2015 Nuclear Issues Vol 38 No11 December

Posted by NucNet on 30 December 2015 in Issues

Tagged with: AGR, Amber Rudd, Daiichi, Daini, Dungeness, EDF, Employment, Fukushima, Hinkley Point, Renewables.

Creating jobs

It is claimed, under the heading of subsidising growth that “The UK nuclear industry employs over 60,000 people directly, with tens of thousands more jobs indirectly supported”, and that “The projected new nuclear build projects will create around 40,000 new UK jobs”.

This can be seen as the latest demonstration of the “curse of Adam”. Having been expelled from Paradise, Adam and Eve must live by the “Sweat of their brow”. But unemployment was not then a problem. However if the provision of employment is such a ‘good thing’ we could prohibit the use of bulldozers and insist that all major construction projects are carried out using picks and shovels. Can we no longer enjoy ‘leisure’?

This leads on to the related question. How much longer can the AGR reactors continue in profitable operation? Is it somehow more virtuous to build newly designed, and presumably more efficient reactors, than to keep existing reactors in operation? EDF plans to keep Dungeness B’s two 545 MWe AGR reactors which started up in 1983 and 1985 respectively, in operation until at least 2023 – the date by which the new nuclear plant, Hinkley Point C, is due to be commissioned. But that would only amount to a 40year life for the Dungeness reactors. Why not 50 or 60 years or more, as long as the costs and labour of keeping an old reactor in operation, are less than building a new one?


Contrary to the popular belief, an article by Kelvin Kemm, of S. Africa, claims that no lives were lost from the effects of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear plant when one of the units was overwhelmed by the tsunami and that this demonstrated that “nuclear power has been proven to be much safer than anyone previously imagined. … far from being a nuclear disaster the Fukushima incident was actually a wonderful illustration of the safety of nuclear power. The largest earthquake and consequent tsunami on record struck an ageing nuclear power plant … and no nuclear damage resulted to people and property in the neighbourhood. … Certainly from the ‘disaster’ perspective there was a financial disaster for the owners of the Fukushima plant. The plant overheated, suffered a core meltdown, and is now out of commission forever. A financial disaster, but no nuclear disaster”. The disaster came with the tsunami, but the effects of this in terms of property damage and loss of life have been largely ignored.

“The world still watches Fukushima with morbid fascination. Strangely, the world media does not seem too concerned with the more than 15,000 people killed by the tsunami, or with the massive swathes of residential and industrial property pulverized by the tons of debris propelled by the mighty tsunami waters, like an armada of water-borne bulldozers. Instead they watched the Fukushima plant workers fill hundreds of large water tanks with run off rainwater and other waste water from the power station site. The water is labelled ‘radioactive’.

In reality, this water is so mildly radioactive that if a person drank nothing but that water for three months it would equal the radiation ingested by eating one restaurant portion of tuna”.

Kemm also makes the comparison with the other nuclear plant on the site. “Fukushima Daini is 10 km to the south of Daiichi and it was also hit by the tsunami, which was far larger than Daini was designed for. In stark contrast to Daiichi, Daini withstood the onslaught with one power line and one diesel generator still intact. That made all the difference! The Daini operators also battled huge odds, with three of their four reactors lacking sufficient cooling power. But as a few days passed, the skilful operators were able to bring all the reactors to a state of cold shutdown, without radiation release, and without the major damage suffered at Daiichi”.

This has predictably drawn a number of, often abusive, comments from those who are deeply opposed to the use of nuclear power.

Meeting electricity growth

The wind and solar industries are understandably outraged at cuts in their subsidies, but it is difficult to make a case for subsidising these intermittent renewables which will always require constant back up from fossil fuels for the times when the sun does not shine or the wind blow sufficiently to meet the variable demand for electricity.
In a speech on 18th November, Amber Rudd, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made it plain that the priority is for a further expansion of nuclear power to meet a growing demand for electricity.

