11 July 2017

How will ministers explain to consumers why we are paying renewables to switch off so we can buy expensive nuclear electricity?

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) now expects renewable power deployment to be significantly higher than previously thought after 2020, primarily due to the plummeting cost and surging popularity of solar power and storage technologies. BEIS’ projections now expect cumulative new build renewables capacity from 2016 to 2035 to reach 45GW, marking a sharp increase in the 2015 projection for 33GW of new capacity. The energy supply gap expected from Hinkley Point C (HPC) delays is already narrower than feared just a few months ago. And later this autumn the results of the government’s latest clean power contract auction for offshore wind projects is expected to be extremely competitive, promising to deliver offshore wind at a price well below the guaranteed rates being offered to HPC. (1)

The falling cost of offshore wind power could mean that it turns out to be 25% cheaper than energy from HPC. Developers behind a series of proposed offshore wind farms are vying to secure government contracts that will guarantee a price for the electricity they generate for 15 years. Dermot Nolan, chief executive of Ofgem, said he hoped the winning projects would emerge at a price of “£70 or less” per megawatt-hour (MWh). That would compare with £92.50/MWh that was last year awarded to Hinkley Point for a 35-year contract. Just a few years ago offshore wind was one of the most expensive technologies in the market. In 2014 the government awarded some projects a price of £150/MWh. Technological advances, including bigger, more efficient turbines, economies of scale in manufacturing and the introduction of a competitive “reverse auction” process to award subsidies to the cheapest projects have helped to bring costs down rapidly. (2)

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. The research group estimated solar already rivals the cost of new coal power plants in Germany and the U.S. and by 2021 will do so in quick-growing markets such as China and India. Green energy is taking root more quickly than most experts anticipate which means fossil fuels may decline after 2026 – a contrast with the International Energy Agency’s central forecast, which sees consumption rising steadily for decades to come. Electricity from photovoltaics costs almost a quarter of what it did in 2009 and is likely to fall another 66% by 2040. Onshore wind, which has dropped 30% in price in the past eight years, will fall another 47% by 2040. (3)

Last autumn, Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change Policy at University College London, told the House of Lords Selected Committee on Economic that, although he had supported new nuclear during his time on the Committee on Climate Change, he felt “times and conditions had substantially changed … renewables are now clearly cheaper. Committing to a 35-year contract at that level was economically inappropriate” (4)

He continued: “renewable energy costs … appear almost to have halved in the past few years … We now have more than 10 gigawatts of solar, when the cost projections were that we would get 1.5 gigawatts by about this time … It is now clear that in the electricity sector we will be delivering more renewables than the Government planned for or expected by 2020.” (5)

The electricity system has changed radically in the years since the project to build new third-generation nuclear in Britain was initiated, says Grubb. National Grid’s (NG) Future Energy Scenarios (2016) show a steadily declining need for ‘baseload’ generation. By 2030 there will be growing periods when wind and solar meet all projected demand. The capacity of ‘firm’ inputs (like gas, nuclear, biomass, interconnectors, storage etc) required to operate more than half the year is reduced to 20GW overall. (6) On June 17th Tom Burke of the E3G Consultancy told the CND “No Need for Nuclear” Conference that renewables could soon be producing enough electricity to power the grid from April to October. (7) The implication is that for most of its contracted operating life (which will run out to c.2060), HPC would increasingly be competing with other, lower cost low-carbon sources.

For efficient system operation either HPC would have increasingly to ‘load follow’, adjusting its output up and down to follow changes in demand, or alternately, baseload nuclear would displace other and cheaper sources, for example forcing wind and solar off the grid, if it cannot operate flexibly, or if the £92.50/MWh (indexed) contract is allowed to determine its operation (the plant with biggest payment has most incentive to run). By 2030, around 20GW of capacity is required for less than 10% of year, to cover peak net demand, for which nuclear power is manifestly unsuitable. The dominant need in the majority of National Grid scenarios post 2030 will be for adequate responsive capacity displacing coal and gas, and more efficient approaches to balancing demand and supply. (8)

Michael Grubb told the House of Lords: “If you are worried about how to provide power during winter periods when there is a cold dark windless night, you do not want to build a spanking new plant designed to run 100% of the time; you build something that is cheap to construct and expensive to run.” (9)

Andrew Warren, chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation argues that 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 we are consuming 15% less than a decade ago. In other words it made a 30 % error. This is despite a 13% increase in GDP over the last decade and the increase in the number of gadgets we all own. HPC is only due to deliver 7% of consumption. So we don’t need to keep arguing for new power stations to replace the gap left by HPC – there isn’t one. (10)

Tom Burke points out that: “If there is even a feeble effort to improve energy efficiency electricity demand will fall further below the 30% Andrew Warren has pointed out. This means that a future energy minister will face the daunting task of explaining to consumers why he or she is having to pay renewable generators to switch off cheaper electricity in order to take the expensive electricity we have already bought from HPC. Imagine how much more difficult that task will be if we have by then bought the rest of the Government’s proposed programme.” (15)

