News

24 October 2016

Hinkley

It’s been another turbulent month in the long-running saga over the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. Having looked as if she might be contemplating a rethink, Theresa May unveiled an apparently decisive approval just before the Conservative Party conference. But with longstanding issues still unaddressed – and new problems emerging even since the PM’s announcement – the debate over Hinkley is far from over. Now might be a good moment, then, to reflect on the contribution that social science can make to these kinds of controversies over science and technology. Of course, what counts as useful in any given controversy will depend on your perspective. It is inherent to democracy that different values and interests yield contrasting conclusions. This is especially so over deeply-fractured faultlines like those which run through the UK’s commitments to nuclear power. Social science can provide a better understanding of why different perspectives disagree – and help (when possible) to identify common ground. Hard-pressed policymakers often find it useful to understand how to foster trust, confidence and “acceptance” of their institutions and procedures.

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Posted: 24 October 2016

23 October 2016

New Nuclear

The UK has laid out a welcome mat for any nuclear operators in the world who want to showcase their latest designs in Britain − the one exception being the Russian state company Rosatom. With many nuclear companies no longer able to build new stations in their own countries – France and Japan, for example – because of public and political opposition, the UK government is inviting them to construct their newest models in England and Wales. So the French company EDF, Japan’s Hitachi, the US-based Westinghouse, and the state-owned China Nuclear Power Corporation are all anxious to find somewhere that will allow them a chance to show off what they’ve come up with. If all their new-build plans go ahead, the UK will have 12 new nuclear reactors of four different designs at six different sites. This open-door policy is a lifeline for an industry that elsewhere in the democratic world is fading away. Apart from South Korea, which has a thriving home-grown nuclear industry, only in nations such as China and Russia − where the government can ride roughshod over local objections − is the nuclear industry still expanding. All of the nuclear companies involved in new build in the UK say they want to launch their most recent versions there as a prelude to selling them to the rest of the world.

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Posted: 23 October 2016

22 October 2016

Wylfa

Wylfa Newydd developer Horizon Nuclear Power has hit back at criticism of a “lack of ambition” in their estimates for the number of local people that will join the workforce. In its latest consultation, Horizon said it only expects around 45% of the 850 permanent staff needed to work at the site to come from the region. This came under fire from Anglesey council who believe they should be aiming higher. But Horizon have responded, saying the 45% figure is not a target and that they hoped to replicate the success of Wylfa A – where more than 80% of workers are from the region.

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Posted: 22 October 2016

21 October 2016

Hinkley

Given that Hinkley Point C is forecast to be 7 per cent of the electricity demand, what impact could it make to a typical business electricity bill of £2,600 per annum? If we assume 7 per cent of the market receives the Hinkley Point energy at £101.57/MWh with the rest at the current price of £38/MWh, the new market average price would be £42.45. That’s an increase of nearly 12 per cent. As 42 per cent of a bill comes from the wholesale market, the increase would actually be 4.7 per cent or £122 a year for a typical business. With the Retail Price Index (RPI) running at 1.6 per cent, that’s not as bad as some of the headlines are making it seem.

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Posted: 21 October 2016

20 October 2016

Energy Policy

Andrew Simms: Choosing the best possible future means considering radical scenarios that align energy use and industry with climate action. The good news – according to the World Energy Council (WEC) – is that, per person, our energy demand is set to peak before 2030. Of course, there will be more of us around by then too, so that total demand will only slow, rather than level out. A heady whiff of technological optimism accompanies the explanation that this will happen because of “unprecedented efficiencies created by new technologies and more stringent energy policies”. The bad news is that under the scenarios drawn up by the WEC, even keeping to the upper target agreed in Paris of global warming no greater than 2C will require an “exceptional and enduring effort” that goes beyond any current commitments and needs a price for coal, oil and gas that is dramatically higher. To sweeten this pill, the WEC gives its scenarios names which must appear funky in the world of energy policy. “Modern jazz” is about shiny, digitally driven markets, the slightly less enthusiastic “Unfinished symphony” is about emerging greener models for growth, while “Hard rock” is a future of both low and grubby growth. The problem with these and many other scenarios that emerge in the mainstream, is the intellectual editing that occurs before they even begin. Most share two overwhelming, linked characteristics that strictly limit any subsequent room for manoeuvre. Firstly the demand for energy itself is seen as something innate, unchallengeable and unmanageable. It must be met, and the only question is how. Secondly, the assumption remains that the principles and practices of the economic model that has dominated for the last 30 years will remain for at least the next 30 years. There is no sign yet of the ferocious challenge to neoliberal orthodoxy happening at the margins of economics shaping mainstream visions of our possible futures. The merest glance at the history of changing ideas suggests this is short-sighted. At the height of the 2008 financial crisis, the UK government promised to “go beyond the conventional thinking” to put things right. It never did, but with the climate crisis there is no choice. Conventional thinking is off-course and contradictory. Without a balanced, comparative assessment of strategies to align energy use and industry with inescapable climate action, we won’t be able to choose the best possible future. I’m glad to say that work like this is beginning to happen at places such as the University of Leeds’ centre for industrial energy, materials and products. It’s going to mean telling better stories of change, rewriting rules and breaking ideological chains all around, but hey, that’s jazz.

