29 September 2016 was a landmark day for the British people. Greg Clark, the newly appointed head of the newly formed department of Business, Energy and Industrial strategy, signed an agreement with EDF, a company owned by the French government and with the Chinese government as a 33% investor, to proceed with the construction of the first new nuclear power plant in the UK in a generation. Despite all the fuss and furore, the dream of Hinkley C in Somerset is poised to become a reality, albeit by 2030.  The Government claimed that UK businesses will benefit from 60% of the estimated £18 billion to be spent on the plant, with 26,000 jobs and internships created.

This decision is a disaster for our nation, primarily because it is an extreme waste of taxpayer money, poses a great threat to our country’s energy security, and to the safety and security of future generations.

Extreme waste of taxpayers’ money

s300_Hinkley60% of 26,000 jobs is no benefit when one considers that over 27,000 jobs have been lost in the past two years by the solar industry, decimated by Government cuts to the Feed in Tariff and by the death of the Green Deal.  The EPR technology is not yet proven in the three countries already constructing the new nuclear power plants, causing each of their budgets to skyrocket out of control.  The Olkiluoto 3 (OL3) plant in Finland was supposed to be operational in 2010.  It is still not running today.

In December 2012, Areva (the nuclear plant supplier), estimated that the full cost of building the Finnish reactor will be about €8.5 billion, or almost three times the original delivery price of €3 billion. Compare this to the estimated price of the UK plant, estimated at between £18 billion to £29 billion.  The UK taxpayer is not privy to the reasons why the plant cost more than 3 times the price in Finland.  In Flamanville, France, cracks were found in the plant’s construction.  Cracks have also been found in the Taishan facility, in China creating delays and mounting fear of radioactive leakage in Hong Kong, just 130 miles away.

If it is ever completed, the Hinkley C plant is expected to account for 7% of our electricity supply, with a capacity of 3.2GW.  UK Power Networks has recently revealed that it has applications to install 6GW of energy storage to our electricity network, virtually eliminating the issue with renewable energy intermittency for a fraction of the cost of Hinkley C and a bringing  lot more safety.

Dangerous stockpiles of plutonium in Britain 

nuclear-wasteA catalogue of errors that occur unresolved eventually culminates in disaster.  On 5 September 2016, the BBC broadcasted a Panorama programme on the serious accident that is likely to happen at Sellafield in Cumbria.  It is hard to believe that our government will ensure UK jobs through the nuclear industry when Sellafield does not employ sufficient employees to sustain reliable safe operations.

The Nuclear Management Partnership, a consortium of French, UK and US companies that were running Sellafield was sacked in 2015 because they were spending too much money.  The government has taken over control of the management of Sellafield.  Since then, alarms are frequently reset without being investigated, creating conditions that pose an intolerable risk according to those who have managed Sellafield.

The Windscale fire on 10 October 1957 ranks 5 out of seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale.   While the name has been changed to Sellafield, the severe dangers persist.  An accident occurred in November 2013 forcing the plant to close for 11 months because exposure to radioactive dust made it unsafe to work there.

Experts who have worked at Sellafield say that if something happens, the safety team employed there are not equipped to handle it.  Many experts believe that an accident is inevitable, because the plant frequently operates at below minimum safety levels.  The poor management and run down infrastructure could lead to a fire that would emit a radioactive plume contaminating our air for 150km. Cracks could allow seepage that could expose the radioactive chemicals to the air.  To date, no nuclear waste has been removed from a building that won’t last another 25 years.

sellafield

Sellafield has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world, more than the United States and Russia combined.   Experts estimate that it will cost £162 billion to clean up Sellafield to make it safe. This experience alone makes it very clear that there is no room for new nuclear power generation on our small island home.

National & Energy Security

Concerns about our national security were raised by politicians and energy experts because of a lawsuit in the US against a Chinese investor in their nuclear power station.  The concern is that the Chinese are using their position as investor to improve their knowledge of nuclear science that could be threatening to the national security of the host country.

