23 April 2014

Time to end reprocessing at Sellafield

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has launched a consultation on whether to allow the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) not to reprocess small quantities of overseas origin oxide fuels that are either not economic or not possible to reprocess in Sellafield’s Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) before its currently scheduled closure date of 2018. The consultation closes on 28th May 2014.

DECC says around 300 tonnes of overseas origin spent fuel still remain to be reprocessed, but 30 tonnes of this fuel is made up of small amounts of prototype fuels, experimental fuels, MOX (plutonium) fuels and some materials leftover from research programmes, which would be challenging to deal with through reprocessing, before the planned closure of THORP in 2018. It is thought that around 25 tonnes of this spent fuel is probably spent MoX fuel from Germany.

What the NDA wants to do is to send back to the customer countries an amount of waste and plutonium equivalent to the amount which would be sent back if the spent fuel was reprocessed. This is known as ‘virtual reprocessing’. The NDA says that if THORP were to operate beyond 2018 it would need to build replacement storage tanks for the highly active liquid waste at a cost of around £500m. High level liquid waste generates its own heat, so has to be constantly cooled, which is why the storage tanks are so expensive.

This consultation begs the question: if the Government can sanction “virtual reprocessing” for 30 tonnes of residual spent fuel why can’t the same be done now for the remaining 300 tonnes of overseas fuel and any remaining AGR spent fuel which is still slated for reprocessing so that THORP can shut now? After all, nobody needs any more plutonium.

The UK, as a signatory to the 1998 Sintra Agreement of the OSPAR Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, is committed to achieving “progressive and substantial reductions of discharges, emissions and losses of radioactive substances, with the ultimate aim of concentrations in the environment … close to zero for artificial radioactive substances” by the year 2020. The UK Government’s first Strategy for Radioactive Discharges published in 2002 in response to this commitment said that THORP would close in 2016 unless it found new business. No new business has been found. Given that there is likely to be a time lag due to the need for a post operational clean-out before some radioactive discharges can be stopped after closure, the plant needs to cease operations as soon as possible for the UK to meet its international obligations. (See NFLA / KIMO report on radioactive discharge concerns at Sellafield to the OSPAR, Commission Radioactive Substances Committee, February 2014)

Worse still, the other older reprocessing plant at Sellafield – the Magnox reprocessing plant – which is currently scheduled for closure in 2019, is now unlikely to close before 2022 due to technical problems. (CORE Press Release 16th April 2014) In fact the most recent Magnox Operating Plan (known as MOP9) says the plant may continue operating until 2028 if it performs badly.

While the NDA blames poor throughput for not being able to end Magnox reprocessing by 2012 as originally planned, it has already extended the life of the Wylfa Magnox nuclear station on Anglesey, from March 2010 to September 2014 and is now hoping to continue generating electricity until December 2015 subject to acceptance by the Office for Nuclear Regulation NDA Business Plan (ONR) of the Periodic Safety Review (PSR) and acceptance by DECC of the Business Case. (See NDA Business Plan 2014-17 page 29) The NDA has also started transporting breeder fuel from Dounreay in the north of Scotland to Sellafield for reprocessing, further adding to the inventory of spent fuel to be reprocessed before the Magnox reprocessing plant closes. After Magnox reprocessing ends there are expected to be around five years of continuing radioactive discharges to the Irish Sea due to post-operational clean out.

When it became clear it was not going to be possible to complete the reprocessing of all Magnox spent fuel by 2012, the NDA should have looked seriously at alternative options. Instead it has been extending the life of reactors, and transporting breeder fuel from Scotland which the plant had not been originally scheduled to reprocess.

Reprocessing of Magnox spent fuel has, in the past, been regarded as essential, because it begins to corrode once it has been wetted. Former Sellafield operator, British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) finally admitted in 2003 that dry storage would be technically feasible, should the Magnox reprocessing plant break down, having previously claimed Magnox spent fuel MUST be reprocessed. Encapsulating the spent fuel in concrete has also been considered as an alternative fuel management option.

MOP9 now states that:

The possibility of drying and containerising wetted fuel is currently under development. The work is at a stage where the option is considered technically feasible, further detailed design would be required if it were decided to implement this option.”

Time for the UK to prioritise meeting its international commitments and end reprocessing at Sellafield as soon as possible.

