SONE Newsletter 272 - January 2022

Posted by Wade Allison on 13 January 2022 in Newsletters

Tagged with: AGR, BEIS, Calder Hall, Greta Thunberg, HTGR, Harold Bolter, Kwasi Kwarteng, NIRO, National Nuclear Laboratory, New Nuclear, Paul Howarth, Plutonium, Sir Bernard Ingham, Uranium, Vladimir Putin.

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SONE Newsletter 277 – June 2022


Wade Allison

SONE Honorary Secretary

A Happy New Year for 2022 to all members of SONE.

This slightly delayed letter was held back for some long awaited news on funding. Also important plans for next generation UK reactors and then some well-aimed comments from previous Secretaries, Bernard Ingham and Harold Bolter, targeting the Greens and others who have impeded the use of nuclear. In February short articles on the much discussed problem of nuclear waste are promised from Neville Chamberlain and Adrian Bull.

Wade Allison, Hon. Sec.

UK Funding for New Nuclear, posted 12/1/22

MPs voted last night to back legislation that introduces a new model for financing infrastructure to be used for nuclear projects.

The Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill aims to provide a new financial support model for new nuclear power stations in the UK.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:

Civil nuclear has worked for this country and works for consumers. But we all know that the existing financing scheme has led to too many foreign nuclear developers walking away from projects, setting our nuclear industry back a number of years.

News on High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactors

From IAEA:

https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/iaea-convenes-global-experts-to-assesses-high-temperature-gas-cooled-reactors-for-electricity-heat-and-hydrogen

From NuclearNewswire: HTGR locked in for U.K. demonstration project Tue, Dec 7, 2021, 3:30PM

The U.K. government has confirmed its selection of the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor (HTGR) for Britain’s £170 million (about $236 million) Advanced Modular Reactor Demonstration Program.

Greg Hands, minister for energy, clean growth, and climate change, delivered the news on December 2 via a speech at the Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference. “Following evaluation of responses received,” Hands said, “I’m pleased to announce today that we will focus on HTGRs as the technology choice for the program moving forward—with the ambition for this to lead to a demonstration by the early 2030s”.

NNL approved: “As we look to the future and the part we play as a scientific superpower, the U.K.’s unparalleled experience in gas-cooled technologies makes HTGRs the common-sense choice for pursuing advanced nuclear,” said Paul Howarth, chief executive officer at the United Kingdom’s National Nuclear Laboratory. “Following announcements already made on financing for the next stage of the Rolls-Royce SMR program and the proposed Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill to make large-scale plants more achievable, the U.K. is primed once more to be a global leader in nuclear technologies—large, small, and advanced”.

Context: In July, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy issued a “call for evidence,” seeking views on the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office’s (NIRO) Advanced Modular Reactors Technical Assessment, which concluded that the HTGR (including the very-high-temperature gas reactor) had the greatest potential to support the nation’s net-zero pledge. (Other advanced modular reactor technologies reviewed in the assessment included the sodium-cooled fast reactor, supercritical water-cooled reactor, gas-cooled fast reactor, lead-cooled fast reactor, and molten salt reactor.)

Sixty responses to the call were received, with 38 in favor of the government’s selection, 16 opposed, and six neither for nor against.

In its assessment, NIRO provided the following reasons for its choice:

  • HTGRs have a high technology readiness level.

  • With output temperatures of 700°C–950°C, HTGRs provide for greater versatility in the applications they could potentially support.

  • HTGRs can be considered as evolutions of advanced gas reactors (AGRs), a technology in which the United Kingdom has significant experience, and many of the safety characteristics of HTGR design concepts, including passive safety, are broadly proven.

  • As with existing nuclear plants in the United Kingdom, HTGRs operate with an open fuel cycle and therefore present no significant issues for security or additional costs associated with closed fuel cycle infrastructure.

  • The United Kingdom’s historical experience with Magnox reactors and AGRs could provide an advantage for the development and fleet roll-out of HTGRs in terms of transferable skills and supply chain capability, potential for the development of U.K. intellectual property, and potential for international partnerships, which could further reduce cost and risk to the Advanced Modular Reactor Demonstration Program.

