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.
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.
Commenting on the report issued on 23rd June by the National Audit Office Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said:
“This is a pretty devastating critique of the deal struck between the Government and EDF Energy on Hinkley Point C. Consumers would be locked into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits, according to the National Audit Office, and the government’s case for the project has weakened since the deal was agreed in 2013.”
Earlier this week the Financial Times highlighted the continuing fall in the costs of renewables saying they would allow the government to escape from the plans imposed by George Osborne in 2013 for a wave of expensive new nuclear plants. (1)
The CEO of one of the UK’s top utilities, SSE, said Hinkley Point C will probably be the only new nuclear station to go ahead, and only then if Flamanville in Normandy – which is the same reactor-type as Hinkley Point C – goes well from now on. He said Britain does not need Hinkley Point C to ensure the lights will stay on. (2)
Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that solar power is becoming so cheap that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast. The cost of offshore wind farms, until recently the most expensive mainstream renewable technology, will slide 71% making the technology another competitive form of low carbon generation. (3)
According to the FT “Nobody outside the industry now thinks the future of electricity generation is nuclear fission”. And it said scrapping Hinkley Point would be a good way to start sorting out the mess of UK energy policy. (4)
Roy Pumfrey said
“It is pretty damning when your independent arbiter of what represents good value for money gives a big infrastructure project like this the thumbs down”
“It’s not too late to scrap this backward-looking, expensive and dangerous project. The Government’s ill advised obsession with nuclear is locking consumers into 35-years of paying for expensive electricity to say nothing of the thousands of years of stewardship needed for the waste. It should instead stop trying to kill off the renewable industry which promises to cut electricity prices and embrace the future. Somerset needs to be allowed to get on with developing a cheaper green energy strategy for the coming decades.”
(1) Why batteries are more important than Brexit, FT 19th June 2017
(2) Reuters 19th June 2017
(3) Bloomberg 15th June 2017
(4) Nuclear is rightly vanishing as an answer to our energy needs FT 26th May 2017
Solar panels produced more electricity than Britain’s eight nuclear power stations for the first time on Friday 26th May. (1) Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said:
“It is clear now that the Government’s savage cuts to renewable subsidies were made to ensure that the wholesale price of electricity will rise in the future towards the already agreed price for Hinkley Point C – £92.50 per megawatt hour (MWh).”
Solar power accounted for 24.3% of electricity being generated at 12.30pm on Friday and exceeded nuclear output for three hours from 11am to 2pm. Solar power and other renewables are getting cheaper and more efficient as we install more of it around the country.
As solar power flooded the system on Friday, wholesale electricity prices fell to around £38/MWh, compared with about £50/MWh in spring 2013. Friday’s peak solar output was almost three times greater than the planned 3.2GW generating capacity of Hinkley Point C.
Pumfrey continued: “Renewables like wind and solar are among the cheapest options for generating power in the UK. Eventually plummeting costs mean solar will no longer need subsidies, but the Government has withdrawn subsidies much too soon so installations are slowing sharply.”
Deployments of rooftop solar panels fell by three-quarters in the first quarter of this year compared with 2016. The Solar Trade Association, which represents the UK industry, said reduced subsidies and higher taxes were threatening to stall further growth in the sector. (2)
“In effect the Government is trying to kill off an industry which promises to cut all consumers electricity prices so that it can afford to pay the ridiculously high price it has guaranteed to EDF Energy for Hinkley Point C. As the Financial Times pointed out last week nobody outside the industry now thinks the future of electricity generation is nuclear fission. (3) If this unproven design ever gets built and produces electricity, the UK consumer will be obliged to pay over twice the current market price for the output. Surely, for the good of electricity consumers, it must be time to scrap Hinkley Point C.”
For more background see Professor Keith Barnham’s article in the Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-government-should-scrap-its-costly-hinkley-point-deal-and-accept-renewables-can-keep-the-lights-a7021196.html
The author of “The Burning Answer: A User’s Guide to the Solar Revolution” says: “…a Tory government has intervened in two highly successful, exponentially expanding markets, PV and onshore wind, aiming to reduce their expansion to zero by 2020 so as not to threaten their top priorities: higher carbon and more expensive nuclear and natural gas electricity.”