Posted: 23 April 2014

31 January 2014

Sellafield site incident – non-essential workers told to stay at home

Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment 31st January 2014

Sellafield Limited has this morning advised that elevated levels of radioactivity are being detected at one of the site’s perimeter fence radiation monitors. Despite telling non-essential workers not to come to work, the company is assuring the wider world that there is no risk to either to the public off-site or to operational workers on site.

Yet the official version of the ongoing incident, via the mixed messages being issued by local media, is doing little to instil public confidence. Confirming that the elevated levels of radioactivity ‘above background levels’ are being detected at the the perimeter fence – and that the raised levels pose no risk to the general public are not sufficient to trigger any extra action by the company, Sellafield Ltd’s  Stakeholder Relations spokesman’ statements strongly suggest that if measured at the fence itself, elevated levels of radioactivity will indeed have escaped be present ‘off-site’ and that the warning to non-essential staff to stay home is an action by the company well above and beyond normal action.

CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood has said this morning:

“We understand that it may take some time for the Company to track down the exact source of the raised activity but the sooner they level with the public by providing a more coherent explanation of what’s going on the better. The world and his dog will remember well that some the world’s worst nuclear accidents were initially portrayed as being of no consequence and no risk to the public”  

For further information contact CORE on 01229 716523 or mobile 0789 999 1146

Posted: 31 January 2014

6 January 2014

Happy New Year

Isn’t it time you made it your New Year’s Resolution to switch from the Big 6 energy suppliers, if you haven’t already? You know you’ve been meaning to do it for quite some time now. It takes almost no time at all. Even those companies that have pulled out of building new reactors in Britain, such as Eon, RWE and Iberdrola, have nuclear interests elsewhere, apart from SSE. Despite having pulled out of the consortium planning to build new reactors at Hinkley Point and Sizewell. British Gas owner, Centrica, retains a 20 per cent stake in EDF Energy’s eight nuclear power stations. A good place to start your switch is here:

Although only 1% of the electricity sold by SSE in the year 2012/13 was nuclear generated, 54% was coal. See:

Posted: 6 January 2014

3 December 2013

Time to do efficiency properly long overdue

Last spring I managed to find a company able to insulate my ‘difficult-to-insulate’ cavity walls, and at the same time I had the equivalent of solid wall insulation installed on the walls and ceiling of two rooms upstairs in what was originally the loft. As a consequence I have hardly needed to use the gas central heating this winter. So if my green supplier does decide to put its rates up in April 2014 it won’t make a huge difference to my costs.

So it seems unforgivably perverse that the Government should cut energy efficiency programmes just to reduce the increase in average energy bills by about £1 per week.

The 7.5 terawatt hours per year (TWh/year) of electricity the Government was expecting to save from the Energy Company Obligation (ECO), the Green Deal and its predecessors might seem like relatively small beer when compared to the 25TWh/year which Hinkley Point C might eventually produce if it manages to operate at an unlikely 90% load factor. But of course fabric improvements to our houses will also save gas and oil and mean that after 2020 when the Government expects us all to start switching from these forms of heating to electric heat pumps, increases in electricity demand can be reduced.

The Association for the Conservation of Energy expected the original ECO to save around 1.6TWh/year (energy, not just electricity) over the period it was in operation in 2014 and the first quarter of 2015. If a similar scheme were to operate from now until 2030, making savings at the same rate, this could save 20TWh/year.

But the ECO was insulating our housing stock at an incredibly slow rate. At the speed it was supposed to operate at during 2014 it would take 88 years to insulate the solid walls of all houses without a cavity, 14 years to insulate all un-insulated cavity walls and 40 years to complete loft insulations. If this work were speeded up the savings by 2030 could be much higher.

In the services sector the Government is only expecting savings of 6.75TWh/year to be made by 2030. Yet according to their consultants, McKinsey, around 22.4TWh could be saved from building envelope improvements, and 21.5TWh in lighting, making a total of 43.9TWh, and all at negative cost. In the industrial sector, the Government is only expecting a saving of 6.4TWh/year compared with the 20.8TWh which McKinsey reckon could be saved just from using more efficient motors and pumps.

Overall there are 100TWh of potential efficiency savings which the Government is failing to capture. This would be more than enough to replace the existing nuclear programme (70TWh) or enough to replace four power stations the size of Hinkley Point C operating at an unlikely 90% load factor.

The National Audit Office reckons there will be above inflation increases in energy bills until 2030. With an estimated 31,100 excess winter deaths in England and Wales last winter, shouldn’t we be asking whether subsidising new reactors at twice the current price of electricity is the right thing to do? And how many businesses will go to the wall because of increasing energy costs for the want of government assistance to save almost the equivalent of what Hinkley might produce just by installing more efficient lighting? It’s time to remove responsibility from the Big Six Energy Companies for installing efficiency measures and give it to a body whose profits don’t depend on us using more energy.

For more on this see NuClear News No.57 December 2013.

Posted: 3 December 2013

28 October 2013

Hinkley: A Huge Contribution Towards Yesterday’s Energy Thinking

The Government’s plan to guarantee EDF Energy an index-linked price for electricity from two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point C in Somerset at roughly double the current market rate has, unsurprisingly, gone down like a lead balloon. As we head into another winter with rising energy prices already becoming the latest political battleground, we can expect around 24,000 avoidable deaths from cold-related illnesses in England and Wales alone (1) and seven million households plunged into fuel poverty. (2) So for the Government to gamble that wholesale electricity will cost double the present level for 35 years seems at best, bizarre. (3) But after years of half-truths and nuclear spin we can hardly say we are shocked.

In 2006 EDF said its nuclear electricity would cost £28.80 per megawatt hour (£/MWh) in 2013 values. (4) The Coalition Government promised there would be no subsidy for new reactors, and Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, is still insisting that paying £92.50/MWh is not a public subsidy (5) when almost everyone outside of Whitehall and EDF has long since given up on such a pretence. Tom Burke, former advisor to Tory Environment Minister John Gummer, asks why, if there is no public subsidy, the Government needs to apply to Brussels for state aid clearance for this deal? (6) The estimated cost to consumers over the life of the two new reactors will be around £80bn, or roughly £3.5m a day for each reactor at current rates. (7) Meanwhile we are expected to rely on Davey’s optimism that dangerous nuclear waste will be dealt with, despite plans for a disposal site being forced back to the drawing board. (8)

The high cost of building reactors makes them dicey investments, says The Economist. As well as agreeing a premium price for electricity, the Government will guarantee some of the loans needed to build the £16bn twin reactors. Government projections assume that rising fossil-fuel prices will eventually make energy from Hinkley Point look cheap. They also depend on politicians raising Britain’s carbon price, while hoping that energy-saving schemes will hide the rising costs from consumers. The deal at £92.50/MWh might look cheaper than the £155 per megawatt hour which the government promises offshore wind farms (falling to £135 in 2018). But those are 15-year contracts, not a 35 year commitment. Renewable energy is getting cheaper, while nuclear plants have always got more expensive. (9)

The Daily Mail reminded us about the various disastrous attempts to build an EPR reactor around the world. Headlined: “Deaths, chilling safety lapses, lawsuits, huge cost over-runs and delays: Why we can’t trust the French with Britain’s nuclear future”, the story detailed financial mismanagement, industrial chaos, worker deaths and an appalling inability to meet construction deadlines at Flamanville in Normandy. The problems at Flamanville have also been reflected in the Olkiluoto power plant in Finland — the first EPR project. Work started there in August 2005. It was scheduled to start producing power in 2009, but this has now been put back to 2015 at the earliest — ten years after construction began. (10) As a consequence of all these delays, the reactor design is unproven anywhere in the world. (11)
The Telegraph said it’s hard not to have misgivings over the costs and strategic logic of this deal. David Cameron has been banging on about “our determination to embrace new technologies and back new… energy sources”, conveniently forgetting there is zip new about nuclear. It only seems new because we are building our first station in a generation – since Sizewell B in 1995. But the Government has no idea whether technical innovation or the plunging costs, say, of solar power, will make the technology redundant. (12) For anyone that has taken a close interest in what’s going on in Germany the deal is about as sensible as building a chain of red phone boxes across the country. (13)

In Germany the renewables community seems quite pleased with the Hinkley announcement because nuclear prices are now so transparent and so high! Clearly, the rates that will be offered for new nuclear by 2023 in the UK are far above what solar and wind currently cost in Germany and these rates are going down. (14) Hinkley C will be paid more than twice as much as German solar PV arrays. (15)

