News May 2015

100% Renewables in the South-West is Possible

Former advisor to Gordon Brown at the Treasury and No.10, Damian McBride, revealed that Ed Balls, having been warned by Treasury officials that the costs for Hinkley Point C are frighteningly out of control,  would have reviewed the spiralling costs with a view to scrapping the project if Labour had won the election and he had become Chancellor. (1)

Perhaps the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, and the Tory Chancellor George Osborne won’t want to go that far, but investors remain reluctant to commit especially after the recent technical problems in the reactor vessel at Flamanville. According to Nick Butler writing in the Financial Times the challenge for the new government is that development that is already seven years behind schedule will be further delayed – no station here can go ahead until at least one EPR reactor is working somewhere in the world. The new problems are likely to increase still further the amount of financial guarantees required. This will all push up the final price consumers will have to pay. At worst, the current regulatory tests could require the reactor vessels to be redesigned and rebuilt. (2)

In recent weeks we have learnt that:

  • Anomalies have been found in the bottom and lid of the reactor pressure vessel (RPVs) of a similar nuclear plant being built at Flamanville in Normandy. This means weaknesses in the vital metal structure protecting the outside world from the highly radioactive reactor core. (3)
  • Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety inspectorate revealed that the same manufacturing technique was used in the steel for the identical safety casings destined for Hinkley Point, which “have already been manufactured”. (4)
  • China says it won’t approve the initial loading of fuel into two reactors until possible safety issues with the RPVs are resolved. The Taishan 1 and 2 RPVs were fabricated at the same factory as the RPV for Flamanville. (5)
  • Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, said. “How much more can go wrong before they say it’s time to give up on this?” He called Hinkley Point “a project that needs an exit strategy”. (6)
  • The two Chinese companies considering investing in Hinkley Point C have serious concerns about the European Pressurised water Reactor (EPR) design, and the financial health of the French company Areva which designed the reactor. (7)
  • Areva is now in such a bad state (with a €4.8bn loss in 2014) that it looks as if it might have to withdraw as a co-investor in the Hinkley project. (8)
  • Luxembourg (9) is to join Austria (10) in filing a complaint against the UK’s proposed subsidies for Hinkley Point C.
  • A German electricity supply company – Greenpeace Energy – has also decided to take legal action against the Hinkley subsidies. A number of municipal energy utilities, such as Stadtwerke Schwäbisch Hall, are considering joining the lawsuit. About 7% of electricity generated in Britain would be highly subsidised nuclear electricity if Hinkley goes ahead thus distorting the European electricity market. (11)
  • EDF Energy and the UK Government have a list of problems to sort out which is daunting before the project can go-ahead. For instance they need permission from the European Commission for the financial arrangements to transfer title to the nuclear waste from EDF to the Government in future. EDF’s £10bn loan facility from the Government also needs to be finalised. (12)
  • On top of this the Government is seeking European Commission approval to hold a “golden share” in EDF’s £24.5bn Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, which could have the effect of strengthening pending legal challenges against the plant’s construction. (13)

Meanwhile the huge renewable resources available in the South-West are becoming clearer. It has some of the world’s best renewable energy resources, capable of boosting our rural economy and ensuring our energy security. All that is holding us back from the renewable revolution is a failure of political will.

  • Regen South West points out that if the Government puts in place the policies needed to meet 15% of the South West’s energy requirements (N.B. Energy, not just electricity, i.e. including heat and transport) this will deliver £10bn of investment and 24,000 jobs. The UK is committed, under EU rules, to meeting a 15% target for energy by 2020.
  • At current rates of growth the South-West will only produce just over 14TWh (terawatt hours or billion kWh) of renewable energy whereas it needs to produce 19TWh to meet the 15% target.
  • At currents rates of growth the number of jobs will be 16,000 by 2020, whereas it could be 34,000. (14)
  • The South West region has the renewable energy resources to meet more than 100% of its total energy needs, including replacement of liquid fuels and electrifying railways. We should aim to do this by 2050. According to a recent report by The Resilience Centre the South West has the potential to generate an estimated 68TWh of energy made up of 43TWh of electricity energy, and 25TWh of thermal energy. This equates to just over 100% of total future energy needs for South West assuming a 40% powering down due to energy efficiency measures by 2050. (15)
  • A programme to deliver a 100% renewable energy target would create 122,000 jobs. The capital cost of delivering such a programme would be £59,484m, including £8,784m on Smart Grid energy storage. This is 72% of equivalent nuclear costs for delivering the same amount of energy.