Blame the Greens, by Harold Bolter

The blame game phase of the climate change debate has started with a vengeance. How did this threat to life as we know it happen? Who or what caused it? How will it all end?

Is it the greedy oil and gas producing nations? Is it the impoverished peoples destroying the rain forests for land to grow badly needed crops on? Or is it the continued mining, burning and marketing of coal by countries which should know better? Yes, all of the above.

But the role played by one very important culprit group is largely ignored - the self-styled environmentalists, the eco-warriors, the world-wide anti-nuclear movement dominated by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. They have a lot to answer for – even the young Swedish campaigner Greta Thunberg, with her nonsensical “blah, blah, blah” dismissal of what politicians and their scientific advisers were trying to achieve at the international climate change conference in Glasgow earlier this year.

Of course Greta’s views deserve to be heard and the success she has had mobilising the interest of young people in the climate was wholly admirable but that doesn’t mean she is some sort of expert on the subject. She is not.

The impression which the “environmentalists” like to give is that it is they, with their often illegal protest antics, who discovered the greenhouse gas phenomenon and brought it to public attention and that it is they who know how to solve the problems it has caused. Absolute nonsense on both counts.

The journey towards our present, potentially catastrophic global condition actually began as early as 1778 when James Watt and Matthew Boulton invented the steam engine. They used coal to heat water to produce the steam pressure needed to drive their amazing machines.

This led to a huge demand for coal and the obvious dangers were ignored. Goodness knows there were more than enough tunnels collapsing underground, crushing men, boys and pit ponies as well as the lethal effects of poisonous and explosive gas discharges.

If Britain was to become Great Britain, economically and politically, there was no alternative to using fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – in order to achieve that goal, whatever the consequences. For some of the emerging nations that is still the case.

It took another century before the possibility of a more insidious killer, world-wide changes to the climate, began to cause concern within the scientific community. In 1899 Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, an American geologist, described at length the threat to the climate posed by carbon dioxide (CO2) and ten years later the term “greenhouse effect” was in fairly common use.

So don’t be fooled by today’s “environmentalists” into thinking that global warming is a phenomenon which would not have been identified without their help. The reverse is true. They have made its impact worse.

One of the consequences of the perceived need for coal was that the miners were seen as the most important of the country’s industrial workers, an elite group of men dominating the political scene through the influence they had on the Labour Party and the Trades Union Congress. And no wonder. At the peak there were more than a million of them. Take in the voting patterns of their families and neighbours and you have a lot of very important votes and thousands of political activists.

Then the first threat to the dominance of the miners emerged and they were quick to spot it. They were helped by the extravagant claims made by politicians of all the main political parties about the potential of a new source of electrical energy, nuclear power. In October 1956 the Queen officially inaugurated Britain’s civil nuclear power programme by pressing a button which transferred electricity from the Calder Hall nuclear power station in West Cumbria to the national grid.

A form of nuclear euphoria swept over the country as otherwise sensible and suspicious people made ever more startling predictions about what was to be achieved. Winston Churchill described nuclear power as “a perennial fountain of world prosperity” and at the Calder Hall opening ceremony R.A.(Rab) Butler, then Lord Privy Seal, went as far as to speculate that by 1965 – nine years from the time he was speaking- every new power station which was built would be atomic.

And by 1975, he said, the total output of electricity from atomic stations would be greater than and possibly double the output of all the power stations then in existence. Even the Labour Party, traditional allies of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), came out in support of nuclear.

Tony Benn, then in his white hot technology mode, begged key workers in the UK nuclear industry to stay at home and not respond to the financial blandishments of the Americans, who were behind the UK in the civil nuclear electricity race at that time. It seemed that the future was set fair for this new form of electricity generation, free from the perils of CO2.

More than that Britain’s scientists were working on what was seen as the next phase of nuclear development, the fast breeder reactor.

