16 May 2010

Another blow to nuclear plans

The Tory/LibDem coalition has thrown up some interesting results - while there is lots to be concerned about there is hope that for example "Measures to promote a huge increase in energy from waste through anaerobic digestion" might help influence GCC to reconsider it's incinerator plans. And hooray for scrapping 3rd runway and id cards! But where are we on nuclear power?

Well I was delighted to read in The Times new uncertainty over new nukes following the appointment of anti-nuclear Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. He has strengthened his assertion that new nuclear build will not receive any Government subsidies including in the event of a nuclear accident.

See also our new excellent local Green party report covering issues re Oldbury here.

As Stop Hinkley note this is a hardening of position from the previous Labour Government who had not insisted on full liability insurance for the proposed generation of reactors. The cost of full insurance may well be prohibitive to developers planning nukes at Oldbury. Indeed in Somerset the anticipated date for the Hinkley C planning application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission has just slipped by four months from 2nd August to 1st December (no reason given!). This is the second delay in the application which was originally expected at the beginning of July.

Nuke-waste subsidy?

There is also some talk that Chris Huhne may also be under pressure from anti-nuclear Lib-Dem colleagues to examine other potential aspects of Government subsidy such as the Labour proposal for fixed pricing of nuclear waste management after the expected 60 year life of the reactors. This ridiculous pricing model would give assurance to the industry over future costs of nuclear waste disposal but could be at the expense of tax-payers.

A Deep Disposal Repository could cost between £12 and £20 billion - but as no country in the world has a working deep repository we don't know - and hey come on what are we doing storing it in the ground for so many thousands of years - we know there are geological shifts, earthquakes and more..... Barack Obama last year threw out the proposed US repository at Yucca Mountain in Utah after 20 years of development and the German nuclear repository has been mired in controversy following the discovery of misinformation from former Chancellor Helmut Kohl over its safety.

The Labour Government missed out the risks of no repository being available in the recent 300 page National Nuclear Policy Statement - a gift to to the nuke industry. Chris Huhne will have the job of rewriting this document with obvious risks to nuclear developers.

Fast-track Planning?

Another area of concern - and hope - is that it is not clear yet what the Energy Secretary plans for the unelected quango which is the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC). The Conservatives have vowed to break it up in favour of a more democratic and locally accountable planning process with ministerial sign-off. As Stop Hinkley note, a rewritten Nuclear Policy Statement (NPS) to guide the planning process may also involve the appraisal of the on-site spent fuel store which EdF want to build alongside Hinkley C. The spent nuclear fuel will be so hot and radioactive it will need to cool in the storage pond for one hundred years when it comes out of the reactor. Given the 60 year life of the reactors, the dangerous toxic fuel would be sited at Hinkley and other nuclear sites for 160 years but inexplicably the Labour NPS document did not require the IPC to examine this crucial part of the power station planning application.

The IPC cost £5m to set up, and costs £9.3m a year to run. We’re paying the chairman £200,000 a year, and also supporting a team of 25 commissioners, a chief executive, five directors and a communication team. So far, the IPC has published one opinion, on an expected application for a waste plant. But that had to be withdrawn because it failed to meet consultation requirements!

Public Inquiry could add to costs

The Telegraph quotes a Lib Dem insider suggesting the party “could be willing to work with the Tories on nuclear” plans, but would insist on holding a public inquiry into the move”. This would be costly and lengthy, at a time when companies need certainty on the investment climate for nuclear.

Chris Huhne's colleague and former Shadow Energy Secretary, Simon Hughes, has called for a public inquiry into the 'Justification' of new nuclear build. The 'Justification' process is an EU requirement to judge the health detriment of new radioactive processes against any benefits. Governments can call a public inquiry to make this judgment but the Labour Government signaled that pro-nuclear Ed Milliband would say yes or no in his role as Energy Secretary. Many have said this biased approach was wrong and in fairness a public inquiry was needed. If Chris Huhne does set up the inquiry this will delay nuclear proposals, adding to their costs and increasing the likelihood of the development not taking place.

On a more bleak note Lady Barbara Judge, Chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority told Reuters she doesn’t believe the Lib Dems would have enough power to stop the nuclear train “which has left the station,” partly because there is no legislation pending. Let's hope that is just wishful thinking! If the Conservatives are true to their word they should stop trying to hide subsidies to the industry in the way the previous Government were - in other words, the industry must pay a commercial rate for waste disposal and to set aside sufficient funds for decommissioning as soon as the reactor is switched on. If this proves to be far too expensive, killing the prospects of any new reactors, then utilities will need to generate electricity by other, less risky means, or implement efficiency measures. There are plenty of opportunities
to do this without requiring the tax payer to accept the risk for such uncertain outcomes.

Alternatives to nukes

Last month a PricewaterhouseCoopers study showed that Europe could meet all its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2050 by using a “super-smart” grid powered by solar farms in North Africa, wind farms in northern Europe and the North Sea, hydro-electric from Scandinavia and the Alps and a complement of biomass and marine energy (see here article re solar plans in N Africa). Now, the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) has launched a “Re-thinking 2050” report, outlining how the European Union can switch to a 100% renewable energy supply. See here.

In a letter to The Independent, 30 academics discuss the view that unless we start on new nuclear construction now, the lights will start to go out by 2015. They say the generation gap by 2015 identified in some recent policy papers is not supported by evidence, in that it assumes that no new generation capacity of any kind will be built over the next five years. In fact more nonnuclear generation is already under construction and will come on-line by 2015 than is scheduled to go off-line. A further 1GW of new capacity beyond 2015 is being planned, permitted or constructed. Although this is predominantly gas-fired, the International Energy Agency has made it clear that gas is available in an increasingly global market to deliver reliable and affordable access for the UK.

Of course Tories and Labour together could push through nuclear - let's hope the Tories and Lib Dems together can make the sensible choice and ditch it now.

For all things nuclear download the excellent summary from no2nuclear:

Lastly there is an anti-nuclear gig in Bristol - see details and a link to a short video of Jackson Browne singing against nuclear power here.


Anonymous said...

Children will no longer be held in detention centres, a pupil premium will be introduced, ID cards have been scrapped, the third runway at Heathrow has been scrapped, we are moving to a greener economy, capital gains tax will be restored to 40%, in 2011 those earning under £10,000 per year will be removed from income tax, and electoral reform albeit imperfect is on the radar. The Labour party was firmly against every one of these policies, with the single exception of their deathbed conversion to electoral reform. Sad but true.

Anonymous said...


Philip Booth said...

Yes the first anonymous comment makes some v true statements - but we will have to see how this new approach translates into reality - let's hope it will be better than some fear - do join me in sending foe emails to Pickles and Huhne re carbon targets:

Philip Booth said...

Bad news.....Huhne, it seems, may have ruled out using the public purse to fund the new nuclear generation, but his Government is asking us to use our wallets to do the same. See: