The coming demise of UK’s Hinkley nuclear power project

The UK Government is now said to be deeply concerned about the future of the Hinkley project following revelations about problems at the similar reactor being built at Flamanville

Nuclear needs a blank cheque Now that it is plain that nuclear power has failed miserably to compete with renewable energy even on the somewhat skewed playing field represented by the (proposed) Hinkley C deal, nuclear supporters are trying to engineer a ‘blank cheque’ to be given to nuclear developers

nuClear News, July 15 http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo75.pdf  There is a growing chorus of critics calling for Hinkley Point C to be scrapped altogether, according to the Sunday Times.

It would be one of the most expensive man-made objects ever built in the world. At a cost of £24.5bn it would tie British households into paying for astonishingly expensive electricity subsidies until 2060. The world has changed since 2010 when Hinkley was first named as a site for new reactors. The price of renewables has plummeted.

  Peter Atherton, an analyst at Jefferies and long-time critic is unequivocal: “This project is an abomination,” he said. “It’s going to cost £16bn to build, plus another £6bn in financing costs. Either of those numbers alone should have made this unthinkable. We’re building a power station, not the pyramids.”
 Since 2010 the cost of solar power panels has plummeted by 67%, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The price of onshore wind turbines has shrunk by 5%, though the government’s decision to slash subsidies will curtail new developments.
Vincent de Rivaz, Chief Executive of EDF Energy responded by saying that “imagined cheaper alternatives … do not exist … wind and solar power will play an important part in our energy mix, but they cannot provide a reliable energy supply all day and all year round.” (2)
But as we learnt in NuClear News No.73 the very concept of baseload electricity is outmoded. What a low carbon sustainable energy system needs is not baseload but flexible back-up which can be turned on and off quickly to provide electricity at peak times when renewables are not producing much. Otherwise so-called baseload electricity will constrain the expansion of renewables and mean that clean electricity goes to waste when renewables are working well. There are at least six things we can do to help a renewable dominated system operate without baseload:- 
  •  By using the right mix of renewables intermittency can be reduced;  By increasing grid connections to other countries so that electricity can be imported at peak times when indigenous renewable production is low, and so that surpluses can be exported. 
  • By storing surplus renewable electricity which can be called upon when wind and solar production is low. 
  • Demand management – using various techniques to reduce demand at peak times. 
  • By calling on combined heat and power stations working in conjunction with heat storage to generate electricity at peak times. 
  •  By using surplus renewable electricity to generate heat which can be stored for later use.
  • The UK Government is now said to be deeply concerned about the future of the Hinkley project following revelations about problems at the similar reactor being built at Flamanville in No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.75, July 2015 3 Normandy. Construction of the Flamanville reactor began in December 2007, with the date for completion repeatedly pushed back from an initial goal of 2012. The most recent completion date is 2017, while the cost has more than doubled from €3.3 billion to €8.5 billion. (3)In April it was revealed that anomalies had been found in the bottom and lid of the reactor pressure vessel (RPVs) which means weaknesses in the vital metal structure protecting the outside world from the highly radioactive reactor core. (4) Pierre-Franck Chevet, head of France’s nuclear safety inspectorate revealed that the same manufacturing technique was used in the steel for the identical safety casings destined for Hinkley Point, which “have already been manufactured”. (5)
    The 110-ton spherical steel lid which was destined to sit on top of the Hinkley Point RPV is now going to be sacrificed to test the strength of a part already welded in place at similar atomic projects in France and China. (6) The tests are vital after potential weaknesses were found in the steel used to contain radiation. The issues were found in the head and base of the container for the reactor core built at Areva’s Creusot Forge in eastern France. If further tests prove they aren’t strong enough, the equipment can’t be used, said Pierre-Franck Chevet. Countries, such as the UK who have taken a gamble on the technology being a key element in their energy policies, will need to improvise if testing confirms flawed design. If testing results in component replacement, this would be very expensive and time consuming especially if it implies similar actions for other projects. (7)
  •  In June a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system. According to the Daily Telegraph the fault would expose the reactor to the risk of a meltdown. (8) EDF’s problems in France have prompted worries at a senior level of the Treasury about Hinkley, according to the Financial Times “I think there are serious questions about the technology,” said one Treasury figure. “Only if that can be fixed is there a desire to go ahead with it . . . on balance.” Senior officials have discussed whether to “start from scratch” with a different, more established reactor technology from elsewhere.
  • Talks between the government, EDF and its two Chinese partners over a final financing package were supposed to be completed by March but have dragged on. Now officials and executives are working towards a fresh deadline of October, when China’s President Xi Jinping has a state visit to Britain.There are growing suspicions in Westminster and within the industry that the Treasury has been dragging its heels over supporting the project. One source close to EDF said he believed there had been “briefings from people at the Treasury” against the deal. Some civil servants believe the government struck an overgenerous “strike price” to buy energy from Hinkley’s two reactors for 35 years. “I think Treasury officials would not be disappointed if Hinkley never happened,” said one Whitehall source. “They have been foot-dragging for at least a year.” One Tory figure said: “I think the Treasury don’t really want that deal to work.”Meanwhile even the Labour Party appears to have withdrawn its unequivocal support for the project. Jonathan Reynolds, shadow climate change minister, has written to Amber Rudd, the new energy secretary saying: “I am asking you today to admit the project will not proceed and inform parliament what your alternative energy strategy will be.” (9)

