Tag Archives: Nuclear power

Small modular reactors have little appeal

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network

New energy policy needed as nuclear giants take a hit

Plans for a worldwide fleet of huge new nuclear reactors have collapsed, with the cancellation of a major project and no new orders being placed. LONDON, 28 May, 2015 − The European nuclear industry, led by France, seems to be in terminal decline as a result of the cancellation of a new Finnish reactor, technical faults in stations already under construction, and severe financial problems. The French government owns 85% of both of the country’s two premier nuclear companies Areva, which designs the reactors, and Électricité de France (EDF), which builds and manages them. Now it is amalgamating the two giants in a bid to rescue the industry. Even if the vast financial losses involved in building new nuclear stations can be stemmed, there is still a big question mark over whether either company can win any new orders. Their flagship project, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), billed as the most powerful reactor in the world, has two prototypes under construction − one in Finland and the second in France. Both of the 1,650 megawatt reactors are years late and billions of  Euros over budget, with no sign of either being completed.

Enthusiastic cheerleader

The Finnish government, once the most enthusiastic nuclear cheerleader in Europe, has lost patience with Areva, and the Finnish electricity company TVO has scrapped plans to build a second EPR in Finland. This is because the first one, under construction at Olkiluoto since 2005, and which was supposed to be finished by 2009, is not expected to be producing electricity until 2018 and even that may yet prove optimistic. It was intended  to be the first of a “worldwide fleet”. The second EPR under construction, at Flamanville in France, is also seriously delayed, and possibly in even deeper trouble because of concerns about the quality of steel in the pressure vessel. The components, forged in France by Areva, were already in place in the half-built reactor before questions over the carbon content of the vessel and its safety were raised and work was halted. The knock-on effect of the inquiry into this safety glitch is that the Flamanville reactor will be delayed again. In a worst-case scenario, it would have to be part-dismantled or scrapped altogether.

The French government is keen to rescue the industry, but had already decided against ordering any more reactors after the fiasco in building Flamanville

This has also raised queries over the French company’s biggest potential export market, China. Two EPRs are being built in China, but checks are being made there too because these reactors may also have excess carbon in the steel. The suspect parts were made in France in the same forge as the Flamanville pressure vessel. These delays and cancellations have placed a severe strain on Areva’s finances. In 2014, on revenues of €8.3 billion ($9.2 billion), it lost €4.8 billion. Hence, the French government’s move to amalgamate the two companies to try to make one viable unit. In fact, EDF will take over Areva, which has not sold a new reactor since 2007.

Serious blow

This is a serious blow to the pride of a country that is seen as the world leader in nuclear energy, with 75% of its electricity coming from 58 reactors. The French government is keen to rescue the industry, but had already decided against ordering any more reactors after the fiasco in building Flamanville, which was years late and over budget even before the latest hiccup. All this leaves the UK as the last country in the world anxious to buy a French reactor. With a new Conservative government in power for less than a month, its energy policy is already in disarray. Plans to build four 1,650 megawatt EPRs in Britain to produce 14% of the country’s electricity − announced before this month’s general election − look ever more unlikely. Even with the first two at Hinkley Point in the west of England − where site preparations have been made, and a final agreement was expected with EDF this summer − nothing is likely to happen for months. The most likely course must now be cancellation. Plans have been put on hold while EDF and Areva sort out the problems at Flamanville, and then try to find a way of financing the project. Four hundred workers on the Hinkley Point project have already been laid off.

Unfair state aid

The new British government is already facing legal challenges from Austria and Luxembourg and from various renewable energy groups for unfair state aid for this nuclear project. Even if ministers see these threats off, it seems unlikely that anyone will commit to building new EPRs in the UK until at least one of the four reactors under construction in China, Finland and France is actually shown to work. There is no guarantee that will happen in the next three years, so the chances of Britain getting any new nuclear power stations before 2030 are close to zero. Currently, the UK is closing coal-fired stations to comply with European Union directives to combat climate change, but it has not developed renewables as fast as Germany and other European neighbours − claiming that new nuclear build would fill the gap. It now looks as though the government will urgently need to rethink its energy policy. – Climate News Network

Plans for a worldwide fleet of huge new nuclear reactors have collapsed, with the cancellation of a major project and no new orders being placed. LONDON, 28 May, 2015 − The European nuclear industry, led by France, seems to be in terminal decline as a result of the cancellation of a new Finnish reactor, technical faults in stations already under construction, and severe financial problems. The French government owns 85% of both of the country’s two premier nuclear companies Areva, which designs the reactors, and Électricité de France (EDF), which builds and manages them. Now it is amalgamating the two giants in a bid to rescue the industry. Even if the vast financial losses involved in building new nuclear stations can be stemmed, there is still a big question mark over whether either company can win any new orders. Their flagship project, the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), billed as the most powerful reactor in the world, has two prototypes under construction − one in Finland and the second in France. Both of the 1,650 megawatt reactors are years late and billions of  Euros over budget, with no sign of either being completed.

Enthusiastic cheerleader

The Finnish government, once the most enthusiastic nuclear cheerleader in Europe, has lost patience with Areva, and the Finnish electricity company TVO has scrapped plans to build a second EPR in Finland. This is because the first one, under construction at Olkiluoto since 2005, and which was supposed to be finished by 2009, is not expected to be producing electricity until 2018 and even that may yet prove optimistic. It was intended  to be the first of a “worldwide fleet”. The second EPR under construction, at Flamanville in France, is also seriously delayed, and possibly in even deeper trouble because of concerns about the quality of steel in the pressure vessel. The components, forged in France by Areva, were already in place in the half-built reactor before questions over the carbon content of the vessel and its safety were raised and work was halted. The knock-on effect of the inquiry into this safety glitch is that the Flamanville reactor will be delayed again. In a worst-case scenario, it would have to be part-dismantled or scrapped altogether.

The French government is keen to rescue the industry, but had already decided against ordering any more reactors after the fiasco in building Flamanville

This has also raised queries over the French company’s biggest potential export market, China. Two EPRs are being built in China, but checks are being made there too because these reactors may also have excess carbon in the steel. The suspect parts were made in France in the same forge as the Flamanville pressure vessel. These delays and cancellations have placed a severe strain on Areva’s finances. In 2014, on revenues of €8.3 billion ($9.2 billion), it lost €4.8 billion. Hence, the French government’s move to amalgamate the two companies to try to make one viable unit. In fact, EDF will take over Areva, which has not sold a new reactor since 2007.

Serious blow

This is a serious blow to the pride of a country that is seen as the world leader in nuclear energy, with 75% of its electricity coming from 58 reactors. The French government is keen to rescue the industry, but had already decided against ordering any more reactors after the fiasco in building Flamanville, which was years late and over budget even before the latest hiccup. All this leaves the UK as the last country in the world anxious to buy a French reactor. With a new Conservative government in power for less than a month, its energy policy is already in disarray. Plans to build four 1,650 megawatt EPRs in Britain to produce 14% of the country’s electricity − announced before this month’s general election − look ever more unlikely. Even with the first two at Hinkley Point in the west of England − where site preparations have been made, and a final agreement was expected with EDF this summer − nothing is likely to happen for months. The most likely course must now be cancellation. Plans have been put on hold while EDF and Areva sort out the problems at Flamanville, and then try to find a way of financing the project. Four hundred workers on the Hinkley Point project have already been laid off.

Unfair state aid

The new British government is already facing legal challenges from Austria and Luxembourg and from various renewable energy groups for unfair state aid for this nuclear project. Even if ministers see these threats off, it seems unlikely that anyone will commit to building new EPRs in the UK until at least one of the four reactors under construction in China, Finland and France is actually shown to work. There is no guarantee that will happen in the next three years, so the chances of Britain getting any new nuclear power stations before 2030 are close to zero. Currently, the UK is closing coal-fired stations to comply with European Union directives to combat climate change, but it has not developed renewables as fast as Germany and other European neighbours − claiming that new nuclear build would fill the gap. It now looks as though the government will urgently need to rethink its energy policy. – Climate News Network

Unfinished nuclear plants raise safety doubts

A new generation of giant reactors, meant to provide fresh hope for nuclear power in Europe, has been found to have a serious safety problem. LONDON, 13 April, 2015 − The future of the world’s biggest nuclear reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, is now in doubt after a serious flaw was found in its steel pressure vessel. Examination has shown that the steel contains too much carbon, which can weaken the vessel’s structure and breaches safety rules. The Chinese, who have two similar 1,600 megawatt European Pressurised Reactors under construction, have been warned that they too may share the potentially catastrophic problem. Investigations are continuing to check whether the problem can be rectified, but whatever happens it will add more delays and greater costs to the already troubled projects. The problem also casts doubt on the much-heralded nuclear renaissance in Europe, where EPR reactors are being built not only in France but also in Finland. Four more are planned for Britain, where they form a cornerstone of the UK government’s policy to fight climate change. A decision on whether to go ahead with the first two in the UK has already been postponed twice, and this revelation will cause further delays. The French nuclear engineering firm Areva, involved in the EPR’s design and development, found the flawed steel and reported the problem to the country’s nuclear regulator, ASN, which has ordered an investigation.  The French energy minister, Ségolène Royal, says the results of tests to check the extent of the problem will be released in October.