Also see Good Energy’s analysis which shows that renewables are actually cutting the wholesale price of electricity and lessening the impact of subsidies on bill payers. https://www.goodenergy.co.uk/blog/2015/10/30/renewables-price-of-energy/
(1) Solar power outshines nuclear for the first time, Times 27th May 2017 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/solar-power-outshines-nuclear-for-first-time-p6psdq2qq
(2) Solar outshines nuclear as spring sun boosts UK output, FT 27th May 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/c22669de-4203-11e7-9d56-25f963e998b2
(3) Nuclear is rightly vanishing as an answer to our energy needs FT 26th May 2017 https://www.ft.com/content/6ba2437a-3be7-11e7-ac89-b01cc67cfeec%20
The ongoing collapse of the Moorside nuclear project has hit the headlines. But the French nuclear industry continues to be mired in scandal as EDF starts pouring nuclear safety critical concrete at Hinkley. And now we learn that the chief executive of Wylfa Newydd developer Horizon Nuclear Power says he needs to raise cash or the Anglesey project will not go-ahead
On 29th March 2017, Westinghouse Electric Company, a subsidiary of Japanese company Toshiba and the largest historic builder of nuclear power plants in the world, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. (1)
Toshiba now owns 100% of the NuGen consortium which is planning to build 3 AP1000 reactors at Moorside next to Sellafield in Cumbria afterench company Engie (33% owned by the French Government) exercised its right under the NuGen consortium agreement to sell all of its shares to Toshiba in the “event of a default”. Toshiba’s decision to place Westinghouse – into bankruptcy protection qualifies as such an event. (2)
Engie is the seventh international energy utility to give up on UK new nuclear build (8th if you count Siemens). Over the past decade, on top of Toshiba, E-on (Wylfa), RWE Npower (Wylfa), Iberdrola (Moorside), SSE (Moorside), and Centrica (Hinkley Point) have all pulled out of developing new nuclear reactors in the UK. (3)
This leaves a very limited field of companies for the UK to approach in its hunt for a new partner for the Moorside scheme. South Korea’s KEPCO remains the most likely suitor, but Reuters reports that the giant utility won’t be rushed. It is one of few utilities remaining with global nuclear ambitions, but despite the fact that the AP1000 reactor has now received approval from the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency may still want to use its own technology – the APR1400. This would delay the development by a further four to five years whilst the South Korean reactor is put through its Generic Design Assessment by UK Regulators. Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, was in Seoul for talks at the beginning of April, but offered no evidence of concrete progress in the negotiations. (4)
French nuclear scandal
EDF, Areva and the French nuclear regulator ASN have known since at least 2005 that Areva’s Creusot Forge factory was not capable of producing nuclear safety compliant components. Yet the factory has been allowed to continue manufacturing components which have now been found to contain anomalies, including the bottom and lid for the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) for the EPR at Flamanville. (5)
The Creusot Forge is under investigation by ASN after it was discovered to have produced potentially defective parts and substandard safety reports for reactors around the world. But the letters from 2005 and 2006 – obtained by France Inter – show that EDF and Areva were told by the ASN about “numerous incidents” at the facility, including “discrepancies during inspections”. This will raise serious concerns about EDF and Areva’s new nuclear project at Hinkley Point. (6)
The regulator – ASN – has been seriously at fault, according to the Observatoir du Nucleaire, since it has said nothing for many years about the criminal practices at Le Creusot. It says ASN is no less guilty than Areva and EDF because, although it was fully aware of the serious problems, it authorized EDF to install the pressure vessel in the EPR at Flamanville in December 2013. It is clear, says the website, that ASN is not able to withstand pressure from EDF and politicians who accuse them of seriously harming the industry if they enforce safety regulations. (7)
EDF’s oversight of AREVA, which will supply the Hinkley Point C reactors was questioned in an internal document by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). In an ONR report about a visit to Le Creusot dated 16th December ONR said the nuclear safety culture at Creusot fell short of expectations and warned about the implications for Hinkley Point C. ONR said it has since decided to implement a series of additional inspections of EDF and its supply chain to ensure all components are manufactured to the required standard. The ONR report said after an inspection in late 2016, that an international team from France, Canada, the United States, China, Finland and Britain had concluded that the nuclear safety culture at Le Creusot Forge foundry fell short of what regulators expect from a major supplier of nuclear equipment. It added that improvement measures ordered by ASN were not yet effective and said despite the prohibition of the use of correction fluid on documents at the foundry, the inspectors found evidence of its continued use. (8)
Who will put up the cash for Wylfa?
