Letter submitted to The Financial Times newspaper, on 7 October 2020: I read with increasing incredulity the article “Downing St considers £2bn support for mini nuclear reactors,” Financial Times 7 October 2020), written, I note with some interest, by your chief political reporter and international business editor, not your energy editor. Your reporters appear to have been briefed only about the ‘sunny side’ of the proposed new small modular rectors (SMRs). Let me set out some of the problems, most of which are unsurmountable. First of all, your reporters assert without any supporting evidence that “The first SMR is expected to cost £2.2bn.” Where did they get this figure from? I would wager, based on over forty years analysing and writing about nuclear energy policy, that were any SMR ever built, its cost would be significantly higher, having seen every single reactor option ever developed under-priced when being sold to governments in order to secure political sign-off. Secondly, even SMR advocates know such so-called mini-plants ( they are actually planned to be pretty similar in electrical capacity to the first generation UK Magnox plants) in order to have any chance of coming close to producing competitively-priced power, ie that which would interest private sector investors, then the owner must be able to sell the surplus heat. Indeed, a new study, Nuclear cogeneration: civil nuclear energy in a low-carbon future issued on October 8th, by the British Royal Society, (https://royalsociety.org/-/media/policy/projects/nuclear-cogeneration/2020-10-7-nuclear-cogeneration-policy-briefing.pdf), written by Professor Robin Grimes of London’s Imperial College – who is also chief scientific adviser in the UK Ministry of Defence for nuclear science and technology- argues very strongly that “SMRs present a particularly interesting proposition for cogeneration.” But what Professor Grimes omits to address is the acute licensing problems any such near-city deployment would face, as, in order to maximise gain from re-use of the surplus heat generated, SMRs would necessarily need to be build adjunct to urban areas, or at the very least in industrial parks close to densely populated areas. In my experience of being involved in British nuclear planning inquiries since the one held for Sizewell B in 1983-85, no licensing regime would give the green light to any reactor proposed to be cited so close to where people live. The problems it would create for emergency planers, for the state civil contingencies and resilience apparatus to protect against terrorism, and the sheer public opposition to new nuclear, when the comparative merits of of the SMR competitor, wind energy, are seen alongside the transparent de-merits on mini-reactors, would ensure any such project dead in the water. A prudent government would jettison SMRs now, declaring them dead at birth However, we know that Rolls Royce, the biggest industrial advocates for UK –manufactured SMRs has an additional covert agenda, which it let slip in a publicity brochure in 2017, when it described the merits of SMRs thus: “..the expansion of a nuclear capable skilled workforce through a civil nuclear UK SMR programme would relieve the [UK Ministry of Defence of the burden of developing and retaining skills and capability.” Could that be Whitehall’s alternative agenda?
David Lowry’s Blog 7th Oct 2020 read more »
FT 13th Oct 2020 read more »
Chris Huhne, Former UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change: You report that Downing Street is supporting plans for a £2bn subsidy to small nuclear reactors (Report, October 8). The problem with small, modular reactors has never been their feasibility, particularly backed by the sort of engineering companies that you cite. The problem is finding sites to put them on where any government is prepared to withstand the public protest. That is why the existing new nuclear programme is, without exception, planned for existing sites of old nuclear reactors, where the local communities are used to the technology and its jobs. After all, the government has as yet failed to identify a site for the safe storage of nuclear waste, let alone for new reactors. Before Downing Street throws public money at small nuclear reactors, can I suggest that the government produces a white paper setting out the potential sites for them? If there is still a majority in parliament afterwards, the money will indeed be well spent, but I doubt there will be. Not many home counties’ villages will opt for a nuclear reactor on their outskirts.
FT 12th Oct 2020 read more »
Beyond Nuclear is hosting a webinar on SMRs with leading experts: M.V. Ramana, Simons Chair in Disarmament and Global Security, University of British Columbia; Kerrie Blaise, Staff Lawyer, Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA); Ed Lyman, Director of Nuclear Power Safety, Union of Concerned Scientists. The webinar is co-hosted by the Coalition for Responsible Energy Development in New Brunswick and CELA and will include contributions from Gordon Edwards and David Lowry. The webinar takes place on October 21 at 2pm Eastern time. Click here to register. A recording of the webinar will be available on YouTube. More information on SMRs can also be found in the Beyond Nuclear pamphlet. In a 3-1 vote by NRC Commissioners on December 17, 2019, Proposed Rule: Emergency Preparedness for Small Modular Reactors and Other New Technologies (SECY-18-0103) was accepted. The Rule would eliminate the need for Emergency Planning Zones and dedicated offsite emergency planning for Small Modular Reactors. The lone dissenting vote came from NRC Commissioner Jeff Baran. These are his comments.
Beyond Nuclear 12th Oct 2020 read more »
On June 26, the Canadian federal government ended the Environmental Assessment of a proposed radioactive waste storage facility beside Lake Huron, after Ontario Power Generation (OPG) withdrew its proposal to build it. OPG decided to terminate the project after the Saugeen Ojibway Nation, on whose unceded territory the facility would be located, voted on January 31 not to support the project, which had been under consideration for 15 years. In New Brunswick, the proposed new reactors (so-called “small modular nuclear reactors” or SMNRs) will create irradiated fuel even more intensely radioactive per kilogram than waste currently stored at NB Power’s Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. The non-fuel radioactive wastes will remain the responsibility of the government of New Brunswick, likely requiring the siting of a permanent radioactive waste repository somewhere in the province.
Beyond Nuclear 12th Oct 2020 read more »
David Thorpe: The UK government has for 15 years persistently backed the need for new nuclear power. Given its many problems, most informed observers can’t understand why. The answer lies in its commitment to being a nuclear military force. Here’s how, and why, anyone opposing nuclear power also needs to oppose its military use.
The Fifth Estate 13th Oct 2020 read more »