News November 2013

30 November 2013

Hinkley

It was hailed by UK Chancellor George Osborne as a “new dawn” – but serious questions remain about the security implications of Britain’s nuclear energy deal with China. The UK government has refused to say whether China’s planned investment in the British nuclear industry was approved by the National Security Council – the body that assess the risks from foreign investment in critical national infrastructure projects. Chancellor George Osborne announced during his trip to China in October that Chinese state owned companies CGN and CNNC would be allowed to take a 40% stake in the company planning to build the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset. In the future Chinese firms could become “majority owners of a British nuclear power plant subject to British safety rules and policed by the British,” said Mr Osborne. Conservative MP Dr Phillip Lee said it was “perverse” and “Orwellian” to allow Chinese state owned firms a role in critical infrastructure projects like nuclear power at a time when questions over Chinese cyber-attacks on the west had not been resolved. He said future conflicts would not be about the “physical possession of nations” but would involve “control of information, control of infrastructure, water electricity and communication.” Labour MP Dr Alan Whitehead, also a member of the energy and climate change committee called the Chinese nuclear company CNNC an “arm of the state”. “There doesn’t appear to be a clear distinction between the role of the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation in developing civil nuclear and developing and forwarding military nuclear,” he told the World Tonight. “Big corporations particularly national corporations in China are not companies in the way that we would see them in the UK.” He said the Chinese military – the People’s Liberation Army – would be involved in some of the decisions made by the firm. He has called on the UK government to state publicly how the investment in critical national infrastructure was approved and by whom.

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Posted: 30 November 2013

29 November 2013

Radwaste

Allerdale councillors are due to back a Government proposal to sideline the county council in any search for a new nuclear dump site. Allerdale’s executive committee is to meet next week to finalise the council’s response to the Department for Energy & Climate Change consultation over the revised search process announced in the summer. And in its draft response, which the executive is being recommended to lodge, it states that the authority agrees with an approach to “revise roles” in the siting process. It also says that some members believe there should be greater involvement of the parish and town councils.

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Posted: 29 November 2013

28 November 2013

Plutonium

A radical plan to dispose of Britain’s huge store of civil plutonium – the biggest in the world – by “burning” it in a new type of fast reactor is now officially one of three “credible options” being considered by the Government, The Independent understands. However, further delays have hit attempts to make a final decision on what to do with the growing plutonium stockpile which has been a recurring headache for successive governments over the past three decades. Ministers had pledged to resolve the plutonium problem in a public consultation but are sitting on a secret report by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) which is believed to confirm that there are now three “credible options” for dealing with the plutonium stored at the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in Cumbria. The original “preferred option” was to convert the plutonium into a form of nuclear fuel called mixed oxide (Mox) and then to burn this in conventional nuclear reactors. However, serious questions have been raised about this proposal in the light of the expensive failure of a previous £1.4bn Mox plant at Sellafield, which had to be closed in 2011. Two other options are now on the table, according to the NDA report. One involves a Canadian nuclear power plant called a Candu reactor which will burn a simpler form of Mox fuel. The other more radical proposal is to burn the plutonium directly in a fast reactor built by GE-Hitachi. The NDA report, which is classified as commercially confidentially, was itself delayed by several months before being submitted in August to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). The Government’s response to it was supposed to have been published within weeks but has now been delayed until next year – to the consternation of the companies involved in the consultation process. It is understood that the NDA has been impressed by proposals from GE-Hitachi to build a pair of its Prism fast reactors on the Sellafield site.

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Posted: 28 November 2013

27 November 2013

Hinkley

PEOPLE looking for a home in the Bridgwater area are facing a massive struggle – with rents rocketing and Hinkley C about to crank up demand. That’s according to Sedgemoor District Council, whose housing team has published a report this week which says rents on some types of home in the district have more than doubled in just two years.

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Posted: 27 November 2013

26 November 2013

Nuclear Safety

Letter Andy Hall ONR: Your article on Japan’s nuclear catastrophe at Fukushima was right to recognise the need for the UK to learn from such a disaster. As regulator for the nuclear industry in the UK we identified some key lessons to take from this devastating incident. They are: the need for a systematic approach to identifying events that could lead to accidents; robust measures to prevent those events progressing this far; and effective periodic review of safety analyses, to make sure they continue to meet high and continuously evolving regulatory standards. Fortunately, the UK acknowledged these requirements over 20 years ago and they were codified by the Office for Nuclear Regulation in its site licence conditions and safety assessment principles. Companies proposing the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK must show they will meet these requirements and address specific issues identified in the chief nuclear inspector’s reports on the Fukushima accident.