For a longer version of this article see nuClear News No.97 July 2017

  1. Business Green 6th July 2017
  2. Times 30th June 2017 
  3. Bloomberg 15th June 2017
  4. The Price of Power: Reforming the Electricity Market, House of Lords Economic Affairs Select Committee. Feb 2017.
  5. House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, The Economics of UK Energy Policy 18th October 2016
  6. Hinkley Point C and other third-generation nuclear in the context of the UK’s future energy system, CEE Briefing Note 20160915 AZPS1; Andrew ZP Smith, Michael Grubb, September 2016
  7. See
  8. Hinkley Point C and other third-generation nuclear in the context of the UK’s future energy system, CEE Briefing Note 20160915 AZPS1; Andrew ZP Smith, Michael Grubb, September 2016
  9. House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs, The Economics of UK Energy Policy 18th October 2016
  10. Guardian 5th July 2017
  11. Pers Com


Posted: 11 July 2017

9 May 2017

If Theresa May really cared about energy prices she would cancel Hinkley Point C

Commenting on today’s (9th May 2017) news that Theresa May is to press ahead with her promised cap on energy prices, Stop Hinkley Campaign spokesperson Roy Pumfrey said:

If Theresa May wants to cut energy prices, the first thing she should do is cancel Hinkley Point C.

Robert Peston, called it “scarily expensive”. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian described it as “the costliest white elephant in history”. Christopher Booker, writing in the Daily Telegraph called it “a truly major national scandal … as absurd a project as any government has ever fallen for.” (1)

Yet the Conservatives seem to be obsessed with building new nuclear power stations. Hinkley Point C will be costing around twice the wholesale price for electricity, and consumers will be paying this surcharge for the next 35 years. Power produced by onshore wind would be by far the cheapest source of renewable supply, but government policy is against more onshore wind. Onshore wind is now probably cheap enough to deliver power to UK consumers without any subsidy. Even offshore wind costs have fallen to such an extent that a recent auction in Germany will see one wind farm built without any subsidy at all. The Financial Times recently said that “offshore wind progressively looks cheaper to run, even with all the subsidies, than Hinkley ever will.” (2)

Bloomberg reports that solar is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world and in less than a decade is likely to be cheaper everywhere. (3)

Roy Pumfrey continued:

Britain needs an energy system fit-for-purpose. A system that delivers cost effective low carbon energy for all customers from a smart and flexible energy system. What we have got instead is a system that tries to maintain the ‘old’ centralised system. The world is moving quickly towards smart flexible energy systems based on wind, solar, energy efficiency, demand side response, storage, and grid interconnections.”

EDF’s white elephant is trashing this beautiful corner of Somerset for yesterday’s energy system which is going to put up prices for consumers but will fail to deliver the kind of sustainable low carbon energy system we need for the future. If Theresa May really cared about energy prices she would cancel Hinkley right now.”

(1) See

(2) FT (LEX Column) 4th Jan 2017 680c49b4b4c0

(3) Bloomberg 3rd Jan 2017


Posted: 9 May 2017

27 April 2017

Wanted – an Energy Policy Fit for Purpose

The Government needs a new energy policy – that has been clear for a while – but now even Whitehall seems to agree. Nick Butler, writing in the Financial Times, (1) says the predominant view in Whitehall – from the Treasury to the business department – is that current policies are mistaken and require radical reform. Those policies take no account of the structural fall in energy prices; the failure of new nuclear to live up to its promise; the changing pattern of demand; and, most important of all, the transformation in the global energy market being brought about by a range of new technologies. Each of those factors requires some adjustment in policy but taken together they justify a complete reset.

But given the preoccupation with Brexit, and a host of other problems in the government’s in-tray, reforming energy policy is seen as too difficult. Instead Mrs May seems to have decided to blame the energy companies for charging “high” prices – and is threatening to impose some sort of price control. A cap on household energy bills is set to be included in the Conservative manifesto, according to Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green. He believes this could cut households bills by £100 per year. Price comparison company uSwitch said this would “do more harm than good“. Previous market interventions had led to lower switching rates which then causes higher prices for consumers. A price cap would remove any incentive for energy companies to drive down prices and fight to keep their customers, entrenching the position of the incumbent big six. (2)

The fact is the lowest-cost sources are constrained by government policy which means prices are higher than they need to be. Power produced by onshore wind, for instance, would be by far the cheapest source of renewable supply, but government policy is against more onshore wind. Conversely government seems to have an obsession with building new nuclear power stations which is costing around twice the wholesale price for electricity.

Onshore wind is now cheap enough to deliver power to UK consumers without subsidy, according to a report released by management consultancy Baringa Partners. Commissioned by Scottish Renewables, the report finds the government could deliver 1GW of new onshore wind capacity at no additional cost to consumers above the wholesale cost of power. The findings mean the cost of decarbonising the UK energy system could be cut significantly, saving consumers money on their energy bills in the process. However, realising the promised savings depends on onshore wind being given access to the energy market. It is currently barred from Contract for Difference (CfD) auctions, where developers bid for 15-year price support contracts that give them a guaranteed price for the power they generate. (3)

Ministers could let onshore wind bid in a new contracts for difference (CfD) round one, without contradicting its previous pledges to end all new subsidies, according to Scottish Renewables. The Baringa Partners’ report says 1GW of extra onshore wind capacity could be delivered at a highly competitive price of £49.40 per MWh. Baringa Partners’ said “dramatic reductions” in cost around the world in renewables and storage technology were a “game changer.” Earlier this month, the Conservative thinktank bright blue published a survey, which claimed the majority of Tory voters backed onshore wind. Bright Blue said “an unsubsidised fixed-price contract could now be offered to new onshore wind projects, which would be set at the current wholesale price. This would enable us to meet our carbon budgets in the most cost-effective way.” (4)

