Four new regulatory arrangements about the UK's nuclear have emerged in the past 12 months. First an entirely new environment impact assessment Regulation came into force in April 2017, cancelling all previous regulations on infrastructure projects including nuclear. Second was a revised Third came an entirely new nuclear sites proposal in December, just starting consultation. Fourth, after some years of nothing happening, a new proposal about how the UK might get a national nuclear waste depositry. This aims to get communities to volunteer, having previously failed in this necessary but awful mission. What does it all mean ? Is there any sense or coherence? Its early days on all three matters, but some aspects are worthy note.
First, the new EIA (environmental impact assessment) regulation has been driven by the UK still being in the EU. It transposes a revised 2014 EU Directive. It has new principles, such as lifetime
sustainability for all projects, and professional advice without vested interests. It cancels all previous EIA regulations for development projects, and therefore maybe updates all if the other family of EIA type regulations about nature sites and species, though it will take a lot of careful work to see if there are any wrinkles. Sadly, a revised and current nuclear power Directive from the EU has not been transposed by the UK. Why ? A view can be taken that leaving Euratom has long been a dream of parts of the UK government and the nuclear industry, notwithstanding that EDF is a virtually 100% French government owned company. Certainly the government was very quick to "red-line" Euratom withdrawal under Brexit.
The second measure on sites has been caused by the (welcome) delays in nuckear power station projects, with Hinkley C only just getting started. The Government is consulting about how the core Energy Policy 6 document of 2011 can be replaced with another one after EN6 runs out in 2025. The new proposal invites existing sites to re-apply for 2026 to 2035. A new requirement is that projects need to be "deployable", which may mean there could be penalties for delay. Most interesting is that the new EN6(2) will be entirely separate from document EN1 which is the (in)famous "overarching energy policy" which set out the new nuclear renaissance vision started by Tony Blair's government in 2004. The sites that go forward - existing ones only except Hinkley C -will have to pass a very widely defined "appraisal of sustainability", reflecting the new 2017 EIA. There are 12 thematic areas, and then 19 PPPs, which means, we think "policies, programmes and projects" or something like that. New terminology seems to be essential to take matters "forward". Our quick comment is that it looks like Sizewell and the other 6 sites will have to comply with new rules because they won't be "deployed" until after 2026, unless by a (tragic) miracle one does actually get built. Whether these rules will be good, bad or indifferent will take much study. But the idea that they indicate a backing off from a nuclear future is not a runner: Government says that after this new 2026-35 stage, they will open a new nuclear "window". Since there will a few changes of government by then, maybe there is an element of kicking new nuclear into the long grass. Harder headed observers think it may all be intended to lock future governments into the nuclear folly.
The proposal for national nuclear waste dump, called GDF (geological disposal facility), is very new. No-one understandably seems to want it, and the geological choices are very restricted. There is a policy question if great concern too: disposal or deposit ? That is, dump for ever, or store and retrieve if things go wrong or better methods evolve.
Since the RSPB at Minsmere at Stage 2 consultation raised water level issues from the huge proposed project, the issue has come to notice again because Therese Coffey MP, the Environment Minister responsible for water, OFWAT the regulator and the European Water Framework Directive has launched a pilot scheme for new water abstraction arrangements. Four areas have been chosen, her own Suffolk Costal constituency having issues already for farmers because water use is rising in East Anglia generally, creating worries for farmers who use only a small per -centage of abstracted water compared to the public and, significantly, the energy industry. These two are "essential users" but farmers are not. The pilot scheme is aimed at encouraging farmers to store water in the winter and then be abel to sell it when its in short supply. The Government wants to end the existing licensing scheme and integrate it with environmental permitting.
What's interesting is hiw thius fits with the huge Sizewell C project. EDF's Stage 1 Report has some mention of water, but not quantities for the massive concrete demands of building the reactors, setting up site, housing a direct and indirect workforce on a scale maybe twice the size of Leiston's population. And over a likely ten or more year period. EDF Stage 2 Report says not much more. Facts are, however, that Anglian Water takes 50% of its water supplies from groundwater, and EDF is apparently going to rely on bore holes into the same acquifers. As we said, energy companies are essential users, so no winder the National Farmers Union and the East Suffolk Water Abstractors Group are being "consulted". Then what about OFWAT, who for Sizewell C consultation purposes are statutory consultees along with Anglian Water. As far as we know, neither said nothing much when the "Scoping Report" was done at the start of the Sizewell C project to decide the issues. Further, it is generally understood, in our view wrongly, that the public have nt voice in these professional matters.
