The UK’s Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) on 12 March published a short list of reasons why the proposed 3.2 GWs of nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point should be built. The publication, 5 Reasons why we are backing Hinkley Point C, is a mix of truth, unprovable assertions and omissions which could also be construed as lies, writes independent energy consultant Mike Parr.
1. “New nuclear is the only proven low carbon technology that can provide continuous power, irrespective of whether the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, giving hardworking families and businesses year-round energy security.”
This fails to deal with the on-going argument of dispatchable generation vs intermittent and the role of storage. The DECC statement assumes that the problem of intermittent generation plus storage will not be solved any time soon. It also relies on ignorance amongst the UK population with respect to the true state of affairs with respect to dispatchable vs intermittent supply. Did DECC read the interview with Steven Holliday, CEO of National Grid, who said in September last year that “the idea of large coal-fired or nuclear power stations to be used for baseload is outdated” and who said about “intermittent” renewables that “We will have the intelligence available in the system to ensure power is consumed when it’s there and not when it’s not there.”
The last time the English used English labour was in the 19th century to build their railways
The comment on “hardworking families” is a regular meme used by Tories. Extending this comment: one supposes then that those not working (such as the idle rich or the out-of-work – of which there are a growing number in the UK) will not get access to reliable electricity?
2. “Hinkley will give a boost to our energy supply and our economy, bringing in billions of pounds of investment into the UK and creating 25,000 jobs during construction. This is about British security and British jobs.”
This is an unsubstantiated assertion. One of the questions asked by French nuclear unions sitting on the EdF board was: where will the French jobs come from, given the English are talking about 60% of the overall cost of Hinkley going to UK companies? Putting this (internal EdF dispute) to one side, what, if anything, will English industry supply? Concrete (but there are no English companies that make cement/concrete anymore – they are all foreign owned), labour?
On-shore wind is not mentioned even though it could deliver energy at around £40/MWh
The last time the English used English labour was in the 19th century to build their railways. The post World War II reconstruction was accomplished by mostly Irish labour, the English being too feeble. The Dubliner’s iconic song “McAlpines Fusiliers” reflected accurately the historical reality of the 1950s and 1960s with respect to construction in what then passed for the UK. In keeping with historical precedent, most of the Hinkley jobs will go to, probably, East Europeans. As for the engineering jobs, there are declining numbers of UK citizens taking engineering degrees. Still, there is always the Chinese, the UK finance minister Osborne loves them.
3. “Hinkley will power close to six million homes, twice as many as the whole of London, for nearly 60 years, providing 7% of UK electricity. There is no question that new-nuclear is cost competitive. Offshore wind cleared at over £110/MWh in the last auction for renewables. New gas could cost around £65/ MWh and new-nuclear has all the advantages of providing low carbon, baseload power for decades. In addition, we’re getting 60 years of power from Hinkley but we’re only paying for 35.”
The first sentence is mostly true, assuming it runs for 60 years. The rest is a mix of omissions and lies. The second sentence is true only if one looks at the UK, otherwise, it is a lie. Off-shore wind in the UK is expensive (at £110/MWh) compared to nuclear (at a still eye-watering £92.50) only if other countries are not considered. Denmark and the Horns Rev 3 project will deliver electricity at roughly £55/MWh over the lifetime of the project. Other Danish off-shore projects being bid for this year will be even cheaper. This is partly because Danish off-shore projects are bid for on the basis of being shovel-ready.
By contrast, bidders for UK off-shore projects have to undertake all the pre-bid work themselves – thus increasing the risk and thus the cost. The UK takes this approach on political/ideological grounds that (by coincidence?) make nuclear look good. On-shore wind is not mentioned even though it could deliver energy at around £40/MWh. As for the pay for 35 and get 60 – there is no such thing as “something for nothing”.
4. “Hinkley will be safe. It will need to comply with the UK’s robust nuclear regulations (overseen by the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation) – one of the most stringent and safest in the world.”
“Hinkley will be safe” is an unsubstantiated assertion and falls into the same class of statement as (if I were making it in 2010) “Fukushima will be safe”. If I had made that statement in 2010 I would have been guaranteed the support of the entire global nuclear establishment, the whole of the Japanese government and most of Japanese industry.
One conclusion to draw from the DECC PR is that it regards UK subjects as at best incredibly ill-informed, at worst totally ignorant and thus worthy of being misled
How times change. The DECC assertion that Hinkley needs “to comply with the UK’s nuclear regulations (overseen by the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation)” overlooks one unfortunate fact: the last time the English built a nuclear power station was more than 21 years ago (Sizewell B). Senior engineers will be retired or dead, middle ranking engineers will be close to retirement and the junior ones will not have cut their teeth on anything since then. This thus calls into question the competence of the Office for Nuclear regulation (or perhaps, like so much in England it has been outsourced to foreigners – maybe those nice French people just across the water?). Note: designing and building a nuclear reactor is fundamentally different from running one.
5. “Hinkley will be a significant step forward in our transition to a low-carbon future, a milestone in our efforts to reduce emissions and to meet our climate change commitments in the most cost-effective way.”
A straightforward lie. “To meet our climate change commitments in the most cost-effective way” ……….would be to deploy significant energy efficiency measures. These were classified by Camoron, the current UK prime minister as “Green crap” and in 2015, shortly after the Tories won the last election, all the “green crap” was cancelled including all energy efficiency programmes.
One conclusion to draw from the DECC PR is that it regards UK subjects as at best incredibly ill-informed, at worst totally ignorant and thus worthy of being misled. It suggests that DECC buys into the P.T Barnum view of humanity “there’s a sucker born every minute” and with Hinkley, it certainly looks like UK peasants are being taken for a 35 year ride.
Mike Parr is Director of energy consultancy PWR which undertakes research in the area of climate change and renewables for clients which include a G7 country and global corporations. See his author archive on Energy Post.