The UK's plans for new nuclear power

On Friday 29 October 2021, the UK Government announced its new financing plan, throwing down a powerful gauntlet to build Sizewell C. The nuclear reactor, to be constructed at the site of RSBP Minsmere, along the Suffolk seacoast, just east of the town of Leiston has not yet received planning permission.

Another nuclear reactor in Wylfa, Newydd, off the rough Northwestern coast of Wales is also being contemplated by government. The Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, which commenced construction in December 2018, is expected to be completed mid 2030s.

The push is on because nuclear fission reactors provide an uninterruptable electric power supply.  Advocates claim we need a steady, secure supply to offset the risk posed by the intermittent power from wind and solar.

How new nuclear will add to already spiralling energy costs

The cost of new nuclear is staggering, so much so that investors won’t go near it. For this reason, to finance the new project at Sizewell, the Government is looking at using a regulated asset base (RAB) model.

This plan is different from the approach taken for Hinkley C, where the cost to purchase electricity produced by the plant is has been fixed and is guaranteed by the taxpayer, starting from the date the plant starts generating electricity. 

Under the RAB model, energy consumers will contribute to the cost of new nuclear power projects during the construction phase through an increase in their energy bills. Domestic energy bills have already increased on average 25% this year.

Energy bills are impacted by oil and gas prices, although much more slowly than the markets, meaning the slower we transition away from fossil fuels in the energy supply, the longer it will take for us to keep heat and power affordable.

Nuclear decommissioning - a hidden hundred year cost

There is no permanent way of safely storing nuclear waste during its 10,000 year-half life. We have no experience dealing with the waste, as only now we are decommissioning the first commercial nuclear power plant in the world at Calder Hall, Cumbria. 

Current technology offers a 200 year storage solution, what happens after that is unknown. Our national liability to clean up our existing nuclear legacy is estimated at more than £240 billion.

This money, that is funded by the taxpayer, is a fixed, unavoidable cost that removes important resource for other areas of spending, like investing into developing wind and solar power that can and has provided 100% of our electricity needs.

saddling consumers with the giant costs of new nuclear power - nuclear waste
Nuclear energy comes with a staggering environmental and financial price tag, from the multi-billion pound upfront cost of the construction of the power station to the long-term expense of safely managing nuclear waste and decommissioning. These funds could be better used to support the transition to 100% clean energy, such as wind and solar power and energy storage solutions. Photo - Dan Meyers, Unsplash

We could also consider using funds that are allocated to nuclear decommissioning to develop our energy storage capabilities, such as lithium ion batteries. We have the capability to mine cobalt for the batteries in Cornwall, and could take advantage of this to build a self-sustaining industry right here in Britain.

The Severn tidal barrier is another example of a major clean energy infrastructure project that was rejected by previous Business and Energy minister Greg Clark, because it was supposedly uneconomical, despite the lower average price commitment contracted over its life compared to Hinkley Point C.

Greg Clark was responsible for a £100 million bill to taxpayers over the failed procurement process for nuclear waste disposal.  This should be a major alarm bell to all of us that we are making it up as we go along where nuclear waste disposal is concerned.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is managing 17 nuclear sites across the country that are no longer running, must be decommissioned, in a process that takes about 100 years, all funded by the taxpayer.

Why nuclear power is not the solution to the climate crisis

Nuclear is not a technology that will save the climate either, the Sustainable Development Commission concluded in their report to government in 2006 that nuclear energy will only contribute an 8% reduction in carbon emissions and not until 2035, if they meet their targeted commissioning date. 

This reduction is offset by the carbon footprint of the cement used to build the plants . Aside from that, 2035 is already too late, as we are on course for 2.7oC warming by 2030 according to the UN Environmental Programmes’ Emissions Gap report.

We need action now, by implementing valuable energy efficiency measures and building our renewable energy and hydrogen storage capability, not nuclear dreams.

Fighting against new nuclear power

Fortunately, the RAB finance plan has not yet been approved by Parliament. We can prevent it from being passed. We need to be united in our opposition to the proliferation of nuclear fission, which is ultimately used to create weapons of mass destruction.

The evidence runs the spectrum from Hiroshima, Nagasaki bombs, to the use of depleted uranium for more powerful weaponry, leaving the fallout in 40 contaminated sites around Iraq where children are born with exceptional birth defects.

The University of Sussex has published a prestigious study demonstrating the relationship between the civil nuclear programme and the military. If the nuclear countries, like UK and USA weren’t already doing this, then what would be the problem with Iran developing a civil nuclear programme?
addling consumers with the giant costs of new nuclear power 3 - marc-antoine-dery-unsplash
Ther is strong evidence from research conducted by the University of Sussex that one of the chief justifications for developing new nuclear power is for military purposes. Photo - Marc Antoine Dery, Unsplash

No economic sense in new nuclear

Hinkley Point C is 3.2GW power plant.  This is the equivalent of 640 5MW offshore wind turbines, about four large wind farms around the British Isles.  Think about the difference here for one minute.  Imagine that it will take about 15 years to build Hinkley Point C.

Then it runs for 60 years, if we are lucky if the water levels don’t increase too high off the coast of Somerset, close to the Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve.  Then we must invest 100 years of labour to decommission it safely.  There is something terrifically inefficient about nuclear power. 

The time is now for working with the team at Stop Sizewell C, Stop Wylfa and the CND  to prevent the government from building any more nuclear power plants in the UK.   Use your voice and take action!

References

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/nuclear-provision-explaining-the-cost-of-cleaning-up-britains-nuclear-legacy/nuclear-provision-explaining-the-cost-of-cleaning-up-britains-nuclear-legacy

https://www.civilserviceworld.com/professions/article/61bn-nuclear-decommissioning-contract-cancelled-by-beis-after-procurement-flaws

http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications.php@id=344.html

https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/feb/25/concrete-is-tipping-us-into-climate-catastrophe-its-payback-time-cement-tax

https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2021

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jan/22/iraq-nuclear-contaminated-sites

Uranium in Iraq, the Poisonous Legacy of the Iraq Wars, Abdul-Haq Al-Ani, Joanne Baker 2009

A Global Picture of Industrial Interdependencies Between Civil and Military Nuclear Infrastructures Andy Stirling, Phil Johnstone, SPRU, August 2018


2 Comments

Ian Turnbull · 09/11/2021 at 14:47

You mention that ‘nuclear electricity’ will contribute to an 8% reduction is carbon emissions, but not until 2035. I would be interested to learn, in this same subject area, how much heat the 430 nuclear reactors at work around the world extract from the Atomic dimension: heat which then inevitably gets dumped in the oceans and atmosphere.
I never hear the nuclear industry mention this fact. After fifty years, does it add up to being a big component of global warming. Hmmm … add in the heat from the nuclear tests and nuclear reactors in ships and submarines. The calculations are outwith my skill.
Thanks for this summary report. I worked at Dounreay and on several occasions experienced the emotional content of radiation, as an enormous out-pouring of sadness and despair. I came away thinking the particle world is more sentient that we have so far dared or cared to consider.
We’ve so much more to learn.

    Dan Curtis · 11/11/2021 at 16:01

    You are very right Ian, there is a lot about nuclear that we do not yet understand, which is why it makes so much more sense to stick with proven reliable renewable energy, and why we lament the fact that the enormous heat discharged from nuclear reactors is not used, but wasted and that it adds to the loss of resources associated with nuclear.

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