Conservative opposition to windfarms means we could be missing out on one of the cheapest sources of electricity, according to Adair Turner, chair of the Energy Transitions Commission – a Shell-funded industry group. Lord Turner said a report by the commission found that the cost of wind power had fallen by 60% in the past five years. The analysis predicted that by 2040, wind and solar would account for 45% of the global power mix, with hydro and nuclear making up another 35%. The group said that by 2035, wind and solar could provide 98% of power in developed countries such as Germany and the UK, with gas power stations or batteries providing backup. Nuclear would not grow its share because of cost, while progress on carbon capture and storage of emissions from coal and gas power stations has been “too slow”. (5)

Meanwhile a German auction has received the lowest-ever bid for an offshore wind power project in the North and Baltic Seas. The auction fetched an average bid of €44 per megawatt hour and one bid of zero euros, following a general trend of lower prices in similar auctions in Denmark and the Netherlands. In Germany, the bids are on top of the wholesale power price. As a result, a bid of zero euros will receive only the wholesale power price. In Denmark and the Netherlands, bids are an all-in amount, which comprises the wholesale power price, plus a “sliding tariff” that tops up the difference to the bid amount. In all three countries, successful bidders will receive a free onshore and offshore grid connection and connecting sub-sea cable. So as a result, a bid of zero euros, as in Germany, is not exactly unsubsidised. That said, it’s good to keep in mind that offshore wind projects take a while to build: last week’s German auction was for projects to be completed by 2025 at the latest. (6)

Greenpeace said: “The UK government should take note of other countries who are benefiting from this booming offshore technology and jump on board with both feet while we are still leaders in the field.” (7)

The FT said this news is likely to raise further questions about the cost of Hinkley Point C. The government has promised it more than twice the current UK wholesale power price for its electricity for 35 years. (8)

Unsubsidised renewables have become the cheapest source of new power — by far — in more and more countries, according to a new report from the United Nations and Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). In just one year, the cost of solar generation worldwide dropped on average 17%, the report found. The average costs for onshore wind dropped 18% last year, while those for offshore wind fell a whopping 28%.

The result is “more bang for the buck,” as the U.N. and BNEF put it. Last year saw 138.5 gigawatts of new renewable capacity. That not only beat the 2015 record of 127.5 GW, but it was built with a total investment that was 23 percent lower than in 2015. (9)

There’s a longer version of this article in nuClear News No.95 May 2017

  1. FT 17th April 2017
  2. BBC 23rd April 2017  and Times 24th April 2017
  3. Business Green 13th April 2017 
  4. Utility Week 13th April 2017
  5. Guardian 25th April 2017
  6. Renew Economy 19th April 2017
  7. Greenpeace 13th April 2017
  8. FT 14th April 2017
  9. Think Progress 6th April 2017

Posted: 27 April 2017

5 January 2017

Nuclear companies struggle with finances but solar is fast becoming the cheapest form of power everywhere

The three companies seeking to build new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury are under growing financial pressure, raising doubts about whether the UK’s nuclear renaissance will ever get off the starting blocks.

The French nuclear regulator – ASN – has been investigating a growing nuclear scandal in France involving steel components made at Areva’s Le Creusot factory which have been found to contain excessive carbon levels which could make them vulnerable to cracking. There is also evidence that some of the quality-assurance documentation for some components may have been falsified. Although all French nuclear reactors which were temporarily closed as a result have now re-started, the Financial Times reports that ASN now wants to dig further into several issues before they are willing to give a clean bill of health to the French nuclear industry.

In addition, the results of an investigation by EDF at Flamanville will be delivered to the ASN in the coming weeks. The regulator will then analyse the findings and issue a report in the first half of this year. if the structural weaknesses initially found on the reactor pressure vessel are as serious as feared it could have an effect on the development of the Hinkley Point C (and Sizewell C). Any significant problems could be catastrophic for EDF as replacing this important piece of the plant would mean restarting much of the construction work, which is already billions of euros over budget and several years late. (1)

If Flamanville’s start up is delayed beyond 2020 this would be bad news for Hinkley Point C. EDF’s plans depend partly on £2bn of financing from the UK government. To take this funding and get any more there is a condition: Flamanville must be operational by end 2020 at the latest, according to an agreement with the European Commission over state aid. This last point raises questions as to whether EDF could complete Hinkley without the aid. (2)

Another planned new nuclear power station is located at Moorside, adjacent to Sellafield in Cumbria. This is being promoted by a consortium of companies known as NuGen which was originally owned by the French company GDF Suez, the Spanish company Iberdrola, and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE). Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) withdrew from the consortium in September 2011 and sold its stake to GDF Suez and Iberdrola. Then in January 2014 Toshiba-owned Westinghouse Electric Company agreed to buy all Iberdrola’s stake and another 10% from GDF-Suez (now called ENGIE) giving it a 60% controlling stake. The plan is to build three AP1000 reactors with a total capacity of around 3.6 GW. Nugen expects to take its final investment decision by the end of 2018.