Real energy security comes when our electricity and heat are affordable for everyone.  The Hinkley C plant will not create energy security; in fact it is sure to increase our energy prices  because of the guaranteed price that has been secured in the energy Capacity Market.  The only way to create real affordable energy is for communities to take the power back into their own hands. This is what we at BHESCO believe, and this is what we will ceaselessly work towards until our own dream has become a reality, when the people of the UK will be writing about a new landmark day in our history.

 

The United Kingdom is the fourth richest country in the world. It is a cornerstone of the global economy, with billions of pounds of investment pouring in each year. We have a highly educated workforce, access to the most advanced technologies available, and have enjoyed tremendous (though diminishing) international influence ever since Thomas Newcomen invented the steam engine 300 years ago.

 

So why is the UK not a leading light in the quest towards a green and sustainable future?
Why, in 2012, of all 28 member states was the UK the third lowest producer of renewable energy in the European Union, ahead of only Luxembourg and Malta?

 

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It certainly isn’t due to an absence of means. According to figures from the National Audit Office, the Exchequer was able to find an astonishing £1,162 billion to support the banks during the financial crisis of 2008.

 

The British government’s response to a crisis it seems, is based less on the resources available than upon their idea of what is labelled a ‘crisis’. If the vested interests of the City of London are threatened for example, then evidently no expense will be spared to ensure its survival. If a crisis involves the survival of planet Earth however, and all the millions of species that depend on it, including us, then we see quite a different picture entirely.

 

As part of the Renewable Energy Directive agreed by the European states in 2009, the UK is committed to achieving 15% of its energy needs from sustainable sources by 2020. As a barometer of progress, we were supposed to have achieved 10% by 2010, but this target was missed. True, the UK has made much progress over recent years with the introduction of the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, but it is far from certain that we will reach our goal of 15% in five years from now.

 

One thing that is certain, is that the UK has not embraced the transition to a sustainable economy in the same way as our European neighbours. Iceland is able to supply 85% of the country’s housing with heat from geothermal energy.
Sweden leads the EU with 52% of its energy coming from renewable sources, followed by Latvia, Finland, and Austria which are able to generate a third of their energy needs sustainably.

 

So why does the UK have such an unambitious target only 15%, which many say will not be met by 2020? A major reason is surely our love-affair with nuclear power. The UK currently has 16 reactors with a total generating capacity of 10 gigawatts of electricity, and plans to increase this to 16GW with the first new reactors expected to be operational in the early 2020s. This new generation of nuclear power stations will require a total investment of at
least £60 billion, and that does not take into account the ‘nuclear clean-up market’ which is estimated at £70 billion at Sellafield alone. It is abundantly clear that our policy makers are determined to steer us towards a future that benefits the big corporations that inform them.

 

 sellafield

 

Unfortunately for us however, nuclear is definitely not the answer. Often, the public is subject to a vociferous campaign of disinformation surrounding nuclear energy. The reality is that nuclear power poses major security and environmental risks, is heavily dependent on taxpayer subsidies, and generates deadly radioactive waste that remains dangerous for thousands of years. Furthermore, the processes involved in mining and enriching uranium, the construction and dismantling of a nuclear plant, and the transport and disposal of hazardous waste are anything but ‘low-carbon’.

 

So what does this mean for renewable energy in Britain, where our government are happy to spend £100 billion to renew a Trident Nuclear Defence system, while cutting subsidies to renewable energy? In the same way that the Civil Rights Movement was born of a frustration with government inertia, we too cannot stand idly by and wait for our leaders to show us the way to a sustainable future.

 

If the UK is to meet its green energy targets, then the momentum must come from the grassroots. In the absence of leadership from above, we must invest in renewables at a community level, and take control of our energy fut
ure. BHESCo is committed to establishing the first community owned micro-grid in Brighton and Hove, helping to set down a blueprint for others to follow, and moving the UK towards our targets for 2020 and onwards.

 

300 years after Newcomen’s steam engine, its time for a new revolution in England…

 

 


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