Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?

The news for nuclear gets worse every day.   The latest news today is that the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant in Somerset, the government’s flagship nuclear project is near the point of collapse.   After Ed Davey, the LibDem secretary of state (there was a time before they joined the government in 2010 that the LibDems were solidly against nuclear) waved through the most expensive power station in history, and then the EU Commission suspiciously decided that the huge financial concessions (bribes?) offered to EDF did not mysteriously constitute an illegal state aid, it now looks as though Areva, the French designer of the reactor and the only company that can provide the equipment, is in a state of free fall.   Areva was already building two reactors, one at Olkiluoto in Finland and the other at Flamanville in France.   Both have been a disaster, massively behind schedule and over budget.   As a result Areva has been forced to suspend all its profit predictions and its shares have crashed nearly a quarter.   Can Hinkley Point C survive?   If not, the government’s whole energy policy is in deep trouble.

Even if it still goes ahead, it will probably only be after further big government (i.e. taxpayer) sweeteners are written secretly into the deal.   But even if it had gone ahead as intended, it would still have been a massive white elephant.   The EU Commission predicted the cost at £25bn, compared to the cost of £14bn that Davey had given to the Commons (can you trust anything that a minister or Whitehall spokesman says nowadays?).   Even that EU estimate was predicated on it being built by 2023, 6 years later than originally mooted, and vedry unlikely to be met given the Olkiluoto and Flamanville experience.

We now learn also that the other end of the nuclear process is also turning out to be vastly more expensive than was ever contemplated at the outset.   The IES has estimated that the bill for closing down and cleaning up the world’s ageing nuclear reactors will exceed $100bn over the next 25 years alone.   In the past 40 years only 10 reactors have been closed down, but in the next 25 almost 200 are due to be shut down, with huge uncertainties in decommissioning costs and with governments’ limited experience in safely dismantling nuclear plants.   In the UK the bill for cleaning up Sellafield and the other 16 reactors that are due to be shut down by 2023, recently put at £75bn, has now escalated to £110bn.   There is moreover the still unresolved question of how to dispose of radioactive nuclear waste: some 60 years after the first nuclear power plant started operation, no country in the world has yet opened a permanent disposal facility for commercial high-level waste.   So what does the Tory government cling on to such a failed technology at such inordinate expense?

7 thoughts on “Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?

  1. This problem has been brewing for a very long time indeed, at least a decade or even more. As far as I remember, back then experts were warning that we needed to build new Nuclear Power Stations as it takes so very long to do so that unless something was done urgently, there would be a gap in our energy production, with nothing to fill it.

    At the time, it was thought that renewables, wind and solar power would be insufficient to meet demands. Hopefully, this technology has improved since then, but I suspect it still won’t be sufficient to meet demand, unless the demand itself is cut and power rationed in some way.

    Rather than reassuring people that nuclear power is nowhere near as dangerous as they may fear, successive governments have ducked the issue, which has led to the current dire situation you describe. Had they taken the bull by the horns then, we should now have British built nuclear power plants instead of farming them out to the French, which has led to the mess we now find ourselves in.

    However, might this mean that EDF will be pulling out and not receive the generous subsidies we had agreed to pay them? These were not only for the building of the plant, but also a very generous payment for the energy they produced, for many years to come, was also part of the deal. (My Green MEP was up in arms at this and tackled the EU on the issue; links here below).

    To touch on the need for growth and jobs, a project to create energy by utilising the River Severn, which happens to have the 2nd highest tidal range in the world, was much discussed until quite recently. There was a tremendous controversy over a very expensive barrage which would have damaged the areas’ ecology, but an alternative solution of fitting 2-way turbines underwater seemed much more practical. At the time, my local Labour MP David Drew seemed quite keen on this idea, until he unfortunately lost his seat at the last General Election. (It would appear that he has a good chance of winning it back next year).

    Whilst on the subject, a TV documentary a few years ago featured a chap who had submitted a proposal to the government concerning wave power (many decades ago). This involved a series of floats strung together that bobbed up and down with the waves and somehow generated power. The proposal was rejected but he said this was due to some sort of misunderstanding. (I’m guessing that perhaps some oil company may have sabotaged his proposal). Anyway, it seems that the idea could work.

    Prof. Molly Scott Cato, my area’s Green MEP tackled the EU about the arrangement with EDF:
    Quoted from her web page:
    Molly wrote to Joaquín Almunia, outgoing EU Competition Commissioner, challenging him over his recommendation that the Commission give the green light to the controversial financial deal for Hinkley C nuclear power station. [Hinkley Letter_MSC_Sept 2014]
    His response suggested that the decision to support the deal followed investigations which concluded that it would ‘address a genuine market failure’, dispelling the Commission’s initial doubts. Molly is now seeking clarification on what this means. [Almunia reply_Hinkley]

    Congratulations on your clear and informative speech on Money Creation. Quite an eye opener!

  2. yet you off about nuclear yes its been costly but then closing down power stations coal ones that is were germany has openned a massive opencast mine for its new power station coal fired one wonders who who in all this if coal is dirty then why is germany building these isnt it strange that in the steel works they use exuast gasses back keeping the cost down isnt this another way of keeping pollution down but then has sais before miners who wants them uh but wait untill japans mess gets let out of the bag has this could happen to us won day if cams and co gets their way with fracking causing earthqukes yep another dose of radeation coming soon jeff3

  3. The loss of Hinkley C would not damage the UK’s energy policy but be its saviour, not least its release of the £24billion initial taxpayer input. Without new nuclear the UK can get on with onshore wind and solar on all the coastal nuclear sites, invest in tidal power like the Severn Barrage and link in to the European Smart Grid to overcome intermittency throughout Europe.

  4. Unfortunately Pelamis, Britain’s largest investor in wave power, has just gone into administration.

  5. Jeffrey Davies:
    The German people were firmly against nuclear power but I think you’ll find that, unlike the UK, they have been heavily investing in solar and other power sources for many years. Their country is also not as densely populated as the UK so they have more scope for open cast mining, which people here strongly object to.

    A British company I once worked for modified coal burning plants in Poland to burn more cleanly, so this can be done. However I think the problem with our coal is that it became too expensive, too difficult and too dangerous to mine, and of course, like Germany’s it won’t last forever. At the time, Thatcher’s government found it cheaper to import coal (again, co-incidentally from Poland) than to mine our own. However, perhaps they didn’t take the cost of redundancy and unemployment payments fully into account, and hadn’t considered the social and economical implications or the devastation caused in the mining areas. Or, being Tories, perhaps they just didn’t care.

    As for nuclear power, I doubt we’d have the same problems as Japan, as we’re not prone to strong earthquakes or tsunamis, and their plant was very old indeed. However, you’re quite right about fracking and that’s one of the main reasons why I want to see the Tories lose the next election, hopefully before they’ve done too much damage to this country.

  6. I wouldnt be to sure on that fracking causes earthquake s yet coal we have plenty of going back to it like Germany well lets look at miners we did have loads of but then they in power are scared of them but we have the means to use coal has we get electric and gas just from coal without the other products made from it but then it seems we heading full scale to another recession has they still fiddling the figures yes we might not have gas but parliament has plenty of that nah fracking will bring more problems for the peasants has we have to buy nestles bottled water jeff3

  7. Ps one will have to excuse my bad english has my brain doesnt function well but leaving a planet behind for our children I will try to embarras them at thst once proud house

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