20 Jul 2010

Nuke delay: government rightly fears challenge

The chances of new nuclear reactors operating in the West by 2018 have been hit by a planning delay - delays and the nuclear industry are something that goes hand-in-hand - look at the new nuke being built in Finland - already years behind and millions over budget.

Photo: Oldbury top left corner - taken from Ash Lane, Randwick

Energy Minister Charles Hendry has announced that the National Policy Statements (NPS) that will pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power will not be presented to Parliament until next spring. This was meant to be done and dusted this month - of course the Minister claims: "Plans for the first new nuclear power station to begin generating electricity by 2018 remain on course." This just is not possible. Indeed we see the Government twisting and turning to try and make nukes work - see my letter this month to press re the subsidies to nukes here and my submission to DECC here.

The real reason for the delay is that the Government fears being challenged over aspects of the policy statements which may not be legally watertight. Earlier this year Friends of the Earth promised to mount a legal challenge over the first NPS consultation framework, while the RSPB, World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace could also do so. See my comments to press back in February here and Green party submission here.

Stop Hinkley co-ordinator Jim Duffy commented this week: "This was a surprise announcement which raises lots of questions. Will the alternatives to nuclear be thoroughly examined in the new consultation? Will the Hinkley C application be allowed to go ahead as planned in December? If so, how will it be managed in the absence of a planning blueprint?"

The specific parts of the Policy Statements highlighted by the announcement are called Appraisals of Sustainability. The AoS must for example include 'comparison with reasonable alternatives to the preferred policy'. In other words renewable energy should be thoroughly investigated as an alternative to the policy of introducing new nuclear power at any specific site. I wonder if the Lib Dems have played a part in pushing for a reevaluation?

If the relook is fair then there is still a very strong possibility of stopping new nuclear - it just does not stack up economically or environmentally.

Other planning anomalies have been raised by campaigners such as the fact that no new reactor designs will have been licensed by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) while being assessed by the IPC (or its successor). The Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, whose current reactor design assessment is expected to be finished in June next year, is not legally binding and separate from the NII licensing process. Objections have also been raised over the transparency of the GDA process.

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