Mark Turner, a director at the UK’s leading solar power generator Lightsource Renewable Energy, has written to Prime Minister David Cameron to point out that Britain’s solar industry has the capability to deliver the same energy production at Hinkley Point C within 24 months and at comparable cost. Hinkley won’t be able to contribute to reducing dependence on fossil fuels for ten years. Solar power, on the other hand, could provide energy security quickly, reduce electricity bills and protect the environment at the same time. In his letter, Turner describes how solar power will not be the entire solution “but if we supported its deployment then within a couple of years we could have 10% of the UK’s energy mix completely free from the vagaries of the global fossil fuel markets”. (16)

Energy minster Greg Barker says the only way to maximise solar’s contribution to the 2020 renewables target is to “squeeze out subsidy” and to “compete like-for-like with fossil fuels”. But that is not challenge he extends to nuclear power. Ed Davey says the nuclear price “is competitive with projected costs for other plants commissioning in the 2020s”. But this is frankly absurd according to the Solar Trade Association (STA) which has asked for a strike price of £91 in 2018 and expects this to fall to £86 by 2019, falling year on year thereafter, paid over 15 not 35 years and with no nuclear-style small print permitting a possible increase in strike price once those terms are set. (17)

As if all this were not enough the Coalition’s promise to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016 “as far as reasonably practical”, now looks impossible to achieve, and yet David Cameron has announced a review of so-called “green taxes” with the Energy Company Obligation – a government measure requiring energy companies to subsidise home insulation for low-income households being singled out for particular attack in recent weeks. (18)

Thankfully, the nuclear announcement is a long way from being a done deal. EDF will not give the go ahead for contractors to start building until the deal has received state aid clearance from Brussels, which could several months or even a year. EDF says it will make its final investment decision by July 2014, but state aid approval from the European Commission could take up to 12 months to complete, which would push the investment decision back even further. (19) The price of solar power has halved in the last few years, and continues to fall. By the time Hinkley C is operational, probably around 2023-2025, the price of solar will have halved again, maybe twice over, and will no longer need any subsidy at all. With the growth in renewables the entire concept of baseload power is becoming obsolete. Supply from renewables is variable, as is demand by electricity consumers. What is needed to fill the gap between the two is not an inflexible 3.2GW, but power stations whose output can be modulated. For some time to come the best fuel will be gas, which is relatively clean and low carbon, while modern gas power stations are highly efficient and can be ramped up quickly to meet demand. (20) The chances are that by the time Hinkley opens, if it ever does, it will already be obsolete. Indeed by then the very concept of a traditional utility company may be well on its way to becoming obsolete. (21) Former Labour MPAlan Simpson summed up the situation when he told a House of Commons Committee that the Hinkley decision is “a huge public contribution to towards yesterday’s energy thinking”. (22)

(1) Guardian 25th October 2013 
(2) Mirror 22nd October 2013 
(3) FT 21st October 2013 
(4) Guardian 21st October 2013 
(5) Spinwatch 16th September 2013 
(6) Ecologist 26th October 2013 
(7) Guardian 21st October 2013 
(8) See “The Lib Dems and Nuclear Waste” NuClear News September 2013 
(9) Economist 26th October 2013 
(10) Daily Mail 26th October 2013 
(11) Bloomberg 22nd October 2013 
(12) Telegraph 21st October 2013 
(13) Michael Edwards 10th October 2013 
(14) Renewables International 22nd Oct 2013 
(15) Dave Toke’s Blog 27th October 2013 
(16) Nextgen 24th October 2013 
(17) Solar Portal 24th October 2013 
(18) Carbon Brief 23rd Oct 2013 
(19) Building 21st October 2013 
(20) Ecologist 21st October 2013 
(21) See for example this blog.
(22) IB Times 23rd October 2013

Posted: 28 October 2013

22 October 2013

Sellafield’s Lethal Legacy

Guest comment by John Urquhart and CORE.