In December it was reported that the French company – Engie – would like to abandon its 40% share of Nugen. (3) And nuclear power has turned into a financial quagmire for Toshiba. (4) Shares in the Japanese company plunged at the end of December wiping 40% off its value after an announcement that it may have to write down billions due to its acquisition of Westinghouse Electric which is struggling with 4 new reactors in the US which are late and over-budget. (5)

Horizon nuclear, is proposing to build two Advanced Boiling Water Reactors with a total capacity of 2.7MW at Wylfa on Anglesey. It expects to make its final investment decision in early 2019. (6) Horizon nuclear was originally a consortium of two German companies – Eon and RWE. Hitachi Ltd has now bought the project for about £700m in March 2012. Investing billions in new reactors would have forced a credit-rating downgrade on RWE, said Volker Beckers, CEO at RWE npower in May 2012 and Tony Cocker, CEO of E.ON UK said E.ON lacks the “financial firepower”. (7)

Horizon has now gone cap in hand to the UK and Japanese Governments. The two governments are to review investment and lending for Horizon through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Development Bank of Japan. Financing of the project from the Japanese side is expected to reach Y1 trillion (£7 billion). Japan is particularly keen for the projects to go ahead after its previous attempt to export nuclear energy technology, to Vietnam, fell through. (8)  The UK Government might decide to fund up to 25% of the project according to the Telegraph. The likely cost of the proposed twin-reactor development at Wylfa has not been disclosed but a source close to the negotiations insisted a Reuters report that put the figure at £19bn was wide of the mark. (9)

The Financial Times commented that “all this comes as offshore wind progressively looks cheaper to run, even with all the subsidies, than Hinkley ever will.”  (10)  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). (11)

The cost of solar and wind continues to fall. The World Economic Forum reports that solar and wind are now the same price or cheaper than new fossil fuel capacity in more than 30 countries. As prices for solar and wind power continue their precipitous fall, two-thirds of all nations will reach the point known as “grid parity” within a few years, even without subsidies. (12) Bloomberg reports that solar is now cheaper than coal in some parts of the world and in less than a decade is likely to be cheaper everywhere. (13)

  1. FT 4th Jan 2017
  2. FT (LEX Column) 4th Jan 2017
  3. BFM Business 7th Dec 2016
  4. Energy Collective 2nd January 2017
  5. In Cumbria 30th December 2016
  6. Telegraph 14th Feb 2016
  7. Guardian 15th May 2012
  8. Telegraph 23rd December 2016
  9. Telegraph 15th December 2016
  10. FT (LEX Column) 4th Jan 2017
  11. Energydesk 15th Nov 2016 See also Renew Economy 7th July 2016
  12. Quartz 26th December 2016 and Independent 5th Jan 2017
  13. Bloomberg 3rd Jan 2017


Posted: 5 January 2017

16 September 2016

Don’t Buy Nuclear Waste

Now that Theresa May has (to steal some of the best sound-bites from the last few days) decided (1) to build a better yesterday with a safari park of white elephants – it’s time to shift the discussion from the huge cost of Hinkley Point C and the security implications of allowing the Chinese to get involved in building nuclear power stations in the UK to what we could all gain if these reactors ever get built.

In brief, spent nuclear waste fuel from Hinkley Point C could be stored in wet storage ponds on-site for 160 years. By the time the station closes around 2085 the radioactive content of the waste will amount to the equivalent of 80% of the waste which already exists in the whole of the UK. The consequences of a fire in the Hinkley storage ponds could dwarf the accident at Fukushima. If you haven’t switched to a 100% renewable electricity supplier, it’s time to get switching so you don’t end up with your own share in the UK’s future legacy of nuclear waste.

After more than 60 years of a civil nuclear power programme, the UK is still seeking a long-term solution for dealing with its higher activity radioactive waste. Government policy is that most higher activity waste (HAW) should be buried deep underground in what is known as a Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). But past experience has taught the Government and nuclear industry that it won’t get away with imposing such a facility on a community without the community’s consent. (2)

In January 2013 Cumbria County Council rejected plans to undertake preliminary work on an underground radioactive waste dump somewhere in the west of the County. That rejection sent the plans back to the drawing board and left the UK once again without even a potential site for a GDF.

Since then the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has published guidance on assembling and presenting information on geology, and the Government has amended the Planning Act 2008 so that in England a GDF can be pushed through the planning system as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIPs).

Two further consultations are expected in Autumn 2016 – one on a draft National Policy Statement (NPS) and another on a policy framework for Working with Communities.

Then in 2017 the search will begin for a community somewhere in England, Wales or Northern Ireland interested in hosting a GDF in the hope that this time a community somewhere will agree to host it.

What will happen to the waste from Hinkley Point C?

Unlike the spent fuel from Hinkley Point B which is transported by train to Sellafield in Cumbria for reprocessing , the Government does not expect spent fuel from Hinkley Point C to be treated that way. In fact the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield which reprocesses the spent fuel from Hinkley Point B is due to close in 2018, and there are no plans to replace it.

A GDF is not expected to be ready to receive waste until around 2040. Waste from new reactors like Hinkley Point C is not expected to be emplaced in the GDF until after all our existing waste has been emplaced which is expected to take around 90 years – around 2130. This means that spent fuel from Hinkley Point C could remain on the site in Somerset for at least the next 100 years.

The other factor which needs to be taken into account is that Hinkley Point C is expected to use high-burn up fuel which could require up to 100 years of cooling before it will be cool enough to be emplaced in a GDF. (5) So assuming Hinkley Point C comes on stream around 2025, with an expected reactor life of 60 years, this means spent fuel may need to be stored in Somerset until about 2185.

How much waste will Hinkley Point C generate?

The nuclear industry and government repeatedly claim that the volume of nuclear waste produced by new reactors will be small, approximately 10% of the volume of existing wastes; implying this additional amount will not make a significant difference to finding an underground dump for the wastes the UK’s nuclear industry has already created. The use of volume as a measure of the impact of radioactive waste is, however, highly misleading. (6)

Volume is not the best measure to use to assess the likely impact of wastes and spent fuel from a new reactor programme, in terms of its management and disposal. The ‘high burn-up fuel’ which Hinkley Point C is expected to use will be much more radioactive than the spent fuel produced by existing reactors like Hinkley Point B. So rather than using volume as a yardstick, the amount of radioactivity in the waste, which affects how much space will be required in a deep geological repository, are more appropriate ways of measuring the impact of nuclear waste from new reactors.

According to Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, the radioactivity from existing waste (i.e. not including new reactors) is expected to be 4,770,000 Terabecquerels (TBq) in the year 2200. The radioactivity of the spent fuel alone (not including other types of waste) generated by a 16GW programme of new reactors is expected to be around 19,000,000TBq. Hinkley Point C would be a 3.2GW station, so the amount of radioactivity in the spent fuel from Hinkley Point C in the year 2200 would be 3,800,000TBq – or about 80% of the radioactivity in existing waste. (7)

How will spent fuel be stored at Hinkley?

Although EDF Energy says it is possible that spent fuel might start to be transported off site during the lifetime of Hinkley Point C, it is prudent to plan to store all of the lifetime arisings of the two reactors which are planned. (8) The plan is to store spent fuel from Hinkley Point C in spent fuel storage ponds. EDF is planning to be able to extend the life of the storage ponds for up to 100 years after the reactors close. (9)

A recent study in the US detailed how a major fire in a spent fuel pond “could dwarf the horrific consequences of the Fukushima accident.” The author Frank von Hippel, a nuclear security expert at Princeton University, who teamed with Princeton’s Michael Schoeppner on the modeling exercise said “We’re talking about trillion-dollar consequences.” (10)

To switch to a 100% renewable electricity supplier start here:

  1. BEIS 15th Sept 2016
  2. History of Nuclear Waste Disposal Proposals in Britain 
  3. A White Paper on Nuclear Power, BERR January 2008 Page 30
  4. Consultation on a Methodology to Determine a Fixed Unit Price for Waste Disposal and Updated Cost Estimates for Nuclear Decommissioning, Waste Management and Waste Disposal, DECC March 2010 Para 3.2.23
  5. See Footnote 20 on page 22 of Fixed Unit Price Consultation Document Ref (4) above.
  6. For example, Dr Peter Bleasdale who went on to become Managing Director of the National Nuclear Laboratory said: “Already there are significant volumes of historic wastes safely stored, and a programme of new reactors in the UK will only raise waste volumes by up to 10%.” BBC 13th May 2008
  7. Geological Disposal: An overview of the differences between the 2013 Derived Inventory and the 2010 Derived Inventory, RWM Ltd July 2015
  8. Hinkley Point C Pre-application Consultation, See para 6.30 here
  9. As above para 6.42
  10. Science 24th May 2016 

Posted: 16 September 2016

17 August 2016

The District Heating & Green Gas Alternative to Hinkley

Several recent renewable proposals illustrate how we can avoid building a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Dong Energy for instance suggests building more offshore wind farms backed up with biomass or gas-fired plants. (1) Lightsource says solar PV could match the output of Hinkley within just two years. (2) Forum for the Future says we could get 20 GW of new capacity from farm-based renewables by 2020. (3) But Theresa May’s delay in giving final approval to Hinkley also gives us a chance to look more holistically at future energy policy.

With around 4.5 million UK households suffering from fuel poverty and over 30% of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to heat, even with 100% renewable electricity we would still need to do a lot more to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the heat sector to meet climate targets.

In Aberdeen councillors have just unanimously agreed to an £11m investment to expand the City’s district heating network – offering 350 more homes the chance to save on their energy bills. Aberdeen Heat and Power (AHP) has grown substantially since it began in 2002 and currently provides heat for 2,361 flats in 33 multi-story blocks, two sheltered housing blocks and 13 public buildings. (4) Only about 2% of heat is supplied via a heat networks in Britain compared with Denmark where 60% of the population is connected. As well as delivering significant carbon savings, district heating systems cut energy costs – heating a flat via a gas-fired network costs around 30 % less than it does using an individual gas boiler. (5)

The Scottish Government has a target to meet the equivalent of 100% of electricity demand with renewables by 2020. Although it is beginning to look like it may only manage about 87%, thanks mainly to Westminster’s cut in subsidies (6) the Government is already seriously considering setting a target of providing 50% of Scotland’s energy – as opposed to just electricity – with renewables. (7) Research carried out for WWF Scotland suggests around 350,000 Scottish dwellings need to be connected to a (renewables-fed) district heating network by 2030 – the equivalent of 50% of all households in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow – to meet climate targets. (8)

District heating networks can be fed with heat from a range of sources from gas-fired and biomass-fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP) stations which also generate electricity, to deep boreholes which extract geothermal heat from underground. In Glasgow heat is being captured from trapped water in old flooded coal mines via heat pumps. In Lerwick Shetland Heat and Power is hoping to extend its heat network by installing a 2MW heat pump made by Star Renewables in Glasgow to abstract heat from Lerwick Harbour. (9) In the London Borough of Newham there are plans to harness the energy from “fatbergs”, the bus-size balls of grease which cost Thames Water an estimated £1 million a month to remove from its sewers. (10)