She began by criticising the continued use of coal in generating electricity.

“Indeed a higher proportion of our electricity came from coal in 2014…. it cannot be satisfactory for an advanced economy like the UK to be relying on polluting, carbon intensive 50-year-old coal-fired power stations”.
On gas she noted that “We currently import around half of our gas needs, and by 2030 that could be as high as 75%”. But despite this dependence on imports … “In the next 10 years, it’s imperative that we get new gas-fired power stations built”.

“While Gas is central to our energy secure future. So is nuclear. Opponents of nuclear misread the science. It is safe and reliable. The challenge, as with other low carbon technologies, is to deliver nuclear power, which is low cost as well. Green energy must be cheap energy”.

We learn from doing and she criticized the last Labour Government for failing, in 13 years, to commission a single new power station. “We are dealing with a legacy of under-investment and with Hinkley Point C planning to start generating in the mid 2020s that is already changing.

“It is imperative we do not make the mistakes of the past and just build one nuclear power station. There are plans for a new fleet of nuclear power stations, including at Wylfa and Moorside. This could provide up to 30% of the low carbon electricity which we’re likely to need through the 2030s and create 30,000 new jobs”.

“Climate change is a big problem, it needs big technologies”. But not at any price, and with a declaration that has outraged the green industries she stressed that further support for solar and wind will be strictly conditional on cost reductions: “The technology needs to move quickly to cost- competitiveness. If that happens we could support up to 10GW of new offshore wind projects in the 2020s. The industry tells us they can meet that challenge, and we will hold them to it. If they don’t there will be no subsidy. No more blank cheques”.

One important statement came at the conclusion of her speech when she stressed that “we must build on our rich nuclear heritage and become a centre for global nuclear innovation. This means exploiting our world leading technical expertise at centres of excellence at universities in Manchester, Sheffield and Lancaster. It also means exploring new opportunities like Small Modular Reactors, which hold the promise of low cost, low carbon energy”.

If these words can lead to a Government supported, sponsored or otherwise encouraged development of SMRs this could provided the UK industry with a way back into a leading position within a growing world nuclear market.

Paying for renewables

Green energy is a costly luxury that we all must pay for.

A report from the Renewable Energy Foundation exposes the burden that renewable energy imposes on the economy; it estimates that “green taxes will add £52/MWh to 2020 electricity prices for domestic households in the central fossil fuel price scenario (or a 37% price increase on the price without policies), up from £49/MWh or a 33% price increase over prices without policies, as reported in Estimated Impacts 2013.

“If fossil fuel prices are at the low end of DECC’s predictions in 2030, policies are estimated to cause a 60% electricity price increase for domestic households, as compared with prices without policies.

“These are serious effects, but the impacts on industrial and commercial consumers are extremely severe, and give even deeper cause for concern. In the Central fossil fuel price scenario for 2020, low carbon policies will result in a 50% electricity price increase for small businesses. In the Low fossil fuel price scenario for 2020, low carbon policies will cause a 77% price increase for medium-sized businesses with obligations under the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), and this would rise to 114% in 2030.

“In this context it is important to remember that energy price increases for industrial and commercial consumers will necessarily be passed through to domestic households in the costs of goods and services, giving a much greater total cost of living effect than that found in the household energy bill alone.

“Furthermore, energy cost increases will also affect households by exerting a downward pressure on wages and on rates of employment – (as energy costs for businesses rise they will try to hold wages down and will employ fewer people)”.

It then seems extraordinary that in a lengthy Progress Report to Parliament from the Committee on Climate Change “Reducing emissions and preparing for climate change: June 2015” the potential contribution of nuclear power is completely ignored: the words ‘nuclear power’ are not even mentioned, although much is made of the possible role of renewable energies – If we do not talk about it, it will go away!

Yet nuclear power now generates about 18% of UK electricity, down from 25% in the late 1990s as the older Magnox plants have been retired.