Toshiba is struggling to avoid bankruptcy because of the cost overruns at the two US sites constructing its subsidiary Westinghouse’s AP 1000 nuclear reactors. Latest estimates suggest that these new plants will absorb almost as much cash as Hinkley Point C per kilowatt of generating capacity. The cost of electricity delivered by a nuclear power station is very largely determined by the amount of capital expended during its construction. This suggests that the AP1000 design will need a contract price for its power generation similar to the £92.50 plus inflation agreed for EdF’s Hinkley Point proposal. This number is now probably higher than the cost of offshore wind and substantially larger than the costs of solar or onshore turbines. The Financial Times reports that the government wants to cut the rate paid to future nuclear stations by 20% or more. If neither the EPR design for Hinkley Point nor the AP1000 proposed for Moorside in Cumbria can achieve this, are other contenders available that might offer better cost control? The best example to look at is probably the four reactor project in the United Arab Emirates. Constructed by Kepco, South Korea’s dominant electricity supplier, this 5.6 gigawatt scheme is on track to start up the first reactor at some stage in 2017 and complete the final plant in 2020. So far, the evidence is that the design will probably cost about half the EPR and AP1000 per unit of generating capacity. My approximate calculations suggest that the Korean competitor can probably provide power to the UK at around £56 per megawatt hour, slightly lower than onshore wind today. The crucial point seems to me that if the UK wants nuclear – and people will have very different opinions on this – it needs to transfer its attention away from the increasingly complex business of getting Toshiba and its partners to construct Moorside and look instead to the world’s most successful nuclear power station constructors. Kepco stands out. I guess it could achieve the UK government’s current objectives for electricity generation costs. So might the Russians and the Chinese, but their offerings are politically highly problematic, to put it mildly.
Carbon Commentary 16th Feb 2017 read more »