Serious blow

It is understood that the maximum allowable carbon content of steel in the pressure vessel is 0.22%, but tests have shown 0.30% in parts of the Flamanville vessel. This could render it subject to cracking in operation and shorten its intended lifespan. The discovery is another serious blow to the French nuclear industry, which already faces severe financial problems, partly because of existing delays to the reactors at Flamanville and at Finland’s Olkiluoto site. The Finnish reactor, which is not affected by this problem because its pressure vessel steel comes from Japan, not France,, is already nine years behind schedule for other reasons and has more than doubled in cost. Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan any compromise on minimum safety standards would be hard to sell to the public, especially since nuclear power has fallen out of favour with the French government, which wants to invest heavily in renewables. France is already considering merging Areva and Électricité de France (EDF), the two nuclear companies in which it owns the majority of shares. Areva is building the Flamanville reactor on behalf of EDF, Europe’s largest electricity producer. EDF recently estimated the construction costs of Flamanville at €8 billion (US$8.7bn) compared with an original estimate of €3.3bn, and that was before this setback. The plant was due to have been working by now, but its start date had already been put back to 2017 – which is now looking optimistic. It is understood that the parts of the pressure vessel found with excess carbon were manufactured in France at the Creusot Forge, in Burgundy, owned by Areva. It was this same company that made parts for the two Chinese reactors, hence the fears that they too will contain carbon above safety limits.

Large subsidies

One problem is the pressure vessel’s sheer size and the fact that it was already in place when the fault was detected. The vessel weighs 410 tonnes and cannot now be removed, and it is hard to see how it could be repaired or modified. The problem was discovered in December but made public in a low-key website announcement only on 7 April. One knock-on effect might be to seriously damage the British government’s own energy policy, which relies on building four similar reactors in England. Work has already been completed on preparatory works for two at Hinkley Point, in the west of England, using the Flamanville design. The UK government has agreed large subsidies to support the projects, but EDF has repeatedly delayed signing a final deal to build them, because of a lack of investors. Two Chinese utilities were negotiating to back the project financially, but the discovery of a flaw at Flamanville may complicate matters. In any event, the decision on whether to go ahead with the two reactors at Hinkley Point had already been postponed until the summer and now seems certain to be postponed yet again until the issue of the safety of the French and Chinese pressure vessels has been resolved. The UK government has repeatedly said that the expansion of nuclear power is vital to its energy security and its ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. The country is currently in the middle of a general election campaign. Whichever government gets into power may have to rapidly rethink its energy policy. − Climate News Network

A new generation of giant reactors, meant to provide fresh hope for nuclear power in Europe, has been found to have a serious safety problem. LONDON, 13 April, 2015 − The future of the world’s biggest nuclear reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, is now in doubt after a serious flaw was found in its steel pressure vessel. Examination has shown that the steel contains too much carbon, which can weaken the vessel’s structure and breaches safety rules. The Chinese, who have two similar 1,600 megawatt European Pressurised Reactors under construction, have been warned that they too may share the potentially catastrophic problem. Investigations are continuing to check whether the problem can be rectified, but whatever happens it will add more delays and greater costs to the already troubled projects. The problem also casts doubt on the much-heralded nuclear renaissance in Europe, where EPR reactors are being built not only in France but also in Finland. Four more are planned for Britain, where they form a cornerstone of the UK government’s policy to fight climate change. A decision on whether to go ahead with the first two in the UK has already been postponed twice, and this revelation will cause further delays. The French nuclear engineering firm Areva, involved in the EPR’s design and development, found the flawed steel and reported the problem to the country’s nuclear regulator, ASN, which has ordered an investigation.  The French energy minister, Ségolène Royal, says the results of tests to check the extent of the problem will be released in October.

Serious blow

It is understood that the maximum allowable carbon content of steel in the pressure vessel is 0.22%, but tests have shown 0.30% in parts of the Flamanville vessel. This could render it subject to cracking in operation and shorten its intended lifespan. The discovery is another serious blow to the French nuclear industry, which already faces severe financial problems, partly because of existing delays to the reactors at Flamanville and at Finland’s Olkiluoto site. The Finnish reactor, which is not affected by this problem because its pressure vessel steel comes from Japan, not France,, is already nine years behind schedule for other reasons and has more than doubled in cost. Following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan any compromise on minimum safety standards would be hard to sell to the public, especially since nuclear power has fallen out of favour with the French government, which wants to invest heavily in renewables. France is already considering merging Areva and Électricité de France (EDF), the two nuclear companies in which it owns the majority of shares. Areva is building the Flamanville reactor on behalf of EDF, Europe’s largest electricity producer. EDF recently estimated the construction costs of Flamanville at €8 billion (US$8.7bn) compared with an original estimate of €3.3bn, and that was before this setback. The plant was due to have been working by now, but its start date had already been put back to 2017 – which is now looking optimistic. It is understood that the parts of the pressure vessel found with excess carbon were manufactured in France at the Creusot Forge, in Burgundy, owned by Areva. It was this same company that made parts for the two Chinese reactors, hence the fears that they too will contain carbon above safety limits.

Large subsidies

One problem is the pressure vessel’s sheer size and the fact that it was already in place when the fault was detected. The vessel weighs 410 tonnes and cannot now be removed, and it is hard to see how it could be repaired or modified. The problem was discovered in December but made public in a low-key website announcement only on 7 April. One knock-on effect might be to seriously damage the British government’s own energy policy, which relies on building four similar reactors in England. Work has already been completed on preparatory works for two at Hinkley Point, in the west of England, using the Flamanville design. The UK government has agreed large subsidies to support the projects, but EDF has repeatedly delayed signing a final deal to build them, because of a lack of investors. Two Chinese utilities were negotiating to back the project financially, but the discovery of a flaw at Flamanville may complicate matters. In any event, the decision on whether to go ahead with the two reactors at Hinkley Point had already been postponed until the summer and now seems certain to be postponed yet again until the issue of the safety of the French and Chinese pressure vessels has been resolved. The UK government has repeatedly said that the expansion of nuclear power is vital to its energy security and its ability to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. The country is currently in the middle of a general election campaign. Whichever government gets into power may have to rapidly rethink its energy policy. − Climate News Network

Unhappy birthday for UK's nuclear white elephants

A state-of-the-art British plant designed to re-use spent nuclear fuel so as to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to close after years of what its critics call “commercial and technical failure.”

LONDON, 8 April, 2015 − Re-using uranium and plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors over and over again to make unlimited quantities of electricity was the nuclear industry’s ambition 25 years ago, and central to its claim to be the solution to climate change.

Once uranium has been mined, enriched and used as reactor fuel it need not be wasted, the industry has argued. After its removal from the reactor so little of the potential energy it contains has been harnessed that the fuel can be reprocessed and used again. It is dissolved in acid, the impurities are removed, its uranium and plutonium are extracted and it starts the cycle again as new fuel.

In the 1980s the industry insisted that investment in the giant reprocessing plants was vital because by the millennium there would be 4,000 nuclear reactors worldwide, with too little uranium to fuel them all. In fact, by the end of the century there were only 434 reactors globally, and much more uranium had been found.

Some governments, including those of the UK, France, Germany and the US, believed the industry’s sales pitch, even though environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never accepted it. Critics said the cost of building the reprocessing plants was too high, and feared the consequences of producing vast stockpiles of uranium and plutonium which might never be used in reactors.

Public opposition was so great in Europe that some countries, notably Germany, abandoned the idea, but Britain went ahead. The British plant was at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England.

Proved right

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), said: “We never believed there would be a huge expansion in nuclear energy or that there was any need for reprocessing, We said the discharges of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea that it entailed could not be justified, and we have been proved right.”

Despite many objections the nuclear industry got the UK government to accept reprocessing as essential to ensure future expansion. This spring is the 21st anniversary of the official opening of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield, designed to dissolve both British and foreign spent fuel and retrieve the plutonium and uranium.

It cost £2.85 billion (US$4.25 bn) to build and in its first 10 years it planned to reprocess 7,000 tonnes of spent fuel and make £500 million (US$745 m) profit.

Contracts had been signed in advance with Germany, Japan, Switzerland and other countries with nuclear power stations to reprocess their fuel in England.

But technical faults meant THORP failed to meet its targets, and after a decade only 5,045 tonnes had been reprocessed. The plant’s real profits or losses have never been disclosed.

Despite this doubtful beginning the British government sanctioned another enterprise, a brand new factory to turn the plutonium and uranium that had been produced into new fuel. The idea was to sell it back to the countries that originally owned it, closing the recycling loop.

Unworkable theories

New contracts were signed with Switzerland, Germany and Japan to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel (mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium) annually. But unfortunately the British nuclear industry could not translate its theories into practice.

The new plant did not work as planned, producing only 13 tonnes of fuel in ten years. Originally it was said to have cost £280m (US$415m). After Japan’s Fukushima accident it was decided to close the plant. The total loss to the British taxpayer for this failure was later admitted to be £2.2bn (US$3.3bn).

Despite the fact there was now no market or use for the plutonium and uranium it was producing from the spent fuel, the original THORP plant has continued to operate. It was periodically closed after a series of accidents and technical failures, and had been reduced to operating at half its original throughput, but was always given permission to restart, arguing that it still had foreign contracts to fulfill.

