News December 2012

31 December 2012

Companies

Almost two dozen employees from companies including the energy giants British Gas and npower are working at the Department of Energy and, in most cases, are being paid by the government to do so, documents released under freedom of information rules reveal. Oil companies such as Shell and ConocoPhillips also have staff inside the department, and civil servants have travelled in the opposite direction to work for the companies. The Green party MP Caroline Lucas, who made some of the FOI requests, said: “Fossil fuel giants should have no place at the heart of government given that their current investment strategies run contrary to the need to build a low-carbon future that delivers both security and prosperity. It’s even more outrageous that taxpayers are footing the bill for some of these secondments, including from British Gas-owner Centrica, at a time when British Gas customers are struggling in the face of a 6% rise in their energy bills, and the company is expected to make £1.4bn profits after tax this year. “These corporations obviously don’t lend out their employees without expecting something in return.”

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Posted: 31 December 2012

30 December 2012

Radwaste

Britain’s nuclear industry has warned that a “no” vote by local councils on crucial plans to assess sites for a major radioactive waste dump would be “an injustice to future generations”. Lord Hutton, the former defence secretary who is now chairman of the Nuclear Industry Association, said that it was no longer possible to pass the buck and that the research on a suitable waste site should go ahead. Sir David King, the former government chief scientific adviser, warned that without a positive decision, new nuclear development could be put at risk. Three Cumbrian councils will vote in January on the next stage of plans for the £12bn underground development which will be used to bury Britain’s existing and future nuclear waste. Ministers are thought to be working on plans to try to ensure the new-build programme is not derailed. Final investment decisions and approvals for EDF’s proposed nuclear plant in Somerset are expected next year. One source warned a “no” vote in Cumbria in January would be likely to deter a consortium that is at the early stage of planning a new plant in the county, as it would have to invest hundreds of millions of pounds before seeking planning permission.

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Posted: 30 December 2012

29 December 2012

EDF

EDF, the French nuclear power group, has become embroiled in a controversy over its industrial ties with China, sparking renewed speculation about the future of the company’s chief executive, Henri Proglio. France’s government – which owns 84 per cent of EDF, the world’s biggest generator of atomic-powered electricity by output – confirmed this week that it was opening an audit investigation into the French nuclear industry’s relations with foreign partners, including between EDF and CGNPC, the Chinese nuclear power group. While EDF stressed that the probe by the Inspection Générale des Finances was industry-wide, the audit body’s examination of a failed alliance that Mr Proglio tried to broker in 2011 between EDF and CGNPC has led to rumours that he is being targeted by the government. EDF has a longstanding relationship with China and is building two reactors there, but there are concerns in France about technology transfer. The audit body is planning to examine a proposed 2011 deal between EDF and CGNPC to share nuclear expertise, which was blocked by the French prime minister because it excluded Areva, the French reactor maker. It could also look at a recent tripartite deal between EDF, Areva and China to explore the development of a new 1,000-megawatt reactor.

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Posted: 29 December 2012

28 December 2012

Westinghouse

Toshiba Corp. is negotiating with three parties to sell up to 16% of its Westinghouse Electric Co. nuclear-power unit, Toshiba President Norio Sasaki said. The three parties “have made very good offers,” but Toshiba is “not in a hurry,” Mr. Sasaki said. The Japanese conglomerate’s forecast for its nuclear-reactor business is positive, despite softer demand after last year’s Fukushima disaster in Japan, he said. Toshiba paid about $4.2 billion for 77% of U.S.-based Westinghouse six years ago. At that price, the 16% would be valued around $875 million. Toshiba has since sold 10% of Westinghouse to Kazakhstan state-owned NAC Kazatomprom.

