24 December 2014

Capacity Market

The UK capacity auction: a backdoor way of staving off the utility death spiral. A mantra is inscribed on the walls of the UK Treasury. It reads ‘No subsidy without additionality’. In layperson’s language, this strange phrase means that the only justifiable purpose of handing a business a cheque is to get it to do something it wouldn’t otherwise do. This golden rule was spectacularly flouted in the UK electricity capacity auction that was concluded last week. A billion pounds will be handed to generators in 2018 in return for doing precisely what they would have done anyway. Negligible amounts of new electricity generating capacity was drawn into the market and existing plants will not change their behaviour. Later in this article I’m going to look briefly at two successful participants in the auction – the pumped storage reservoirs and the nuclear fleet – to show why this is so. Consider two important sources of electricity at the times of greatest demand at 5pm on mid-winter weekday evening: nuclear and pumped storage reservoirs. EdF put in bids to the capacity auction offering 7.9 gigawatts of power. (I mustn’t digress but I don’t think that EdF has actually delivered 7.9 gigawatts from its nuclear power stations at any stage of the winter so far, so its ability to deliver on the commitment must be questioned). Nuclear power station are meant to run all the time. It costs money to shut them down or run at a reduced load. No operator would ever voluntarily not have its nuclear stations working. There was no point whatsoever in allowing these power plants into the capacity auction and paying them about £150m a year to carry on doing what they want to do anyway. In the UK it looks as though the major generators have staved off the death spiral a little by capturing another billion pounds from consumers. That billion could have gone into energy storage units, power to gas facilities or renewable generators, such as anaerobic digestion plants, that can modulate their output to help match supply and demand, thus easing the transition away from carbon-based fuels. Unfortunately, the auction just bought off the large generators instead.

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Posted: 24 December 2014

23 December 2014

Nuclear Cybersecurity

Britain’s largest generator of nuclear power said it would be looking at the hacking of a South Korean nuclear operator to see if any lessons could be learned – but the UK industry emphasised that its security standards are high and that it is well-equipped to withstand a cyber-attack. A spokeswoman for EDF Energy, which owns eight out of the nine nuclear power stations in the UK, said it took nuclear safety and security very seriously. “This extends to our stance around cyber-security and while it is not appropriate to go into detail, we work very closely with our regulator and other agencies to ensure that we have appropriate, ‘in depth’ protection measures in place to safeguard informa tion” she said. “Changes in threats to the UK and our industry in particular are kept under constant review and take into consideration recent cyber-events and changes in cyber-threats. “We are monitoring the situation in South Korea and will take any lessons learned from this into account.” The Office of Nuclear Regulation, has in place strict security regulations, requiring sites to have a security plan, which must include details of “the protection of computer-based systems important to safety and security (known as CBSIS)”. A 2012 ONR security review said computer systems must be protected “against cyber-attack, manipulation, falsification and sabotage, consistent with the threats identified in national threat assessments”.

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Posted: 23 December 2014

22 December 2014


Andy Blowers: A Geological Disposal Facility for Nuclear Waste – If not Sellafield then where? In the wake of the publication of the Implementing Geological Disposal White Paper, Blowers looks at political and policy developments in the search for a site for the geological disposal of higher-activity nuclear waste, and argues that the White Paper leaves the way open for further procrastination

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Posted: 22 December 2014

21 December 2014

Nuclear Safety

The nuclear industry and its supporters have contrived a variety of narratives to justify and explain away nuclear catastrophes, writes John Downer. None of them actually hold water, yet they serve their purpose – to command political and media heights, and reassure public sentiment on ‘safety’. But if it’s so safe, why the low limits on nuclear liabilities?

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Posted: 21 December 2014

20 December 2014


Hinkley Point C Review of the Year: The so-called UK nuclear renaissance “increasingly looks less a rebirth than an unsatisfactory assortment of stalling, disjointed projects” according to energy Journalist Tim Probert. At the end of 2014, six years after EDF Energy first announced its intention to develop Hinkley Point C, the Bristol Post says we can finally be reasonably confident the project will go ahead. But the paper still expresses some doubts, because EDF Energy has yet to make the final investment decision and one of its partners, Areva, has some financial challenges: “But in all likelihood the project will be confirmed early in the new year”. Not everyone would be quite so bullish. To many it feels like the project is sleep walking towards disaster. It’s just that no-one is quite sure whether the disaster will be a virtually ‘unconstructable’ power plant struggling to come into operation years late and vastly over-budget or the collapse of the whole project before it even starts.