As a result Britain now has the world’s largest stockpile of used plutonium, about 100 tonnes of it British and 30 tonnes belonging to other governments. If it were all converted into nuclear weapons it would be enough to destroy all life on Earth.

There are also around 7,000 tonnes of uranium, for which there is currently no use and which must remain under armed guard night and day for fear of terrorist attack.

“Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield”

After years of indecision about how to deal with this unwanted surplus it has been announced that THORP should close in 2018 when all the foreign fuel has been reprocessed. Even after closure it will take years to decommission the plant and remove the waste, so not all of the 800 workers will lose their jobs at once and many will be re-deployed on other parts of the Cumbrian site.

Martin Forwood concludes: “That THORP should have failed so badly at so many levels comes as little surprise to those of us who warned − even before the plant opened − that the economics of the highly complex plant simply did not stack up and that worldwide demand for the uranium and plutonium that THORP would recover had already evaporated.

“Attempts to convert THORP’s plutonium into new fuel in an adjoining plant were equally disastrous…Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield.”

The British government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which runs the plant on behalf of taxpayers, have never revealed the losses it has incurred.  The government has no policy on what to do with the mountain of unwanted plutonium and uranium.

For accounting purposes, Forwood says, it is still counted as an asset, when in reality it is simply nuclear waste. The nuclear industry’s hopes of saving the planet from climate change by recycling reactor fuel have, he says, been “a complete commercial and technical failure.” − Climate News Network

A state-of-the-art British plant designed to re-use spent nuclear fuel so as to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to close after years of what its critics call “commercial and technical failure.”

LONDON, 8 April, 2015 − Re-using uranium and plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors over and over again to make unlimited quantities of electricity was the nuclear industry’s ambition 25 years ago, and central to its claim to be the solution to climate change.

Once uranium has been mined, enriched and used as reactor fuel it need not be wasted, the industry has argued. After its removal from the reactor so little of the potential energy it contains has been harnessed that the fuel can be reprocessed and used again. It is dissolved in acid, the impurities are removed, its uranium and plutonium are extracted and it starts the cycle again as new fuel.

In the 1980s the industry insisted that investment in the giant reprocessing plants was vital because by the millennium there would be 4,000 nuclear reactors worldwide, with too little uranium to fuel them all. In fact, by the end of the century there were only 434 reactors globally, and much more uranium had been found.

Some governments, including those of the UK, France, Germany and the US, believed the industry’s sales pitch, even though environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never accepted it. Critics said the cost of building the reprocessing plants was too high, and feared the consequences of producing vast stockpiles of uranium and plutonium which might never be used in reactors.

Public opposition was so great in Europe that some countries, notably Germany, abandoned the idea, but Britain went ahead. The British plant was at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England.

Proved right

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), said: “We never believed there would be a huge expansion in nuclear energy or that there was any need for reprocessing, We said the discharges of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea that it entailed could not be justified, and we have been proved right.”

Despite many objections the nuclear industry got the UK government to accept reprocessing as essential to ensure future expansion. This spring is the 21st anniversary of the official opening of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield, designed to dissolve both British and foreign spent fuel and retrieve the plutonium and uranium.

It cost £2.85 billion (US$4.25 bn) to build and in its first 10 years it planned to reprocess 7,000 tonnes of spent fuel and make £500 million (US$745 m) profit.

Contracts had been signed in advance with Germany, Japan, Switzerland and other countries with nuclear power stations to reprocess their fuel in England.

But technical faults meant THORP failed to meet its targets, and after a decade only 5,045 tonnes had been reprocessed. The plant’s real profits or losses have never been disclosed.

Despite this doubtful beginning the British government sanctioned another enterprise, a brand new factory to turn the plutonium and uranium that had been produced into new fuel. The idea was to sell it back to the countries that originally owned it, closing the recycling loop.

Unworkable theories

New contracts were signed with Switzerland, Germany and Japan to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel (mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium) annually. But unfortunately the British nuclear industry could not translate its theories into practice.

The new plant did not work as planned, producing only 13 tonnes of fuel in ten years. Originally it was said to have cost £280m (US$415m). After Japan’s Fukushima accident it was decided to close the plant. The total loss to the British taxpayer for this failure was later admitted to be £2.2bn (US$3.3bn).

Despite the fact there was now no market or use for the plutonium and uranium it was producing from the spent fuel, the original THORP plant has continued to operate. It was periodically closed after a series of accidents and technical failures, and had been reduced to operating at half its original throughput, but was always given permission to restart, arguing that it still had foreign contracts to fulfill.

As a result Britain now has the world’s largest stockpile of used plutonium, about 100 tonnes of it British and 30 tonnes belonging to other governments. If it were all converted into nuclear weapons it would be enough to destroy all life on Earth.

There are also around 7,000 tonnes of uranium, for which there is currently no use and which must remain under armed guard night and day for fear of terrorist attack.

“Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield”

After years of indecision about how to deal with this unwanted surplus it has been announced that THORP should close in 2018 when all the foreign fuel has been reprocessed. Even after closure it will take years to decommission the plant and remove the waste, so not all of the 800 workers will lose their jobs at once and many will be re-deployed on other parts of the Cumbrian site.

Martin Forwood concludes: “That THORP should have failed so badly at so many levels comes as little surprise to those of us who warned − even before the plant opened − that the economics of the highly complex plant simply did not stack up and that worldwide demand for the uranium and plutonium that THORP would recover had already evaporated.

“Attempts to convert THORP’s plutonium into new fuel in an adjoining plant were equally disastrous…Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield.”

The British government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which runs the plant on behalf of taxpayers, have never revealed the losses it has incurred.  The government has no policy on what to do with the mountain of unwanted plutonium and uranium.

For accounting purposes, Forwood says, it is still counted as an asset, when in reality it is simply nuclear waste. The nuclear industry’s hopes of saving the planet from climate change by recycling reactor fuel have, he says, been “a complete commercial and technical failure.” − Climate News Network

Unhappy birthday for UK’s nuclear white elephants

A state-of-the-art British plant designed to re-use spent nuclear fuel so as to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to close after years of what its critics call “commercial and technical failure.” LONDON, 8 April, 2015 − Re-using uranium and plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors over and over again to make unlimited quantities of electricity was the nuclear industry’s ambition 25 years ago, and central to its claim to be the solution to climate change. Once uranium has been mined, enriched and used as reactor fuel it need not be wasted, the industry has argued. After its removal from the reactor so little of the potential energy it contains has been harnessed that the fuel can be reprocessed and used again. It is dissolved in acid, the impurities are removed, its uranium and plutonium are extracted and it starts the cycle again as new fuel. In the 1980s the industry insisted that investment in the giant reprocessing plants was vital because by the millennium there would be 4,000 nuclear reactors worldwide, with too little uranium to fuel them all. In fact, by the end of the century there were only 434 reactors globally, and much more uranium had been found. Some governments, including those of the UK, France, Germany and the US, believed the industry’s sales pitch, even though environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never accepted it. Critics said the cost of building the reprocessing plants was too high, and feared the consequences of producing vast stockpiles of uranium and plutonium which might never be used in reactors. Public opposition was so great in Europe that some countries, notably Germany, abandoned the idea, but Britain went ahead. The British plant was at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England.

Proved right

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), said: “We never believed there would be a huge expansion in nuclear energy or that there was any need for reprocessing, We said the discharges of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea that it entailed could not be justified, and we have been proved right.” Despite many objections the nuclear industry got the UK government to accept reprocessing as essential to ensure future expansion. This spring is the 21st anniversary of the official opening of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield, designed to dissolve both British and foreign spent fuel and retrieve the plutonium and uranium. It cost £2.85 billion (US$4.25 bn) to build and in its first 10 years it planned to reprocess 7,000 tonnes of spent fuel and make £500 million (US$745 m) profit. Contracts had been signed in advance with Germany, Japan, Switzerland and other countries with nuclear power stations to reprocess their fuel in England. But technical faults meant THORP failed to meet its targets, and after a decade only 5,045 tonnes had been reprocessed. The plant’s real profits or losses have never been disclosed. Despite this doubtful beginning the British government sanctioned another enterprise, a brand new factory to turn the plutonium and uranium that had been produced into new fuel. The idea was to sell it back to the countries that originally owned it, closing the recycling loop.

Unworkable theories

New contracts were signed with Switzerland, Germany and Japan to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel (mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium) annually. But unfortunately the British nuclear industry could not translate its theories into practice. The new plant did not work as planned, producing only 13 tonnes of fuel in ten years. Originally it was said to have cost £280m (US$415m). After Japan’s Fukushima accident it was decided to close the plant. The total loss to the British taxpayer for this failure was later admitted to be £2.2bn (US$3.3bn). Despite the fact there was now no market or use for the plutonium and uranium it was producing from the spent fuel, the original THORP plant has continued to operate. It was periodically closed after a series of accidents and technical failures, and had been reduced to operating at half its original throughput, but was always given permission to restart, arguing that it still had foreign contracts to fulfill. As a result Britain now has the world’s largest stockpile of used plutonium, about 100 tonnes of it British and 30 tonnes belonging to other governments. If it were all converted into nuclear weapons it would be enough to destroy all life on Earth. There are also around 7,000 tonnes of uranium, for which there is currently no use and which must remain under armed guard night and day for fear of terrorist attack.

“Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield”

After years of indecision about how to deal with this unwanted surplus it has been announced that THORP should close in 2018 when all the foreign fuel has been reprocessed. Even after closure it will take years to decommission the plant and remove the waste, so not all of the 800 workers will lose their jobs at once and many will be re-deployed on other parts of the Cumbrian site. Martin Forwood concludes: “That THORP should have failed so badly at so many levels comes as little surprise to those of us who warned − even before the plant opened − that the economics of the highly complex plant simply did not stack up and that worldwide demand for the uranium and plutonium that THORP would recover had already evaporated. “Attempts to convert THORP’s plutonium into new fuel in an adjoining plant were equally disastrous…Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield.” The British government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which runs the plant on behalf of taxpayers, have never revealed the losses it has incurred.  The government has no policy on what to do with the mountain of unwanted plutonium and uranium. For accounting purposes, Forwood says, it is still counted as an asset, when in reality it is simply nuclear waste. The nuclear industry’s hopes of saving the planet from climate change by recycling reactor fuel have, he says, been “a complete commercial and technical failure.” − Climate News Network

A state-of-the-art British plant designed to re-use spent nuclear fuel so as to cut greenhouse gas emissions is to close after years of what its critics call “commercial and technical failure.” LONDON, 8 April, 2015 − Re-using uranium and plutonium as fuel for nuclear reactors over and over again to make unlimited quantities of electricity was the nuclear industry’s ambition 25 years ago, and central to its claim to be the solution to climate change. Once uranium has been mined, enriched and used as reactor fuel it need not be wasted, the industry has argued. After its removal from the reactor so little of the potential energy it contains has been harnessed that the fuel can be reprocessed and used again. It is dissolved in acid, the impurities are removed, its uranium and plutonium are extracted and it starts the cycle again as new fuel. In the 1980s the industry insisted that investment in the giant reprocessing plants was vital because by the millennium there would be 4,000 nuclear reactors worldwide, with too little uranium to fuel them all. In fact, by the end of the century there were only 434 reactors globally, and much more uranium had been found. Some governments, including those of the UK, France, Germany and the US, believed the industry’s sales pitch, even though environmental groups like Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace never accepted it. Critics said the cost of building the reprocessing plants was too high, and feared the consequences of producing vast stockpiles of uranium and plutonium which might never be used in reactors. Public opposition was so great in Europe that some countries, notably Germany, abandoned the idea, but Britain went ahead. The British plant was at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England.

Proved right

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), said: “We never believed there would be a huge expansion in nuclear energy or that there was any need for reprocessing, We said the discharges of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea that it entailed could not be justified, and we have been proved right.” Despite many objections the nuclear industry got the UK government to accept reprocessing as essential to ensure future expansion. This spring is the 21st anniversary of the official opening of the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Sellafield, designed to dissolve both British and foreign spent fuel and retrieve the plutonium and uranium. It cost £2.85 billion (US$4.25 bn) to build and in its first 10 years it planned to reprocess 7,000 tonnes of spent fuel and make £500 million (US$745 m) profit. Contracts had been signed in advance with Germany, Japan, Switzerland and other countries with nuclear power stations to reprocess their fuel in England. But technical faults meant THORP failed to meet its targets, and after a decade only 5,045 tonnes had been reprocessed. The plant’s real profits or losses have never been disclosed. Despite this doubtful beginning the British government sanctioned another enterprise, a brand new factory to turn the plutonium and uranium that had been produced into new fuel. The idea was to sell it back to the countries that originally owned it, closing the recycling loop.

Unworkable theories

New contracts were signed with Switzerland, Germany and Japan to produce 120 tonnes of MOX fuel (mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium) annually. But unfortunately the British nuclear industry could not translate its theories into practice. The new plant did not work as planned, producing only 13 tonnes of fuel in ten years. Originally it was said to have cost £280m (US$415m). After Japan’s Fukushima accident it was decided to close the plant. The total loss to the British taxpayer for this failure was later admitted to be £2.2bn (US$3.3bn). Despite the fact there was now no market or use for the plutonium and uranium it was producing from the spent fuel, the original THORP plant has continued to operate. It was periodically closed after a series of accidents and technical failures, and had been reduced to operating at half its original throughput, but was always given permission to restart, arguing that it still had foreign contracts to fulfill. As a result Britain now has the world’s largest stockpile of used plutonium, about 100 tonnes of it British and 30 tonnes belonging to other governments. If it were all converted into nuclear weapons it would be enough to destroy all life on Earth. There are also around 7,000 tonnes of uranium, for which there is currently no use and which must remain under armed guard night and day for fear of terrorist attack.

“Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield”

After years of indecision about how to deal with this unwanted surplus it has been announced that THORP should close in 2018 when all the foreign fuel has been reprocessed. Even after closure it will take years to decommission the plant and remove the waste, so not all of the 800 workers will lose their jobs at once and many will be re-deployed on other parts of the Cumbrian site. Martin Forwood concludes: “That THORP should have failed so badly at so many levels comes as little surprise to those of us who warned − even before the plant opened − that the economics of the highly complex plant simply did not stack up and that worldwide demand for the uranium and plutonium that THORP would recover had already evaporated. “Attempts to convert THORP’s plutonium into new fuel in an adjoining plant were equally disastrous…Two white elephants don’t make for success at Sellafield.” The British government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which runs the plant on behalf of taxpayers, have never revealed the losses it has incurred.  The government has no policy on what to do with the mountain of unwanted plutonium and uranium. For accounting purposes, Forwood says, it is still counted as an asset, when in reality it is simply nuclear waste. The nuclear industry’s hopes of saving the planet from climate change by recycling reactor fuel have, he says, been “a complete commercial and technical failure.” − Climate News Network

Enough uranium, but nuclear power is still shrinking

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Many people believe nuclear power could save the planet from climate change. But several factors mean the industry is dying, a new analysis suggests. LONDON, 11 April – There is enough uranium available on the planet to keep the world’s nuclear industry going for as long as it is needed. But it will grow steadily more expensive to extract, because the quality of the ore is getting poorer, according to new research. Years of work in compiling information from around the world has led Gavin M. Mudd from Monash University in Clayton, Australia to believe that it is economic and political restraints that will kill off nuclear power and not any shortage of uranium, as some have claimed. Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that renewables do not have the disadvantages of nuclear power, which needs large uranium mines that are hard to rehabilitate and which generates waste that remains dangerous for more than 100,000 years. In addition, research shows that renewable technologies are expanding very fast and could produce all the energy needs of advanced economies, phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear. Mudd, who is a lecturer in the department of civil engineering at Monash, has compiled decades of data on the availability and quality of uranium ore. He concludes that, while uranium is plentiful, mining the ore is very damaging to the environment and the landscape. It is expensive to rehabilitate former mines, not least because of the dangerous levels of radiation left behind. As a result many of the potential sources of uranium will not be exploited because of opposition from people who live in the area.

‘Too cheap to meter’

His paper examines the history of uranium mining and its wild fluctuations in price. These have little to do with supply, but rather with demand that is badly affected by nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by the political decisions by governments to embark on new nuclear building programmes, or to abandon them. “Despite the utopian promise of electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, nuclear power remains a minor source of electricity worldwide”, Mudd writes. In 2010 it accounted for 5.65% of total primary energy supply and was responsible for 12.87% of global electricity supply. Both contributions have effectively been declining through the 2000s. “Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have effectively slowed or stopped the growth of nuclear energy in many Western countries since the 1980s.” The Fukushima accident in Japan has accelerated the trend away from nuclear power. The growth in projects in some countries, notably China, Russia and India, does not offset the fact that many more nuclear power stations will reach retirement age over the next 15-20 years than will be constructed. Among the factors Mudd considered in the fluctuation of supply was the conversion of Russian and American nuclear weapons into power station fuel supplying 50% of American needs since the mid-1990s, and 20% of global uranium supply.  This has not materially affected the long-term supply of uranium.

