Positive week for Hinkley Point but some demons persist

diarmaid williams 80x100

Wednesday morning saw a beaming Lord Hutton all over BBC breakfast time television and he could hardly contain his obvious glee at the about to be announced news of Chinese participation being secured in the development of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

There are plenty of reasons why this project is a positive one for the UK. A new generation of nuclear power engineers can now be taught, the spin-off in terms of jobs and investment, nuclear’s viability as a clean energy option at a time when Europe is forging ahead with decarbonisation and of course the sector’s capacity to keep the country’s lights on at a time when fossil power stations are being phased out.
The recent World Nuclear Association Symposium
But there are still some issues that all the parties driving the project need to address and what the public needs right now is the full facts, not the distortion and diffusion so often presented as truth.

Right at the end of the midweek announcement was a footnote, which really should have been more prominent.

The relevant sentence appears to be an admission by the government that the Hinkley Point C nuclear power project will indeed be subsidised by the British public. So, that being the case, what does that mean for the legal challenges being mounted by Austria and possibly Luxembourg, and others, who are objecting to it on that basis?

Dr Jonathan Cobb of the World Nuclear Association disagrees telling PEi, “Nothing has changed since the European Commission gave its approval to the arrangements for Hinkley”.

Meanwhile the Guardian, who have been particularly scrupulous in their reportage of the negatives of the project, this week quoted Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jefferies who (said) that, for the same price as Hinkley Point C, which will provide 3,200 MW of capacity, almost 50,000 MW of gas-fired power capacity could be built.”

The same article quotes Atherton as saying, ‘He believes (George) Osborne is gambling that world oil and gas prices – the benchmark for alternative power sources – will more than double by 2025. “If they don’t, it’s going to look like financial insanity.”
George Osborne
So is this multibillion pound deal really an educated gamble?

Cobb says both Atherton’s contentions are misleading, telling Power Engineering International: “Fuel costs are a much larger component of generation costs for gas-fired capacity than is the case for nuclear. You might be able to build more gas capacity, but they’d be useless without a spending lot more money on gas to fuel them.”

“On prices, Atherton is only considering fuel costs, while ignoring the impact of rising carbon costs on the overall generation price. Rising fossil fuel prices are a reasonable assumption, and with carbon costs on top of that the CfDs being put in place, not only for nuclear, but for renewables too, are a sensible bet.”

Interestingly Guardian correspondent Damian Carrington added in the nuclear specific bracketed text in his article on the government announcement referring to the subsidy – the actual text makes no specific reference to nuclear.

There is no such admission in the actual statement, neither any specifying of whatever the subsidy supposedly is.

Is that helpful, in terms of a mature debate?

Those on the pro-nuclear side of the discussion maintain that the £2bn guarantee is in fact an insurance policy with the Hinkley parties paying a premium to Government to have that policy. That the Guardian’s angle appear to gain more traction than any counter arguments the nuclear sector make would tally with what Malcolm Grimston, Senior Research Fellow, Imperial College London has been saying for some time now about the work the industry needs to do to communicate and present itself.

With such an expensive and important project about to commence, once the Final Investment Decision is made, it’s important that the taxpayer is not spared the details of what the commitment to this project entails, but equally it is essential that the scaremongers are not allowed to do what they do, unchallenged.


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