An uncertain future
Our last nuclear power station, Sizewell B began operating in 1966 ; it is possible if EDF plans go ahead, that the next may start operating by the mid 2020s, a gap of over 50 years. We can of course upgrade and extend the lives of existing nuclear stations, but if we are to phase out fossil fuels, with their damage to human health (coal) and climate change – (although the UK is only a minor contributor to world carbon emissions ) – new nuclear construction will be required. We cannot run a modern technological society on intermittent wind and wave power.
The original intention was that Sizewell B should be followed by a series of successor stations. The first of these was to be at Hinkley Point, and a public inquiry in 1988/9 under Michael Barnes QC approved the proposal to build by the CEGB, then a nationalised company. But for reasons which were never quite clear the CEGB declined to proceed.
A proposal in 2003 by British Energy, then under the chairmanship of Robin Jeffrey (A former Project Manager for the construction of Torness Nuclear Power), to build a series of new nuclear stations was rejected by the Government, but BE was at that time already facing serious financial problems and disputes with the Department of Energy, with Patricia Hewitt, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, saying “It would have been foolish to announce …a new generation of nuclear power stations, because that would have guaranteed we would not make the necessary investments in energy efficiency and renewables.”
Jeffrey was replaced by Sir Adrian Montagu a financier and the plans for nuclear expansion were shelved.
Finally in September 2008, it was announced that EDF, the state owned French energy company, had agreed a takeover of the company, paying £12.5 billion.
EDF is now building Hinkley Point C, a 3.2 GW nuclear power plant with two AREVA EPR reactors. But AREVA is experiencing serious delays and cost overruns with similar reactors now being built in Finland and at Flamanville in France. One source of delay is in problems with the bottom and top plates of the reactor vessel. It seems that this may not be resolved much before the end of the year. Negotiations of Chinese participation of possibly up to 40% in Hinkley C are said to be held up pending the resolution of this difficulty. EDF says it plans to retain a 45% to 50% stake in the project. Areva will take 10%, other parties, said to be Saudi Arabia and Qatar the Middle East may take up to15%. But the future of this project may not be resolved before the end of this year.
Two further nuclear projects have now been proposed for Wylfa and Moorside in Cumbria, but their present status is far from clear. There are also a number of proposals for the development of small modular reactors, but as yet no positive developments.
We now also have the uncertainties of that the General Election may bring as shown in the election manifestos of the political parties seeking our votes:
We will work to make Britain a world leader in low carbon technologies over the next decade, creating a million additional green jobs. This aim will be supported by ambitious domestic carbon reduction targets, including a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030, and a major drive for energy efficiency.
Our industrial strategy for the green economy will end the current uncertainty for investors, with a timetable for the Green Investment Bank to be given additional powers so that it can invest in green businesses and technology. We will create an Energy Security Board to plan and deliver the energy mix we need, including renewables, nuclear, green gas, carbon capture and storage, and clean coal.
For onshore unconventional oil and gas, we will establish a robust environmental and regulatory regime before extraction can take place. And to safeguard the future of the offshore oil and gas industry, we will provide a long- term strategy for the industry, including more certainty on tax rates and making the most of the potential for carbon storage.
The Conservative Party
The manifesto calls for a expansion of new nuclear, and gas, and what it
significantly calls “good-value” green energy (Implying a distinction that
not cover all green energies), and pushing for more investment in UK energy sources.
It declares that without secure energy supplies we are at the mercy of fluctuating oil and gas prices: increasing dependence on foreign sources of energy and become less self sufficient and prosperous. Tax cuts would encourage North Sea gas and shale gas.
£1 billion would be committed to developing carbon capture and storage.
The Liberal democrats
Propose creating 200,000 new green jobs by investing in renewable energy. We have already doubled the amount of electricity generated from offshore wind.”
“UKIP will repeal the Climate Change Act 2008 which costs the economy £18bn a year.”
UKIP supports a diverse energy market including coal, nuclear, shale gas, geo- thermal, tidal, solar, conventional gas and oil.
We will scrap the Large Combustion Plant Directive and encourage the re- development of British power stations, as well as industrial units providing on- site power generation.
UKIP supports the development of shale gas with proper safeguards for the local environment. Community Improvement Levy money from the development of shale gas fields will be earmarked for lower council taxes or community projects within the local authority being developed.
There will be no new subsidies for wind farms and solar arrays.
UKIP will abolish green taxes and charges in order to reduce fuel bills.”
“Scotland has some of the most advanced climate change legislation in the world. We also have a huge amount of the Eu’s renewable energy potential – some 25 per cent of its offshore wind and tidal output and 10 per cent of its wave power.
