Michael Shellenberger: Britain has a chance to rethink its nuclear energy policy. The Westinghouse bankruptcy offers an opportunity to consolidate the industry. Britain has an opportunity to contract and consolidate an industry that is vital for national, and perhaps international, development and climate goals. The UK has contracts with different consortiums to build various nuclear power plant designs. Others want more radical designs, such as those that use coolants other than water, to receive government support. Such diversity might seem positive but all of that variation is the opposite of what is known to work to reduce costs. And with low prices for coal and natural gas, few nations are buying nuclear plants. This puts Britain in such a powerful buyer’s position that it could shape the future of nuclear power for generations to come. The importance of standardisation was demonstrated by France throughout the 1970s and 1980s. While the cost of building nuclear plants rose when it switched designs, construction costs fell when it built the same reactor on the same site using the same team. Something similar happened in South Korea in the 1990s, and in the United Arab Emirates in the 2000s. So why then do the US and Britain keep opting for distinctiveness instead of efficiency? In part, because t hey insist on using only private funds, which guarantees high interest rates and thus higher overall nuclear plant costs. It should scrap future nuclear deals and empower an independent commission to choose a single, experienced contractor and power utility to build the 10 or more reactors required – to a single, standard design. There should also be a long-term plan for the plants to be built sequentially, by the same construction managers, and with commitments progressively to reduce the cost of construction. While it may seem counterintuitive to go with something that is older rather than newer, the historical record is clear: nuclear reactors become safer the more experience we have of building, operating and regulating them. In other words, what makes nuclear plants safer are the human factors: not just the plant design but also the construction and operation. It is clear that in the UK there are too many nuclear companies selling too many designs into too small a market. It is almost certain that the recent shake-up in the global industry will be the end of some of those companies. The British government should take action now to ensure that its nuclear ambitions do not go down with them by choosing a standard reactor design that will deliver lower capital costs and with them lower electricity costs.
FT 30th March 2017 read more »
The bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric Co., the Pittsburgh-based nuclear power company, is a geopolitical setback for the U.S. It halts a long-standing U.S. effort to get Eastern European countries to buy U.S. rather than Russian fuel, and leaves state-controlled Russian and Chinese companies the dominant suppliers in the huge global market for nuclear technology.
Bloomberg 30th March 2017 read more »
After years-long wrangling between the government and EDF Energy, and more lately with Chinese state-backed newcomer CGN, Hinkley’s construction is finally in process. There are also plans for a national fleet of smaller reactors, including a plant proposed for Oldbury, South Gloucestershire – 13 miles outside Bristol. The city’s location means it’s poised for a central role in the so-called ‘nuclear renaissance’. Companies have flocked here to open offices, while huge concrete shells for Hinkley’s construction will be built at Avonmouth, which is also the endpoint of a new 400,000V overhead power line from Hinkley Point. Bristol Port Company is in line for two multimillion pound contracts from Hinkley for ‘marine services’. Local authorities and local enterprise partnerships are working to harvest as much dosh from the mega-project as possible. Public-private partnership Nuclear South West was set up “in recognition of the area’s unique potential for transformational growth through the nuclear sector”, which offers “£50 billion of investment on our doorstep”, and Somerset Chamber of Commerce, backed by EDF, is leading the Hinkley Point Supply Chain portal to connect local businesses to the project. Hinkley Point C itself is expected to employ 25,000 people and to provide £100m a year to the regional economy.
Bristol Cable 30th March 2017 read more »