Hitachi Ltd, the owner of Horizon nuclear, which is proposing to build two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors with a total capacity of 2.7MW at Wylfa on Anglesey, is set to lose tens of billions of yen this financial year after withdrawing from a uranium enrichment joint venture in the US. Hitachi is expected to report a 70 billion yen ($620 million) non-operating loss by the time books were closed at the end of March. The deficit is largely attributed to the joint venture GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy Inc. withdrawing from the uranium enrichment project. Hitachi no longer expects any profits from the North Carolina-based company, of which it owns 40% and the rest by General Electric. Hitachi and GE were expecting more nuclear power plants to be built when they launched the joint fuel enrichment business, but orders have been sluggish across the globe, forcing the project to be shelved. Nevertheless, Hitachi says it will be sticking with its nuclear power business and plans to proceed with its project to build Wylfa by ensuring costs are thoroughly managed. (9)
The chief executive of Horizon Nuclear, Duncan Hawthorne, says funding is the key issue to ensure the nuclear plant gets built. Wylfa Newydd would be the “showcase plant” for Horizon and Hitachi and important for the UK and Japanese Governments, which means there is huge resolve to get the project done successfully. But without the private investment and Government support the £14bn project would not happen. He said the deal that was struck for Hinkley Point would not work for Wylfa Newydd due to the fact they are private investors. Hinkley is supported by state backed Chinese and French enterprises. Hitachi are funding the project to the ‘Final Investment Decision’, with around £2.5bn of cash. He said he was very aware of the need to keep the Anglesey community behind the project, showing them what benefits the scheme could bring. He said: “Without community support we can’t do anything.” (10)
A longer version of this article appears in nuClear News No.94
(1) World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2nd April 2017
(2) FT 4th April 2017
(3) NFLA 4th April 2017
(4) Reuters 5th April 2017
(5) Energydesk 31st March 2017
(6) Energydesk 31st March 2017
(7) Nuclear Observer 31st March 2017
(8) Reuters 24th March 2017 and Guardian 24th March 2017
(9) Asahi Shimbun 2nd Feb 2017
(10) Daily Post 5th April 2017
We urgently need a Plan B for UK Energy Policy, says Nick Butler in the Financial Times. With Toshiba and Engie likely to withdraw from the Moorside project the UK’s plans to make new nuclear the core of future energy supply has a serious problem. Hinkley Point and Sizewell are both still in doubt because a new French government after elections in May could decide that subsidies to EDF are unsustainable. EDF is deeply indebted and its finances have continued to deteriorate since its finance director, Thomas Piquemal, resigned last spring. A recapitalisation of the company is essential and for that to succeed drastic change is necessary. And questions around the technical integrity of the EPR reactor and the ability of the company to complete a construction project remain unresolved. Delays to the nuclear programme now look almost certain and these will be compounded by Britain’s decision to leave Euratom.
Butler says Hitachi, which wants to build an ABWR at Wylfa, looks to be in better shape, and the technology is simpler. But the financing of the construction remains an open question. But, as we discuss in the latest edition of nuClear News (No.92) Hitachi Ltd. is set to lose tens of billions of yen this financial year after withdrawing from a uranium enrichment joint venture in the US. Although Hitachi says it plans to proceed with Wylfa by “ensuring costs are thoroughly managed” a healthy amount of scepticism remains in order.
Jim Green, writing in the Ecologist, says the ripple-effects of Toshiba’s latest problems will be many and varied. Japan’s ambitions to develop a large nuclear export business are in tatters. It’s not just Toshiba. Other nuclear utilities around the world are also in deep trouble. Their problems were summarised in the July 2016 World Nuclear Industry Status Report:
“Many of the traditional nuclear and fossil fuel based utilities are struggling with a dramatic plunge in wholesale power prices, a shrinking client base, declining power consumption, high debt loads, increasing production costs at aging facilities, and stiff competition, especially from renewables.”
Green says the nuclear renaissance is turning out to be more of a dead cat bounce than a renaissance.
Solar power is expected to be the cheapest form of energy (not just electricity) everywhere in the world by around 2030.Yet the UK Government and the French nuclear industry continue to struggle on with failed nuclear technology. The Stop Hinkley Campaign says it’s a real story of good versus evil for the pantomime season.
