News February 2013

28 February 2013

New Nukes

China could be on the cusp of one of its most sensitive European investments as costly plans for new nuclear reactors in Britain open the door to Chinese state-run firms.Five years on from the sale of nuclear operator British Energy to France’s EDF, the French firm is looking to build the first new reactor in the UK since the 1990s and plans talks with a Chinese partner.Such a deal would be unthinkable in the United States, where the White House is stepping up diplomatic pressure and weighing tougher laws to stem the threat to U.S. businesses and security from China and other nations.The Chinese military was accused of carrying out hacking attacks on companies, including British ones, by a U.S. cyber security firm last week, an allegation which Beijing’s Defence Ministry has denied.

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Posted: 28 February 2013

27 February 2013

Energy Supplies

Alan Whitehead MP: Ever since Alastair Buchanan, the outgoing CEO of Ofgem put pen to paper last week warning that Britain could be on a “knife edge” as far as energy supplies are concerned from 2015 onwards, there has been a slew of press pieces shall we say, “simplifying” Buchanan’s message and predicting energy doom for all imminently. The latest in a long line, from the Independent, lists all the technologies that might come to the rescue but won’t, such as nuclear (not ready for another decade) offshore wind (likely to be uneconomic) shale gas (possible holy grail but a long time to exploit and develop) leaving – er – gas, probably at a very high price. The message from other newspapers has been similar. To summarise – if nothing flows into the UK on existing interconnectors (currently providing about three per cent of supply and capable of about double that) and no-one builds any new ones, even though connectors to Norway, Ireland, Belgium, and Iceland are in discussion or planning, then, ooh we’re in trouble. The Ofgem report does helpfully explore alternative scenarios where we do really go for it in importing some power and building capacity for further imports so that we approach the level of interconnection of – say – all of our European neighbours, and the chart then looks rather different. In 2015-16 excess capacity over peak winter demand dips just below the 10 per cent mark and then starts to rise again. Tighter than the present 20 per cent mark but certainly manageable. I know, it spoils a good scary story, but regrettably it’s there in the report. The newspaper stories are right to the extent that doing nothing is not an option, and some fairly rapid focused action to secure such facilities for the UK is imperative. But no, the lights won’t go out, and, yes, investment in interconnection could be much cheaper and more productive than either pursuing the will o’the wisp of mass new nuclear generation or of underwriting a massive surge in unabated gas fired power stations to secure long term capacity. We can park for now the argument not even mentioned in the Ofgem report that investment in smart grid management and balancing will go a long way towards making a much smaller capacity margin go much further.

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Posted: 27 February 2013

26 February 2013

New Nukes

Writing in the Town and Country Planning Association’s Journal, Professor Andrew Blowers, in the second of two articles, argues that the case for nuclear power is flawed, and sets out economic and ethical reasons for rejecting nuclear power as part of our future energy mix. The full article can be found here.

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Posted: 26 February 2013

26 February 2013

Nuclear Power: a flawed case Part 2

Writing in the Town and Country Planning Association’s Journal, Professor Andrew Blowers, in the second of two articles, argues that the case for nuclear power is flawed. In the second instalment of a two-part article arguing the case against nuclear energy Prof Blowers sets out economic and ethical reasons for rejecting nuclear power as part of our future energy mix.

The full article can be found here: Flawed Case 2

Part one is here: Flawed Case 1

Posted: 26 February 2013

25 February 2013

Nuclear Subsidies

Dave Toke: Don’t let nuclear negotiations drag down renewables. The debacle over funding nuclear power is increasingly likely to delay the renewable energy programme. The Government can, and should, submit an application to make state aid to the EU directly after the Energy Bill legislation is adopted. But even if the Bill is dealt with quickly, some reports suggest that the nuclear strike price negotiations will drag on, potentially delaying a state aid application. Indeed the fact that nuclear power is involved produces a massive complication in what would otherwise be a much shorter administrative process. Subsidies for renewable energy are tolerated much more easily by EU rules on ‘state aid’ compared to subsidies for nuclear power which is not seen by many EU states as an ‘environmental’ measure. The ‘negotiations’ between the Government and EDF are going nowhere. There are giant differences between what the Government is politically able to offer EDF, and what EDF needs to justify to its shareholders to allow construction of Hinkley C. Government and EDF seem to be engaging in time-wasting public relations in a tussle to apportion blame for the policy failure. For its part EDF and nuclear supporters are trying to minimise – in effect hide – the image of just how uneconomic new nuclear power stations actually are. The impression is wrongly being given that what EDF is demanding is comparable to support that will be available to renewable energy.

