SONE, with new blood, working for a real nuclear renaissance
SONE is to continue its efforts, subject to resources, to secure a substantial nuclear-powered future for Britain. It will do so with a partly new team.
The AGM, held on October 20 at the Institution of Civil Engineers, elected the new secretary, Harold Bolter, former industrial editor of the Financial Times and company secretary of BNFL, as a director of the SONE company and a member of its committee. He was joined on the committee by two new faces – Damon de Laszlo, an industrialist who as a SONE patron has held lunches for his fellow patrons to keep them in touch; and Ian Currie, the energetic communications secretary for the Nuclear Institute in the North West.
While it was felt that EdF would build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point now that the EU Competition Commissioner had conditionally recommended approval of its proposed method of financing, there were still fears that it could, like Sizewell B, become a one-off job.
However, the speaker, Professor Andrew Sherry, Director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester, was much more upbeat and envisaged 70,000Mwe of nuclear plant by 2050 – more than the total required to meet current winter peak demand – compared with 16,000Mwe now.
He emphasised the importance of securing more engineers for nuclear under a strategy for helping the economy to grow through trade and investment, cost reduction, R&D and public understanding.
It came as a bit of a blow to discover that SONE was not on Professor Sherry’s list of organisations helping to get out a positive message to the British public. This will be an issue for your new committee.
The meeting passed a resolution thanking retiring members of the committee – Jim Corner, Sir Bernard Ingham, Martin Morland and Peter Vey – and the late Robert Freer for their contribution to SONE over the years.
The optimistic professor
Professor Sherry, who chairs a working party under the Nuclear Industry Council on public attitudes to nuclear power, got the AGM off to an optimistic start. After the doldrums of the 1990s and 2000s, he said, nuclear power was looking up across the world. and on one scenario UK nuclear capacity could rise more than four-fold by 2050 to 70,000Mwe. That required a strategy that grew engineers, other skills, jobs and R&D and how to promote nuclear exports to raise UK economic growth.
Already there was the prospect of the development of three different reactors – EdF’s EPR at Hinkley Point and possibly Sizewell; Hitachi’s ABWR at Wylfa and Oldbury; and Toshiba’s Westinghouse AP1000 near Sellafield.
SMRs and fast reactors
Professor Sherry also noted the attractions of SMRs and fast reactors – SMRs because they lowered unit costs, fitted electric grids better, could be constructed more quickly with factory fabrication and brought the possibility of enhanced physical protection; and fast reactors because they reduced the radiotoxic level of waste and were essential to burn up plutonium production, offering a sustainable long term source of power.
He stressed the importance of an R&D road map to keep the options open for 2050, help informed decision making and develop international collaboration. As for public opinion, it had rebounded since the Fukushima tsunami disaster in 2011 when support for and opposition to nuclear power narrowed to 28% for and 24% against. The latest return showed 40% favouring nuclear and 19% opposed. There was a steady increase in public understanding of nuclear’s contribution to security of supply.
The nuclear industry’s engagement with the public was important because the more engaged and enthused people were the more secure was the political mandate for its development.
Communications steering group now needed
Professor Sherry suggested that public engagement should be based on four principles: dialogue, trust, clarity and consultation. What was needed now was a proposed communications steering group to bring the various strands of the strategy together.
If car manufacturers can do it, so can nuclear
The chairman, Sir William McAlpine, thanked Professor Sherry for his interesting talk which raised the following needs:
- to deal with the issue of radioactive waste to assuage the fears of the public and, in this context, also to look at re-processing.
- a process to compare different nuclear technologies.
It was pointed out that whatever progress had been made with public opinion in the UK, it was not reflected in parts of Europe.
Nonetheless, this part of the meeting ended where it began – on an optimistic note. Gerald Clark, a member of the committee, responding to the suggestion that Britain should start again from scratch on building nuclear power, said: “The car industry disappeared and now it has come back. Nuclear can do the same”.
The Annual General Meeting
Attendance: those who signed the attendance list were: patrons: Sir William McAlpine (presiding), Gordon Adam; committee: John Assheton, Adrian J Bull, Gerald Clark, Professor J A Simmons and Terry Westmoreland (treasurer); members: Andrew Boker, Giles Chichester, Ian Currie, Michael Gammon, George M Jennings, Joseph Lambert, Ian McFarlane, Robert Maclachlan, Brendan McNamara, George Muir, E J Robbins, Jeremy Taylor, R D Vaughan and Johannes van Vuren.
Apologies for absence: patrons : Lord Clitheroe, John Edmonds, Damon de Laszlo, Lord Parkinson, Ann Robinson and Lord Vinson; committee : Jim Corner, Sir Bernard Ingham (retiring secretary), Martin Morland, Robin Smith, Paul Spare, Peter Vey; Dr W L Wilkinson FRS; members : Trevor Barrett, Ian Bateman, Harold Bolter, A E Bunnell, David Evans, David Green, Derek Limbert, E O Maxwell, Douglas McDevitte, Richard Sargent-Manse, Graham Stowell, the Duke of Westminster, Brian Williamson, Terry Wynn
Minutes of previous meeting: (circulated as Newsletter No 181, October, 2013): These were approved as a correct record and signed by the chairman. There were no matters arising from them.
