The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes the resignation yesterday of the Toshiba Chairman Shigenori Shiga and its announcement that it will not be involved in the construction of new nuclear reactors at the Sellafield ‘Moorside’ development in west Cumbria. Toshiba say they will stay on to develop the ‘initial phase’ of developing the project before selling its 60% stake at a later date. (1)
For NFLA there is a strong sense of ‘déjà vu’ with Toshiba’s announcement and the sorry state of the UK’s new nuclear policy. Over the past decade, international energy utilities E-on, RWE Npower, Iberdrola and Centrica have all confidently announced their commitment to building new nuclear power stations, whether at Hinkley Point, Wylfa or Moorside, but then had to pull out as they realise they cannot afford the huge levels of investment that such projects require.
Toshiba’s woes originate from huge overspends in its nuclear business in the United States, which could reach over $6 billion. Its announcement yesterday does not inspire any confidence in the Moorside project, particularly as its consortium partner Engie also appears to have ambitions to get out of new nuclear to pursue its laudable ambitions of developing decentralised renewable energy. (2)
It is being suggested that the South Korean energy utility Kepco may take up Toshiba’s stake. If it does, and it clearly remains a big ‘if’, there would be new questions to answer. Will Kepco want to develop the Westinghouse AP-1000 reactor design, or bring forward its own design, which would need to go through the nuclear regulators four-year long generic design assessment? Let us not forget as well that Kepco was found in 2011 to be filing false quality assurance certificates and developing defective cabling that led to two nuclear reactor shutdowns. This eventually led to a full public apology from its Chief Executive in 2013. Do we want such a company in the UK nuclear industry? (3)
Meanwhile, both Toshiba and Hitachi, supportive trade unions and much of the nuclear lobby have been putting immense pressure on the UK Government to pump billions of pounds of taxpayer money into new nuclear as the only way to guarantee construction. At the same time, the costs of renewable energy continue to decline rapidly. Energy efficiency and energy storage technologies are also improving, balancing energy and dealing with intermittency issues. Such energy policies could provide the thousands of jobs in Cumbria and other parts of the country where new nuclear is planned.
At the same time EDF, who are supposed to be building a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, issued three profit warnings last year following a string of unplanned nuclear plant shutdowns. EDF is contending with a government-directed restructuring of the French nuclear industry, and is being pushed by the French state, its controlling shareholder, to rescue reactor builder Areva by taking over the part of its struggling business that is behind EPR technology. The EPR reactor that EDF is building at Flamanville in France is already six years late and €7.2bn over budget. A large drop in French nuclear output over the winter due to safety inspections on 18 of its French reactors, at the request of the country’s nuclear regulator ASN, was partly to blame for a sharp drop in profits. Furthermore, the company is saddled with debt and needs to spend €55bn upgrading its existing reactors in France.
NFLA call on UK ministers and officials to take stock of the UK’s new nuclear strategy. It is clearly failing to deliver. It is obvious now that it can only be delivered by huge public subsidies the country can ill afford at a time when public services are under intense strain and the ‘Brexit’ decision puts potential further instability in the near future on the wider economy. For once ministers should look at the area of energy policy that has delivered and will continue to deliver given sensible financial support – the creation of a wide renewable energy mix coupled with supporting Councils to deliver decentralised microgeneration projects and fully realising energy storage and energy efficiency technology. Such policies are more cost effective, can be deployed much more swiftly than new nuclear, produce good quality well-paid jobs, deliver low carbon climate change objectives and, above all, would not generate thousands of tonnes of highly radioactive waste.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
The resignation of the Toshiba Chairman and its announcement that it is pulling out of any construction of the Moorside nuclear reactors is a devastating blow for the UK ‘nuclear renaissance’. It is looking more and more like a damp squib instead. Replacing Toshiba with Kepco would be just as bad giving its appalling recent legacy of safety fabrication and its own debt-laden business. Ministers have to move away from their deep ideological support for new nuclear and realise the future is renewable. Councils are also more than willing to help to deliver decentralised energy and new technology in energy efficiency and energy storage can and should play a part. Yet again we have an opportunity to change course. I call on the Government to show real ambition and humility and finally dump its nuclear dreams.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC News Online, 14th February 2017 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-38967305
(2) Nuclear-news.net, 17th December 2016 https://nuclear-news.net/2016/12/17/engie-formerly-gdf-suez-might-pull-out-of-uk-nuclear-power-plan-at-moorside-in-cumbria
(3) American Nuclear Society, ‘South Korea nuclear power: are the dark times over?’, 6th February 2014 https://ansnuclearcafe.org/2014/02/06/south-korea-nuclear-power-are-the-dark-times-over/