On November 1st 2013, it will be thirty years since the YTV film “Windscale: The Nuclear Laundry”, (available on You Tube) which discovered a ten-fold increase in childhood leukaemia next to the giant nuclear reprocessing plant that still perches on the edge of the Irish Sea in Cumbria. It is not matter for rejoicing. Windscale, now called Sellafield, was set up to extract plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. It now has 112 tons of the stuff – enough to arm twenty thousand nuclear bombs, which could destroy the world several times over. To produce this lethal legacy, Sellafield is now left with a store of liquid long-lived radioactivity three hundred times greater than that which escaped in the Fukushima nuclear accident. Sellafield has also deliberately released large quantities of radioactive material into the Irish Sea, including half a ton of plutonium, with a half-life of 26,000 years. This plutonium is now being carried back to land, via shore deposits and sea-spray. The YTV film was the first to sound the alarm on beach contamination, but the problem continues. Only last year, a research report (1) described one radioactive particle found on the beach which, if ingested by a baby or toddler, would produce a dose many times the legal limit. Yet Copeland District Council refuses to erect warning notices on the Seascale beach.

After the film, James Cutler and I set out to discover the possible health threat to communities on the Cumbrian coast. We found that apart from a high childhood cancer level in Seascale, the ward next to
Sellafield, there were three other wards on the Cumbrian coast in the top ten for childhood cancer, out of a total of 675 wards in the Northern Region(2). The probability of this happening by chance was
less than one in eighty – statistically significant. But, the high proportion of childhood leukaemias in Seascale suggested an additional factor. This emerged after a case-control study by Martin Gardner was published in 1990 (3). This showed that a possible genetic cause of childhood leukaemia around Sellafield was the irradiation of fathers who worked at the nuclear plant.

After this report was published, local parents who had children with leukaemia sued BNFL. With hindsight, their case may have been lost because of the emphasis on genetic factors only, without reference to radioactive exposure from the environment, particularly the role of ‘hot particles’ on the Seascale beach and on the land and in the air surrounding Sellafield. BNFL’s counter-argument was supported by research by Professor Louise Parker at Newcastle University. Ironically, later research by her and colleagues showed a possible genetic effect in the offspring of Sellafield radiation workers: a 24% increase in stillbirths, compared with expected. This included a 70% increase in neural tube defects(4). So, will the heritable damage stop there? An opportunity to study genetic effects in six thousand West Cumbrian children by examining their umbilical cord blood samples from 1995 to 2003 (Cumbria Communities Genetics Project) is now being destroyed systematically to accommodate the Data Protection Act (5).

‘Windscale: The Nuclear Laundry’ drew aside the veil of secrecy surrounding the health impacts of nuclear power, and exposed the dirty end of the nuclear industry. We should remind ourselves of this when signing up to any long-term contract on nuclear new build with foreign investors, who won’t have to live next to the most radioactive sea in the world.

(1) Eden Nuclear and Environment February 2013 Particles in the Offshore Environment from Sellafield. Report for the Environment Agency on a Data Quality Objectives Workshop held at Penrith 11th December 2012.

(2) Urquhart J and Cutler JA 1985 Incidence of Childhood-Cancer in West Cumbria. Lancet Volume: 1 Issue: 8421 Pages: 172-172.

(3) Gardner, MJ et al. 1990 Results of case-control study of leukaemia and lymphoma among young-people near Sellafield nuclear-plant in West Cumbria. British Medical Journal volume: 300, issue: 6722, pages:

(4) Parker L et al. 1999 Stillbirths among offspring of male radiation workers at Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant. Lancet volume: 354 issue: 9188 pages: 1407-1414.

(5) West Cumbria Sites Stakeholder Group, Environmental Health Sub-Committee, Meeting 77 Of The EHSC, Held at Cleator Moor Civic Hall, 29th November 2012

Posted: 22 October 2013

16 September 2013

Lib Dem Newspeak

The Liberal Democrats have voted to accept nuclear power, in what The Guardian called “a historic reversal of their long-held opposition to atomic energy”. But if we look more closely at the motion the Glasgow Conference accepted we can see that, were Liberal Democrat Ministers to stick to a normal interpretation of its meaning, then new reactors would be no more likely to get built after the vote than they were last week. The only way Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, can go ahead with new reactors is by redefining the crucial words in the motion by using Orwellian Newspeak.

The option agreed at the Conference by 230 votes to 183 was to accept “that in future, nuclear power stations could play a limited role in electricity supply, provided concerns about safety, disposal of radioactive waste and cost (including decommissioning) are adequately addressed and without allowing any public subsidy for new build.”

