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.
Read more “Nuclear is turning out badly all round: why is the government clinging to it?” »
Recent FoI requests have revealed increasingly close US-UK collaboration over the design of nuclear warheads. A document which has come to light prepared for a US senator visiting the Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment talks of enhanced collaboration on “nuclear explosive package design and certification” as well as on “maintenance of existing stockpiles” and the “possible development of safer, more secure warheads”. The document shows that at about this time, if it hasn’t already taken place, a pact will be signed drawn up by senior officials from the US-UK which increases cooperation on warhead design and the exchange of material crucial for the manufacture and stockpiling of nuclear weapons. But it will not be debated or voted on in Parliament. Indeed the government’s wish is that this forging of increasing strategic links with the US over nuclear warheads should happen as unobtrusively as possible, preferably with no reference being made to it at all.
Read more “Mass surveillance is not the only thing where Govt wants minimum scrutiny: same with nuclear” »
One major reason why UK governments fail to advance the drive towards renewables, with which Britain is uniquely endowed, is the colossal burden of the nuclear legacy. The nuclear clean-up now swallows up about tw0-thirds of the entire DECC budget. Sellafield alone costs £1.7bn a year, almost as much as the nearly £2bn spend supporting renewable energy in 2013. A month ago the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) awarded a £7bn contract to decommission 12 more of Britain’s oldest reactor sites over a 14-year period to a UK-US consortium. During the whole nuclear saga stretching back to Britain’s entry into nuclear bomb-making in the 1940s and into nuclear power in the 1950s, the costs of decommissioning were constantly underestimated. Even as recently as 2009 the costs of decommissioning Sellafield were reckoned to be £47bn, yet the latest estimate is now over £70bn, and rising. The impact on energy policy and government spending is literally draining.
Read more “Nuclear gets a glowing review” »
You have to hand it to Osborne: his capacity to dress up a disaster as though it were a thumping success is without equal. He said the privatisation of Royal Mail would be a boon for the taxpayer, but then lost the taxpayer £1.5bn by grossly under-pricing the initial offer. Now he’s returned from China to tell us that he’s secured Chinese investment in the new nuclear plant at Hinckley Point in Somerset, and that will save the British taxpayer a packet. The truth is, this deal could well turn out to be the biggest millstone round the British taxpayer’s neck for decades, perhaps even exceeding HS2. After all potential partners in funding Hinckley have one after another walked away – with Centrica (British Gas) preferring to withdraw even at a loss of £200m rather than participate in such a risky venture – Osborne was desperate to get a taker at any cost. The Chinese knew they had him over a barrel, and they have exploited Osborne’s weakness ( and Britain’s future) ruthlessly.
Read more “Osborne sells out taxpayers, not only over Royal Mail, but over Hinckley Point nuclear plant as well” »
Hitherto the future of nuclear in Britain has hinged around whether the French nuclear behemoth, EDF (Electricite de France), can find a partner to help bear the cost of new nuclear plants – currently some £14bn apiece – and, not entirely unrelated, whether EDF can squeeze the British government where it hurts into agreeing a ‘strike price’ at nearly twice the current costs of electricity generation, using the blackmail that if the government does not agree, EDF will walk away and there will be no nuclear generator left willing to step into the breach. At that point the government’s much vaunted new nuclear build programme collapses like a pack of cards. Indeed the chances of this happening are rising by the day. But now another bombshell has been thrown into the mix (if that is not an unfortunate metaphor). EDF is close to bankrupt.
Read more “Are we seeing the end of nuclear in Britain?” »
The government’s announcement yesterday that it is granting planning consent to the French firm EDF to build 2 new nuclear power stations at Hinckley Point in Somerset is a sign of panic. The price of these reactors has risen inexorably to £14bn apiece, and it is this exorbitant capital cost together with market uncertainties over dithering government energy policy that has frightened off a whole stream of potential partners making any bid themselves or collaborating with EDF – including both Chinese and British (Centrica) partners. The government now finds itself in the extremely uncomfortable, not to say desperate, position where it is utterly dependent on new nuclear because it has failed to promote the only real long-term answer of renewables on anything like the scale and speed required, but it is now held hostage by two forces it cannot control and which work strongly against each other – the demand by the in effect monopoly provide EDF for vastly extended subsidies and the requirement to get approval from the EU Competition Directorate which is seeking to lower or eliminate subsidies.
Read more “Govt wide open to subsidy blackmail from EDF over new nuclear build” »
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.
Read more “Tories ignore all risks to fix it for nuclear” »
Without a word being said, British householders and businesses are about to be forced to pay for a French nuclear loser. The two German energy companies, RWE and E.ON, announced a month ago that they were withdrawing from building new nuclear power stations at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire after the German government opted for early closure of its remaining reactors. The UK company Centrica, which has an option of 20% in any new build at Hinkley and Sizewell, has a weak balance sheet and is unlikely to proceed. That leaves two French nuclear power companies, EDF and Areva, who the Tory government want to build two new reactors at Hinkly Point in Somerset and two at Sizewell in Suffolk. But they will only do so if they are guaranteed a high enough price for the electricity generated and if the risks in building the reactors are transferred to British households and businesses. And those risks are huge.
Read more “The nuclear wheeze goes critical” »
The Government’s announcement yesterday that it intends to build a second Mox plant at Sellafield is like Alice in Wonderland. The first one was built by the Tory Government in the 1990s before it had a licence to operate – such things only happen in the nuclear industry. It cost £5oo millions, and since then upgrades and operating costs have pushed the price tage up to £1.34bn, with the expectation that it would cost a further £800 millions over the next decade. It was intended to produce 120 tons of mixed oxide (i.e. plutonium and uranium) fuel each year which would then be sold for nuclear reactors around the world. In the 8 years after it was finally licensed in 2002, it produced, not the 960 tons, but just 13 tons, just 1.4% of the target. As a result it was finally closed down this year. So what does Government now do? Incredibly enough, build a second one!
Read more “After wasting £1.3bn on nuclear Mox plant, Government now building Mox plant 2” »