Along the Somerset coast 3 million tonnes of concrete has begun to flow into the foundations of the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in a generation. Already, 1,600 workers at EDF’s Hinkley Point site have excavated 3â€‰million cubic metres of soil and rock to lay the foundations for 230,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement for a power behemoth capable of meeting 7pc of the UK’s electricity demand. But the awe-inspiring scale of the UK’s first steps into a new nuclear renaissance has nonetheless been overshadowed by events some 3,000 miles away. Last week, in a New York courtroom, the Toshiba-owned nuclear company at the heart of Europe’s largest planned nuclear reactor in the North West of England filed for bankruptcy amid spiralling losses brought about by heavy cost overruns and project delays. Tim Yeo, a Tory party grandee and the former chairman of the UK’s energy select committee, spearheads the industry-funded pressure group New Nuclear Watch Europe. He says the compounding problems facing nuclear developers “add up to something of a crisis for the UK’s nuclear new-build programme. If ministers don’t unlock the doors of the nuclear programme there’s a problem looming for our climate targets as well as security of supply,” he says. “The question is whether the Government is prepared to reverse the principled objection it has to using taxpayer money to help support the development costs. We have been arguing for some time that bec ause the interest rate on the loans for the upfront capital costs of construction has such a direct effect on the ultimate cost of electricity, the Government should use its advantageous credit rating to borrow money more cheaply than any private company would be able to.” Yeo says the Government should make an arrangement with developers to provide a loan at a set interest rate which calls for repayments only once the project starts generating electricity. “If the Government is serious about wanting to proceed with its nuclear programme, it needs to sit down with likely vendors about what the terms for such a loan would be,” he adds. A government-guaranteed loan is one of many sets of discussions the Government will need to have in the coming two years as it manoeuvers through the tricky waters of the Brexit negotiations. In making a clean break from Brussels, the Government has also confirmed plans to abandon the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which provides the regulatory framework through which the industry operates. By leaving Euratom’s regulatory safety net, work on new nuclear build could grind to a halt and imports of nuclear fuels could run dry. Critics of the plans say the decision could delay the planned Hinkley Point and Horizon nuclear plants while complicated new bilateral agreements are formed. It could also bring imports of nuclear fuel to an immediate halt, leading to a shutdown of existing nuclear power reactors which make up a fifth of the UK’s electricity supply. “The concerns over our departure from Euratom is a fairly new anxiety because we hadn’t anticipated our exit from the group until a c ouple of months ago. It was a very serious, unhelpful and in some ways unnecessary complication,” Yeo says. “I don’t think we had to exit Euratom simply because of Brexit. This was not an issue raised during the campaign at all and it’s of continued mutual benefit to allow continued free trade in nuclear components between the UK and the EU,” he adds. Greatrex says the NIA is working with the Government to advise on arrangements to keep the nuclear industry ticking over amid Brexit talks. “There’s a lot to get done in a short amount of time when there are a lot of other things happening with regards to the wider negotiations of leaving the EU,” he admits. “The point that we’re making is that even though this is mostly technical stuff, it will make sense to have transitional arrangements or a phased approach so we won’t come to March 31 2019 and find there’s nothing in place.” The threat that UK nuclear could be plunged into the dark is closer than many think.
Telegraph 1st April 2017 read more »