Mining blighted

Another issue that is more politically contentious is the high cost of rehabilitating mines, notably in Germany and the US. In many of the countries where uranium has been mined and no rehabilitation attempted, the prospect of further mining is blighted. Mudd gives the examples of Niger, Gabon, Argentina and Brazil, where there has been considerable public opposition to opening up fresh deposits as a result. If these resources and other uranium deposits elsewhere in the world are to be exploited, Mudd argues, the issue of rehabilitating existing and future mines needs to be addressed. “There is a critical need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the success (or otherwise) of global U mine rehabilitation efforts and programmes; such a review could help synthesise best practices and highlight common problems and possible solutions,” he says. The paper also examines in detail the quality of the ore and the difficulty of extracting uranium from various rocks. Mudd concludes that as time passes the richer ores in the rocks that are easiest to extract are becoming scarce. As a result, for each pound of uranium extracted more greenhouse gases are generated, adding to the CO2 emissions of nuclear power. However, he believes, in the overall comparisons of various energy systems the increase is only marginal. “The future of nuclear power clearly remains contested and contentious — and therefore difficult to forecast accurately. While some optimists remain eternally hopeful, reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history. “Overall, there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power. The actual U supply into the market is, effectively, more an economic and political issue than a resource constraint issue,” Mudd says. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Many people believe nuclear power could save the planet from climate change. But several factors mean the industry is dying, a new analysis suggests. LONDON, 11 April – There is enough uranium available on the planet to keep the world’s nuclear industry going for as long as it is needed. But it will grow steadily more expensive to extract, because the quality of the ore is getting poorer, according to new research. Years of work in compiling information from around the world has led Gavin M. Mudd from Monash University in Clayton, Australia to believe that it is economic and political restraints that will kill off nuclear power and not any shortage of uranium, as some have claimed. Writing in the journal Environmental Science & Technology that renewables do not have the disadvantages of nuclear power, which needs large uranium mines that are hard to rehabilitate and which generates waste that remains dangerous for more than 100,000 years. In addition, research shows that renewable technologies are expanding very fast and could produce all the energy needs of advanced economies, phasing out both fossil fuels and nuclear. Mudd, who is a lecturer in the department of civil engineering at Monash, has compiled decades of data on the availability and quality of uranium ore. He concludes that, while uranium is plentiful, mining the ore is very damaging to the environment and the landscape. It is expensive to rehabilitate former mines, not least because of the dangerous levels of radiation left behind. As a result many of the potential sources of uranium will not be exploited because of opposition from people who live in the area.

‘Too cheap to meter’

His paper examines the history of uranium mining and its wild fluctuations in price. These have little to do with supply, but rather with demand that is badly affected by nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and by the political decisions by governments to embark on new nuclear building programmes, or to abandon them. “Despite the utopian promise of electricity ‘too cheap to meter’, nuclear power remains a minor source of electricity worldwide”, Mudd writes. In 2010 it accounted for 5.65% of total primary energy supply and was responsible for 12.87% of global electricity supply. Both contributions have effectively been declining through the 2000s. “Concerns about hazards and unfavourable economics have effectively slowed or stopped the growth of nuclear energy in many Western countries since the 1980s.” The Fukushima accident in Japan has accelerated the trend away from nuclear power. The growth in projects in some countries, notably China, Russia and India, does not offset the fact that many more nuclear power stations will reach retirement age over the next 15-20 years than will be constructed. Among the factors Mudd considered in the fluctuation of supply was the conversion of Russian and American nuclear weapons into power station fuel supplying 50% of American needs since the mid-1990s, and 20% of global uranium supply.  This has not materially affected the long-term supply of uranium.

Mining blighted

Another issue that is more politically contentious is the high cost of rehabilitating mines, notably in Germany and the US. In many of the countries where uranium has been mined and no rehabilitation attempted, the prospect of further mining is blighted. Mudd gives the examples of Niger, Gabon, Argentina and Brazil, where there has been considerable public opposition to opening up fresh deposits as a result. If these resources and other uranium deposits elsewhere in the world are to be exploited, Mudd argues, the issue of rehabilitating existing and future mines needs to be addressed. “There is a critical need for a thorough and comprehensive review of the success (or otherwise) of global U mine rehabilitation efforts and programmes; such a review could help synthesise best practices and highlight common problems and possible solutions,” he says. The paper also examines in detail the quality of the ore and the difficulty of extracting uranium from various rocks. Mudd concludes that as time passes the richer ores in the rocks that are easiest to extract are becoming scarce. As a result, for each pound of uranium extracted more greenhouse gases are generated, adding to the CO2 emissions of nuclear power. However, he believes, in the overall comparisons of various energy systems the increase is only marginal. “The future of nuclear power clearly remains contested and contentious — and therefore difficult to forecast accurately. While some optimists remain eternally hopeful, reality appears to be relegating nuclear power to the uneconomic category of history. “Overall, there is a strong case for the abundance of already known U resources, whether currently reported as formal mineral resources or even more speculative U sources, to meet the foreseeable future of nuclear power. The actual U supply into the market is, effectively, more an economic and political issue than a resource constraint issue,” Mudd says. – Climate News Network

Delays for the dawn of UK’s new nuclear age

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As the months slip by, the optimism drains away that the UK government will make good on its pledge to build eight new nuclear stations. LONDON, 15 June – The British government’s promise not to subsidise new nuclear power stations in the UK looks set to torpedo its own stated energy policy which is to build a range of new reactors to keep the lights on. Ministers have been in negotiations with the French state-owned giant EDF for more than a year, trying to strike a deal that does not look like a subsidy but guarantees a price for electricity for 40 years – big enough to give investors a return on capital to make building the first two new nuclear stations a worthwhile venture. The government’s pre-election promise was to encourage low carbon energy production, to reach ambitious carbon dioxide emission reduction targets and so become “the greenest government” the UK has known. New generation capacity is needed to keep the lights on in Britain as several “dirty” coal fired stations are being closed because of European Union regulations and some old nuclear stations are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear tax The problem is that nuclear power continues to get more expensive while renewable costs fall. The price that EDF is reported to be insisting on would provide a bigger subsidy than is paid to wind and solar power. This would make nuclear the most expensive energy in the UK and tie the British consumer to high bills for generations to come. Consumers would in effect be paying a nuclear energy tax. A formal announcement to start work on the first new nuclear build in Britain in more than 25 years has been repeatedly delayed – and the proposed finishing date of the first reactor has already unofficially slipped from 2017 to 2022 before the first concrete has been poured. With the delays new nuclear stations already under construction are experiencing in Finland and France, even this looks optimistic. While negotiations drag on between the government and EDF, the European Union and members of parliament in the House of Commons are investigating the proposed subsidies to be paid to nuclear power. The reason is that “mature” industries like nuclear are banned under European competition rules from being given subsidies because it is classed as “unfair competition.” Cannot go bankrupt The Environmental Audit Committee, made up of MPs of all the UK’s political parties, has been taking evidence on “Energy Subsidies in the UK” to try and work out which form of generation is best value for money for consumers. There is evidence before the committee that the lights can be kept on using renewables, wind, solar, biomass and half a dozen other technologies without resorting to nuclear power. But the inquiry is also an opportunity for the gas industry and others to have a go at the subsidies for renewables like wind and biomass. Some witnesses concentrate only on both the existing and proposed subsidies to nuclear power. Dr Gerry Wolff, representing a think tank called Energy Fair, said nuclear energy already had seven kinds of subsidy. If they were withdrawn, the price of nuclear electricity would rise to at least £200 a megawatt hour. This is compared with the next most expensive form of low carbon energy, offshore wind at about £140 a megawatt hour. The UK has more offshore wind turbines than any other country and plans more with the cost expected to continue to fall as time passes. Nuclear subsidies include the state underwriting the cost of a nuclear accident so the industry does not pay the full cost of insurance or pay for protection against terrorism, Dr Wolff says. He also points out that, as happened 10 years ago when the price of electricity fell below the cost of production, nuclear power is insulated from going bankrupt. The industry is too important in preventing politically unacceptable power cuts to be allowed to fail and would always be bailed out by the government. This is a commercial security no other power company has. The biggest subsidy, according to the Energy Fair evidence, is the cost of dealing with nuclear waste and dismantling nuclear stations. This is a vast and although ultimately spread over centuries, and therefore cannot be quantified, mostly falls on the consumer and taxpayer, not on the company. Dr Wolff says: “Renewables have a clear advantage on cost, speed of construction, security of energy supplies, and effectiveness in cutting emissions of carbon dioxide. Subsidies for nuclear power have the effect of diverting resources away from techniques and technologies which are cheaper than nuclear power and altogether more effective as a means of meeting our energy needs.” The European Union Commission inquiry is politically complex. The British government’s point is that nuclear is a low carbon form of electricity production and should be treated as a renewable. This has never been the case in Europe and there is powerful opposition to this idea in Germany and other EU states that have decided that nuclear power is not for them. As each week passes and no decisions are reached on this variety of issues, delays and therefore nuclear costs continue to mount making the dawn a new nuclear age in the UK seem as far away as ever. – Climate News Network