    The new SNP spokesperson for Energy and Climate Change, Callum McCaig MP said: No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.75, July 2015 4

    “The financial crisis surrounding the future of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant demonstrates yet again the folly of the UK government’s decision to spend huge amounts of public money to subsidise new nuclear power stations. Despite the mounting evidence that it is hugely expensive with other stations going vastly over budget and being years behind schedule, the UK government are determined to continue to throw billions of pounds into promoting new nuclear. By diverting money away from renewables to new nuclear the UK Government’s plans are also damaging the renewables sector. Hinkley is a bad deal that will push up bills and cost the taxpayers a fortune for many, many years to come. “Scotland neither needs not wants new nuclear. We have huge potential in renewables that can generate clean green energy for the future.” (10)

    Stop Hinkley spokesperson, Roy Pumfrey, said: “The Government can’t continue to pretend that Hinkley will go ahead. It is high time that the threat of this massive disruption to Somerset was removed permanently and we were allowed to get on with planning for the renewable future that we so desperately need”. (11)

    NewportWest Labour MP Paul Flynn writing ahead of a Westminster Hall debate on new nuclear power called Hinkley a “financial basket case”. It has been an odyssey of failure, delay and mounting costs. A positive image has been created by a rich skilful lobby that has manipulated gullible public opinion. Other nations who were not protected from the awful £250bn truth of Fukushima have abandoned nuclear power. Germany is one that has transformed their future energy plans into renewables solutions. In denial the UK stumbles on. Europe’s catastrophic delays in two similar stations are ignored even though their problems are likely to be repeated here. Finland’s Olkiluoto was due to generate electricity in 2009. The latest of many promised finish dates is 2018. Cost overruns stand at €4 billion. (12)

  • Nuclear needs a blank cheque Now that it is plain that nuclear power has failed miserably to compete with renewable energy even on the somewhat skewed playing field represented by the (proposed) Hinkley C deal, nuclear supporters are trying to engineer a ‘blank cheque’ to be given to nuclear developers, according to Dr Dave Toke. (13) The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that, although it doesn’t believe the Government’s nuclear programme is feasible because of the costs involved, if new nuclear power projects are to continue to be supported, beyond the Hinkley Point C project, the government should use different financing arrangements that would provide better value for money for the British public. (14)The IPPR favour developing nuclear power as a publicly owned development, on the same basis as projects like HS2. There would be a ‘cost plus’ contract given to the nuclear power developers, who could, and no doubt would, be able to waste taxpayers money on a grand scale without any risk to their own profit margins. The fact that that nuclear power is so uncompetitive that it needs this sort of treatment should lead us to the conclusion that it is much better to spend the money on something else, renewable energy for example, of which there is no shortage. IPPR is close to the Labour Party, says Toke. It would be rather unfortunate if the Labour Party supported the IPPR’s approach and came out as being, in effect, more pro-nuclear than the Conservatives if it adopted a ‘blank cheque’ approach. Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s energy spokesperson has indeed backed the report with a twitter message. No2NuclearPower nuClear news No.75, July 2015 5 
  •  
  • Sizewell C EDF Energy says it will not go on to the second stage consultation on its planned Sizewell C reactors until it knows how it is going to pay for Hinkley. (15) The second stage consultation is expected to give final details of issues such as road improvements, worker accommodation and park-and-ride sites. Recent uncertainty over progress turned into frustration earlier in the year when it became clear that the next formal stage of consultation on the project would not take place until after the election. EDF said “…all things come through Hinkley Point. We very much hope that remaining issues around financing and infrastructure are resolved in the coming months, and that we are able to take matters forward with more pace here at Sizewell.” (16)
  • Andrea Leadsom, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change in a rather delusional statement to the House of Commons, insisted that theGovernment still supports the expansion of nuclear generation and expects to be able to meet 35% of UK power needs from nuclear by 2028 with around 16GW of new capacity. That’s 2 new EPR-sized reactors every year from 2023. (17)  REFERENCES SUPPLIED AT THE END OF THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE at http://www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk/nuclearnews/NuClearNewsNo75.pdf
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