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Posted: 26 November 2013

25 November 2013

Politics

Chris Huhne: Did the prime minister really dismiss all that “green crap”, as the Sun claimed? Downing Street denies it, and I suspect that David Cameron has been the victim either of the Sun’s inaccuracy or of overenthusiastic team members assuming they know what he thinks. Either way, someone is running real risks with his image, one of the most valuable Tory polling assets. Cameron was certainly sincere when, that fresh spring day, I walked with him from Downing Street to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and he promised the “greenest government ever”. He is not just a Notting Hill metrosexual: he also hails from that home counties green Tory tradition that first gave us an Environment Department under the Heath government. Cameron’s next big test is the government’s political response to Ed Miliband’s promise to freeze energy bills. The debate in the “cabinet quad”, which is preparing next week’s autumn statement, will be around shifting some of the consumer levies – the “green crap” amounting to £112 a year – off energy bills. The chancellor is too embarrassed to reopen his own green tax grab, the carbon price floor. Nick Clegg has put renewables off limits, and has also insisted that there is no cut in the efforts to help the fuel poor (though it may be paid instead from general taxation). The most controversial of the “crap” is the Energy Company Obligation – the ECO – whose energy-saving element costs £760m a year. Which way will Cameron jump? He is horribly torn, judging by what happened to his February speech on energy efficiency at the Royal Society. Oddly, the transcript can now be found only on the website of the Association for the Conservation of Energy. If the prime minister flunks this energy-saving test, he will confirm the Sun’s story, and look like the weak victim of the short-term pressures he once promised to fight.

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Posted: 25 November 2013

24 November 2013

New Nukes

Almost without fail when the possibility of new nuclear power stations at Hinkley or Sizewell are mentioned it is stated that ‘they will create 25,000 jobs’. The local paper called it a ‘jobs bonanza’ – however, it equates to the equivalent of 12 permanent jobs per year for local people over a nine year period. Where did they get that figure from? After several attempts I was eventually told it was from an EDF document1. It only includes construction work and not the people who may be employed full time if the plant is built.

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Posted: 24 November 2013

23 November 2013

Hinkley

Nearly £8m was spent on Government advisers to broker the deal for the UK’s first nuclear power station in 20 years, an amount critics claim “stinks like a rotting fish’s head”. The lawyers Slaughter and May did best of the five consultants that spent 18 months in negotiations with energy giant EDF to secure the go-ahead for Somerset’s £14bn Hinkley Point C plant. The legal giant was handed a fee of £2.76m in October. This was when the Energy Secretary Ed Davey finally confirmed an agreement on the so-called “strike price” – the minimum EDF will received for electricity generated at Hinkley – at £92.50 per megawatt hour. Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, uncovered the fees in a Parliamentary answer to one of a series of questions he has asked the Government, as he looks to prove that the project will ultimately be a “mega-disaster”. Mr Flynn told The Independent negotiations had been “neurotically secretive”, and the strike price was the result of a “limbo dance of creative mathematics”. He argued that the consultants’ fees were “definitely excessive and they stink like a rotting fish’s head”. There could be more bumper paydays to come, as the Government still has to steer the deal through the European Union. States that have become increasingly anti-nuclear in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011, particularly Germany and Austria, are believed to be preparing to try to kill the Hinkley development on state aid grounds.

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Posted: 23 November 2013

22 November 2013

Torness

A nuclear reactor near Edinburgh shut down on Thursday because its seawater cooling system became clogged with seaweed. This is the second time this year that reactors at Torness in East Lothian have been forced to close because of excessive seaweed. In 2011 it was closed by a swarm of jellyfish. EDF Energy was criticised by the government’s nuclear safety inspectors over a seaweed blockage that closed down a Torness reactor in 2010. Inspectors identified “a number of areas where further enhancement may be possible” in the safety arrangements for dealing with seaweed. In a letter to members of the local liaison committee, Winkle stressed that there was “optimum safety at all times”. He added: “Cooling to the reactors was maintained at all times and there were no health or environmental impacts.” Both reactors at Torness were closed down for several days in May this year by seaweed. In June 2011 they were shut because a swarm of jellyfish had blocked the coolant filters.

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Posted: 22 November 2013

21 November 2013

Nuclear Subsidies

Sweden, reviving its nuclear power, will not follow Britain’s example of offering state guarantees to fund the construction of new plants, its energy minister said on Wednesday. “We won’t address any direct or indirect subsidies for new nuclear power production in Sweden, which means that we will not introduce any feed-in tariff for nuclear,” Swedish Energy Minister Anna-Karin Hatt told reporters in Paris. “Nuclear in Sweden has to stand on its own, it has to bear its own cost, it has to bear its insurance cost as well as the cost for handling the waste after the uranium has been used,” she said. Hatt said Sweden will stick to its position in spite of the British deal and that the European Commission should examine any possible distortion to competition in the common EU market. “I won’t judge on what kind of choices Great Britain makes, that’s an issue for the British government and the people that have appointed them. But it is very important that the Commission looks into the issue,” she said. The British project will need EU approval in the coming months.

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Posted: 21 November 2013