“Good solar and renewable energy will triumph in the end. (oh yes it will!) All and sundry – from investment bankers to energy experts – keep telling the Government that for nuclear power ‘it’s behind you!’Unfortunately, if Government doesn’t come to its senses soon, electricity consumers could be left with rather a large bill”, according to Stop Hinkley spokesperson, Roy Pumfrey.
Vincent de Rivaz, the chief executive of EDF Energy has assured Parliament that Hinkley Point C will be built by 2025 on time and within budget (oh no it won’t!). But then EDF predicted in 2008 that electricity from Hinkley Point C would cost just £45/MWh – less than half the £92.50 consumers are going to have to pay for it. (1) And de Rivaz himself predicted in 2007 that Hinkley electricity would be cooking our turkeys by Christmas 2017 (oh no it won’t!). (2) At the same time, FOI requests have revealed that just one Government Department has blown over £20million of taxpayers’ money (oh yes it has!) on pointless consultancy on the shockingly bad deal struck with EDF. (3)
The French nuclear industry is in a state of chaos (oh yes it is!), and no-one is quite sure where it will end up. Last week EDF’s offices in Paris were raided by French competition authorities amid allegations that it was exploiting its position as a former state monopoly to keep rivals out of the market in France. (4) The day before Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against the Company, alleging that it was guilty of false accounting deliberately underestimating the cost of its nuclear reactors.
Meanwhile the problem, first discovered in 2014 at Flamanville (the reactor being built in Normandy which is the same type as the two proposed for Hinkley Point – the EPR) has escalated beyond EDF’s worst fears. The discovery that the steel used for the cap on the reactor pressure vessel had carbon levels above permitted limits led to an internal investigation at Le Creusot – the French reactor builder, Areva’s metal forge. This in turn led to the discovery of yet more anomalies. Areva is now reported to be reviewing all 9,000 manufacturing records at the forge dating back as far as 1943, including files from more than 6,000 nuclear components. It has also been discovered that some components forged in Japan by JCFC, a subcontractor for Areva have the same problem.
As a result, 12 of France’s 58 nuclear reactors have been shut-down, but potentially more than half of them could be affected by the “carbon segregation” problem. Excessive levels of carbon in steel could make safety critical components more brittle and subject to sudden fracture or tearing under sustained high pressure, which is obviously unacceptable in a nuclear reactor. In addition, some quality control reports about these safety critical components have been falsified or are incomplete. (5)
From Hinkley Point’s perspective, the main impact of all this will be on the financial viability of EDF. It has already been forced to reduce its 2016 generation targets and lower estimates for nuclear output in 2017. The Company already faces a seemingly impossible financial equation. It has a colossal debt of €37 billion; it must deal with the complex €2.5 billion takeover of Areva; and it has to find the money to extend the life of its 58 reactors at an estimated cost of between €60 and €100 billion by 2030. (6)
Added to these woes, EDF has been accused by Greenpeace France of failing to disclose the true cost of running its fleet of reactors in France while financing two new ones in the UK. If it disclosed the true figures, the Company would be declared bankrupt. Greenpeace commissioned an audit by AlphaValue, the equity research company. The report said that EDF would need to find a further €165 billion during the next decade to finance projects such as Hinkley Point and to fix its ailing reactors in France. (7)
Stop Hinkley spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said: “It seems that the French nuclear fleet is getting very close to its sell-by date and it has deficient safety-critical components spread throughout. At the same time, the finances of EDF are in such a deplorable state that the company could soon be joining Areva in bankruptcy. The idea that we should pay £92.50 per MWh to these pantomime villains to build two of its failed reactors in Somerset is completely crazy.”