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Posted: 28 December 2012

27 December 2012

Sellafield

A damning report by safety experts has revealed that staff at Britain’s most important nuclear site did “not have the level of capability required to respond to nuclear emergencies effectively”. In response to a freedom of information request, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), an arm of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said errors by senior fire officers in a preparedness exercise at Sellafield “could have led to delays in responding to the nuclear emergency and a prolonged release of radioactive material off-site”. The initial report from the ONR led to an improvement notice being issued to the Cumbrian site, ordering it to improve its training and wider preparedness to deal with emergencies. Two HSE fire specialists had watched a safety exercise in December 2011 which tested the Sellafield fire and rescue service’s ability to search for two people after a fictional accident that led to the spillage of radioactive liquid and an aerial release of radioactivity. Although the exercise presented “simple scenarios under ideal conditions”, the service’s “resources were stretched” and “there were insufficient numbers of firefighters to achieve the objectives”, according to the HSE report.

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Posted: 27 December 2012

26 December 2012

New Nukes

Britain’s multi-billion pound nuclear building programme could face long delays because of cutbacks at EDF Energy’s parent company in France. The company has still not confirmed it will go ahead with the work and it now has revised the decision to ‘the earliest possible date’. Confirmation is not expected until March at the earliest, if at all. Delays had been caused by issues negotiating agreement with the British Government over price guarantees. But now the parent company, which is state-owned, is under pressure from the French government to cut costs. Details will be made known when the group releases its full-year earnings in February. EDF chief financial officer Thomas Piquemal said the firm would prioritise French investment in the year ahead, raising the possibility of a delay in its nuclear projects in Britain.

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Posted: 26 December 2012

24 December 2012

Chapelcross

Work on decommissioning the Chapelcross nuclear plant has reached a milestone as the third of its four reactors has been completely defuelled. The Annan plant ceased power generation in 2004 and its cooling towers were demolished in 2007. More than 38,000 fuel elements have to be removed from the site and taken for reprocessing at Sellafield in Cumbria. To-date 34,552 elements have left the plant and it is predicted defuelling will be complete by mid-2013.

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Posted: 24 December 2012

23 December 2012

Dounreay

Plans for massive increases in the amounts of radioactive waste dumped into the air and sea by the Dounreay nuclear plant on the north coast of Scotland have run into opposition from local authorities. Shetland and other councils are alarmed at proposals to discharge quantities of radioactive gases and liquids hundreds – or even millions- of times greater than in recent years. They are worried about the long-term risks for human health and the environment.

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Posted: 23 December 2012

22 December 2012

Hinkley

Energy firm EdF has received its recommendation for planning approval for its proposed new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point C. But despite reaching this key milestone by the end of 2012 as planned, EdF has still refused to commit to building the plant. It is to defer its final investment decision until the first quarter of next year although it had previously said it would make its final investment decision by the end of 2012 (NCE 18 November 2011). The Planning Inspectorate has passed on its recommendation to energy secretary Ed Davey that Hinkley Point C is granted a development consent order (DCO) following a three month review period. Its recommendation will not be made public until Davey either decides to uphold or dispute the decision. Davey has three months to decide whether to grant or refuse planning permission.

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Posted: 22 December 2012

21 December 2012

Energy Bill

Michael Meacher: The Energy Bill, which had its second reading today, has been presented by the government and the press as a bitterly fought compromise between the Tories and Lib Dems. The latter have secured an extra £7.6 billion at today’s prices to support nuclear and renewables up to 2020, while the former have secured the dropping of the target to decarbonise the electricity supply by 2030. That is the picture presented to the public. It is, however, a profound misrepresentation both of the Bill’s contents and of the nature of Britain’s current energy problems. There are two key mechanisms in the Bill which are not even mentioned, but which contain the essence of what this Bill is in reality all about. The first is the awkwardly titled “contracts for difference.” This gives nuclear generators a built-in guarantee that they will get the necessary return on their investment – and nuclear plants don’t come cheap at £8bn a time – courtesy of the taxpayer. Government answers (Hansard March 8 2011) have stated that the cost of generating new electricity will be up to £98/MWh. Even EDF Energy’s chief executive has estimated the strike price will be £140/MWh, which implies public subsidy costs of over £4bn. What the Department of Energy and Climate Change is keeping very quiet about is that nuclear costs are on an ever-rising spiral, while renewable costs are set to fall dramatically – offshore wind to under £100/MWh by 2020, domestic solar tariffs to £77/MWh by 2015, while large-scale solar will reach grid parity prices within the coming year.

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Posted: 21 December 2012