The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is very disappointed, but not at all surprised, with the announcement by UK Energy Minister Greg Clark to offer £5 billion of taxpayer money to assist with the funding of the Wylfa B new nuclear reactor in Anglesey. Whilst going against years of previous government policy, it also compares unfavourably with the expected lack of Government support of an exciting new renewable energy project in Wales – the proposed development of the Swansea tidal lagoon scheme, and future projects planned in Cardiff Bay and off the north Wales coast. At present this scheme looks to be on a life support machine, though the Government delayed the expected announcement to ditch the project and the thousands of jobs that could be created.
Mr Clark claims there is a need for ‘base load’ power and financial certainty for the project, with Government able to borrow money at lower rates than Hitachi.
In fact ‘baseload’ power is not helpful in balancing a variable energy supply – it simply leads to further overproduction of energy at times when renewables can meet demand on their own. In a grid which has a large contribution from variable renewables, what is required is flexible electricity supply which can be turned on and off quickly to fill the troughs when renewables aren’t able to supply. New nuclear power stations are a poor fit for a 21st century grid system and they act against increasing renewable energy capacity. (1) Gas power stations that can quickly ramp up output, for instance, provide the best solution for this at the moment. These could be made completely carbon neutral by using synthetic gas created with surplus electricity from renewables and UK-grown biomass. (2)
As Michael Liebreich, CEO of Bloomberg New Energy Finance says “…there are plenty of ways of managing intermittency in renewables without resorting to expensive backup power. First, you improve your resource forecasting. Second, by interconnecting the grid over larger areas, much of the variability of renewable energy can be evened out. Third, just when an increased proportion of renewable energy means you start losing control over supply, the introduction of digitally controlled smart grids gives you better control of demand. Finally, there is power storage, currently mainly in the form of pumped hydroelectric power but, in future, most likely in the form of batteries for electric vehicles. The cost of each of these techniques is coming down just as rapidly as the cost of renewable energy.” (3)
It is also not clear at all as to how expensive the Wylfa B reactor will actually be, given the cost runs that have occurred at all comparative new nuclear construction sites. NFLA notes with interest how the media this week is stating Wylfa will cost around £16 billion this week, when just last week costs were being estimated as being £21 million. (4) The global experience of new nuclear in the last decade is of engineering and technical delays and routine cost over runs. Why would this be any different now?
The possible ‘strike price’ for Wylfa of £77 per KwH might be more attractive than Hinkley Point but offshore wind, onshore wind and solar energy can be provided much more cheaply, and with sufficient will, a renewable energy system could be developed to deal with intermittency issues.
Tidal energy could also be a part of this new energy mix, and while the first tidal lagoon project in Swansea is expensive in terms of the strike price, there is considerable evidence – confirmed by the Government’s commissioned independent report by former Energy Minister Charles Hendry – that future projects can be produced at a lower cost as the technology matures. Energy policy is about choices, and NFLA would argue the Government should reconsider developing Wylfa B.
Finally, according to Radioactive Waste Management Ltd, the radioactivity from existing radioactive waste (i.e. not including new reactors) is expected to be 4.8 million terabecquerels (TBq) in the year 2200. The waste inventory in 2200 after a 16GW programme of new nuclear reactors like Wylfa B would be around 27.3 million TBq – almost a six-fold increase. Given the UK has no current long-term solution for the management and storage of such waste it should not be looking to build new nuclear reactors and generate more radioactive waste. (5)
In a joint statement, NFLA Vice-Chairs Councillor Feargal Dalton and Councillor David Blackburn said:
“We are very disappointed that the UK Government is now risking billions of pounds of taxpayer money on new nuclear projects well known for large cost and time overruns. There is abundant evidence, which is not discounted by the Government, that renewable energy is significantly cheaper than new nuclear power stations and considerably easier to deploy. If the Government put sufficient will and resource into developing a flexible, smart and decentralised low carbon energy sector, linking in with the private, community and local government sectors, it could produce cheaper, reliable, safe and waste free renewable energy whilst generating just as many jobs as are being vaunted for Wylfa B and other new nuclear projects. There are better energy choices out there and politicians from all parties should spend time pursuing them instead.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) J. Farrell, Why coal and nuclear are not compatible with a renewable future, Institute for Local Self Reliance, 16th October 2013 https://ilsr.org/coal-nuclear-baseload-compatible-renewable-future/
(2) Paul Allen et al, Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future, Centre for Alternative Technology 16th July 2013 http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/images/pdfs/ZCBrtflo-res.pdf
(3) Michael Liebreich, Avoiding an energy civil war, Green Alliance Blog, 1st October 2013 https://greenallianceblog.org.uk/2013/10/01/avoiding-an-energy-civil-war/
(4) NFLA comparison of media stories on the cost of Wylfa B last week in comparison to the figures quoted in today’s media stories.
(5) Geological Disposal: An overview of the differences between the 2013 Derived Inventory and the 2010 Derived Inventory, RWM Ltd July 2015 https://rwm.nda.gov.uk/publication/differences-between2013-and-2010-derived-inventory/