The UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) note that the UK Government’s Energy White Paper that came out just before Christmas 2020 gives strong support for new nuclear projects. It was a part of the Prime Minister’s ‘Ten Point Plan’ and it gives overt support for large nuclear projects, small modular reactors and even nuclear fusion.
The Energy White Paper has some welcome parts to it, like support for offshore wind, developing greener buildings, seeking to move to zero emission vehicles and promoting green public transport. However, NFLA remains disappointed and continually frustrated over the lack of support given to onshore wind, solar energy, tidal and marine energy and decentralised energy in general. So many of the projects put forward are top-down and support big business far more than they do local communities.
In terms of the support for new nuclear there is a commitment from the UK Government to get at least one further large nuclear reactor development achieved by the end of the next Parliament, which presumably means Sizewell C to join with Hinkley Point C. There is ongoing warm support for small modular reactors and to create an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, and extensive lobbying is going on from the nuclear sector to deliver this. The government have also ignored the comments made by many groups and seek to suggest that the Revenue Asset Base model may provide the public financing to support some of this work.
However, NFLA notes a recent trawl of the media shows the nuclear sector remains far from rosy:
- Despite considerable effort from the UK and Welsh Government, The Times has recently reported that Hitachi are likely to pull the plug on the Wylfa B project by the end of March. They are unsatisfied with the lack of real offers that have come in, despite suggestions that American utilities Bechtel, Westinghouse and Southern Company are interested, despite all of them having serious financial and technical challenges to overcome, as the People Against Wylfa B group have highlighted in detail. (1)
- Despite changes to the plans, EDF Energy have confirmed that there would be as many as 250 lorry transports (500 two-way movements) on an average typical day through the local Suffolk towns close to the site, rising at the peak of construction to 350 lorry transports (700 two-way movements). Such figures are part of the reason a large coalition of local environmental, transport and community groups remain opposed to a Sizewell C development and will actively challenge it as the Planning Inspectorate develop a public inquiry on the proposals. (2)
- The Environment Agency has flagged up six serious safety concerns with EDF and China General Nuclear’s (CGN) plans to construct a 2.2GW nuclear reactor at the Bradwell site in Essex. These will have to be resolved before it could approve the reactor design. (3)
- There remain real questions to answer over how the Hinkley Point C reactor will be financed. A report by Professor Stephen Thomas and Alison Downes for example, notes “The only options remaining appear to be the granting of sovereign credit guarantees by either the UK or French government, unlocking debt finance or, as foreseen by the NAO, a renegotiation of the contract terms removing the technology risk from EDF.” (4) It has also just been confirmed that last week 14 of the EDF contractor’s staff tested positive for Covid-19, another factor that could further delay this project, likely to increase costs for the project further, should that happen. (5)
- Whilst much publicity is given to small modular reactors, not one design is yet with the Office for Nuclear Regulation for consideration. And any nuclear fusion reactor, if it ever could be shown as a proven technology, will be provided much too late to have a positive response on getting to zero carbon emissions in the next two decades.
This comes at a time when wind and solar broke energy generating records in 2020. Wind generation records were broken several times over the year, and at times solar energy provided a third of Britain’s electricity supply, according to figures from the National Grid ESO. (6) Councils across the UK also continue to deliver excellent low carbon projects showing the real benefits of locally owned, effective projects. (7)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“The NFLA continue to be disappointed with the UK Government’s new nuclear strategy, which involves so much time and effort for longer-term projects when there are abundant evidence that renewables, battery storage, smart energy and local, decentralised energy can be delivered cheaper, safer, cleaner and much more swifter than top-down nuclear options. We say it again that there is a more realisable energy policy with great benefits to local communities that does not require new nuclear. Communities around Anglesey and Gwynedd for example have spent over a decade awaiting the new nuclear ‘dream’, when pursuing its substantial renewable potential would have been far better. Let’s stop wasting time and get on delivering a renewable energy revolution instead.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)7771 930196.
Notes to Editors:
(1) PAWB 11th January 2021
(2) East Anglian Daily Times, 13th January 2021
(3) New Civil Engineer 13th Jan 2021
(4) Financing Hinkley Point C, August 2020
(5) Somerset Live, 13th January 2021
(6) Current News, 12th January 2021
(7) NFLA, 9th November 2020