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As the months slip by, the optimism drains away that the UK government will make good on its pledge to build eight new nuclear stations. LONDON, 15 June – The British government’s promise not to subsidise new nuclear power stations in the UK looks set to torpedo its own stated energy policy which is to build a range of new reactors to keep the lights on. Ministers have been in negotiations with the French state-owned giant EDF for more than a year, trying to strike a deal that does not look like a subsidy but guarantees a price for electricity for 40 years – big enough to give investors a return on capital to make building the first two new nuclear stations a worthwhile venture. The government’s pre-election promise was to encourage low carbon energy production, to reach ambitious carbon dioxide emission reduction targets and so become “the greenest government” the UK has known. New generation capacity is needed to keep the lights on in Britain as several “dirty” coal fired stations are being closed because of European Union regulations and some old nuclear stations are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear tax The problem is that nuclear power continues to get more expensive while renewable costs fall. The price that EDF is reported to be insisting on would provide a bigger subsidy than is paid to wind and solar power. This would make nuclear the most expensive energy in the UK and tie the British consumer to high bills for generations to come. Consumers would in effect be paying a nuclear energy tax. A formal announcement to start work on the first new nuclear build in Britain in more than 25 years has been repeatedly delayed – and the proposed finishing date of the first reactor has already unofficially slipped from 2017 to 2022 before the first concrete has been poured. With the delays new nuclear stations already under construction are experiencing in Finland and France, even this looks optimistic. While negotiations drag on between the government and EDF, the European Union and members of parliament in the House of Commons are investigating the proposed subsidies to be paid to nuclear power. The reason is that “mature” industries like nuclear are banned under European competition rules from being given subsidies because it is classed as “unfair competition.” Cannot go bankrupt The Environmental Audit Committee, made up of MPs of all the UK’s political parties, has been taking evidence on “Energy Subsidies in the UK” to try and work out which form of generation is best value for money for consumers. There is evidence before the committee that the lights can be kept on using renewables, wind, solar, biomass and half a dozen other technologies without resorting to nuclear power. But the inquiry is also an opportunity for the gas industry and others to have a go at the subsidies for renewables like wind and biomass. Some witnesses concentrate only on both the existing and proposed subsidies to nuclear power. Dr Gerry Wolff, representing a think tank called Energy Fair, said nuclear energy already had seven kinds of subsidy. If they were withdrawn, the price of nuclear electricity would rise to at least £200 a megawatt hour. This is compared with the next most expensive form of low carbon energy, offshore wind at about £140 a megawatt hour. The UK has more offshore wind turbines than any other country and plans more with the cost expected to continue to fall as time passes. Nuclear subsidies include the state underwriting the cost of a nuclear accident so the industry does not pay the full cost of insurance or pay for protection against terrorism, Dr Wolff says. He also points out that, as happened 10 years ago when the price of electricity fell below the cost of production, nuclear power is insulated from going bankrupt. The industry is too important in preventing politically unacceptable power cuts to be allowed to fail and would always be bailed out by the government. This is a commercial security no other power company has. The biggest subsidy, according to the Energy Fair evidence, is the cost of dealing with nuclear waste and dismantling nuclear stations. This is a vast and although ultimately spread over centuries, and therefore cannot be quantified, mostly falls on the consumer and taxpayer, not on the company. Dr Wolff says: “Renewables have a clear advantage on cost, speed of construction, security of energy supplies, and effectiveness in cutting emissions of carbon dioxide. Subsidies for nuclear power have the effect of diverting resources away from techniques and technologies which are cheaper than nuclear power and altogether more effective as a means of meeting our energy needs.” The European Union Commission inquiry is politically complex. The British government’s point is that nuclear is a low carbon form of electricity production and should be treated as a renewable. This has never been the case in Europe and there is powerful opposition to this idea in Germany and other EU states that have decided that nuclear power is not for them. As each week passes and no decisions are reached on this variety of issues, delays and therefore nuclear costs continue to mount making the dawn a new nuclear age in the UK seem as far away as ever. – Climate News Network

Fukushima faces long road to repair

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Saturday 20 April Efforts to repair the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami are making slow progress, and an imminent International Atomic Energy Agency report is expected to make depressing reading – for Japan and for other nuclear energy states. LONDON, 22 April – The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling. These setbacks come as a 12-man team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna tours the stricken plants to assess the country’s efforts to make safe, clean up and eventually dismantle the crippled reactors. Within Japan there is alarm at the situation and criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco.  Even government safety officials say the company is not demonstrating that it is competent in dealing with a problem that will probably take decades to solve, judging by other serious nuclear accidents. Spent nuclear fuel melted into lumps of unknown size will remain dangerous for hundreds of years, and so far no one has devised a method of retrieving it. Tepco admits only that the leaks are a “crisis” but says has it has kept the stricken reactors stable by injecting water continuously.  Without the water the spent fuel inside the reactors could overheat, causing another potential radioactive release. But it is the massive amount of radioactive water that is becoming part of the problem, because it cannot be discharged into the sea without breaching international law and risking contamination of fish stocks. Instead it is pumped into reservoirs that have been inadequately lined, and it is from three of these that the radioactive leaks of thousands of gallons are continuing. Pumping the reservoirs dry to solve the problem will take weeks.

Still seeking safety

  Comments by Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, summed up the current situation: “The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident. We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.” Even without the leaks and the rats, just keeping the plant safe following the damage inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami two years ago is keeping 3,000 labourers busy. They work in difficult contaminated conditions in an area isolated from normal life. A large perimeter round the plant is off limits. The 160,000 people who used to live nearby and were evacuated when the scale of the disaster became apparent are unlikely to be allowed to return for years, if at all. There is still little information about the extent of the contamination. More information about the perilous state of the four reactors damaged by the tsunami will be released when the IAEA produces its interim report on 22 April, but it is unlikely to be encouraging. Even without the safety fears, the costs of dealing with the problem will be enormous and a drain on Tepco’s finances for decades. How to bring the reactors to a safe, stable state remains an unsolved problem. The last serious nuclear accident, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, is still causing concern, and international efforts to make the reactor safe are continuing. That reactor exploded, spilling radioactive dust over a vast area of Europe. Again an exclusion zone was established while emergency repairs were carried out. Today there is still a huge area known as the dead zone around the reactor while the international community pays for a scheme to try to keep the reactor safe for another 100 years or so. The initial cap or sarcophagus built to cover the reactor is in danger of crumbling and causing another radioactive release.

50 years of uncertainty

  The latest plan to avoid this happening involves building a giant concrete arch that will be moved on rails over the stricken reactor to contain any further collapse. The arch is being constructed away from the sarcophagus to avoid the continuing radiation and will be wheeled over it. At 270 metres across, 150 metres long and 100 metres high it is the largest moveable structure in the world.  There are hopes that it will be completed in 2015, but even this is seen as only a temporary solution. The cost is estimated at around $1.5 billion. How long completely cleaning up a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima will really take is anyone’s guess. In 1957, before Chernobyl had even been built, there was a serious fire at Windscale in the United Kingdom at a reactor built to provide plutonium for Britain’s first generation of nuclear weapons. The fire burned out of control for only three days before being extinguished. Fifty six years later, the melted fuel remains inside the reactor, or Pile Number One as it is called. Over the years several attempts to remove it and make it safe have been started and abandoned, on safety grounds. The site remains guarded and monitored inside the Sellafield nuclear plant, as Windscale is now known, its future still uncertain, its lurking danger all but forgotten by the outside world. That was one small reactor on fire more than half a century ago. The Fukushima accident involved four much larger reactors, but with similar problems – large quantities of melted fuel which have yet to be recovered. The present generation’s grandchildren may still be wrestling with the problem at the end of this century. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 2301 GMT on Saturday 20 April Efforts to repair the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan after 2011’s earthquake and tsunami are making slow progress, and an imminent International Atomic Energy Agency report is expected to make depressing reading – for Japan and for other nuclear energy states. LONDON, 22 April – The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling. These setbacks come as a 12-man team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna tours the stricken plants to assess the country’s efforts to make safe, clean up and eventually dismantle the crippled reactors. Within Japan there is alarm at the situation and criticism of the Tokyo Electric Power Company, Tepco.  Even government safety officials say the company is not demonstrating that it is competent in dealing with a problem that will probably take decades to solve, judging by other serious nuclear accidents. Spent nuclear fuel melted into lumps of unknown size will remain dangerous for hundreds of years, and so far no one has devised a method of retrieving it. Tepco admits only that the leaks are a “crisis” but says has it has kept the stricken reactors stable by injecting water continuously.  Without the water the spent fuel inside the reactors could overheat, causing another potential radioactive release. But it is the massive amount of radioactive water that is becoming part of the problem, because it cannot be discharged into the sea without breaching international law and risking contamination of fish stocks. Instead it is pumped into reservoirs that have been inadequately lined, and it is from three of these that the radioactive leaks of thousands of gallons are continuing. Pumping the reservoirs dry to solve the problem will take weeks.

Still seeking safety

  Comments by Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority, summed up the current situation: “The Fukushima Daiichi plant remains in an unstable condition, and there is concern that we cannot prevent another accident. We have instructed Tepco to work on reducing some of the biggest risks, and we as regulators will step up monitoring.” Even without the leaks and the rats, just keeping the plant safe following the damage inflicted by the earthquake and tsunami two years ago is keeping 3,000 labourers busy. They work in difficult contaminated conditions in an area isolated from normal life. A large perimeter round the plant is off limits. The 160,000 people who used to live nearby and were evacuated when the scale of the disaster became apparent are unlikely to be allowed to return for years, if at all. There is still little information about the extent of the contamination. More information about the perilous state of the four reactors damaged by the tsunami will be released when the IAEA produces its interim report on 22 April, but it is unlikely to be encouraging. Even without the safety fears, the costs of dealing with the problem will be enormous and a drain on Tepco’s finances for decades. How to bring the reactors to a safe, stable state remains an unsolved problem. The last serious nuclear accident, Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986, is still causing concern, and international efforts to make the reactor safe are continuing. That reactor exploded, spilling radioactive dust over a vast area of Europe. Again an exclusion zone was established while emergency repairs were carried out. Today there is still a huge area known as the dead zone around the reactor while the international community pays for a scheme to try to keep the reactor safe for another 100 years or so. The initial cap or sarcophagus built to cover the reactor is in danger of crumbling and causing another radioactive release.