Meanwhile, as researchers at global investment banks discuss the possibility that paying for energy could soon become a thing of the past, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the future is renewable. (8) Cheap solar panels and advances in storage technology are about to transform the world. By 2030 or 2040 solar will be the cheapest way to generate electricity, indeed any form of energy EVERYWHERE. At the rate of growth that we are seeing at the moment of 35-45% per year solar will grow from providing 2% of global electricity to at least 50% by 2030. We can see the cost of batteries coming down in price dramatically. Turning surplus solar electricity generating during the summer into something we can put into natural gas networks is what we should be looking at in the UK. Generating hydrogen from water and, using microbes, combining it with carbon dioxide to form methane is the simplest way to do this. (9)
Swedish utility Vattenfall has agreed to build a giant offshore wind farm in Denmark that would sell power for €49.50 per MWh. Vattenfall has broken its own previous record of €60 per MWh. Once the cost of transmission is included this works out at around £75.50/MWh compared with £100.50/MWh for Hinkley Point C (once inflation has been added to the £92.50 at 2012 prices). (10)
“The Government knows that solar and wind will be cheaper by the time Hinkley is generating” (11) says Roy Pumfrey. “It is blindingly obvious that solar and wind will win through in the end, but if the Government doesn’t come to its senses soon electricity consumers will be paying EDF through their noses for nuclear electricity we don’t need.”
(1) Guardian 1st Nov 2016
(2) Guardian 15th September 2016
(3) BBC 21st November 2016
(4) Times 26th November 2016
(5) Les Echos 22nd Nov 2016 and Power Mag 1st Nov 2016
(6) Affairs Today 21st Oct 2016
(7) Times 18th Nov 2016
(8) Independent 4th Aug 2016
(9) See The Switch and Walking on Sunshine: the unstoppable rise of solar power, Mega October 2016
(10) Energydesk 15th Nov 2016
(11) Guardian 11th August 2016
Our latest report looks at a range of innovative local energy initiatives which show how Britain’s towns and cities are transforming efforts to create a cleaner, smarter and more affordable energy system, providing an alternative to the big utilities, and boosting their local economies in the process. We look at a range of different energy initiatives being carried out by local authorities around the country. The list – in alphabetic order – is not meant to be exhaustive, but hopefully it will inspire others to set up projects of their own. If local authorities can learn from each other, rather than starting from scratch, it will avoid common pitfalls and speed up progress towards a low carbon local renewable energy revolution.
We can learn for instance from Aberdeen’s pioneering district heating scheme and Portsmouth City Council’s plans to continue installing solar panels on public building despite cuts in feed-in tariffs, or Peterborough’s scheme to install solar panels free of charge on homes in the City. Every Authority should know about Wolverhampton’s highly efficient new schools which require hardly any energy to heat, about Shetland Island Council’s plans to extract heat from the North Sea or Islington’s plan to extract heat from the London Underground and how Nottingham City Council managed to set up its own energy company which can sell electricity more cheaply than any other company in the East Midlands. Surely every councillor will want to hear about Oxford’s project to provide low income households with solar electricity and batteries to store any surplus, Edinburgh’s work with a local community energy co-operative to install solar panels on schools and leisure centres across the City, and Fife Council’s project to fuel council refuse collection vehicles with wind generated hydrogen.
Professor Andy Blowers writes: With all the attention fixated for so long on Hinkley Point C (HPC) developments at other sites have tended to slip into the background a bit. It’s now clear that the Government not only backs HPC but a whole raft of future possibilities leading up to the ludicrous total of 18GW nuclear power. We’ve unequivocally established why that is economic madness but the other arguments against new nuclear have been somewhat subdued. That is where the proposal for Bradwell now comes into full sunlight.
Perhaps unnoticed by those following the meta-narrative of nuclear power, there has been a campaign focused on Bradwell continuing over the past eight and more years. It has been run by Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG) which I founded and have chaired ever since. A tour of the website Banng.info will reveal the extent and depth of the issues and concerns. In brief they are:
- The site is quite unsuitable and unsustainable in the long run. It is at sea level on a coast highly vulnerable to storm surges, coastal processes and sea level rise.
- The Blackwater estuary is very shallow making it very difficult to supply cooling water without damage to the environment. Alternatives – sea cooling, cooling towers – provide serious technical and environmental challenges.
- It is intended to store spent fuel on the site. Even if a repository becomes available it would not be possible to transfer Bradwell’s waste until well into the next century if at all.
- The estuary is highly ‘protected’ by national and international designations including the recent declaration of a Marine Conservation Area status. No doubt the idea of Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI) will somehow be invoked to enable the Chinese to trash the area.
- Within an approximate range of 30km are 300,000 people. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement emergency planning measures in the event of a serious incident. The nearest large settlement is within 3km, an island cut off completely during certain high tides and with only one access.
