The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) has noted substantial media coverage from the nuclear industry after the general election extolling the need for the new UK Government to build both large and small new nuclear reactors. It is to be expected, as it is a well-financed, highly effective lobby and it is a sector in real crisis at the moment, so it has to be vocal on the ‘need’ for new nuclear.
That crisis is obvious from the consultation undertaken before the election by the Government to consider the benefits of the Revenue Asset Base (RAB) model to provide an effective huge public subsidy to the nuclear sector.
As Professor Steve Thomas’s expert report on Hinkley Point C and the financial problems of EDF shows (1), the French Government owned nuclear utility is struggling with the huge burden of financing this reactor, due to technical overruns at other similar reactors being built in Finland and France, as well as EDF’s other expensive liabilities.
It is hardly surprising therefore that EDF is pushing hard for the Government to make a decision on the RAB model by speeding up the public engagement process for the proposed Sizewell C reactor. This is despite its four phases of public consultation on the site receiving only tepid support from the local Councils and nuclear regulators, particularly the Environment Agency, stating a considerable lack of important information on the detail of the reactor site remains to be clarified. Sizewell C also adjoins some highly sensitive environmental sites, and is likely to be prone to the medium-term issues of coastal erosion and climate change. (2)
In its response to the Government’s Revenue Asset Base model consultation, the NFLA argue it will be overly expensive, overly complicated, is completely unnecessary as an answer to our future energy needs, and is a licence to support the nuclear industry with huge levels of financial support in variance with support for the renewable energy sector. It will fundamentally require the public, either as taxpayers or electricity bill payers to foot the cost of new nuclear. If approved, the Government will be placing the great bulk of the financial risk of new nuclear reactors onto the public. This is without even mentioning the billions of pounds already provided by public expenditure to deal with the radioactive waste and nuclear decommissioning legacy of the past 70 years of nuclear operation. (3)
This month, Rolls Royce has come forward with confident assertions that it can start building small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) as early as 2029. Again the NFLA, with the Nuclear Consulting Group, has undertaken a detailed analysis of the prospects for such technology not just in the UK, but around the world.
This report concludes: “SMRs would require a particularly large commitment of public money. Whereas previous reactor designs could be proved by building one or two demonstration plants, the economics of SMRs can only be tested by building up a large number of reactors, possibly hundreds or thousands, requiring expensive investment in component production line facilities and commitment to large numbers of orders. Utility interest in SMRs, particularly where utilities would be required to risk their shareholders’ money, has been minimal.” (4)
So again, huge investment is required, much from the public purse, to make this technology develop in the sort of time which would have any positive effect on decarbonisation strategies. At the same time, the costs of renewable and decentralised energy continues to drop, the speed to realise such schemes continues to shorten, and they have no issues with harmful radioactive waste.
Therefore, the NFLA urges the Government to look at the financial logic of new nuclear in cost, safety and deliverability terms and in comparison with renewable alternatives. The only answer from such a review, we believe, is to move to a 100% renewable and decentralised energy programme.
UK and Ireland NFLA Steering Committee Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“It has been highly predictable to hear the clarion calls from the nuclear industry that new nuclear reactors remain a vital part of UK energy policy. Yet, it has become more obvious than ever that the costs of such developments are eye-watering and the taxpayer will be paying for them for decades to come, if approved. The Government needs to move energy policy firmly towards renewable and decentralised energy which are coming in much cheaper, are more easily realisable and contain no harmful radioactive materials. We will be spending many billions as well in cleaning up the radioactive waste legacy and closing existing nuclear reactors. We should not be spending billions more on new nuclear, but transforming to the obvious renewable energy revolution.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA New Nuclear Monitor 60
(2) NFLA New Nuclear Monitor 59
(3) NFLA New Nuclear Monitor 58
(4) NFLA / NCG New Nuclear Monitor 57