50 years of uncertainty

  The latest plan to avoid this happening involves building a giant concrete arch that will be moved on rails over the stricken reactor to contain any further collapse. The arch is being constructed away from the sarcophagus to avoid the continuing radiation and will be wheeled over it. At 270 metres across, 150 metres long and 100 metres high it is the largest moveable structure in the world.  There are hopes that it will be completed in 2015, but even this is seen as only a temporary solution. The cost is estimated at around $1.5 billion. How long completely cleaning up a nuclear accident on the scale of Fukushima will really take is anyone’s guess. In 1957, before Chernobyl had even been built, there was a serious fire at Windscale in the United Kingdom at a reactor built to provide plutonium for Britain’s first generation of nuclear weapons. The fire burned out of control for only three days before being extinguished. Fifty six years later, the melted fuel remains inside the reactor, or Pile Number One as it is called. Over the years several attempts to remove it and make it safe have been started and abandoned, on safety grounds. The site remains guarded and monitored inside the Sellafield nuclear plant, as Windscale is now known, its future still uncertain, its lurking danger all but forgotten by the outside world. That was one small reactor on fire more than half a century ago. The Fukushima accident involved four much larger reactors, but with similar problems – large quantities of melted fuel which have yet to be recovered. The present generation’s grandchildren may still be wrestling with the problem at the end of this century. – Climate News Network

UK's nuclear plans come unstuck

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Tuesday 5 February
The latest setback to engulf the British nuclear industry’s plans suggests the technology may face increasing problems elsewhere, prompted by concerns over cost and the legacy of Fukushima.

LONDON, 5 February – The UK Government’s plan to build a new generation of 10 nuclear power stations suffered another severe blow yesterday (4 February) when the British utility Centrica pulled out of the programme, writing off a £200 million investment in the process.

To prop up the industry the Government is faced with breaking two important electoral pledges, and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power.

With the French nuclear industry already in deep trouble over construction delays and cost overruns, the chances of building any new reactors in the UK are fading fast.

Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said the company had pulled out because the project was more costly and extended further into the future than had been planned four years ag o. Together with its partner, the French Government-owned EDF, Centrica has spent close to a billion pounds on the project and is now  writing off its 20% share of £200 million, concentrating instead on renewables and natural gas for electricity generation.

Even before yesterday’s announcement the UK Government was struggling to avert the collapse of its plans. German utilities have already withdrawn from the UK programme and officials were in secret negotiations with EDF to fix a price for nuclear power high enough to persuade investors they would get their money back.

This has led some members of parliament to believe that an illegal subsidy is being created.  EDF emphasized the Government’s dilemma yesterday, saying the pull-out by Centrica underlined the challenge for the Government in fixing a price for nuclear,

Ministers will be challenged in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (7 February) about the intended price fix.

Sleepwalking towards subsidies

 

MPs will demand that the government stops its secret negotiations with EDF because the  “evidence suggests that (the price) constitutes an unjustifiable subsidy to a mature industry” and does not provide the taxpayer with genuine value for money.

The debate was ordered after concerned MPs went before the Backbench Business Committee and asked for parliamentary time to discuss the subsidy.

Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, told the committee that as a Conservative he believed in a free market approach “yet that seems to avoid nuclear. Despite Government agreement that we would not have subsidy for it, it seems that some Members, of all parties, are sleepwalking into allowing that to happen.”

Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, claimed MPs from five parties supported scrutiny of the proposed guaranteed price. He said: “A wider issue for Labour members is that the last Labour Government’s pledge not to subsidise new nuclear was central to their Energy Bill, but is now being broken without much public debate.”

MPs will also point out that successive governments have promised that a new generation of nuclear plants would not be built until the problem of disposing of waste from the new stations had been solved.

Last week’s rejection by Cumbria County Council of plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in the Lake District means that the Government’s only existing proposal for disposing of waste has been vetoed.  So far ministers have not come up with an alternative, so unless they break their promise on waste there can be no nuclear stations. Yesterday a report highly critical of the escalating cost of dealing with waste was issued by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The Government has tried to avoid the issue of subsidies for new nuclear by wrapping together support prices for renewables like offshore wind and new nuclear build. The problem it faces is that the price of renewables is coming down and that of nuclear is rising and needs a subsidy to make it competitive.

Nuclear is classed by the European Union as a mature technology and has already received £100 billion in subsidies in the UK. It is therefore not eligible for more under EU rules.

But it is clear that without subsidy – in the form of a high fixed price for electricity that the consumer has to pay for 30 years – nuclear power plants are unlikely to be built.

Chinese success?

 

The British Government wants the French to build four reactors immediately, two each at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. They are the European Pressurised Reactors, the first of which is under construction in Finland and a second in France.

Both are several years late and massively over budget. Two more are being built in China, both reported to be on time and on budget, although there is no independent verification.

The Finnish plant, the prototype, was started in 2005 and was supposed to be connected to the grid in 2009. The start date had now been put back “beyond 2014” and the cost has risen from three billion euros to more than six billion.

The second plant was the prestige project of EDF but has also gone badly. It was supposed to herald a new generation of stations to replace the ageing plant which provides 75% of France’s electricity. The company owns 58 French and 15 UK reactors but has a falling share price and rising debts.

Its flagship project at Flamanville in northern France is already five years late and six billion euros over budget. It was supposed to be finished in 2011, but now the expected date is 2016 and the cost has risen to 8.5 billion euros.

The company is also faced with spending 10 billion euros to update the safety of its existing reactors following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Investors have been selling shares in EDF steadily since 2008 and prices have dropped further recently as EDF’s debts have increased, making investment in nuclear plant in Britain without price guarantees unlikely if not impossible. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Tuesday 5 February
The latest setback to engulf the British nuclear industry’s plans suggests the technology may face increasing problems elsewhere, prompted by concerns over cost and the legacy of Fukushima.

LONDON, 5 February – The UK Government’s plan to build a new generation of 10 nuclear power stations suffered another severe blow yesterday (4 February) when the British utility Centrica pulled out of the programme, writing off a £200 million investment in the process.

To prop up the industry the Government is faced with breaking two important electoral pledges, and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power.

With the French nuclear industry already in deep trouble over construction delays and cost overruns, the chances of building any new reactors in the UK are fading fast.

Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said the company had pulled out because the project was more costly and extended further into the future than had been planned four years ag o. Together with its partner, the French Government-owned EDF, Centrica has spent close to a billion pounds on the project and is now  writing off its 20% share of £200 million, concentrating instead on renewables and natural gas for electricity generation.

Even before yesterday’s announcement the UK Government was struggling to avert the collapse of its plans. German utilities have already withdrawn from the UK programme and officials were in secret negotiations with EDF to fix a price for nuclear power high enough to persuade investors they would get their money back.

This has led some members of parliament to believe that an illegal subsidy is being created.  EDF emphasized the Government’s dilemma yesterday, saying the pull-out by Centrica underlined the challenge for the Government in fixing a price for nuclear,

Ministers will be challenged in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (7 February) about the intended price fix.

Sleepwalking towards subsidies

 

MPs will demand that the government stops its secret negotiations with EDF because the  “evidence suggests that (the price) constitutes an unjustifiable subsidy to a mature industry” and does not provide the taxpayer with genuine value for money.

The debate was ordered after concerned MPs went before the Backbench Business Committee and asked for parliamentary time to discuss the subsidy.

Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, told the committee that as a Conservative he believed in a free market approach “yet that seems to avoid nuclear. Despite Government agreement that we would not have subsidy for it, it seems that some Members, of all parties, are sleepwalking into allowing that to happen.”

Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, claimed MPs from five parties supported scrutiny of the proposed guaranteed price. He said: “A wider issue for Labour members is that the last Labour Government’s pledge not to subsidise new nuclear was central to their Energy Bill, but is now being broken without much public debate.”

MPs will also point out that successive governments have promised that a new generation of nuclear plants would not be built until the problem of disposing of waste from the new stations had been solved.

Last week’s rejection by Cumbria County Council of plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in the Lake District means that the Government’s only existing proposal for disposing of waste has been vetoed.  So far ministers have not come up with an alternative, so unless they break their promise on waste there can be no nuclear stations. Yesterday a report highly critical of the escalating cost of dealing with waste was issued by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.

The Government has tried to avoid the issue of subsidies for new nuclear by wrapping together support prices for renewables like offshore wind and new nuclear build. The problem it faces is that the price of renewables is coming down and that of nuclear is rising and needs a subsidy to make it competitive.

Nuclear is classed by the European Union as a mature technology and has already received £100 billion in subsidies in the UK. It is therefore not eligible for more under EU rules.

But it is clear that without subsidy – in the form of a high fixed price for electricity that the consumer has to pay for 30 years – nuclear power plants are unlikely to be built.

Chinese success?

 

The British Government wants the French to build four reactors immediately, two each at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. They are the European Pressurised Reactors, the first of which is under construction in Finland and a second in France.

Both are several years late and massively over budget. Two more are being built in China, both reported to be on time and on budget, although there is no independent verification.

The Finnish plant, the prototype, was started in 2005 and was supposed to be connected to the grid in 2009. The start date had now been put back “beyond 2014” and the cost has risen from three billion euros to more than six billion.

The second plant was the prestige project of EDF but has also gone badly. It was supposed to herald a new generation of stations to replace the ageing plant which provides 75% of France’s electricity. The company owns 58 French and 15 UK reactors but has a falling share price and rising debts.