We believe that the EU should be ambitious in driving forward initiatives on environmental protection and climate change, with the role of member states enhanced. There should be greater flexibility in target setting and coherence across policies.
We are seeking structural reform of the Emissions Trading System and want to encourage Eu action on developing new technologies such as offshore wind, marine energy, carbon capture and storage, and energy storage in general.” The words nuclear power are not mentioned.
“We continue to oppose the building of nuclear power plants.”
Plaid Cymru believes that Wales could become energy self-sufficient with a reliance on tidal and hydro power.
Green Party manifesto
This declares an outright rejection of nuclear power.
“Nuclear energy – it’s still no thanks”
In recent years, the nuclear industry has tried to re-brand itself as ‘green’. As the UK’s only environmental party, the Green Party needs to set out why it still considers that nuclear is no answer to either climate change or our energy needs.
Nuclear energy is not green. Nuclear energy is neither zero carbon nor renewable and there is serious debate about whether it is even low carbon. Uncertainties involved in carbon costing, radioactive waste management and the carbon costs of obtaining uranium mean that the carbon costs of nuclear are unknowable. Unlike renewables, we simply cannot rely on it being low carbon.
In addition to its highly dubious ‘low-carbon’ credentials, nuclear energy is a seriously flawed policy in other ways:
- Nuclear energy is extremely expensive: not one nuclear plant has ever been built, anywhere in the world by private investors without huge public subsidies. The Coalition government has agreed to guarantee EDF nearly double the current market electricity price at Hinkley, in addition to other financial backing not available to other low-carbon generators. These subsidies would impose enormous and unjustifiable costs on householders and businesses.
- Nuclear remains a uniquely dangerous form of energy. If the new plant being built by EDF at Hinkley were to release an equivalent amount of radiation to Fukushima, and the wind was in the south-west, Bristol would need to be permanently evacuated.
- No long-term solution has yet been found to the question of dealing with nuclear waste.
- Wind power has been found to create around 12 times as many jobs as the same investment in nuclear, and solar power is estimated to create around 360 times as many jobs. Investing in energy efficiency (e.g. insulation) creates even more jobs.
- Renewables can provide the same ‘base load’ production as nuclear power at a lower cost without the risks. Nuclear power diverts investment, skills and expertise away from securing the economic, employment and energy security benefits of home-grown renewables, smart grids and demand reduction.
- The current UK nuclear programme is planned around a reactor design, the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), which has an atrocious construction and cost record. EPRs being built in France and Finland are years behind schedule and have huge cost overruns. Even if nuclear were the answer, the EPR would still be the wrong plant to build.
A False Claim
The assertion in the Green manifest that “not one nuclear plant has ever been built, anywhere in the world by private investors without huge public subsidies.” is quite wrong.
One example is the Oscarshamn nuclear power station in Sweden which was designed and built by the Swedish ASEA company for a group of private electricity companies. This came into operation in 1972 and was followed by Barseback-1 in 1975. These nuclear stations were bulit independently, without any state subsidy and indeed in rivalry to the Goverment State Power Board whose first nuclear station, Ringhals-1, built by Westinghouse, only came into operation in 1976. The Swedish utitlities went to a Swedish manufacturer with a Swedish design of a BWR. The state played safe and went some years later for an established PWR by the American Westinghouse.
The ASEA BWR was then adopted as the design for the remaining nuclear stations built in Sweden as well as one in Finland.
There are probably other examples in several countries of nuclear stations being built without state subsidy.
The outcome of the election will determine the extent of the influence the smaller parties might be able to exert on a Conservative or Labour government and how this might will affect the negotiations and progress of Hinkley C. which is already becoming ever-more complex as the number of bodies that now seem to be involved increases and it seems a final decision may not be made before the end of the year.
The latest news is that the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has granted a nuclear site licence, but it is explained that while this is a recognition that NNB GenCo, (the new nuclear build subsidiary of EDF Energy,) has developed the required organisation, management structure, plans and procedures needed for the construction, commissioning and operation of the proposed (proposed? – much of the preliminary site development work has already been carried out) new nuclear power station in Somerset, the conditions of the licence require the development, implementation and maintenance of adequate safety arrangements throughout the life of Hinkley Point C.
The Nuclear Site Licence (NSL) does not provide full permission for the
construction of the power station and EDF Energy will require a further
consent from the ONR to start nuclear related construction under the terms of
the NSL. EDF Energy also requires full planning consent for the project, but
the Planning Inspectorate now has until December 21st to put forward its
recommendation to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.