Despite enthusiastic support for energy storage technology from the Telegraph (11) the Government remains to be convinced we can cope with a high percentage of intermittent renewables. This is where CHP-district heating networks could be crucial. In Germany, for instance, as wind and solar PV take on a greater proportion of total electricity production, CHP plants are expected to take on the role of providing more flexible electricity generation. At the moment CHP plants focus on meeting the demand for heat. Electricity production is seen as a useful by-product. But in future the focus will switch to providing electricity when the output from wind and solar is low. (12) On the other hand district heating systems could absorb large quantities of surplus electricity by using heat pumps to heat water which can be stored for use later. This means CHP district heating networks could be used to balance power grids in order to compensate for fluctuations in renewable output becoming the backbone of a new sustainable energy system. (13)

The UK Government currently expects most of our heating to be converted to electricity helping to double demand by 2050. (14) But as Labour’s new “Green Gas Book” points out electricity distribution networks couldn’t cope with the huge fluctuations in demand on a really cold winter’s day without extensive upgrading. On top of that every household with gas central heating would have to rip out their boiler and radiators and install a completely new system probably using ground or air-source heat pumps. This would be extremely expensive for each individual consumer and most people probably couldn’t afford it without massive subsidies. And why would we want to ditch the UK’s gas distribution grid, developed over many years and only recently upgraded with new pipes anyway?

For those households unable to connect to a district heating network, the option of being able to use ‘green gas’ supplied by the gas grid offers further opportunities to make use of surplus renewable electricity. The UK now has 617MW of biogas capacity – enough to power 800,000 homes. The bio-methane sector has only just started to develop and has significant scope to increase the production of green gas. And ‘Power to Gas’ technology could make use of excess electricity generated from renewables to generate hydrogen gas by the electrolysis of water which could then be fed into the gas grid. (15)

We need to do a lot more to reduce carbon emissions from the heat sector anyway, and we need to tackle fuel poverty. Rather than continuing to waste surplus renewable electricity, ditching the recently modernised gas grid and hoping against all the evidence that we can get the exorbitantly expensive nuclear programme up and running in time to start replacing our fossil-fuel powered domestic heating systems, a combination of new district heating networks and Green Gas could help balance renewable electricity and reduce emissions from the heat sector – solving two problems at the same time.

(1) Guardian 4th August 2016
(2) Click Green 24th October 2013
(3) Farm Power: Exploring the size of the prize, Forum for the Future, November 2014
(4) Scottish Energy News 4th July 2016
(5) Business Green 30th June 2016
(6) Scottish Renewables Briefing November 2015, Update on Scotland’s 2020 Renewable Electricity Target. 347c636b94b0/sr_briefing_-_update_on_scotlands_2020_renewables_targets.pdf
(7) Scottish Renewables Press Release 13th Jan 2016
(8) The Burning Question: What is Scotland’s renewable heat future? WWF 2014 and Scotland’s Renewable Heat Future, Element Energy, EST, November 2011
(9) Scottish Energy News 22nd April 2015
(10) Evening Standard 10th August 2016
(11) Telegraph 10th August 2016
(12) Agora Energiwende 12 insights into Germany’s Energiewende February 2013:
(13) E&E Publishing 24th Feb 2015
(14) National Policy Statement on Energy EN-1 DECC July 2011
(15) Alan Whitehead 14th July 2016

Posted: 17 August 2016

27 July 2016

Stop Hinkley Campaign says a Final Investment Decision for Hinkley Point C would be little more than spin

EDF seems to be hoping that by acting swiftly after Greg Clark’s appointment as Secretary of State, it can minimise the risk that the highly favourable terms struck in 2013 to help to bankroll the station are watered down. Above all, EDF’s most cherished sweetener is a guaranteed price of an index-linked £92.50 per megawatt hour in 2012 prices – now worth around £100/MWh.

Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Allan Jeffery said:

If the Company does indeed make a positive Final Investment Decision on Thursday it will be little more than EDF spin. The largely French Government-owned company has a long list of problems to sort out before construction can begin. EDF says there will no concrete poured until at least mid-2019 and this will depend on the start-up of the EPR (the European Pressurised Reactor) at Flamanville, scheduled for the end of 2018 – six years late.”

First the EPR design has not yet been built successfully anywhere in the world. It has been described by a nuclear engineering professor as ‘unconstructable’. (1) In France concerns over the safety of the reactor pressure vessel at Flamanville have arisen after tests “revealed the presence of a zone in which there was a high carbon concentration, leading to lower than expected mechanical toughness values”. Further tests will continue until the end of this year. (2) The French safety regulator ASN is making no promises about what remedial action might be required. In the worst case scenario the entire project may need to be abandoned. (3)

And secondly EDF doesn’t have the money to pay for it. As this week’s Board meeting was being announced French finance authorities were raiding the offices of EDF as part of a probe into EDF’s disclosure of information to the market. Investigators are said to be concerned about the reporting of its domestic nuclear maintenance costs as well as the plans to develop new nuclear reactors in Somerset. (4)

EDF is a company in a very precarious financial situation. It has €37 billion of debt. The collapse in energy prices has pushed earnings down 68% in 2015. The Company needs to spend €50 billion upgrading its network of 58 ageing reactors by 2025. It is scrambling to sell €4 billion of new shares and €10 billion of assets to strengthen its balance sheet. EDF is also expected to participate in the €5 billion bailout of Areva, the bankrupt developer of EPR technology, by taking a 75 per cent stake. (5) About the last thing that it needs is a new €15 billion millstone around its neck. (6)

The European Union has opened a State Aid investigation into the French Government’s rescue plan for Areva. (7) And any French government financial support to EDF to enable the company to build the Hinkley Point C will almost certainly be blocked by the European Commission, according to a legal opinion commissioned by Greenpeace. (8)

Two legal challenges: firstly from Austria and Luxembourg, (9) and secondly from a group of German renewable energy companies (10) at the European court of justice against the European Commission decision to allow to subsidise Hinkley Point C have yet to be resolved.

