Toshiba’s withdrawal from building nuclear reactors will reveal the cracks in Britain’s muddled energy policy, When the giant crane gingerly lowered a 278-ton steel cylinder into place at the Plant Vogtle nuclear power station in America’s Deep South last November, tension was high. The 11-metre high-pressure vessel will eventually house the beating heart of America’s first nuclear reactor for three decades. But there was not much to celebrate – the project on the banks of the Savannah river in Georgia is more than three years late and billions of dollars over budget. This week, the waves from that troubled project will wash up 4,000 miles away on the Cumbrian coast. Toshiba, the Japanese company building the US reactors, will beat a humbling retreat from the construction of nuclear power stations. Problems at Plant Vogtle and another nuclear project in South Carolina have brought the proud technology giant to its knees, saddling it with losses from the delays. And they have thrown a spanner into the works of Britain’s already muddled energy policy. On Tuesday, alongside announcing a writedown likely to total more than $4bn (£3.2bn) stemming from those ill-starred American schemes, Toshiba is set to confirm its exit from NuGen, which is due to build Moorside nuclear power station near Sellafield. The 3.8 gigawatt (GW) plant, which will power 6m homes, is one of a string of nuclear projects that ministers want to replace dirty coal-fired sites. In theory, the Hinkley Point plant in Somerset will take some of the strain – firing up in 2025, just as the old coal and nuclear sites close. Yet few in the industry believe it will be built on time, piling pressure on the next nuclear projects in the queue to be delivered to schedule. Industry sources say ministers have gradually realised that Britain’s nuclear ambitions will probably require direct state support, if they are to get affordable deals. It could form a key pillar of Theresa May’s new industrial strategy. The Sunday Times reported last March that Britain had asked the Japanese government to help bankroll Horizon and NuGen, but in return was asked by Tokyo to stump up UK taxpayer funds. The falling price of wind and solar generation, increasing energy efficiency and declining demand have led many to question whether the days of big “baseload” power stations are numbered. Households are meeting more of their power needs through domestically generated electricity, such as rooftop solar panels. A big leap in battery technology could spur a groundswell in this “distributed generation” – where power also comes from schemes such as community wind farms, rather than big, central power stations. Electric cars, meanwhile, confuse the debate on future demand. Mass adoption of electric vehicles could crank up demand on the national grid – making new power stations vital. “You are going to need a shed-load of cheap baseload,” said a senior industry source. Yet cars could turn into a power source themselves, especially when coupled with domestic generation such as rooftop solar. Nissan, which builds the electric Leaf car in Sunderland, has already developed a “vehicle to home” system that turns the car’s battery into a domestic power supply. The battery charges at night when demand is lower, and releases electricity during the day, helping to ease demand on the grid during peak periods.
Sun Times 12th Feb 2017 read more »