Nothing is said about a follow-up station to be built at Sizewell.
It is remarkable that all the election manifiestos boast their ability to create large numbers of ‘green’ jobs as if that were something to be desired. But work is the curse of Adam and ever since the time of the industrial revolution advancing technology has promoted economic growth and a move away from the labour-intensive times of the Middle Ages. It is the very inefficiency of the green energies of wind and solar that creates their increasing need for human employment . The advantage of nuclear power is in the high load factors and longer lifetimes of the nuclear stations.
The ultimate choice if we want a return to green energy would be to bring back the treadmill. Increasing opportunity for leisure should be seen as a positive advantage.
One of the criteria of what constitutes the ‘greenness’ of electricity generation should be the impact it has on the environment in terms of the area of land it occupies. But on this basis the low concentration and diffuseness of wind and solar plants compares most unfavourably with the power output and high load factors of a nuclear plant.
As an example, it has been stated that the new US solar power plant, Ivanpah, near the Nevada–California border, which cost $2.2 billion (£1.28 billion) and covers 13km2, will generate 0.82TWh of electricity per year. In contrast, Westinghouse is nearing completion of two AP-1000 nuclear plants in China. These nuclear facilities each require about 1.3km2 and cost China about $3.5 billion. Each plant will produce 8.8TWh per year. It would take more than 10 Ivanpahs to yield as much electricity and an area of more than 128km2.
Reducing carbon emissions
An analysis of the carbon emissions in some of the EU countries shows how a reduction in emissions correlates with the generation of nuclear power. (Will the introduction of renewable energy in Europe lead to CO2 reduction without nuclear energy? Jon Samseth Department of Product Design, Akershus Oslo and University College (HIOA), OSIO, Norway published by Elsevier .)
This report points out that “A common factor, for the group of nations that may not reach their targets, is that they are actively promoting renewable energy and have no or very few nuclear power stations. Denmark has promoted wind energy for several decades and has become one of the global technology leaders in wind turbines. Some 18% of the electricity generated in Denmark in 2009 was from wind, the remainder was mainly from fossil fuel, mainly coal and gas. Italy is the only country that has abandoned nuclear energy, replacing it with fossil fuel, very much of its natural gas from North Africa.”
On the other hand in the group that will fulfill their targets, we find countries that have a large nuclear capacity. These include France 75% nuclear and Sweden 40%, as well as Belgium, Germany and Finland. Although Germany is now, (in an extreme reaction to Fukushima) shutting down its nuclear stations, these still contributed 17.8% to electricity supply by 2011.
Since the electricity market is characterized by a varying demand throughout the day and year the consumption of electricity is usually the lowest during the night. This minimum baseload demand also varies throughout the year depending on the season and climate. As most renewables are intermittent, they cannot be used as baseload and cannot replace the fossil fuels and nuclear, or in some cases hydro, in this segment of the energy market, and it can be argued that given this intermittent nature of renewable energy there must be a similar capacity of either coal or gas fired power plants to cover the periods when the electricity generation from renewables is low.
This leads to the conclusion that “Given the experience over the last decade, the EU 2020 targets can only be realized by including nuclear energy as an acceptable CO2-free option. Keeping in mind the economic problems in many European countries, future CO2 reductions can thus only be realized if nuclear energy is a significant part of the energy mix.”
Figures given for some EU countries show Sweden, UK, France, Germany, Portugal, Belgium, and Finland as nuclear countries where emissions are below the 2021 target, with Netherlands, Italy, Denmark , Spain , Austria and Luxembourg where emissions exceed the target.
The rise of the East
If some of the major European countries, including Germany renounce the use of nuclear it seems that, as a consequence of reduced energy and electricity supply , they will experience an economic decline, although this might be mitigated by gains in the efficiency of energy use. But such a decline does not imply that those European countries – Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the UK – which wrote to the EU Commission in June last year to express their concerns over nuclear power supply (NI October 2014) – will follow. and it is certainly not the case that the rest of the world will follow. China, India, S Korea as well as Russia are already devloping their own nuclear technology and rapidly moving ahead.
As an example, the good progress on the construction by Korea of 4 APR- 1400 nuclear reactors at Barakah in the United Arab Emirates continues with reports that unit 1 is expected to start up in 2017 and units 2 and 3, are scheduled to start up in 2018 and 2019. Work has yet to begin on the fourth Barakah unit but this is expected to start up in 2020. Korea and the U.A.E. have now signed an agreement under which they will work together to seek opportunities to enter emerging global markets by combining South Korean nuclear reactor technology with the U.A.E.’s funding power.