Directors: Sir William McAlpine (chairman), Harold Bolter (new Secretary) and Terry Westmoreland (Treasurer).
Committee: the directors plus John Assheton, A J Bull, Harold Bolter, Neville Chamberlain, Gerald Clark, Ian Currie, Damon de Laszlo, Geoffrey Greenhalgh, Keith Parker, Simon Rippon, Ann Robinson, Professor J A Simmons, Robin Smith, Paul Spare and Dr W L Wilkinson FRS.
Accountants : Gary Sargeant & Co, Swanley, Kent, re-elected.
Treasurer: Terry Westmoreland said recruitment at five had matched resignations but eight members had died during the year, leaving 260 members. Expenditure had been cut by about £400 by holding the AGM on a Monday when cheaper rates applied and £300 had been saved by asking members to receive the Newsletter, SONE’s biggest cost, by e-mail rather than post. All new members were being put on the e-mail circulation list and 103 members were now receiving it electronically. Its circulation had, however, been increased from 300 to 390 to try to influence more politicians etc.
Overall, the treasurer said last year he reported that, thanks to the generous response to the chairman’s appeal, SONE, at current low levels of income and expenditure, could continue to for seven more years. This year with another deficit of £4,000 and £24,000 in the bank we could thus carry on for another six years under the same assumptions.
“My view”, he said, “is that finance is not a major issue for us at the
moment. We need to decide what role we want for SONE in the future. If we can
do this and it requires additional finance, the members will support us”.
Secretary: In a report read for him by the treasurer, Sir Bernard Ingham regretted he could not deliver it in person.
He began by saying that last year Ministers were too busy to address SONE’s AGM, even though they announced the “strike price” agreement for Hinkley Point on the very day. This year they were still too busy, even though the EU’s competition commissioner had given conditional clearance of this method of financing the project. He hoped that next year they would join SONE in celebrating the launch of a substantial new British nuclear power programme.
The committee, at its meeting in September, had decided, subject to resources, to continue to campaign for a nuclear power programme on the basis of the information contained in the annual report and accounts which was written in August. Since then there had been developments. The Competition Commissioner’s conditional clearance of the strike price method of financing Hinkley Point had yet to be approved by the European Commission and EdF had yet to negotiate the size of the proposed Chinese stakes in the project before taking a final decision on the investment.
Meanwhile, the Austrian Government had announced its intention of challenging in the courts any go-ahead by the Commission since it harbours the idea, like Alex Salmond in Scotland, that its nation can be run on renewables alone and nuclear is not to be contemplated.
Lamps going out all over Europe – again?
“God save us”, said the Secretary. “This is broadly what Owen Paterson, former Conservative UK Environment Secretary, has said if the UK sticks by the Climate Change Act 2008: the only result will be for the lights to go out. With Germany phasing out nuclear, Sweden’s new government exploring ending the nuclear era there and France reducing reliance on nuclear from 75% to 50%, we may well see ‘the lamps going out all over Europe’ again. This is broadly what the Scientific Alliance has just told a House of Lords’ inquiry.”
Common sense, however, suggested that EdF had gone a bit too far towards Hinkley Point’s development to ditch it easily, though there were tough times for French industry.
It was also true that other countries were queuing up to build nuclear power stations in Britain – Hitachi at Wylfa and Oldbury; Toshiba Westinghouse at Sellafield; and Hitachi a fast reactor at Sellafield, In addition to Chinese interest, the Russians were also seeking a piece of any British action.
S ONE now needed more than in 1998
However, the Secretary said he had reached the conclusion that SONE is needed now, as an independent promoter of nuclear power, as much as it was in 1998 when it was formed. Whatever progress had been made, one nuclear asset had been lost – the view that it was at least competitive as well as reliable and low carbon – ticking all the government’s boxes. It seems that every successive reference to Hinkley Point produced escalating figures expressed in £billions.
Whatever levelised cost studies may say about nuclear’s ability to compete, the public’s impression was of an expensive form of power that “Greens” and competitors exploited.
At the same time, since nature abhors a vacuum, we had had successive crushes on fast reactors, SMRs, thorium reactors, and now molten salt reactors which, according to the Daily Telegraph, could slash electricity prices to ribbons. Unfortunately, none of these, whatever their merits, was available now and represented further delay.
In conclusion, Sir Bernard said that looking back to 1998 revealed at least
three major errors: 1) the failure to replicate Sizewell B PWR; 2) the
political writing off of nuclear as “economically unattractive” from 1997 to
2006; and the enforced sale by BNFL of Westinghouse to Toshiba. Misguided
Ministers, some still in office, had done a wonderful job for the Greens to
nuclear’s detriment with the strike price method of financing.
“Like the Irishman, asked for directions by a traveller, I would not start from here if I were launching SONE today.” Sir Bernard added. “But here is where we are, and it needs a revivified SONE to bring sanity to the debate – to demonstrate that you can only have security of long term affordable low carbon power with nuclear – never with renewables. I wish you well. The question before you is where and how does SONE go from here.”