Its flagship project at Flamanville in northern France is already five years late and six billion euros over budget. It was supposed to be finished in 2011, but now the expected date is 2016 and the cost has risen to 8.5 billion euros.

The company is also faced with spending 10 billion euros to update the safety of its existing reactors following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Investors have been selling shares in EDF steadily since 2008 and prices have dropped further recently as EDF’s debts have increased, making investment in nuclear plant in Britain without price guarantees unlikely if not impossible. – Climate News Network

UK’s nuclear plans come unstuck

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Tuesday 5 February The latest setback to engulf the British nuclear industry’s plans suggests the technology may face increasing problems elsewhere, prompted by concerns over cost and the legacy of Fukushima. LONDON, 5 February – The UK Government’s plan to build a new generation of 10 nuclear power stations suffered another severe blow yesterday (4 February) when the British utility Centrica pulled out of the programme, writing off a £200 million investment in the process. To prop up the industry the Government is faced with breaking two important electoral pledges, and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power. With the French nuclear industry already in deep trouble over construction delays and cost overruns, the chances of building any new reactors in the UK are fading fast. Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said the company had pulled out because the project was more costly and extended further into the future than had been planned four years ag o. Together with its partner, the French Government-owned EDF, Centrica has spent close to a billion pounds on the project and is now  writing off its 20% share of £200 million, concentrating instead on renewables and natural gas for electricity generation. Even before yesterday’s announcement the UK Government was struggling to avert the collapse of its plans. German utilities have already withdrawn from the UK programme and officials were in secret negotiations with EDF to fix a price for nuclear power high enough to persuade investors they would get their money back. This has led some members of parliament to believe that an illegal subsidy is being created.  EDF emphasized the Government’s dilemma yesterday, saying the pull-out by Centrica underlined the challenge for the Government in fixing a price for nuclear, Ministers will be challenged in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (7 February) about the intended price fix.

Sleepwalking towards subsidies

  MPs will demand that the government stops its secret negotiations with EDF because the  “evidence suggests that (the price) constitutes an unjustifiable subsidy to a mature industry” and does not provide the taxpayer with genuine value for money. The debate was ordered after concerned MPs went before the Backbench Business Committee and asked for parliamentary time to discuss the subsidy. Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, told the committee that as a Conservative he believed in a free market approach “yet that seems to avoid nuclear. Despite Government agreement that we would not have subsidy for it, it seems that some Members, of all parties, are sleepwalking into allowing that to happen.” Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, claimed MPs from five parties supported scrutiny of the proposed guaranteed price. He said: “A wider issue for Labour members is that the last Labour Government’s pledge not to subsidise new nuclear was central to their Energy Bill, but is now being broken without much public debate.” MPs will also point out that successive governments have promised that a new generation of nuclear plants would not be built until the problem of disposing of waste from the new stations had been solved. Last week’s rejection by Cumbria County Council of plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in the Lake District means that the Government’s only existing proposal for disposing of waste has been vetoed.  So far ministers have not come up with an alternative, so unless they break their promise on waste there can be no nuclear stations. Yesterday a report highly critical of the escalating cost of dealing with waste was issued by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. The Government has tried to avoid the issue of subsidies for new nuclear by wrapping together support prices for renewables like offshore wind and new nuclear build. The problem it faces is that the price of renewables is coming down and that of nuclear is rising and needs a subsidy to make it competitive. Nuclear is classed by the European Union as a mature technology and has already received £100 billion in subsidies in the UK. It is therefore not eligible for more under EU rules. But it is clear that without subsidy – in the form of a high fixed price for electricity that the consumer has to pay for 30 years – nuclear power plants are unlikely to be built.

Chinese success?

  The British Government wants the French to build four reactors immediately, two each at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. They are the European Pressurised Reactors, the first of which is under construction in Finland and a second in France. Both are several years late and massively over budget. Two more are being built in China, both reported to be on time and on budget, although there is no independent verification. The Finnish plant, the prototype, was started in 2005 and was supposed to be connected to the grid in 2009. The start date had now been put back “beyond 2014” and the cost has risen from three billion euros to more than six billion. The second plant was the prestige project of EDF but has also gone badly. It was supposed to herald a new generation of stations to replace the ageing plant which provides 75% of France’s electricity. The company owns 58 French and 15 UK reactors but has a falling share price and rising debts. Its flagship project at Flamanville in northern France is already five years late and six billion euros over budget. It was supposed to be finished in 2011, but now the expected date is 2016 and the cost has risen to 8.5 billion euros. The company is also faced with spending 10 billion euros to update the safety of its existing reactors following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Investors have been selling shares in EDF steadily since 2008 and prices have dropped further recently as EDF’s debts have increased, making investment in nuclear plant in Britain without price guarantees unlikely if not impossible. – Climate News Network

EMBARGOED until 0001 GMT on Tuesday 5 February The latest setback to engulf the British nuclear industry’s plans suggests the technology may face increasing problems elsewhere, prompted by concerns over cost and the legacy of Fukushima. LONDON, 5 February – The UK Government’s plan to build a new generation of 10 nuclear power stations suffered another severe blow yesterday (4 February) when the British utility Centrica pulled out of the programme, writing off a £200 million investment in the process. To prop up the industry the Government is faced with breaking two important electoral pledges, and may face legal challenges that it intends to breach European Union subsidy rules in guaranteeing a minimum price for nuclear power. With the French nuclear industry already in deep trouble over construction delays and cost overruns, the chances of building any new reactors in the UK are fading fast. Centrica’s chief executive, Sam Laidlaw, said the company had pulled out because the project was more costly and extended further into the future than had been planned four years ag o. Together with its partner, the French Government-owned EDF, Centrica has spent close to a billion pounds on the project and is now  writing off its 20% share of £200 million, concentrating instead on renewables and natural gas for electricity generation. Even before yesterday’s announcement the UK Government was struggling to avert the collapse of its plans. German utilities have already withdrawn from the UK programme and officials were in secret negotiations with EDF to fix a price for nuclear power high enough to persuade investors they would get their money back. This has led some members of parliament to believe that an illegal subsidy is being created.  EDF emphasized the Government’s dilemma yesterday, saying the pull-out by Centrica underlined the challenge for the Government in fixing a price for nuclear, Ministers will be challenged in a debate in the House of Commons on Thursday (7 February) about the intended price fix.

Sleepwalking towards subsidies

  MPs will demand that the government stops its secret negotiations with EDF because the  “evidence suggests that (the price) constitutes an unjustifiable subsidy to a mature industry” and does not provide the taxpayer with genuine value for money. The debate was ordered after concerned MPs went before the Backbench Business Committee and asked for parliamentary time to discuss the subsidy. Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove, told the committee that as a Conservative he believed in a free market approach “yet that seems to avoid nuclear. Despite Government agreement that we would not have subsidy for it, it seems that some Members, of all parties, are sleepwalking into allowing that to happen.” Martin Horwood, Liberal Democrat MP for Cheltenham, claimed MPs from five parties supported scrutiny of the proposed guaranteed price. He said: “A wider issue for Labour members is that the last Labour Government’s pledge not to subsidise new nuclear was central to their Energy Bill, but is now being broken without much public debate.” MPs will also point out that successive governments have promised that a new generation of nuclear plants would not be built until the problem of disposing of waste from the new stations had been solved. Last week’s rejection by Cumbria County Council of plans to dump the nation’s nuclear waste in the Lake District means that the Government’s only existing proposal for disposing of waste has been vetoed.  So far ministers have not come up with an alternative, so unless they break their promise on waste there can be no nuclear stations. Yesterday a report highly critical of the escalating cost of dealing with waste was issued by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. The Government has tried to avoid the issue of subsidies for new nuclear by wrapping together support prices for renewables like offshore wind and new nuclear build. The problem it faces is that the price of renewables is coming down and that of nuclear is rising and needs a subsidy to make it competitive. Nuclear is classed by the European Union as a mature technology and has already received £100 billion in subsidies in the UK. It is therefore not eligible for more under EU rules. But it is clear that without subsidy – in the form of a high fixed price for electricity that the consumer has to pay for 30 years – nuclear power plants are unlikely to be built.

Chinese success?

  The British Government wants the French to build four reactors immediately, two each at Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. They are the European Pressurised Reactors, the first of which is under construction in Finland and a second in France. Both are several years late and massively over budget. Two more are being built in China, both reported to be on time and on budget, although there is no independent verification. The Finnish plant, the prototype, was started in 2005 and was supposed to be connected to the grid in 2009. The start date had now been put back “beyond 2014” and the cost has risen from three billion euros to more than six billion. The second plant was the prestige project of EDF but has also gone badly. It was supposed to herald a new generation of stations to replace the ageing plant which provides 75% of France’s electricity. The company owns 58 French and 15 UK reactors but has a falling share price and rising debts. Its flagship project at Flamanville in northern France is already five years late and six billion euros over budget. It was supposed to be finished in 2011, but now the expected date is 2016 and the cost has risen to 8.5 billion euros. The company is also faced with spending 10 billion euros to update the safety of its existing reactors following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Investors have been selling shares in EDF steadily since 2008 and prices have dropped further recently as EDF’s debts have increased, making investment in nuclear plant in Britain without price guarantees unlikely if not impossible. – Climate News Network