By the early 1950s the UK was already producing plutonium for the weapons programme. The challenge to the scientists was to develop the processes used to get to the atom bomb into something which could be used for peaceful purposes – a swords into ploughshares dream.

Now for a short sharp chemistry lesson. Nuclear fission starts with uranium, mined in much the same way as coal but on a much smaller scale. Burn coal and it goes up in smoke. Burn uranium and much of it is still there, ready to be used again,

More than that, a new fuel source is created – plutonium.

To get to this plutonium – and to the uranium – a chemical separation process is used, known as reprocessing although it could as easily have been called recycling, a word much bandied about by the “environmentalists”. Britain was in the lead in this endeavour, too – and that was very nearly the nuclear industry’s downfall. The word plutonium, even if it was a different grade of plutonium to the weapons material we already had, was seen as an opportunity by the ‘ban the bomb’ brigade – and by Arthur Scargill, the NUM leader.

On Tuesday 1st October 1975 the Daily Mirror ran a front page lead story headed “Plan to Make Britain World’s Nuclear Dustbin”. The story attacked British Nuclear Fuels’ (BNFL) plan to build a £3 billion Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) at Windscale in West Cumbria, now known as Sellafield. Horror of horrors the company also planned to take in business from overseas, notably Japan, on an extremely valuable cost plus basis.

Far from the plant being a “dustbin” the overseas contracts signed by BNFL had a clause in them providing for the recovered plutonium, uranium and waste products to be returned to the country of origin.

“Laundry” would have been a more accurate description but “dustbin” was more eye catching and had the desired effect. The THORP project was made the subject of a public inquiry and heavily delayed – and the French took half the valuable overseas business which BNFL had gained for the UK.

The “dustbin” story was written by an industrial reporter, Bryn Jones, - not the Mirror’s science editor Ronnie Bedford - but went out under the by-line of Stanley Bonnet, the Mirror’s education correspondent. Why the subterfuge? Because Bryn Jones, already known for his anti-nuclear views, was using his own paper to propagate them. Shortly afterwards he left journalism to join an “environmental!” group financed by Anita Roddick, of Body Shop fame, which was associated with Greenpeace.

Astonishingly, when the Mirror piece hit the newspaper stands Tony Benn, then Energy Secretary and responsible for all of the energy industries, welcomed it as an important contribution to public debate about nuclear power.

What changed Tony Benn’s attitude towards nuclear power? Was it a developing concern about safety? Was it his obvious delight in public debate? Was it a straightforward preference for coal-fired power stations, now very much a thing of the past in the UK as climate concern escalates? Or was it his blind ambition to become the Labour Party’s leader and the country’s Prime Minister one day?

Remember, this was the mid-1970s and the miners still had a lot of clout. Predictably the anti-nuclear movement was furious when the public inquiry came down in support of BNFL being allowed to accept overseas reprocessing business.

The “environmental” group, Friends of the Earth, organised an anti-nuclear anti-THORP demonstration in Trafalgar Square. Arthur Scargill, of all people, was invited to speak at it and did so. Showing their true colours the self-styled Friends of the Earth were prepared to allow someone representing workers in the most polluting of the energy industries to share their platform. Showing his true colours Tony Benn was spotted tucked away in the square enjoying the spectacle,hoping not to be seen.

At the demonstration Scargill called for a programme of civil disobedience to “Stop Windscale”. One might have expected the Secretary of State for Energy to frown on a call for people to flout the law and shut down a state-owned asset. Not a bit of it.

That evening Arthur Scargill, a great fan of Tony Benn, whom he saw as a future leader of the Labour Party, joined Tony and his wife Caroline for dinner at the Benn home, along with some sympathetic journalists.

And so to today. Despite the best efforts of far too many politicians, all of our so-called environmentalists and the ambivalent approach towards nuclear energy of successive governments, it really does seem that the environmental credentials of this form of energy is about to be recognised, through a construction programme of small and medium sized nuclear power reactors. And about time, too.

An article posted on the Daily Express website by Bernard Ingham

Frankly, I shall be glad to see the back of fossil fuels. For the whole of my working life they have caused trouble - or rather have been weaponized by an assortment of troublesome men.

