Is Hinkley C the turning point against nuclear power in Britain?

Despite the government’s constant assertion that funding is impossibly tight and that any departure for a rigid status quo by the Labour party is unaffordable, there seems to be no limit to government subsidies gushing into the doomed nuclear project at Hinkley in Somerset.   Last year the government offered the French energy company EDF the contract to build a third nuclear power station paid for by increases in electricity bills over 35 years and Treasury-backed loans.   Now confidence in the project is evaporating as it is increasingly realised that the same construction problems, delays and spiralling costs which have devastated EDF’s building similar nuclear plants at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flammanville in France will hit Hinkley C in the UK.   Centrica, which was supposed to be a joint partner with EDF, pulled out.   EDF then couldn’t sustain the project out of its own finances, so it went cap in hand to Chinese state-owned companies and to AREVA, a French state-owned company.   Then 2 months ago it was revealed that AREVA was going bankrupt.

At this point the Chinese nuclear companies also began to get cold feet, and press stories emerged that Saudi Arabia and Qatar were being approached to invest in the project.   The obvious question arises as to why they should want put their money into such a risky project which so many other countries and companies had already decided was throwing good money after bad.   There can be only one explanation.   The UK government , which has already agreed to offer a £10bn (yes, £10 billion) loan guarantee for the project, is now so desperate to avoid the ignominy of collapse that they have also now agreed to ‘underwrite’ the whole project and pay for all the extra costs which the project may throw up.   If the Tories were really serious about cracking down on excessive and unnecessary public expenditure rather than simply eviscerating the welfare state, it is inconceivable that such an open-ended and reckless commitment of public funds would ever be allowed to pass muster.

Even now with all these monstrous concessions at the expense of the British taxpayer, Hinkley C looks precarious.   The Chinese are demanding to bring in their own equipment for the construction, but EDF is refusing to allow this.   Aside from that, the tighter safety standards in the West as a result of Fukushima may yet make the construction of nuclear power all but impossible.   This process cannot be taken much further: the cost of renewable like solar power is coming down very fast while the cost of nuclear power continues to rise remorselessly upwards, probably prohibitively.

9 thoughts on “Is Hinkley C the turning point against nuclear power in Britain?

  1. Well to begin with Fukushima Daiich was built in one of the most tectonically unstable regions of planet and compounded by the same kind, (in principle,) of corrupt and deficient management, (rather too much like Mid Statffs in too many respects,) that contributed so significantly to the Chernobyl disaster as well.

    So once again the problems of nuclear power both technical and financial are being over emphasized for political reasons;, but what is alternative?

    Sooner or later even without factoring in the much disputed environmental impact of carbon based power generation, (coal and oil,) those resources will run out and for all the hype about it, alternative energy alone is nowhere near efficient or reliable enough to generate energy on the scale necessary to sustain and advanced industrial technological society.

    So if we don’t build these power stations where is our power going to come from in 20 years time?

    Or is this going to be yet another example of what one commentator here has previously called, “The Green Zone,” the lights will stay on for some whilst the rest of us will be left out in cold, (in this case literally.)

    There’s no free ride here and no alternative is risk free.

    My own concerns about nuclear power are far more about the caliber, integrity and honesty of people and organizations operating them than about technology, but unfortunately those concerns apply just as much to potentially hazardous complex operational system.

    The disasters at Bhopal, (for which no compensation has ever been paid to thousands of people injured there,) the recent BP oil spill, (again caused by cost cutting to generate excessive short term profits profits,) and half a dozen equally horrendous and frighteningly similar examples of mismanagement, negligence and regulatory and inspection failures illustrate that there is nothing especially or uniquely hazardous about atomic power.

    Personally I think that nuclear power is this countries best option as part of a diverse, sustainable and robust mix for future power generation and that investment, (almost at any cost,) needs to be made now.

  2. “those concerns apply just as much to, “any,” potentially hazardous complex operational system.”

  3. hum well giving private contractors a run at this isnt the way foreward has it all come down to costs and profits we see this day in day out but nuclear power not being run and built by the british people is a no no has above whot are we going to do if more windmills which costs far to much monies and dont do whot it sais it do we have many green programs which dont match up to their own stats but if we must build nuclear then no outside contractors or money men has like the railways farce do we want to be paying thrice for our power jeffe

  4. For the UK to consider Hinkley, or any other site given the state of disrepair of Great Britains ageing nuclear facilities appears irresponsible. Sellafield is in a mess and while it true that efforts are being made to rectify safety concerns, still older reactors in the process of decommisioning are costing ever increasing sums of public money: All to create bombs.

