both forerunners of the type of reactor being planned for Hinkley Point C.
‘Le Monde’ reports that the Flamanville EPR is likely to experience further delays. The French Nuclear Safety Authority is expected to order the repair of defective welds or additional studies to ensure their longer-term reliability. It has been suggested in media reports these delays could add as much as another two years to the project. (1)
Construction began at Flamanville in 2007, and it was originally expected to commence operation in 2012 but it may not now open until early 2020 or even 2021. It was originally expected to cost 3.5 billion euros, but the cost has now risen to 11 billion euros. While the site is almost finished, a core factor in the delay is quality differences found in the welding of the secondary circuit discharging steam to the turbine. The nuclear regulator remains highly concerned about the quality of the welds – a critical nuclear safety issue for the operation of the reactor.
The third EPR being built in Europe is at Olkiluoto in Finland. It has been announced that fuel loading will be postponed by a further two months at least, to August 2019 rather than June 2019. First commercial production of electricity was scheduled for January 2020, but this too will be delayed.
The construction of Olkiluoto-3, a 1,600-MW EPR unit, began in August 2005 and is about nine years behind schedule. In March 2018 TVO signed an agreement with Areva-Siemens over costs and losses caused by delays to the project. The settlement included compensation of €450m, to be paid in two instalments, part of a project with a cost overrun of around 6 billion euros. (2)
Surely it is time to scrap Hinkley Point C before it turns into yet another EPR fiasco. It is still likely to be cheaper for electricity consumers to cancel Hinkley and pay the cancellation costs than it would be to soldier on. (3) The cost of renewables has been falling rapidly and the National Grid has said the system will be ready, willing and able to accept 100% renewables by 2025. (4) We don’t need to pay for expensive new nuclear stations.
(4) National Grid ESO 1st April 2019 https://www.nationalgrideso.com/document/141031/download
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 https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/statement-on-suspension-of-work-on-thewylfa-newyddnuclear-project
(2) Offshore Wind Journal 22nd Jan 2019 https://www.owjonline.com/news/view,no-nucar-no-problem_56521.htm
(4) FT 26th Jan 2019 https://www.ft.com/content/65524b36-f974-11e8-a154-2b65ddf314e9
(5) World Nuclear Industry Status Report 29th Dec 2018 https://www.worldnuclearreport.org/The-Oddly-Discreet-Construction-Start-of-Hinkley-Point-C.html
(6) See Time to Cancel Hinkley Point C by Emeritus Professor Steve Thomas available here: http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Time-to-CancelHinkleyFinal.pdf
(7) Telegraph 26th Jan 2019 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2019/01/26/edf-weighing-retreat-energy-market-uk/
(8) FT 23rd Jan 2019 https://www.ft.com/content/32feb582-1e3d-11e9-b126-46fc3ad87c65
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 https://www.montelnews.com/en/story/court-orders-edf-to-release-hinkley-point-risk-report/934183 and L’usine nouvelle 12th Sept 2018 https://www.usinenouvelle.com/article/edf-devra-a-nouveau-consulter-le-cce-sur-hinkley-point.N740494
(2) CEE Press Release 12th Sept 2018 http://public.cceedfsa.fr/_docs/actus/Fichier-81-1.pdf
(4) Asahi Shimbun 24th July 2018 http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201807240045.html
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 http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/wp/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/NuClearNewsNo110.pdf
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 FT “but 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?
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.