Just after the war the Labour Government and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) were at odds during a fierce winter. Coal, or the lack of it, was persistently a source of trouble and cost the taxpayer a bomb until Margaret Thatcher’s epic struggle with Arthur Scargill and his private army.

It was in part responsible for the formation of the Department of Energy to which I was sent in 1974 because both the miners and oil producers were playing up. OPEC’s behaviour as an oil and gas cartel produced such a crisis that I flew with Lord Carrington to the USA for an international conference

Vladimir Putin has now got his hands on Europe’s gas tap, thanks largely to the strategic incompetence of Angela Merkel, and our Government is dithering over the development of a North Sea oil and gas field and a new coking coal mine in Cumbria. Yet at the same time it is subsidizing the Drax power station in Yorkshire to burn imported CO2-producing biomass (wood chips) while phasing out wood-burning stoves.

Yet there is a case on environmental grounds alone for more investment in the North Sea and in Cumbria’s coking coal that is needed by the steel industry. If we do not develop our resources we shall have to import them with all the consequent cost and CO2 production

All this would be funny if it were not so serious. And that goes, too, for Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business and Energy Secretary, saying it is unacceptable for thousands of consumers to be still without electricity after Storm Arwen while presiding over an energy policy that increases the risk of blackouts.

This is why I am, if the truth be told, somewhat Augustinian in my approach to fossil fuels: “Oh Lord make me pure, but not yet”. The argument is not over ends but about how to achieve that “purity”. The plain fact is that we are at present exposed without them.

Do not get me wrong: I believe we should cleanse the atmosphere as soon as we prudently can for two reasons: health and global warming leading to climate change. Urban pollution does nobody any good and intensifies the pressure on the NHS.

But - and this is a very big but - we must do so in a calculated, practical and economic way. There is no virtue in trying to reduce the frequency of extreme weather if, in the process, we induce hypothermia in thousands of people temporarily without power.

In fairness, I should say that Mr Kwarteng cannot be held entirely responsible for the “totally unacceptable” consequences of Storm Arwen. The distress from the damage wreaked by storm’s 100mph winds is a direct result of 30 years’ political incompetence by successive Governments who have caved in to the multiplicity of environmental zealots.

We may not be able to do much more about the security of our electricity grid in violent weather but the drive for electrification has exposed more to the risks of power cuts.

As things stand, gas boilers are on their way out. Oil and gas central heating is going to same way, even though costly heat pumps are an inadequate substitute. And, as I say, the death knell has been sounded for wood burning stoves while the system generates electricity supply from wood.

At the same time the drive for petrol and diesel vehicles to be replaced by electric goes on apace, progressively raising demand without our knowing where the power is to come from, even in normally calm conditions.

Britain’s energy resilience is steadily being eroded and there is not the slightest sign of anybody doing much about it. Boris Johnson’s ambition to build another 30,000 ugly wind turbines on land and offshore is virtue signalling of the worst kind. Wind is unreliable at the best of times and can also be knocked out by gales.

Similarly, solar panels are no use at night or on the sort of deadly dull days we are currently experiencing as winter tightens its grip.

Coal has virtually been phased out of power generation - and now North Sea oil and gas and the proposed mine in Cumbria look like going to same way as fracking for oil and gas which has never really got under way.

Yet the one, proven, reliable and CO2 free source of power - nuclear - is still neglected after 25 wasted years. Of course, the French EDF company is building a big nuclear station at Hinkley Point but it is anybody’s guess when it might provide 7.5 per cent of our electricity given the interminable delays in bringing on stream similar plants in Finland and France.

In short, Storm Arwen should have hit the Government with unblinding light. It shows not only what a storm can do to a still variously-fuelled grid, but also what devastation a repetition could cause if fossil fuels were dispensed with without alternative sources of heat, light and power. Does the Government want to bring Britain’s roads as well as the economy to a halt?

It now faces a test of its political, financial and economic acumen. Let’s hope it is not found wanting.