- The proposed power station is essentially a Chinese experiment using the so-called tough British regulatory system to legitimate the untried Hualong 1 reactor and showcase it for global markets. This raises unprecedented security issues offering British sensitive infrastructure to a foreign, hostile power.
Furthermore, the Chinese have been typically reticent about their intentions despite being invited to meet with BANNG. Openness and transparency is quite alien to them it seems, despite protestations to the contrary. Thus, we have no idea how many reactors, what cooling system is proposed, how they intend to deal with environmental constraints or what they will do with the spent fuel and other wastes.
The predictable sell of jobs and investment has begun to beguile a gullible local population on one side of the estuary while opposition is strong on the other. It is worth noting this is not an active site – the former power station shut in 2002 and the site is shortly to enter a care and maintenance phase. However, this has been delayed as Magnox discharge dissolved Fuel Element Debris into the estuary and have recently got agreement for the import of ILW from Dungeness and Sizewell. All this has proved deeply controversial and been fought step by step by BANNG.
So, after all these years the nuclear sun refuses to set on the Blackwater with the prospect of a new dawn the harbinger of the ‘golden relationship’.
Over the years we have campaigned vigorously, including demonstrations, a 10,000 face-to-face petition taken up to Whitehall, lobbying and research. The fruits can be found in the cornucopia of consultation papers on our website. I draw attention especially to papers 4 and 9 especially which give the case against Bradwell comprehensively.
Now that the Hinkley battle has been lost (though not perhaps entirely) attention needs to turn to the other sites. The arguments on economics and security are powerful and need constant repetition. To these must be added problems with siting and especially the problem of nuclear waste that cannot be wished away and confers on future generations a burden they have no part in creating and do not deserve.
It’s hardly surprising Bradwell has received relatively little attention at national level. After all it only came into prominence last year when it was put forward as a vanity project for Osborne and his erstwhile Chinese collaborators. It has received continuing coverage in the regional and local press and media. Now it’s necessary to get a more national focus to stop it dead in the water so to speak. I hope you’ll all get behind the campaign in the coming months.
Dear Mr Clark,
Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We understand that you will now take charge of energy policy. We are writing to you to ask you to make the most of this opportunity to stamp your own mark on Government energy policy by ditching proposals for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C (HPC) in Somerset.
Over the last few months HPC has been described as a white elephant; a deal whose flaws have become increasingly apparent; verging on insanity; alarm bells should be ringing deafeningly loudly; too expensive and unproven; will kill British manufacturing; bad for consumers, the taxpayer, business and potentially the environment; beyond any commercial logic; and a total waste of money. (1)
Even the Financial Times has called this project “a laughing stock”. It is at least eight years behind schedule and billions over budget, and cost estimates seem to rise every month, just as the date for a final investment decision disappears into the future. (2)
A recent devastating report from the Government’s spending watchdog – the National Audit Office (NAO) should provide you with a perfect excuse to ditch HPC. The NAO estimates that energy consumers could end up paying £29.7bn in top-up payments rather than £6.1bn estimated in October 2013 when the strike-price for the 35-year contract was originally agreed. The increase is due to the fact that wholesale energy prices are now expected to be much lower. (3) The Government itself estimated this figure could be even higher at £37bn. (4)
In May 2012 Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State, for Energy and Climate Change at the time told the House of Commons Select Committee that “We do not have five years. We need to get moving on [building new reactors] now to make up for the failure of investment and new plant over previous decades.” (5)
The five years is almost up but almost nothing has happened. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects could be implemented very quickly and much more cheaply. Britain’s solar industry said three years ago it could install the same capacity as HPC in 24 months and at comparable cost. (6)
Other recent developments include:
• Solar energy has been advancing considerably faster than anyone expected just a few years ago. The American website, Climate Progress, says you’ll never believe how cheap solar energy is – in some parts of the world it costs less than 2p/kWh without subsidies. Because the cost of renewable energy has been falling so quickly “almost everything you know about climate change solutions is probably outdated,” (7)
• Offshore Wind Farms in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands are now expected to cost €87/MWh (£73/MWh) compared with £100/MWh for Hinkley Point C. (8)
• A crash programme to replace all the lights in the UK with LEDs could cut electricity bills, and cut peak electricity demand by about 8GW, a saving of about 15% of all power consumption. (9)
• Tidal Lagoon Power says the lifetime cost to consumers of its proposed Swansea Bay tidal lagoon would be the same as the Hinkley Point C. (10)
• Research by Forum for the Future, Farmers Weekly and Nottingham Trent University estimates that it would be relatively simple to get 20 GW onto the grid from farm-based solar and wind and some anaerobic digestion by 2020. (11)
• Domestic energy efficiency alone could save 40TWh/yr by 2030 and help eliminate fuel poverty into the bargain. (12)
• There are around 100 TWh of electricity savings detailed in a report for the Government by McKinsey for which there are currently no plans to capture. (13)
• Plans for alternatives to HPC have been published by Molly Scott Cato, the Green MEP for South West England (14); the Intergenerational Foundation (15); the E3G Think Tank (16); and Green Hedge – a leading developer and operator of low carbon electricity generation and storage projects. (17) The Green Hedge plan says transforming weather-dependent solar and wind into a stable generator is possible with energy storage and backup gas generators.