Meanwhjile the very successful Anglian Water company is preparing a new 5 year plan, so we will see if they have anything to say. They have also published a 25 year vision, and in 2015 did a 50 year report, and has recently won a big prize for being the Responsible Company of the Year, putting "nature at the heart of its vision". East Anglia is challenged at infrastructure levels of road, water and public services by more people and same water supplies (Anglian 15.7.17). Households have grown by 27% in East Anglia since 1989, and another I million people are expected by 2040.
Readers/bloggers curious about the background might look at (1) a report for the East Suffolk SWater Abstractors Group from 2014, drawing on Cranfield University expertise: national data show a 1.4% annua decline in abstraction, while East Suffolk forecasts a 2.3% growth over the next 15 years. (2) surface water levels, a history of the interface of the Sizewell marshes and Minsmere area with the sea, and the complex story of the historic sluice in a pamphlet by Rea Price & Robb called The Draining if the Minsmere Levels, 2015, available from Eastbridge pub. (3) for further attention, yet another water based government pilot scheme with Sizewell C (and B and the A remains, of course) at its heart. The Anglian (3.2.18) reports that the Suffolk Coast is one of only two new Marine Pioneer Projects, looking at coastal flooding and the health and quality of the marine environment in regard to he needs of "the community, business and society". It will take a "natural capital" approach, and is part of the recently announced Government 25 year environment plan ( see below). We will investigate further.
Last September revealed that a new national grid connector was needed to get Hinkley C electricity up to the Midlands at a cost of a cool £840 million, provoking a severe rebuke from OFGEM. Called the Seabank Plan, it involves very big money and prospectively much higher distribution charges.
Another problem area made the news last year and will recur. It concerns prospects for the regional distribution network companies who are the separate, next-step-down bit of the grid system. They want to develop electricity storage and smart bulk metering and to actually be able to buy and sell electricity themselves. A firm "No" came from OFGEM on grounds that another layer buying and selling and storing electricity could "impede the development of a competitive market for storage and flexibility systems". What a mess UK energy policy is in.
Meanwhile the UK's biggest regional distribution company, East Anglia and Suffolk's UK Power Networks (UKPN) want to become a smart, flexible distribution "system" operator, not a "network" operator to respond to electric car use, smart home devices and renewable supplies. Does anyone really know what's happening ?
The Hinkley grid issue is interesting also because, going west of Bristol, through protected landscape, it then proceeds past the aged existing nuclear power site at Oldbury which is on the "potentially suitable" new nuclear sites list and ear-marked by the Horizon company who want to develop the new Wylfa Anglesey site for nuclear power. The Wylfa project hasn't enough money to go ahead, nor any solid subsidy prospect, so maybe the big bill from the National Grid looks like jumping the gun. If Wylfa has no money, what prospect for Oldbury ? What does OFGEM know that National Grid don't ? Any guess is possible.
As more emerges about grid and distribution problems, the new Infrastructure Environment Regulations 2017 ( see below) have expressly included grid issues in the "appraisal of sustainability" rules. Sounds sensible, but the picture it relates to makes doesn't make much sense. And what is obvious is that big scale new nuclear's uncertainties and risks and "unsustainability" are getting in the way of other perfectly sensible developments.
Further news: a major grid connector for renewable electricity from Scotland to England & Wales looks likely to go ahead. Called The Western Link, it involves under sea cables and looks strategic. Using a Direct Current technology, it will be two-way, taking excess power over the border when renewables need topping up.
EDIE, a sustainable business online news service have done a useful 7 "talking points" analysis of the new, long awaited 25 year UK official environment programme/vision. Driven by the need for some sort of post Brexit regulatory arrangements for environmental issues, it covers a huge and growing agenda. There are many fears about watering down EU environmental standards and rights, of course. But also new chess pieces on the regulatory board. Most prominent is the new test of "net gain" for development projects. Lawyers and accountants will no doubt line up if this ever gets into actual regulations, but for green activists and environmentalists it should, in principle, inject a useful metric into the currently complex and misty world of sustainability appraisal.