    What is wrong with using repressed technologies like Hydrogen Fuel. Solar paint or film. I would guess that a properly designed Hydrogen fuelled power station, whose buildings are covered by solar panels, or even smaller plants whose turbines are powered by on site solar panels would compete with nuclear, minus the pollution and bombs. The nuclear industry entire appears to be a terrible mistake, even though a toxic waste disposal system called “Fracking” exists to reduce costs to for polluting industries. There exists now a clean coal technology that is perfectly acceptable. We are being mislead and lied to over power generation.

  5. What is not mentioned here is that EDF, as any previous despairing customer will know, is a thoroughly incompetent company, who Ofgem required to pay £3 m in compensation last summer for a 30% increase in complaints following the introduction of an IT system which ‘failed to have sufficently robust processes in place and this led to the unacceptable handling of complaints’.

    That is, an IT system which was programmed in such a way as to shame a hardly passing software-design undergraduate, where the EDF IT jumped about somewhat randomly it seemed and produced whatever sum happened, and then if you asked them to try again, came up with something else, neither of which was right.

    Like, how difficult can it be? The IT system only has to work out two things at the most – electricity and/or gas payments . But they had this complicated thing of doing estimates and then cancelling them and replacing them with other figures, but getting lost in the process (as did I). Very difficult for the ordinary citizen to follow, and how many people have been getting incorrect bills and not realising it? Many I suspect.

    While £3 m is nothing much to them, having made huge billions of profits already out of overcharging, and probably false accountancy. That £3m going towards a Citizens Advice energy scheme and a debt helpline. Which is nice I suppose, but what people really need is not to have their energy bills so highly out of proportion to their income (in many and increasing households).

    What there ought to be is a thorough investigation into EDF billing (and probably other companies as well). And alarm bells going off into their ability to organise – anything at all. Let alone be let loose with billions more of public monies, which would inevitably esculate to more billions along the way. What deficit?

    So the public pay their engorged bills, and then the public pay again for all the rest of it, and then again. and again… When EDF are basicly saying is that they aren’t going to do anything if there’s the slightest business risk to themselves. If it goes well – they get the profits. If it doesn’t go well – the public pay. That is, to them this IS a risk-free energy souce.

    Either way, there will be some people making very nice plump pay cheques and bonuses out of it. For which we are paying, while back at home we’re scared to turn on the heating. But that’s okay, as they’ve invested in giving you advice about how better to ration it.

    This is typical generally of the form of privatisation that has been allowed to happen in this country. When privatisation is meant to be the company itself taking the risks, not the public paying for much of it, and then the company hiding behind the ‘private’ label so as not to have to explain to the public anything about their operations and failings.

    It’s also meant to be about real competition, and we all know that hasn’t been happening with the power companies either, with their mutual price fixing.

    Altogether, we the general public are being hugely scammed, while our money disappears into the private accounts of tax havens; and while I’m here writing this huddled up in a few layers of wooly items, and a shawl and a scarf wrapped round my head, with a meagre bit of heating, hoping the rest of the winter will be mild.

    I’m not now with one of the Big Six, and I’m a bit more sort of confident about the honesty of my present power company, but the Big Six have biased the prices of the whole industry. If they were made to lower their prices to something more fair, the rest would follow.

    (And then on top of that, I find I’m still, indirectly, going to be paying EDF anyway.)

    Or, even better, as we’re actually paying for most of it whatever, let’s miss out the middleman, and have it all back in public owernship. Let’s stop the privatisation and big profiteering from anything essential or often neccesary to our everyday lives.

    Though that isn’t likely to happen with the two Eds cozying up to Big Business and assuring them not to worry. The last Labour government had a long time in which to tackle this issue and did not a thing about it. Neither is there any hint that they would do anything much about it another time around.

    Announcing Labour would freeze prices if they are elected into government, only led to the power companies immediately putting up their prices to a level where it won’t matter to them. And the small reductions, to look good, some are now announcing, not to be applied until after the coldest time of year, is far less than the lowered wholesale prices.