 Fiona Hall MEP argued during the debate that the motion is based on a false premise because the coalition’s plans to make voters pay for nuclear power through their energy bills is tantamount to a subsidy. “If it looks like a subsidy and smells like a subsidy, it is a subsidy,” she said. Duncan Brack, a former Special Advisor to Chris Huhne said the party’s idea of allowing limited nuclear without subsidy is a “chimera” because it would be impossible. Other speakers called it a “fantasy” or a “myth”.

 Yet Davey said he was absolutely determined not to sign any contract for new nuclear power stations which relied on public subsidy: “New nuclear must be cost-competitive. We will not repeat the history of mistakes on nuclear.”

Craig Bennett, policy director at Friends of the Earth, said “Ed Davey is deluded if he thinks new reactors can go ahead without public subsidy.”

But Davey isn’t deluded – he is trying to re-write the language so that we are all forced to accept his Orwellian Newspeak definition of the word subsidy. After the vote, one Brussels commentator said the outcome was based in part on “blatant lies” by Davey regarding state aid.

If he were simply deluded then why is the UK Government pushing the European Commission to change competition rules and allow direct state aid for nuclear power? (See NuClear News No.54 )

The Guardian asked “how can nuclear power ever be built except by public subsidy when commercial companies have fled the nuclear scene and the only serious players are those backed by the Chinese, Russian and French governments?”

Unfortunately Davey is not alone in his use of the Newspeak dictionary. Energy Journalist Tim Probert points out “all three main parties back nuclear without subsidy yet also support EDF getting a 35yr feed-in tariff for Hinkley Point C.”

A guaranteed price of £95 per Megawatt hour for nuclear electricity from Hinkley Point C over 35 years, if linked to inflation would yield accumulated revenues to EDF of around £143.5 billion.

But the use of Newspeak isn’t just restricted to the subsidy issue. In July Davey told The Guardian that: The waste from new nuclear will take up less volume – that would mean a slightly larger geological waste disposal facility than was needed anyway.” He was also reported to have used the phrase “far less waste” at a fringe meeting at the Conference. Davey will almost certainly know by now that volume is not the important criteria when discussing the amount of waste produced by new reactors – it is the radioactivity and the heat generated that is important.

The Government’s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) estimated that a programme of ten new AP1000 reactors would increase the amount of radioactivity held in all nuclear wastes by 265% – in other words almost tripling the radioactivity. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority will have told Davey that a 10GW programme of new reactors would roughly double the size of the “repository footprint” – the area underground taken up by waste. A 16GW programme – the Government’s rather ambitious target – would increase the footprint by up to three times.

Once Liberal Democrat delegates to the Conference find their ordinary English Dictionary, it might be expected they will be very angry indeed at some of the misleading statements they have been told.


Posted: 16 September 2013

16 August 2013

Radioactive Particles on Cumbrian Beaches

A  Review by CORE, sent to health protection agencies and others for urgent  consideration and response, concludes that the advice of the Health Protection  Agency (HPA now Public Health England) on the health risks of radioactive  particles being found in increasing numbers on West Cumbrian beaches is no  longer fit for purpose – and that public signs should be used to advise beach  users. The current (2012) advice of ‘very low risk’, takes no account of the  significant increase in radioactive particles being found (in parallel with a  dramatic reduction in beach areas being monitored), or of the uncertainties now  admitted by regulators on the behaviour and effects of the cache of offshore  radioactive particles and their transfer to beaches by tide and storm action.  Contrary to the official view  that beach signs are unnecessary, a snapshot  survey by CORE found that an overwhelming majority of beach users felt they had  a right to know about the presence of beach particles and would welcome the use  of signs to advise them accordingly.



Posted: 16 August 2013

16 August 2013

Friends of the Earth Nuclear Review

Friends of the Earth (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) has reviewed the evidence for and against new reactors in the UK and concluded that, despite the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, continued opposition to new nuclear power stations in the UK is still a credible position. (1) To help the reassessment FoE commissioned the Tyndall Centre at Manchester University to carry out a review.

The Tyndall Report (2) found the non-nuclear energy pathway that Friends of the Earth advocates is credible; the health impacts of coal are worse than nuclear power, but life-cycle health impacts do not take account of health impacts resulting from nuclear accidents; nuclear waste management remains an “unresolved issue”; and claims that nuclear power is cheaper than other low carbon options are unlikely to be borne out in reality.