Other measures are carbon offsetting to encourage markets for carbon reduction, illustrated by tree planting: surely, there's a lot more potential here on real scale. Plastics reduction is an aim, about which SAGE asks, respectfully, when a debate will start about why cellulose based plastics have historically been dominated by fossil based plastics. And prospects for a cellulose (wood based) alternative path ? Resource and waste handling figure too, but the big issues are governance and funding. The latter is vague, of course: grants and loans are mentioned. Governance will be ushered in rapidly with a green infrastructure projects "framework", with an all government departments "review" led by Natural England - the Gov's own agency - to update existing green standards for infrastructure projects. This will need to be very closely watched: why a new "review" when last year a totally new Environment Impact Assessment Regulation passed into UK law (amends and replaces 2004 R No 1633 with 2017 R No 572) all based on EU law. Very odd. Incidentally, the new Infrastructure EIA was not mentioned/headlined in the subsequent new nuclear sites proposed new measures, currently in initial consultation.
Finally, governance measures hold the really big disappointment: no new Environment Commission, a real legally independent and permanent organisation about which there is a consensus in the green world and main opposition parties in Parliament, but instead a "Green Business Council" to advise ministers etc. As if that needs formalising when the business lobbies have their feet under the table already.
P.S. Thanks to EDIE for news that USA General Electric and UK Arenko are planning a giant battery storage ark in the Midlands.
The new year also awaited news about the invitation launched in November (Anglian 1.1..17) to new UK EDF chief Simone Rossi by TEAGS (Theberton & Eastbridge Action Group on Sizewell C). They asked him to visit and see for himself the issues around traffic, community disruption, the workers' campus, nature, AONB etc. TEAGS said that Mr Rossi in his new role had " an opportunity to bring a fresh approach to tackling the cumulative and unacceptable impacts of constructing Sizewell C."
"Anglian" letters start 2018 with crop of good letters saying Sizewell is not suitable for new nuclear
The "Anglian" newspaper, possibly because of a shortage of letters or maybe a new editor, or maybe even an evolving viewpoint, has recently published several strong letters setting out the general and specific cases against Sizewell C. Cases are varied: a general "not suitable" trend is emerging, and specifics c9ver safety and new security concerns, and new cost cutting now that it looks like new nuclear is not competitive without big subsidies, however disguised they may be. Risks and the actual removal of nature assets and the strategic growth of the tourist industry feature strongly alongside impossible roads and, implicitly, the common experience that Suffolk's infrastructure is being massively overloaded by the wrong kind of housing development and historic underfunding of its infrastructure. The social burden of the largely imported workforce on Leiston and villages and towns in the 20 kilometer "impact zone", not forgetting the traffic impact of the admitted peak 900 big lorries per day on Suffolk's A and B roads must be getting through. One "pro" letter repeated the "nuclear is the least worse option in a climate change world " argument. Renewables development is rapidly making that one out of date, and the idea that nuclear is low carbon is not even being promoted by the government any more. Its new Environment Impact Assessment Regulations (2017)require whole life cycle "sustainability" measures for nuclear. That's a very different metric.
A view is being promoted that big baseload nuclear power may be needed, not because the UK lights will go out - there is now the back-up "capacity market" - but because electric cars (EVs) will need lots of new electric power. That's misleading, out-of-date or just plain wrong because EV3 smart meters will use their batteries to charge up cheap and sell back to the grid when they are not in use (the majority of time for cars), either at home or in the works or office car park. That is, batteries are a synergy technology.
News that the global IT data industry with clouds and vast data centres is growing so fast that a "tsunami of data" could consume one fifth of total global electricity by 2025 looks like becoming the next worry/disaster story to be picked up and used for baseload nuclear. Our comment, hopefully a bit in front of the pack, is that the big data IT industry needs to get its "synergy" skates on: its electricity use is both in the networks/chips, and also vastly in cooling down the heat produced. Ideal for community heat and power, for example. And solar parks on the big data estates ? Looking forward to seeing how this arguments pans out ! (Guardian 11.12.18).
What's happened or happening about the promises by Mrs May's government that they would take powers to exercise control of future nuclear power plants by foreign companies - at the time China's CGN, but now maybe Japan and South Korean companies ? Nothing much, it seems. "Screening" is the word. Maybe the fact that French EDF is the big nuclear owner in the UK makes the comparison between an EU foreign country and "others" legally a bit complex. Maybe Brexit has upset the applecart even more. We wait, especially, for news about China CGN's own reactor due for Bradwell in Essex. We also note that Australia has decided that Chinese companies buying into their electricity infrastructure industry - and land - needs direct investment controls. Chinese companies are keen to get into Australian privatisations. China-linked donors, reports the FT (2.2.18), have been giving money to Australian political parties.