    This is a very serious issure of course. This country has a longish winter time, and when people can’t afford heat, this effects their health, or worse.

    Every winter thousands of our elderly die in miserable states of hyothermia . Far more than advice, what they need is affordable prices. Added to which, those on lower incomes, caused by government policies, simply can’t manage the artificially inflated prices; and then many groups are having their incomes removed for the slightest invented reason, causing much unnecessary suffering, and more extra deaths.

    The winter heating allowance has been a good thing, so far as it goes, but shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. Moreover, it’s going up with the pension age, so not now going to be receivable until sixty-six.

    Here I’m feeling very resentful that we’re having to work out how to go without as much as possible in order to even start paying the winter power bill, and we don’t have much in the way of heating anyway. By which time we’ll have to start on the next one.

    For us everything is going to have to be miserably rationed for some time just in order to feed a dishonest industry. An industry that intentionally removes the quality of life for the many for the profits of the few.

    And then this dubious nuclear project by a very dubious power company is to be paid for partly by increased electricity prices over the next 35 years. No thank you. Let’s instead more seriously concentrate on looking at future alternatives, both of source and provider.

  6. I have to confess that we’ve been with EDF for over 10 years , (on pay as you go card meters, which we love, but for which we’re expected to pay an additional premium; but which are still the best way to budget on a very low income, not least because you can get into credit during the warmer periods against the cold patches,) but having previously been with British Gas, (the absolute worst by far,) and having checked out the various other suppliers, (most of the small independent ones such as EBICO are a con and are just a front for one of the larger companies,) we’re reasonably happy with them; in the sense of them being the least bad of a very bad bunch.

    But in our experience by a significant margin.

    The IT/billing issues you describe are nothing at all unique to EDF, most other companies use similarly crude and unresponsive IT systems and policies that tend to take the money first and ask question later these days, but we’ve found that if we persist and remain polite it’s always been possible to get all these issues sorted out, if sometimes only eventually.

    EDF’s services and help for disabled people, (my wifeis disabled,) has much improved recently and they sent out our warm home discount on time this year, (last year they sent it late yet again and only then after much stress and aggravation and too many phone calls, followed by them sending us the same payment 3 times and then also someone else’s payment as well, but the main thing is that sent it,) and we get the impression they’re trying hard.

    As for decommissioning our aging reactors and processing plant and the escalating cost of building new capacity, the Marxists, (and Marxism is anything but the spent force politically or intellectually that Milliband’s, “fake,” labor are pretending,) of my acquaintance argue strongly and persuasively, after both Adam Smith and Marx that this, along with ever more frequent and ever less sustainable financial bubbles, (sound familiar,) that this is entirely typical and entirely characteristic of late or sclerotic capitalism.

    I don’t understand Marx or economics sufficiently well to criticize this , but it does seem persuasive to someone familiar with broad political and economic history of the last century and with our current circumstances.

    Traditionally, (before these wretched and largely brain dead, post Thatcher Neo-Liberals hijacked both our labor party and the debate,) it was not unusual for governments to underwrite these huge capital projects in our national interest and even to own, operate and administer them directly in the public interest, (one line of argument for nationalization which I have always found compelling,) not least because as I have noted above the record of private sector in operating these projects safely and cost effectively is absolutely appalling and not just at Fukushima, (although to be honest and in their defense no-one anticipated the cooling system being completely taken out at a single stroke and all the access roads being completely destroyed at the same time.)

    This is a key project in our national interest and if wait for a perfect moment in perfect world we’re never going to do anything; but if we don’t start building new generating capacity, (and an important element of this needs to be nuclear,) right now we’ll be cursed by future generations the same way that many of us now curse the other mistakes, (many and huge,) of Thatchersm

  7. No more nuclear power stations please. Sellafield is a massive mess that needs sorting out @ £billions cost to us the taxpayer, no one knows what to do with the tons of plutonium piled up there. Sellafield produces no power, it eats ££££ and resourses just to keep it all stable. An insane industry. S&S this to stop Moorside to be built right nect to Sellafield.

  8. I agree completely with Michael Meacher’s comments on this ill-advised project.

    What a shame though that the Labour party supports of new nuclear power just as assiduously as Cameron, and will not even halt the insanity of renewing Trident at a cost to the taxpayer of £100 billion plus.

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