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Posted: 20 October 2016

19 October 2016

Hinkley

Some of Britain’s biggest infrastructure projects could face serious delays as a result of Brexit, the country’s top engineers have warned. The engineering industry, which contributes £280bn to the economy, has said that a restriction on access to skills could delay the building of major infrastructure projects such as HS2 and Hinkley Point C power station, which was given the green light just weeks ago after months of wrangling. Brexit could also push up the costs of the already high-price projects if demand for skilled

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Posted: 19 October 2016

18 October 2016

Moorside

ELECTRICITY company National Grid has announced a new consultation on its plans to connect Cumbria’s proposed nuclear new build to the electricity network. It will hold 30 public events in both Cumbria and Lancashire, starting with one in Rampside Village Hall on Tuesday November 1 to discuss the £2.8bn project. These events will see the firm explain the technologies which will be used to connect the grid to NuGen’s planned development at Moorside, near Sellafield. The company has been working on these plans for six years of work and say they have tried to find a balance between protecting landscapes and passing costs onto bill payers.

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Posted: 18 October 2016

17 October 2016

Plant Life Extensions

It may be possible to extend the operation of Scotland’s nuclear plants past their current projected lifespans, according to their operator. Scotland has two nuclear power stations, both run by French state-owned energy company EDF – Torness, based in East Lothian, and Hunterston, in North Ayreshire. Hunterston began operating in 1976 and is due to go offline in 2023, while Torness went online in 1988, and is due to close in 2030. But Paul Winkle, EDF’s Scottish Business Director, has suggested that depending on assessments of how the plants age, their life span could be extended. Speaking at an EDF fringe at the SNP conference, Winkle said: “The current life for Hunterston is 2023 and Torness is 2030, and that is based on our assessment of ageing mechanisms in those plants and being absolutely sure that when they are shut down they are still safe to operate. “But to go beyond that we will do assessments and it may be possible to make some small further extensions, but we will not operate them beyond when we are confident they are safe to operate. Our current estimate is, with Hunterston, we get to a point where, if we go beyond 2023 there will be uncertainty. We will do more analysis in due course. Those dates are based on our best judgement.” Torness has originally been expected to close in 2023, but had its lifetime extended by seven years back in February. Hunterston had expected to close in 2011, but had its lifetime extended until 2017. Then in 2012 EDF gave approval for operation to continue until 2023.

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Posted: 17 October 2016

16 October 2016

Torness

Bristol University in England has been enlisted in an attempt to stop jellyfish interrupting the performance of coastal power plants. Notable recent incidents halted the operations of EDF’s Torness nuclear power plant in Scotland, as well as other occurrences in Sweden, the Philippines, Japan and the US. Researchers at the university are developing a supercomputer early warning tool that can predict the movement of masses of jellyfish, which could be headed for nuclear and coal-fired power plant cooling water intakes, hindering operations.Torness shut for a week in 2011 as a result of blockage while the Philippines suffered a massive blackout in 1999 after 50 truckloads of jellyfish had to be removed.

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Posted: 16 October 2016

15 October 2016

Hinkley

A nationwide shift to LED lightbulbs could slash the risk of a winter blackout, according to new research from Greenpeace. The research, carried out by energy analyst Chris Goodall, found a switch to the energy efficient LEDs in homes would reduce peak electricity demand in the winter by five per cent, or 2.7GW. The study also calculates the use of LEDs in office and other commercial building could save around 4.5GW, around nine per cent of peak demand, while LED street lighting would save a further 0.5 GW. While lighting might not seem an area of high energy demand, it is responsible for nearly a third of total winter peak electricity demand, according to the research. It calculates that a complete switch to LEDs would likely halve power use from lighting. Greenpeace said the research shows a business and government drive to promote a switch to LEDs could see a reduction in the UK’s electricity demand equivalent to over two Hinkley Point nuclear plants’ worth of electricity. Greenpeace estimates it would currently cost around £1.7bn to switch the most used bulbs in all UK homes to energy-efficient LED lighting, adding that the transition could be completed “relatively quickly”. The payback period for switching the most used lighting typical domestic house to LED is two to three years at current prices, with the estimated £62 cost of replacing 21 bulbs in living areas likely to cut annual electricity bills by at least £24, Greenpeace said. However, the new analysis also shows that in addition to helping cut domestic energy bills a national switch to LEDs would help save at least £65m a year on capacity market payments, reducing the subsidies the government pays for back up power capacity.

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Posted: 15 October 2016