The meeting agreed that SONE should continue its work, subject to resources, keeping developments under review.
It was claimed that nuclear was now acceptable and it was noted that SONE had changed its website objective from merely promoting debate to securing a substantial new nuclear programme in the UK.
Among the issues raised in the meeting or by message to the Secretary that will be for the Committee to consider were:
- SONE’s inclusion in Professor Sherry’s group of organisations presenting a positive image of nuclear power
- more frequent general meetings and with other pro-nuclear groups
- higher subscriptions
- a bi-monthly instead of monthly Newsletter to save money
- an invitation to a science teacher to discuss with the AGM the teaching of nuclear issues in schools.
Supply and demand – are we safe?
Firemen were still damping down a blaze at Didcot gas-fired power station in Oxfordshire (1,360Mwe) as SONE members gathered for the AGM. This, we were told, had cut the winter margin of supply over demand to four per cent, the lowest for seven years.
But Energy Secretary Ed Davey and his Ministers maintained their new mantra: “There will not be blackouts”. Indeed, Davey drew attention to a US Chamber of Commerce report that made Britain the fourth most energy secure country in the world after Mexico, New Zealand and Norway. Unfortunately, this 2013 report referred to Britain’s shrinking winter capacity margin that “could lead to blackouts”.
However, Ministers claimed that the winter margin was now six per cent as a result of more supply and demand measures. Davey said he had piled contingencies on top of contingencies to take account of the worst weather imaginable and power stations coming off line. At great cost they include bringing in mothballed gas plant, industrial contracts shifting demand from winter peaks, all kinds of diesel plant to create a surge when needed and encouraging domestic consumers to economise.
This brings us to a new deal that is supposed to bring the EU into line with Britain’s virtue. The UK is committed by the Climate Change Act 2008 to cut carbon emissions by 80% (on 1990 levels) by 2050. The new deal struck in Brussels on October 24 pledges the EU to cut them by 40% by 2030.
As the UK Government wishes, the agreement does not set binding levels for nation states – only a binding target on the EU for 27% of energy from renewables by 2030 and a non-binding target for improvement in energy efficiency by the same amount.
The Times thought it would encourage nuclear. Let’s hope it does. We need a rational approach to energy supply instead of mindless political correctness, endless nuclear negotiations that produce no plant and the cobbling together of contingencies chiefly against the serious risk of there being no wind when the temperature plummets.
More doom from the UN
Such a policy would be of more use to the planet and the UN which has just issued another doom-laden outlook for global warming. A draft report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reiterates the risk of flooding, dangerous heat waves, ill-health and violent conflicts if temperatures exceed 2C above pre-industrial levels.
The document has just been negotiated at another climate-fest in Copenhagen for a climate summit in Paris in December 2015. But few expect a legally binding deal there. The fizz has gone out of the climate change movement under a variety of influences – global recession, cost, scientific chicanery leading to a loss of credibility and measurement of what is actually happening around the globe.
This loss of fizz may may not help nuclear. Other circumstances should.
Security of long-term affordable low carbon power is manifestly the top priority if Britain really has the fourth most secure electrical supplies in the world.
Progress on radiation dose limits
It really does look as if our distinguished member, Professor Wade Allison, of Oxford, is getting somewhere with his campaign for more realistic radiation levels and therefore lower nuclear operating costs. The International Nuclear Energy Academy has just issued a well-written case against the linear no- threshold (LNT) model.
It says that nuclear energy offers a proven, safe and environmentally friendly means for generating electricity at reasonable cost with minimal emission of greenhouse gases. Other uses of nuclear science and technology in industry and medicine also provide important benefits to society.
For low doses of radiation there is abundant evidence that conflicts with the LNT model, including data from studies of atomic bomb survivors. Even after the worst nuclear plant accidents no member of the public and very few workers have been exposed to anything remotely approaching the radiological conditions of an atomic bomb explosion. For the most highly exposed members of the public, total doses have been comparatively low and spread over prolonged periods of time, which is known to reduce risks, even from high doses. Public exposures have mainly been within the range of naturally occurring radiation.
Incidences of cancer and genetic damage are not elevated by high levels of naturally occurring radiation and health benefits instead of risks occur at low levels of exposure. In fact, people go to Ramsar, a spar resort in Iran for the good of their health. Its background radiation is up to 100 times the global average. For all these reasons, it says, a new model should replace LNT using thresholds below which risks are considered to be zero: 100mSv for acute single doses to adults; 20mSv for acute single doses to embryos, foetuses and infants; and 200mSva year for continuous chronic exposures.
We regret to record the death of two stalwart members – on October 1, aged 94, Sir Maurice Hodgson FREng., chairman of ICI from 1979-82; and David Erskine, on October 14, aged 90, who joined the UK Atomic Energy Authority in 1959 and worked first on Calder Hall, the first nuclear power station, and then at the Admiralty’s reactor test establishment at Dounreay.