The new Government has a choice – go-ahead with the financial millstone of nuclear power with consumers paying for decades to come with much of the expenditure flowing out of the region, or develop a sustainable energy programme which will boost local jobs and the local economy. We urge them to choose the latter,” said Stop Hinkley Spokesperson Allan Jeffery.

  1. Sunday Times 10th May 2015
  2. FT 10th May 2015
  3. Reuters 17th April 2015 and Ecologist 14th April 2015
  4. Independent 18th April 2015
  5. ECNS 15th April 2015
  6. Times 18th April 2015
  7. Times 7th February 2015
  8. Telegraph 5th March 2015
  9. Luxemburger Wort 29th April 2015
  10. Argus Media 29th April 2015
  11. Becker Buttner-Held 12th March 2015 and Ecologist 5th March 2015
  12. Ecologist 11th March 2015
  13. Independent 5th March 2015
  14. RegenSW Manifesto
  15. The Power to Transform the South West, Resilience Centre and European Greens April 2015

Posted: 21 May 2015

21 May 2015


Tom Burke: Amber Rudd’s appointment as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate has been welcomed by environmentalists. This is partly out of relief. There was a real risk that DECC would be abolished by an incoming Conservative Government. Taking away DECC would have weakened the Climate Change Committee and undermined the Climate Act. That would have pleased a significant faction of Tory MPs. Instead, it was the environmentalists who were pleased at DECC’s reprieve. To succeed, Rudd will have to square a number of very tricky circles. And she will have to do so with a Department not widely regarded as being run by the best and the brightest in Whitehall. There is little evidence that the climate and energy wings of the Department have ever thought they were working on the same problem. Another savage round of Whitehall budget cuts is unlikely to improve either the quality of DECC’s analytic skills or the confidence of its external stakeholders. Rudd’s early statements on energy policy illuminate the road ahead for her. She has been quick to reassure her less climate aware colleagues that she is no guileless green. There will be no more subsidies for onshore wind. Consent for new wind farms will have to be given by a local council planning authority which will have to consult residents. There will she says ‘be a much more accountable democratic process’. Rudd also wants to ‘unleash a new solar revolution’. She is clear that she wants this to be roof top solar thus avoiding an early clash with the Environment Secretary who is determined to keep solar off farmland.

[Read more…]

Posted: 21 May 2015

20 May 2015

New Nuclear

Nuclear advocates must be admired for their optimism if nothing else, writes Mark Diesendorf. Disregarding over half a century of evidence that nuclear power is dangerous, expensive, enables the spread of nuclear weapons, and produces wastes we still don’t know what to do with. Nuclear advocates are fond of claiming that nuclear energy has negligible greenhouse gas emissions and hence must play an important role in mitigating climate change. However, the greenhouse case for new nuclear power stations is flawed. In a study published in 2008, nuclear physicist and nuclear energy supporter Manfred Lenzen compared life-cycle emissions from several types of power station. For nuclear energy based on mining high-grade uranium ore, he found average emissions of 60 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity generation, compared with 10-20 g per kWh for wind and 500-600 g per kWh for gas. Now comes the part that most nuclear proponents try to ignore. The world has, at most, a few decades of high-grade uranium ore reserves left. As ore grades inevitably decline, more diesel fuel is needed to mine and mill the uranium, and so the resulting CO2 emissions rise.

[Read more…]

Posted: 20 May 2015

19 May 2015

Radwaste – Scotland

Consultation paper seeking views on a proposed Implementation Strategy to support Scotland’s Higher Activity Radioactive Waste Policy. The proposed Strategy has been prepared to support Scotland’s Higher Activity Radioactive Waste Policy that was publsihed in 2011. The Policy is that long-term managment of higher activity radioactive waste should be in near surface facilities. Facilities should be located as near to the site where the waste is produced as possible. Developers will need to demonstrate how the facilities will be monitored and how waste packages, or waste could be retrieved. The Strategy does not address site-specific issues. It is recognised that appropriate waste management solutions at one site may be different from those at another site. As such, the proposed Strategy is not prescriptive about which management solutions should be used in specific circumstances. The Strategy sets out the key stages for the effective implementation of the 2011 Policy and outlines key actions that are required from the NDA and the Scottish Government during those phases. The consultation closes on 7th August.