EnergyPost and the Financial Times have graced the New Year with in-depth reviews of the nuclear industry (NP Jim Green: 31.1.18 & FT Andrew Ward 4.2.18). NP say we are entering the world of overall nuclear decommissioning because the third period mini nuclear boom was halted and reversed by the Fukushima disaster in March 2011. This meant that the World Nuclear Association expected 19 new reactor start ups in 2017 (all development is time lagged) but only4 made it, 1 in Pakistan and 3 in China. That year 5 closed down, So the WNA was very wrong. So how about the "wrongness" of it's other forecasts ? The article quotes a run down from 30 starts in 20i9/20 to 12, 9 and then only 2 in 2024/5. The WNA further says that 10 new reactor starts per year is required to maintain global status quo. Remember, these are the most optimistic figures....EP's editor is quoted as saying 2017 was "all in all a disastrous year" for nuclear power.
The FT starts with the Hinkley C site which covers the equivalent of 250 football pitches. Their metric for where the global industry has got to is that its output peaked in 1996 after a 62 year expansion, when it produced 17.6% of global electricity. Today its share has dropped to about 11% as new renewable industries have taken off. Over half of world nuclear reactors are now over 30 years old. And total new reactor build is half in China, the world population leader, and almost 80% of the rest are outside the rich OECD world. Lots more too.
But the story is not just general industrial trends. There is a crucial economic question, admitted by the UK government and EDF chiefs in particular. New UK EDF chief Simone Rossi told the FT that "We do not say that nuclear should go ahead at any price. We need to demonstrate that it also makes sense for the consumer". In the UK that means a lower nuclear "strike price" of about £65-70 is still well above trend wholesale electricity prices of £45-50, while new offshore wind has just reached £52 and falling fast. This means nuclear has to be subsidized one way or another. Global news here is clear: 3 major US states are having to consider subsidies for their old nuclear plants (Exelon story, Platts News 2.2.18). And a University College report (FT 5.2.18) says UK electricity prices for industry are on average 33% higher than Europe's (EU). That means Brexit will see continued high prices for UK industry, plus more, if industry is deemed a "consumer", if the government forces more nuclear through. If domestic consumers have to pay the lot, watch those bills rise !
Not just a snapshot, but according to updated figures by the highly respected Carbon Disclosure Project in a report published in July but only just come to our notice, 100 coal and oil (so called natural resources) producers who are highly identifiable have produced 71% of global greenhouse gases since 1988. Interesting in its own right, the list is topped by China coal (counted as one company), then Saudi Aramco, then Russia's Gasprom, with America's Exxonmobil 5th and Shell 9th. The metric is interesting also to argue with supporters of a new nuclear renaissance who regularly claim that its "low carbon" footprint - not at all true on a whole lifecycle basis in any case - is needed strategically to reduce fossil fuel dependency. That's a hugely riskey and expensive way of looking at carbon reduction strategies. Especially if Carbon Capture and Storage techniques can clean up gas, alongside impressive progress by offshore wind with the UK in the lead notwithstanding its restrictive UK government subsidies. CCS for gas might start happening, but not in the UK while nuclear dominates the government agenda. CCS was originally promised £1000m, but has had effectively nothing except minor research funding. Meanwhile and elsewhere, the latest big name to join a renewed new CCS chorus is Bill Gates of Microsoft.
News in November 2017 that a nuclear plume from a reactor leak in Russia took 2 months to get some media in the UK, thanks to French institute IRSN. However initially it was not - according to the Russian authorities - an accident in a reactor as such, and was apparently not harmful to human kind, being Ruthenium 106 which is however produced while splitting atoms. Clear as mud ? It took two months to get heard about after several European monitoring bodies recorded a release level for the R106 which if recorded in France would have required evacuation and sheltering of people in a radius of several kilometers from the accident site (Guardian Nov 10 & FT Nov 25/6.
Curious to learn more, SAGE came across an important piece of nuclear accident history also from Russia (then a Soviet Union republic) which is reckoned by Wikipaedia experts to have been the world's third most serious nuclear accident. Except no-one was told about it at the time - 1957 - by either the Soviets or the West, who knew, of course, because both sides feared the public might panic and upset the politics of the cold war nuclear crisis/stalemate of those years. It happened at Mayak, in the Urals, was a level 6 nuclear disaster (scale 1 to 10) just behind level 7s for Fukushima in Japan and Chernobyl in the Ukraine in 1986. The Mayak disaster is also known as the Kyshtym disaster. 270,000 people in Mayak got radio-active contamination across an area of 20,000 square miles. A cooling system failed, releasing 70-80 tons of liquid "waste' which, left unrepaired, caused a chemical explosion of 70-100 TNT tons equivalent. 10,000 people were evacuated within a week, but other people had to wait almost two years.