Since receiving the report FoE has updated its position paper. (3) FoE continues to oppose the construction of new nuclear power stations, promotes the rapid introduction of renewable energy – particularly offshore wind – and opposes the provision of subsidies to nuclear power as these reduce the amount of money available to more sustainable energy saving and renewable energy technologies.

A longer discussion will be available in the September issue on NuClear News.

(1)    Mike Childs Blog 2nd August 2013

(2)    A Review of Research Relevant to New Build Nuclear Power Plants in the UK, Tyndall Centre, January 2013

(3)    Why Friends of the Earth Opposes Plans for New Nuclear Reactors, FoE, August 2013

Posted: 16 August 2013

27 June 2013

How the Lib Dems help EDF to fleece the taxpayer

The 2010 Liberal Democrat Manifesto promised to:

Reject a new generation of nuclear power stations; based on the evidence nuclear is a far more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions than promoting energy conservation and renewable energy.

Not satisfied with giving EDF Energy a potential nuclear windfall of up to £143bn over the next 35 years for its Hinkley Point C project, Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government now plan to remove most of the risk for potential investors in the £14bn project.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liberal Democrat, Danny Alexander has announced that “…the proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C is eligible for a UK Guarantee.”

In a speech to the House of Commons, Alexander confirmed that the Government is prepared to guarantee £10bn of the expected £14bn cost of building two new reactors at the Somerset site. However, Alexander admitted that the long-running negotiations between the government and EDF over the level of the guaranteed or “strike price” electricity produced in the reactors can expect have not been resolved and no deal has yet been done.

The UK Guarantee scheme is basically a way for the Government to pass on its “hard-won fiscal credibility … to support the UK economy”. The idea is that it will kick start critical infrastructure projects that may have stalled because of adverse credit conditions. So the Hinkley Project should be able to borrow money from investors at a lower interest rate than would otherwise have been the case. According to European Community Competition Law this kind of loan guarantee does represent state aid, so, in theory, the Government should seek European Commission permission before going ahead with this scheme.

It is not surprising that investors want some sort of guarantee when EDF’s other nuclear project at Flamanville in Normandy was originally expected to cost €3.3 billion and be ready around 2012. Now it is expected to cost €8.5bn and won’t be ready until at least 2016. The other reactor of the same type being built in Europe at Olkiluoto in Finland was due to be completed in 2009, but is now not expected to be ready until 2016, with a similar increase in cost.

Another Liberal Democrat, Energy Secretary Ed Davey said at a press conference: “…the purposes of offering to EDF the opportunity to have one of the Treasury’s UK infrastructure guarantees is to help that project, but it’s actually separate from our negotiations on the strike price and I can’t give you a time for them. There is an intense negotiation with EDF on (Hinkley Point C) HPC and when we conclude – if we conclude – then we will publish a strike price with all the terms and conditions.”

Ed Davey is the man who, in June 2006, in a document called ‘Where will Blair hide his nuclear tax bombshell?‘ declared nuclear power to be unaffordable and unnecessary. He predicted that the Labour Government would attempt to hide the true cost of nuclear power by introducing some form of guaranteed market or price, through super-long term contracts. Little did we know at the time at this is what the Liberal Democrats would actually implement themselves in Government.

After the May 2010 General Election, the previous Energy Secretary, Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne, who had spent most of his life forcefully arguing against nuclear power and condemning it as a ‘tried, tested and failed technology which carries huge environmental and security risks’, agreed to allow the Tories to pass laws that make new nuclear construction possible “provided that they receive no public subsidy”.

The UK Guarantees scheme will cover construction risk for Hinkley Point, one of the main sticking points for investors on new nuclear schemes. Yet the Government continues to insist nothing it is offering to the nuclear industry represents a subsidy – because the guarantees will be offered at a commercial rate.

Tory Energy Minister Michael Fallon might insist that EDF does not have the Government “over a barrel”, over the strike price negotiations, but according to UBS analyst, Stephen Hunt EDF Energy is “very much in the driving seat in terms of having the stronger hand” in the talks with the UK government. He said the strike price for Hinkley Point C, which is expected to be about £95/MWh, if linked to the consumer price index (CPI), as some press reports have suggested, would be closer to £113/MWh by 2020.

Roland Vetter, analyst at CF Partners says a CPI-linked strike price will result in revenues to EDF of £143 billion over the expected 35 years of the contract, compared with £86 billion if the contract was not linked to inflation.

Posted: 27 June 2013