Jeffery continued: “If this plant goes ahead highly radioactive waste would be stored in the heart of Somerset for perhaps the next 200 years. (11) Over its lifetime Hinkley Point C will produce waste equivalent to 80% of all the waste so far produced in the UK in terms of radioactivity – for what? So the Government can help its friends in the nuclear industry put the brakes on the renewable energy revolution taking place across the globe – they really do make King Canute look like an amateur.” (12)

The Government’s nuclear delusions are standing in the way of the West of England joining this energy revolution. Nuclear advocates can’t bring themselves to admit that smart, efficient and renewable energy systems are sounding the death-knell of nuclear power. It’s time that Somerset was given the opportunity to catch-up.”

The Stop Hinkley Campaign will be protesting against the Final Investment Decision in King’s Square Bridgwater 10am-1pm on Thursday 28th July


(1) Carbon Commentary 22nd October 2014

(2) World Nuclear News 14th April 2016

(3) WISE International 15th October 2015

(4) Telegraph 22nd July 2016

(5) Times 7th May 2016

(6) The Street 25th April 2016

(7) FT 19th July 2016

(8) FT 22nd April 2016

(9) Guardian 6th July 2015

(10) Guardian 2nd July 2015

(11) Feasibility studies exploring options for storage, transport and disposal of spent fuel from potential new nuclear power stations, NDA January 2014.

(12) Stop Hinkley Briefing 25th Jan 2016 The Impact of a New Reactor Programme on the UK’s Radioactive Waste Inventory

Posted: 27 July 2016

19 February 2016

Do we really need nuclear power to provide baseload power?

The UK Government and pro-nuclear advocates argue that we need nuclear power to provide baseload electricity. In reality the concept of baseload power is quickly becoming obsolete. It is perfectly feasible to design a reliable electricity system based on 100% renewable energy. In fact strong market forces which favour decentralised energy mean that utilities continuing to promote large centralised power stations are threatening their own existence and need to move to a new decentralised utility model as soon as practicable.

Do we really need nuclear power to provide baseload power? Is 100% renewables possible? Do we really need nuclear power


Posted: 19 February 2016

24 August 2015

Hinkley C Mothballed – Is it in its Death Throes?

Two very recent articles in Click Green and Professional Engineer indicate that Hinkley Point C is now officially mothballed. Indeed the project seems to be in its death throes.

We already knew that site preparation work at Hinkley Point C was stopped in April 2015, up to 400 construction workers were laid off, and the Final Investment Decision was delayed until the autumn. (1) What wasn’t clear at the time was that NNB Genco – the consortium planning to build the reactors which consists of EDF Energy, China General Nuclear Corp and other investors – put a cap on future spending on the project. (2)

On 1st July the site entered Care and Maintenance which means that activity at the site is limited to the management of material stockpiles and water management zones, remediation of asbestos contaminated land and archaeological surveys. (3)

The budget cap seems to have been greater than the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was expecting. ONR, of course, charges NNB Genco for all the work it carries out to regulate its activities.

ONR says it has taken the decision to suspend the production of future inspection reports until a Final Investment Decision is made. It has also suspended attendance at the local liaison committee – the Cannington Forum. These suspensions are most likely because NNB Genco no longer has the budget to pay for them, so the consortium will have asked ONR to stop visiting the site to do inspections and stop attending the forum because it can’t afford to pay.

In retaliation ONR says it is “monitoring the impact of the budget constraint upon NNB Genco’s competency and capability”. In other words NNB Genco had better watch out or it will lose its status as an organisation competent and capable of holding a nuclear license.

ONR says its inspectors “continue to engage with the programme of design and safety case activities” related to the start of nuclear safety related construction. Its August newsletter said that further submissions are expected in September this year and the Pre Construction Safety Case related to nuclear island construction was ready for ONR to begin initial engagement at the end of July this year. (4)

So while some desk work appears to be continuing all major work on-site appears to have stopped and NNB Genco is so uncertain that the final investment decision will be positive it has asked ONR to stop as much work as possible to save money – even to the point of threatening its own status as a nuclear capable organisation. The Click Green website says:

“Despite recently publishing a list of preferred suppliers for the £24 billion project, the French firm were in behind-the-scenes talks with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), during which they informed them of their decision to mothball the site.”

It looks as though it may be all over for Hinkley Point C bar the shouting.

(1) Gloucestershire Echo 2nd April 2015

(2) Click Green 20th Aug 2015

(3) Professional Engineering 20th Aug 2015

(4)   See page 7 ONR Regulation Matters August 2015

Posted: 24 August 2015

17 August 2015

Cameron’s First 100 Days a Disaster

This article was originally written for the American Nuclear Information and Resource Service Blog Green World.

David Cameron’s Conservative Government has now been in power in the UK, without the constraining influence of the Liberal Democrats, for 100 days. From the point-of-view of the environment his new government has been an unmitigated disaster, marked by a sharp embrace of dirty energy sources in a fashion most advanced nations, even including the U.S., are stepping away from.

