8 Oct 2008

French move on UK nukes is no answer to energy security

French company EDF has bought Gloucester-based British Energy and plans to build more nuclear plants - meanwhile German utility, E.ON, has signed an agreement for a new nuclear reactor at Oldbury - just 16 miles from Stroud.

Photo: T-shirts for sale in the Shambles, Stroud

This move by German-owned E.ON is confusing as it is comes four months after the American-Japanese consortium of Toshiba-Westinghouse announced it was developing its own scheme there (see more here).

Anyhow all this prompted me to write a letter yesterday evening to the local press (see here - this blog goes into more detail) - especially as it is difficult to envisage any other country prepared to hand over control of such an important part of its infrastructure to what is effectively another state. The deal means British taxpayers remain on the hook for a whole host of liabilities - included any breaches of its operating licence and over employment and redundancy costs for its 6,000 workers - EDF and its UK subsidiaries are ringfenced from these liabilities under the proposed takeover.

Plus as many commentators have said our domestic electricity bills will go up while French customers will enjoy cheaper power. Worse still, despite reassurances to the contrary, taxpayers will be subsidising nukes. Already in two key expenditure areas official statements confirm that subsidies will continue (see here). Furthermore the industry maintains that the cost of decommissioning new nuclear power stations and the disposal of the associated nuclear waste has been allowed for in the costings for these new stations. However there is not even a site selected for a long-term nuclear waste storage facility so how is it possible to include for a share of the cost of this facility and the long-term attendant costs?

Our Government's own advisors have shown we can meet our energy needs through renewables and that nuclear is not the answer to Climate Change as this requires a faster input than nuclear is capable of providing (see recent Greenpeace report here). Sadly EDF is determined to block renewables because, as the company admits, growth in the renewables industry will kill off any hopes for more nuclear power. Shamefully the government's renewable power strategy has just been branded as "ineffective and very expensive", according to a damning review by the International Energy Agency.

Much has been made by the nuclear industry of the first new reactor in Finland, yet it has serious problems in construction compounded by a serious fire, a £1 billion overspend and is already two and a half years behind schedule. Add to that the risks from terrorism, local health risks and long-term storage of highly radioactive fuel and it is clear the Government must put a stop to it's ridiculous misguided nuclear plans.

It was interesting to see that even the Conservatives now have doubts. First David Cameron said nuclear was a 'last resort', then they told people they were in favour of nuclear power, but now Alan Duncan has gone back to saying the Tories are not convinced new nuclear is necessary - only that it 'may' be needed.

Furthermore in France itself doubts about the nuclear path have started to creep in after a series of incidents over the past three months: untreated uranium has overflowed into a river, excess radioactive gas has been emitted, combustible material has got caught in a reactor, and EDF workers have been exposed to low-level radiation. Indeed I understand there have been various demonstrations in the last week. Plus many have plants have seen closures - well for that matter UK reactors are in pretty poor shape - more than half of Britain's nuclear power stations are either closed or working at reduced capacity. Six of the UK's ten nuclear stations are not operating at full capacity. Three are completely closed, one is operating at half capacity and two have been reduced to 70 per cent because of safety fears.

But enough on this for the moment - must to work...

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