• Writing on The Independent website Keith Barnham, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Imperial College says six bio-electricity technologies, all capable of continuous power operation, could provide ten times 3.2 GW before 2025. (18)
Ditching EDF’s plans for HPC would provide us with a wonderful opportunity to turn Somerset into a sustainable energy hub for England. We urge you to get on with it as soon as possible.
Stop Hinkley Co-ordinating Team
(1) See http://www.stophinkley.org/PressReleases/pr160415.pdf for a full list
(2) FT 18th July 2016 http://blogs.ft.com/nick-butler/2016/07/18/energy-policy-under-a-new-government-a-chance-to-think-again/
(3) Guardian 13th July 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/business/nils-pratley-on-finance/2016/jul/13/poundlands-bid-decision-is-fine-but-please-dont-use-brexit-as-the-excuse
(4) Business Green 8th July 2016 http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/2464269/hinkley-cost-estimate-rises-to-gbp37bn
(5) See page Ev 17 “Building New Nuclear: the Challenges Ahead”, Energy and Climate Change Committee, Volume 1, 4th March 2013 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmenergy/117/117.pdf
(6) Click Green 24th October 2013 http://reskin-cg.class-media.co.uk/opinion/opinion/123982-renewable-energy-boss-tells-pm-solar-power-could-match-hinkley-in-2-years.html
(7) Climate Progress 18th July 2016 http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/07/18/3797907/solar-energy-miracle-charts/
(8) Renew Economy 7th July 2016 http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/dong-energy-build-700-mw-offshore-wind-farms-e72-70mwh-22550 See also Climate News Network 18th July 2016 http://climatenewsnetwork.net/offshore-wind-powers-ahead-in-europe/
(9) Ecologist 8th June 2016 http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2987760/the_urgent_case_for_an_mass_s witch_to_led_lighting.html
(10) ReNews 11th July 2016 http://renews.biz/103387/lagoon-cost-same-as-hinkley
(11) Farm Power: Exploring the size of the prize, Forum for the Future, November 2014 http://www.forumforthefuture.org/sites/default/files/Farm%20Power_Size%20of%20the%20Prize%20report_Nov-2014.pdf
(12) Energy Efficiency: Fighting to keep Bills Down Permanently, ACE November 201 http://ukace.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/ACE-November-2013-Energy-efficiency-fighting-to-keep-bills-down-permanently.pdf (See table 16, page 54)
(13) McKinsey, 2012 Capturing the full electricity efficiency potential of the U.K Draft report. http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/cutting-emissions/5776-capturing-the-full-electricity-efficiency-potentia.pdf
(14) The Power to Transform the South West, http://mollymep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-power-to-transform-the-South-West_FINAL1.pdf
(15) Toxic Times Capsule by Andrew Simms, Intergenerational Foundation, April 2016 http://www.newweather.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Toxic-Time-Capsule.pdf
(16) Guardian 18th Mar 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2016/mar/18/five-ways-to-power-the-uk-that-are-far-better-than-hinkley-point
(17) Regen SW 22nd April 2016 https://www.regensw.co.uk/blog/2016/04/hinkley-point-through-the-looking-glass/
(18) Independent 11th May 2016 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/the-government-should-scrap-its-costly-hinkley-point-deal-and-accept-renewables-can-keep-the-lights-a7021196.html