“It is a national emergency and it’s been left far too late,” says Greg Clark. “We’ve known for the last 10 years that most of our nuclear power fleet would come to the end of its planned life.” The Business Secretary’s dire warning is almost a decade old. In late 2009, as a member of the shadow cabinet, Clark could not have guessed that the UK’s delayed nuclear dawn was a false one. The Labour government had just given the go-ahead for 10 new nuclear projects. They were expected to begin powering homes by the Christmas of 2017. The biggest concern was whether the public would tolerate such a rapid pace of nuclear construction. They needn’t have worried. In the years since Britain heralded a new nuclear renaissance the plans have quickly unravelled. Hitachi, a major Japanese industrial conglomerate, is the latest to turn its back on the chance to build a £16bn plant in Anglesey, Wales. In an echo of Clark’s 2009 warning, Matthew Fell, from the CBI, says the “significant blow” leaves in doubt the UK’s ability to replace its existing nuclear fleet before the lights are turned out at ageing plants across the country. The UK relies on nuclear power for a fifth of all electricity used in homes and businesses. All but one will close by 2030, and only one is guaranteed to start generating power by then. In a little over two months, three follow-on projects with a total capacity of over 9GW have been wiped from the UK’s new nuclear future. The nuclear programme’s leading light is Hinkley Point C, one of the country’s most derided infrastructure projects of a very competitive field. Those that remain are part-owned by a Chinese state-backed company despite mounting global fears over Chinese interference. In truth, Whitehall offered the most comprehensive package of support measures that any government has offered a nuclear developer. The UK Government offered to take a one-third stake in the project alongside Hitachi and the Japanese government. It also offered to cover the debt financing needed for construction, which is the riskiest phase of development. In return, Hitachi would be guaranteed to earn £72.50 per megawatt-hour for the lifetime of its project, levied on household bills. The nuclear project was still a risk not worth taking. If an offer this generous can be snubbed, what chance is there for the Sizewell C and Bradwell projects still awaiting a deal? The sheer scale of the risks means building new nuclear plants is largely the preserve of state-owned companies backed by treasury-sized balance sheets. China and Russia lead the way. France follows, but even state-run EDF is struggling. “The cost of renewable technologies such as offshore wind has fallen dramatically, to the point where they now require very little public subsidy and will soon require none,” Clark told MPs. “We have also seen a strengthening in the pipeline of projects coming forward, meaning that renewable energy may now not just be cheap, but also readily available.” The Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit says an 80:20 mix of wind and solar power matching the capacity of Moorside, Wylfa and Sizewell C could be done at an average price of £50 to £65 per megawatt-hour, even including the extra costs needed to balance the intermittency of weather-based power. “The UK Government has nuclear in its DNA,” says Professor Aled Jones, an Anglesey native now leading the Global Sustainability Institute, “We have a long history of nuclear development, and that institutional memory still seems to be there. There’s something in the culture, but that culture might need to change.”
Telegraph 19th Jan 2019 read more »
Ministers must act quickly to make up for the firm’s decision to axe its Wylfa nuclear power plant. By any standards, last week’s decision by Hitachi to end construction of its £20bn nuclear power plant at Wylfa in Wales was a major blow to Britain’s prospects of creating an effective energy policy for the 21st century. The move follows a withdrawal by Toshiba from the construction of a similar project in Cumbria last year and leaves Britain struggling to find ways to generate electricity for a low-carbon future. Together, these nuclear plants would have generated 15% of Britain’s electricity – without emitting carbon dioxide. However, the loss of the Hitachi and Toshiba plants undermines our chances of achieving this first goal of decarbonising our power production and, therefore, of succeeding in the ultimate goal of making Britain a completely carbon-free nation later this century. So how should the government respond? Nuclear power plants require massive investment and take decades to construct. Britain’s only new reactor, currently under construction at Hinkley Point, is eight years behind schedule and faces huge cost overruns. Its construction has proceeded only because the government agreed to pay vastly inflated prices for its electricity for a guaranteed 35 years. At the same time, prices of power from renewable energy sources continue to plunge. However, there is a limit to how much power can be generated from a source that operates only when it is breezy. As the nuclear expert Prof Sue Ion says: “It is a fallacy to think we can provide the UK’s energy with intermittent renewables alone.” This leaves ministers with a number of options that need to be tackled urgently. They need to reopen talks with Hitachi and Toshiba to hammer out a sensible electricity pricing mechanism for power from their plants and so allow building work to resume. Investments in other areas also need to be pursued more emphatically and imaginatively. As we report in New Review (“The northern powerhouse”), the development of new UK renewable energy sources, from tides and waves, is underfunded, while failures to promote wind energy technology 30 years ago let Germany and Denmark dominate the now lucrative wind turbine market. Such a mistake must not be repeated with tide or wave power.
Observer 20th Jan 2019 read more »