From the moment the new Government was elected it set about burning the green policies of the previous coalition government. Subsidies for new onshore wind farms, paid for through consumers’ bills, are to end from April next year as are subsidies for solar farms. There will be a review of the feed-in tariff threatening subsidies for solar panels on domestic and commercial roof tops. And other proposed changed will make it much harder for community renewable projects to obtain finance.

The Government has also killed off the Green Deal scheme which provided loans to households for energy efficiency improvements. The scheme was a damp squib but what’s striking is there are no proposals to replace it. And a decade-long plan to force all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 has been dumped. On top of all this the exemption for renewables from the Climate Change Levy – a kind of carbon tax – has been removed effectively imposing cuts to the income of renewable projects already up and running retrospectively.

The new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd told MPs that carbon reduction targets are a bigger priority than meeting renewable energy targets, signalling that she is prepared to miss the UK’s European Union Renewable Target of meeting 15% of our energy needs (not just electricity) from renewable sources by 2020. Instead she will try to meet the UK’s carbon reduction commitments with nuclear power and fracked gas. She defends her cuts to renewable energy subsidies saying “we need to reduce our emissions in the most cost-effective way”. Cutting support for the very technologies – onshore wind and solar – which can deliver both lower bills and energy security in the long term seems to be a very odd way of going about it.

The problem is that nobody knows yet what measures, if any, the Government plans to implement to replace the measures scrapped. So we have no idea how the Government intends to meet its legally biding obligations under the UK’s Climate Change Act. If it chooses to try meeting its carbon targets without onshore wind, for instance, it must explain why it is taking a more expensive route towards decarbonisation.

Andrea Leadsom, another Minister in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, told MPs that the Government hopes to be able to meet 35% of the UK’s electricity requirements from nuclear by 2028. Initially it is planning subsidies for two new EPR reactors at Hinkley Point C in the West of England which have been independently costed at £76 billion ($121 billion). To get to 35% all 11 of the currently proposed reactors (about 15.2GW) would have to proceed without too many delays and then would have to operate at a rather unlikely 90% capacity factor (the amount the plant generates compared to the amount that would be generated if it was operating at full power all of the time).

Four of the proposed reactors, including the two at Hinkley, are EPRs and we know the only other EPRs being built are all late and probably over-budget. (No reliable cost information has been published for the two in China). Three AP1000 reactors are proposed for Moorside near Sellafield and experience of the United States suggests this reactor type is no better at being built on time and budget. Four Advanced Boiling Water Reactors (ABWR) are proposed – two for Wylfa on Anglesey and two for Oldbury in Gloucestershire. These are presented as the only reactors which have operational experience. But none of the reactors already built, all of which are in Japan, have a capacity factor above 73% and two have capacity factors of less than 40%.

On top of the initial 15.2GW of nuclear reactors proposed the Government appears to be planning to hand over the a site at Bradwell in Essex, just north of London, to the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation. And the Government is supporting research into Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) with plans being drawn up for the world’s first SMR to be built on land next to the existing Hartlepool (AGR) nuclear power plant in County Durham with perhaps up to 7 GW of SMRs to follow by 2035.

Even that doesn’t complete the picture, because the Government-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) appears to focussing its efforts in dealing with the UK’s embarrassing plutonium stockpile on evaluating two different reactor projects – the GE Hitachi PRISM reactor and the Candu Energy Canmox project with the latter reported in June as the front-runner. Ontario-based Candu Energy is proposing to turn plutonium into mixed oxide (MOX) pellets at a dedicated fabrication facility at Sellafield. The MOX fuel could then be used in four thermal reactors to produce up to 3GWe of electricity.

This developing hard energy path for Britain has also seen an announcement this week by Rudd of plans to fast-track shale gas planning applications. The measures are designed to ensure the industry gets up and running without delay, after the industry in the UK has failed to take off in the face of public opposition and opposition from local municipalities. Rudd says we need shale gas to “help meet our objectives for secure energy supplies, economic growth and lower-carbon emissions”. But UK fracking is likely to need until the mid-2020s to scale up. Government projections are that coal will only generate 1% of our electricity by 2025, and we need to phase-out fossil fuel-based gas “quite rapidly” in the 2030s if we are going to meet our climate commitments. So if the Government is telling the truth about wanting to meet our climate change commitments starting to frack now is pointless.

On the positive side commentators from industry, politics and the financial sector have been lining up to condemn the Government’s plans to subsidise the first new reactors proposed at Hinkley. An investment decision is expected soon – possibly to coincide with a visit by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, in October, because China is expected to contribute two thirds of the upfront capital for the project. Words like “white elephant” and “lunacy” are being bandied around in the right wing press. The Chief Executive of the UK subsidiary of German Utility RWE has branded the project an “expensive mistake”. Even the father-in-law of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has called it “one of the worst deals ever for British households and British industry”. Analysts at HSBC Bank say there is “ample reason for the UK government to delay or cancel the project“.

We have to hope this growing chorus of critics calling for Hinkley Point to be scrapped will have an impact, because as many of us know on both sides of the Pond – in the words of UBS Bank “Large-scale power generation … will be the dinosaur of the future energy system: Too big, too inflexible, not even relevant for backup power in the long run.”

Many of the points discussed here are covered in more depth in nuClear News No.76

Posted: 17 August 2015