[Read more…]

Posted: 19 May 2015

18 May 2015


The Royal Navy is to investigate claims that security and safety procedures around the Trident nuclear submarines are inadequate. The investigation was launched after the claims were made by a submariner who has gone on the run. Able Seaman William McNeilly alleged the Trident programme was a “disaster waiting to happen.” The Royal Navy said that the submarine fleet operated “under the most stringent safety regime.”

[Read more…]

Posted: 18 May 2015

17 May 2015


Non-nuclear Austria has said it would take the European Commission to court over its decision to approve Britain’s plans for a 16 billion pound ($25 billion) nuclear power plant, saying such a decision would go against the EU’s aim to support renewable energy. The project, to be built by French utility EDF at Hinkley Point in southwest England, is crucial for Britain’s plan to replace a fifth of its ageing nuclear power and coal plants over the coming decade while reducing carbon emissions. Der Spiegel quoted Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn as saying the EU must not allow “a la carte membership” and “the political essence of an ever-closer union must not be questioned”.

[Read more…]

Posted: 17 May 2015

16 May 2015


This weekend a consultation into the building of a £10 billion nuclear power plant in West Cumbria gets underway. It could bring 21,000 jobs to the region, but anti-nuclear campaigners are protesting against the plans. Watch Samantha Parker’s full report.

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Posted: 16 May 2015

15 May 2015


Safety limits on the storage of some of the world’s most dangerous nuclear wastes at Sellafield in Cumbria have been relaxed after an accident knocked out a treatment plant. The government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), has permitted the private company that runs Sellafield to breach legal restrictions on the amount of hot, high-level radioactive waste that can be kept in tanks. The limits are likely to be exceeded by up to 350 tonnes between April 2014 and July 2016. Critics accused ONR of breaking their promises and putting Sellafield’s profits before safety. But ONR insisted there was “m inimal hazard increase”, while Sellafield said it put safety first. The waste storage limits, imposed in 2001, were meant to reduce stocks to below 5,500 tonnes of uranium equivalent by July 2015. The aim was to minimise the risk of a disaster spreading a plume of potentially lethal radioactive contamination over the UK and Ireland – officially regarded as Sellafield’s “worst credible accident”. The liquid waste comes from Britain’s nuclear power stations and generates significant amounts of heat. It has to be constantly cooled and stirred to prevent it from overheating. Sellafield asked for permission to breach the storage limits to help cope with a backlog caused by an accident in November 2013. A plant meant to solidify the waste to make it safer lost power, suffered “gross contamination” and had to be closed for 11 months. The alternative to exceeding the storage limits was to temporarily close a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant at Sellafield that sepa rates out the waste. But this would mean operating the plant for two or three years beyond 2018, when it is due to shut for good, placing extra strain on ageing downstream facilities, ONR said.

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Posted: 15 May 2015

14 May 2015


Conservative Ian LiddellGrainger has reinforced the importance of a settled European relationship when pushing forward with the Hinkley Point C project. The politician, who is now in his fourth term representing Bridgwater and West Somerset, has also said that over the next five years he will be focusing on inward investment in Bridgwater, as well as the ongoing traffic issues that have blighted the town’s roads.

[Read more…]

Posted: 14 May 2015

13 May 2015


French state-controlled utility EDF has signed agreements with Chinese firms which will supply equipment for two nuclear reactors EDF plans to build in Hinkley Point, Britain, the company said. In October 2013, Chinese utilities CGN and CNNC signed an agreement with EDF to take a 30 to 40 percent stake in the consortium to build Hinkley Point. The new supply deal would mean that the participation of the Chinese companies would not be purely financial, French daily Les Echos said. An EDF spokeswoman said the firm had also signed a memorandum of understanding to exchange information between the companies working on the Areva-designed EPR reactors for Hinkley Point and two EPR reactors CGN is building in Taishan, China.

[Read more…]

Posted: 13 May 2015