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Posted: 25 February 2013

24 February 2013

Sellafield

Letter Martin Forwood: The controversy of Cumbria County Council’s democratic decision against moving on to the next stage of the MRWS process has thrown up an illuminating insight into exactly how beneficial Sellafield has been to West Cumbria over the last half century. How, if the industry they support has been such a good neighbour, has such a shabby state been reached? The answer of course is that, having once been sacrificed on the altar of the UK’s nuclear weapons programme of the 1940s and 50s, the increasingly commercial nuclear industry in West Cumbria has simply ridden roughshod over the area in its efforts to entrench itself so deeply in the local fabric that local communities would have no option but to live with it irrespective of the socio-economic and environmental damage it was actually doing. The rather obvious correlation between this tawdry track record, both legacy and current, and the present state of West Cumbria – the blighted backwater described by those who apparently saw an underground dump as the area’s last chance saloon – strongly suggests that any prospect of new reactors, new MOX plants or other pipedreams actually rescuing West Cumbria from its current impoverished state are as remote as the promises of the industry’s ‘Trust Us’ brigade have proved to be hollow and worthless. Those politicians and local authorities who persist in dragging West Cumbria to the level of a nuclear pariah state from which there is no return might well reflect on the old saying ‘and who would run, that’s moderately wise, a certain danger for a doubtful prize’ ?

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Posted: 24 February 2013

23 February 2013

Electricity Market Reform

Alan Simpson: What a grubby little energy market we have constructed in Britain. As Alistair Buchanan, the head of Ofgem, warns of looming gas and electricity price rises, it is worth a brief look at the politics behind what is going on. It boils down to energy companies “gaming” the energy market and government incompetence hanging the public out to dry. Plus ca change. The Energy Bill currently going through Parliament must be the worst energy Bill I have seen in the last 20 years. It is a shambles from start to finish, Britain’s equivalent of the Maginot Line – a hulking great monster of a Bill that will do nothing for Britain’s energy security, will cost the public a (not so) small fortune, and will be completely unsuited for the energy future the world is already moving into. It looks as though new nuclear will need a price guarantee of twice (three times?) today’s wholesale price of electricity, for 40 years. Ministers do not even bother to ask why their preferred source of energy requires subsidies of so much, for so long. Even less do they question the spiralling cost trajectory that new nuclear is on. For the public, the cost will be paid in bills, other choices – and lives. For less than the cost of a single new nuclear power station, Britain could take seven million households out of fuel poverty. For less than the cost of the bribes that we will pay for reopening mothballed gas power stations we could have a renewable energy programme that would deliver sustainability, and a decentralised system of generation, and distribution that would turn a cartel into an energy democracy. As it stands, hundreds of thousands of the fuel poor will die in this decade, waiting for energy that will not arrive until the next. Millions more will face rising fuel bills for energy set to become less and less affordable, while better choices slide off the table. This is not a programme, it’s a road crash. The only sources of energy with genuinely falling cost curves are all being sidelined.

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Posted: 23 February 2013

22 February 2013

Nuclear Subsidies

EDF Energy’s £14 billion reactor project in Somerset faces further delays of at least two years for the European Commission to consider if the French state-backed company is being granted illegal state aid by Britain, a UK rival warned yesterday. EDF is demanding generous subsidies, funded by levies on British consumers’ bills, as well as loan guarantees from the Government to build the UK’s first nuclear reactor for decades at Hinkley Point. Ministers had assumed that Brussels would quickly rubber-stamp any deal to allow the company to start construction. But SSE claimed that EDF Energy’s proliferating demands for Government financial support will force the EC to deliberate until 2015 at the earliest. The commission’s decision would be under threat of a judicial review, which would take years to complete. SSE said “It seems unlikely that a final decision will be made on state aid approval for nuclear subsidy under electricity market reforms before 2015 at the earliest, and potentially much later. This is why gambling our energy and capacity future on nuclear is a high-risk strategy.”

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Posted: 22 February 2013

21 February 2013

Nuclear Subsidies

RWE npower, one of the big six power suppliers, has warned ministers not to seal a long-term subsidy deal with the nuclear industry behind the backs of consumers and saddle them with “unnecessarily high bills” for the next 40 years. The warning from Paul Massara, RWE UK’s new chief executive, comes as the Guardian can reveal that up to 15 private sector executives with links to the atomic sector have been seconded to government departments or other public sector roles. A Freedom of Information request undertaken by the campaign group, NuclearSpin.org, showed at least 15 people working for the nuclear energy industry or its consultants have been seconded to areas responsible for policy or regulation, some being paid for by the taxpayer.

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Posted: 21 February 2013

20 February 2013

Nuclear Subsidies

Electricity firm EDF has confirmed it wants the UK government to sign 40-year contracts to support building new nuclear reactors in Britain – as the national energy regulator warned prices are likely to rise higher than expected. Energy experts said longer contracts for new nuclear power would help bring the price guarantee down from early estimates of £140-160 per unit to under £100, and bring down the overall cost because they would reduce risk and make it cheaper for EDF to borrow the estimated £12bn-£16bn building cost.

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Posted: 20 February 2013