The latest government manoeuvre to rig the market for nuclear is being confirmed today with the publication of the Energy White Paper. The UK’s existing nuclear power stations, all of which bar one were due to close within the next decade, are to be kept open to continue the operation of nuclear until new nuclear stations are built. Bearing in mind that the timescale for building a new nuclear power station is likely to be 10 years, and given that the only two nuclear stations being built at present in the West are both 2-3 years behind schedule, this decision could extend the life of some existing nuclear stations by 5 years or even conceivably by up to 10 years. The Nuclear Installations Inspector has allegedly stated he is “content for the plants to continue to operate”, which must be seen as a de minimis form of approval, but by any standards this is taking a very grave risk. And this is only the last of a long list of shenanigans adopted by the government to keep nuclear open.
Two days after the Fukushima tsunami struck, emails were leaked from officials at the government’s Business Department saying every effort must be made to stop those opposed to nuclear taking advantage of this catastrophe to cast doubt on nuclear. That compares with the decision of the German (and several other) governments to close down their nuclear industries because the risks were so great.
The government have always insisted there would be no public sibsidy for nuclear. Now it is plain they are providing several. Cumbria has just announced its interest in hosting a nuclear dump in return for tens of millions of pounds in “planning sweeteners”. According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority it will cost at least £4bn, involving a network of caverns totalling 10 square miles of floorspace more than half a mile below the surface. The radioactive waste will be hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years, according to the NDA, though “the upside is that after 2 million years it should be mostly harmless”!
The government are also rigging the market by introducing a carbon floor price. This is crafted to benefit, not only renewables, but also nuclear even though it does generate significant carbon emissions in its uranium mining (as compared to virtually nil carbon emissions from renewables). A price per tonne of carbon is to be imposed from April next year of £15.70, more than twide the current market price, and doubling again to £30 per tonne by around 2020. On that basis the UK power industry would be forced to pay at present over £3bn a year for the carbon price alone, and it is clear that this will be used to benefit nuclear alone rather renewables.