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Posted: 20 December 2014

19 December 2014


As reported in the Whitehaven News today, Copeland Borough Council’s planning panel, acting against planning officials’ advice, have rejected an application for one 30m high wind turbine for Peterburgh Farm near the village of Beckermet. Whilst regular readers of the newspaper will be familiar with the frequent rejection of wind turbine applications by Copeland Council – whose history of rubber-stamping nuclear plans is well documented – this latest rejection stands apart from all others. For Peterburgh Farm lies towards the northern border of the 200 acres of greenfield land that is currently being investigated by new-build developer NuGen who plan to build three nuclear reactors on the site. The pantomime element of rejecting a wind turbine on the extremities of the site is provided by the cast of individuals and local parishes that objected to the turbine plan, and their reasons for objecting. These include concerns that ‘the turbine would devastate views, affect wildlife especially local barn owls, bats and starling, devalue property and undermine the enjoyment of walkers in the area’. One local councillor went so far as to question why the beautiful area should be ruined with all these turbines? CORE’s spokesman Martin Forwood said today, We wait with interest to see how the villains of this pantomime – the wicked West Cumbrian Godmothers who object to an inoffensive and renewable energy source – react to a future application by NuGen to smother the area with three nuclear reactors and all the paraphernalia that goes with them. If they object to the beauty of a single turbine on this site then they must certainly reject outright the beast of nuclear new-build and its long-term damage …. Oh No they won’t !

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Posted: 19 December 2014

18 December 2014


THE chief executive of EDF Energy has said that construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant should begin early next year, despite financial pressures. The French energy firm’s chief executive Vincent de Rivaz made the comments during his speech at a recent Nuclear Industries Association conference. He said more legal and other work is needed to be completed before EDF could give the long awaited final investment decision on Hinkley Point, but he was confident that a decision would be made in the first quarter of 2015 – March at the latest. He added discussions with potential new and existing foreign shareholders to the project were continuing. Doubts have been raised that French firm Areva, which is designing the Hinkley C reactor, will be able to find the funds to take its 10% stake in the project.

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Posted: 18 December 2014

17 December 2014

Small Reactors

Small nuclear reactors have the potential to revolutionise Britain’s energy market, providing a clean, secure supply of electricity that will help the country to meet its targets to reduce carbon emissions, a parliamentary select committee will announce today. Known as Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), this fledgling technology is being designed in such a way that it can be manufactured at a plant and taken to a site fully constructed. As well as generating green electricity, the reactors could be used for heat production, desalination or water purification, the committee said. However, if it is to be a success it will need a sustained period of collaboration between government and industry, said the cross-party Energy and Climate Change Committee. “SMRs could potentially have a key role to play in delivering low-carbon energy and lower upfront capital cost compared to large conventional nuclear reactors,” said Tim Yeo MP, committee chair. “That said, the commercial viability of SMRs remains unclear. The government should support the use of existing nuclear site for the deployment of SMRs. These sites could potentially host a demonstrator module with minimal additional infrastructure requirements and with the support of a skilled local workforce,” he added. The committee urges the government to “establish the right conditions for investment in SMRs”, for example through supporting the regulator to speed up the process.

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Posted: 17 December 2014

16 December 2014


The finishing date for work to decommission and close the Dounreay nuclear power site in Caithness has been pushed back from 2025 to 2029. Changes in the way radioactive fuel should be handled and a requirement for additional security at nuclear sites has created more work at Dounreay. The changes are required by the UK government.

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Posted: 16 December 2014

15 December 2014


China’s biggest nuclear power generator is preparing to enter Europe’s renewable energy market, snapping up three UK wind farms from French utility EDF in a signal of its intent to build a global generating business. The move by state-owned China General Nuclear Corporation (CGN), set to be announced on Monday, would be its first big acquisition of onshore wind generating capacity in the west. The agreement with EDF could help smooth talks on a bigger deal to build Britain’s first nuclear power plant in a generation, at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

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Posted: 15 December 2014