Failures from Sellafailed to EDF

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Is nuclear power about to become a constitutional issue? By Mike Small

Last November, the lone journalist who cares about this stuff revealed that more than 400 of the recommendations made to improve the safety of British nuclear plants after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan last year still have to be implemented, according to the government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Just this week it was announced that to clean up Sellafailed was going to cost around £70 billion. 

Pause a second and ask yourself, what solar, tidal and win energy could you get for £70 billion investment? With Germany threatening Britain by the threat of a good example, the sharp divide between Westminster and Holyrood on English energy policy may become more of an issue in the weeks ahead.

Today, Greenpeace outlined why the issue is coming to a dramatic head (‘The UK’s nuclear triple whammy is worse than you think‘):

“It’s being called a ‘triple whammy’ for the UK nuclear industry. And with what’s on the horizon – it’s beginning to look more like a quadruple or quintuple whammy.

First, local representatives in Cumbria in the north of the country rejected plans to build a deep geological storage facility for nuclear waste on the doorstep of the beautiful Lake District national park. There are no other candidate sites, putting plans for the long-term storage of highly dangerous nuclear waste in the UK into disarray.

Then it was announced that the cost of decommissioning and clean up at the Sellafield nuclear facility – also in Cumbria – is currently running at 67.5 billion pounds. That’s not the final figure. The bill is growing fast and nobody has any idea what the size of the final bill will be. As with anything nuclear, don’t believe any estimates from the industry itself.

This was swiftly followed by the news that Centrica, the last major UK company involved in plans to build new nuclear reactors in the country, was pulling out because “the anticipated project costs in new nuclear have increased and the construction timetable has extended by a number of years.”

But that’s not the end of the trouble. More dark clouds are gathering. Further whammies lie ahead.

Whammy #4: Largely unnoticed, a few weeks ago the chief executive of French nuclear giant EdF, Vincent de Rivaz, told a committee of UK politicians that if EdF builds new nuclear reactors in the UK, it wants to be paid whether the electricity is used or not. “If a power station is available to generate electricity, its operator should not suffer financially because a policy or system decision is made that its electricity is not needed,” he said.

“It is right not only for investors,” said Mr de Rivaz, “but for consumers as well.”

But why charging consumers for a product they don’t need is ‘right’ is extremely hard to understand. Here at Greenpeace we’ve been trying to think of another industry that could get away with such barefaced cheek. How would you feel if a baker knocked at your door demanding money even though you didn’t want the bread he’s made?

Whammy #5: On top of that, EdF wants a guaranteed price for the electricity its new reactors would produce. Indeed, the company says it will pull out all together unless it is guaranteed profits.

It is currently in secret talks with the UK government trying to agree to a figure. Estimates say this will be close to 95-99 pounds per MWh. Basically they want to force UK consumers to pay double the current price for electricity for the next 25 years. That’s more than wind power costs right now.

Does that sound like value for money for UK taxpayers? Is it ‘right’ for consumers, Mr de Rivaz?

Where does this leave us? In a speech this week, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said “countries that prioritise green energy will secure the biggest share of jobs and growth in a global low-carbon sector set to be worth US$4 trillion by 2015″ and that the UK should be “a global showcase for green innovation and energy efficiency.”

With its waste of time, taxpayer and consumer money and vital resources, its toxic legacy, its incompetence, blackmail and broken promises and its way of frightening investors, nuclear power just doesn’t fit anywhere in Mr Cameron’s vision.”

The nuclear industry in Britain has only survived because of vast patronage, subsidy and friends in high (or should that be low?) places.

It’s time for us to move on with a new vision of a nuclear-free Scotland based on an energy descent plan, community owned renewables and a shift to a low carbon society. All this possible but there is no room for this failed technology in our future.

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Categories: Environmental Justice, Nuclear Free Scotland

4 replies

  1. All it does take is that one in a million chance and the nuclear can wipe out a lot of life,and for how many generations will the area be “dirty”? at least with wind,wave and tidal power we can dismantle the generators and no harm done.

  2. It’s just the staggering amounts of money thrown at it that floors me. As you say, if a fraction of it went on renewables…
    Raging and raging…

  3. There is no chance of nuclear being developed in this country of Scotland, it may be driven into England by the usual method of brown envelopes -very large ones indeed, but Scots see that renewables are doing the business, the threat we always will have is that there’s no fence to keep contamination away from our shores and for that reason alone we should be vehemently opposing nuclear in any form until safe disposal is assured.

  4. An update, this from the SNP:

    Nuclear energy test for Westminster Government
    Tue, 12/02/2013 – 16:34

    The Westminster Government is facing a key test of its promises after a call for state support from the nuclear energy industry.

    Today’s Financial Times reports that EDF Energy has asked the Treasury to underwrite financing for new nuclear power stations, posing a serious test for the Westminster Government over whether it will stick to its pledge not to provide any public subsidy to new nuclear power.

    As anticipated costs spiral out of control, the nuclear energy sector has sought to press for a level of financial subsidy per megawatt significantly higher than that of wind energy. Today’s moves now mean that the coalition’s agreement not to commit any public funds to new nuclear energy is now in danger of being breached.

    Meanwhile, newly published polling data has shown support for a new generation of nuclear power stations has fallen by 8% in the space of a year. With Germany and other countries moving away from nuclear energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the UK Government is running counter to the international trend in its pursuit of new nuclear energy.

    Commenting, SNP MSP Chic Brodie who sits on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee said:

    “This latest development is a deeply telling one, with the nuclear industry pressing for backing from the public purse for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

    “We have long warned that new nuclear energy is only made possible with eye-watering levels of subsidy either through taxation or consumer energy bills, and clearly this is the latest demonstration that we were right to sound this warning.

    “The Westminster Government’s coalition agreement states quite clearly that they will provide no public subsidy for new nuclear power, so this is now a key test over whether they will keep their word or simply break yet another promise.

    “The fact of the matter is that in these difficult times, the last thing that people want is to be lumbered with the bill for a nuclear white elephant.

    “We have fantastic opportunities in front of us to be a world leader in a range of renewable technologies. Turning our backs on that to throw money at a technology the rest of the world is moving away from would be foolish in the extreme.”

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