It’s not just Brexit and Brexatom (exit Euratom) or even the failure to mention any energy issues other than the deliberately vague consumer price caps for electricity and gas in the Queen’s Speech. Maybe energy fundamentals are moving too fast and furious all over the world, against the direction of UK energy policy, making the UK, in reality, more a policy-taker not a policy maker.
The continuing contortions of EDF remain central. Their Paris chief Vincent de Rivas is to step down, after promising Parliament and the House of Lords that they would be ready to”pour concrete” at Hinkley C in 2019. Clear enough until this month CEO JB Levy has declared that they are already pouring concrete in 2017 for infrastructure, while also admitting that Hinkley C will now be a bit longer in build than previously stated and, yes, nearly a couple of billion pounds more in cost.
The start-up “leap backwards” may have something to do with UK conditions in the contract: that Flammanville operates by 2019, and that Hinkley C operates by 2033, this latter date distant but not incredible. EDF’s woes include, acutely, a bizarre short-life fix for Flammanville (see below).
Meanwhile the Audit Commission has blasted the Hinkley deal (see below), Toshiba as the main developer of the Sellafield Moorside new nuclear project has withdrawn from all nuclear involvement, and government infrastructure plans are silent about big nuclear.
Can S Korea’s KEPCO now do this failed job? And what is happening at Wylfa, Anglesey: all quiet and a furious search for outside investors seems to be the scene. Meanwhile, China’s CGN is presumed to be proceding with its Bradwell project for its own reactors.
The environmental issues about new nuclear are also emerging as a key safety and suitability issue, because of Brexit.
New cabinet member for the environment, Mr Gove, wants a “bonfire” of EU regulations, while Mrs may has promised simply to transpose EU environment laws ( including nuclear) into UK law until there is time to revise them later. Few commentators believe this, it has to be said. Notably, the Environmental Law Association has called, like the Green Party, for a new strong UK environmental commission to be established.
Why out of Euratom?
Professional opinion and comment seems to recognise how serious this decision has become. It seems more set in stone than even the big customs union and single market issues. The essential Brexatom question is why on earth might government think there can be any benefit from it? It will impede nuclear fuel trade, and won’t avoid “red tape” because the UK is still under the International Atomic Energy Authority’s rules. It will most likely mean Europe won’t buy UK nuclear electricity even if we ever happen to have a surplus. But there is a back story, as so often.
About three years ago, when money from China for EDF’s Hinkley C and Sizewell C projects became necessary, the UK’s Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was repositioned as an independent UK Government “agency”, removing it from the genuinely independent and powerful UK Heath & Safety Commission. New ONR terms of reference required its safety duties to be aligned with market sensitivity, i.e. not “safety at any cost”.
This shocking move may have upset Euratom, but there is no public sign that the UK is being pushed out of Euratom. European nuclear standards may not be sufficient, if even the highest standards could ever be acceptable for inherently dangerous nuclear power. But they are higher than elsewhere globally, and Europe was the main mover and shaker about new safeguards after the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear disasters.
Germany has rejected nuclear power, and even France is phasing down. Europe has also raised its safety monitoring rules requiring, in a 2013 Directive, peer group review of European countries’ rules and reports and inspections. The UK seems to have done nothing about transposing this directive.
All of this may help explain Brexatom, and is “fit for purpose” because the UK’s new nuclear project is now overwhelmingly in non-European global hands.
After Brexit, even France will be simply be a global investor, free of European rules for its UK operations, if not in France. It is not just China’s nuclear companies who have wanted to grab a slice of the UK nuclear new-build market.
South Korea’s KEPCO are in the frame now at Sellafield for their own reactors, and if EDF’s EPR doesn’t deliver, the UK government might want to go all speed ahead with KEPCO elsewhere. They have already OK’d China CGN’s own reactor for Bradwell.
Out of the EU (and Euratom) the UK Government would be free to subsidize new nuclear, rush through regulatory design approvals, backed by a newly constrained and toothless ONR. So is Brexatom such a surprise after all?
Audit Commission (Parliamentary Watchdog) Second Nuclear Report on Hinkley C says it is “expensive” to taxpayers and consumers and a “risky” project in any case.
The key media word for this report, used by the local Anglian/EADT paper too, was “slammed”. Odd for normal government supporters, but the fact is that the dreadful popular (right-wing) newspapers don’t seem nuclear-friendly at present. Maybe it’s just that EDF is, after all, French and European.
EDF in Suffolk rushed to say that Sizewell C would be cheaper than Hinkley C, hardly reassuring if safety corners are to be cut, or the workforce sweated, or poor quality concrete poured.... Maybe it is a tacit admission that only Hinkley C would ever be subsidised. Or maybe it is more subtle, implying that the cost of a Sizewell subsidy could be lower.
The fact is that the Audit Commission has definitely “slammed” the Hinkley C project, in its second report on new UK nuclear power plans (presented to Parliament June 2017, following the first report in July 2016).
The report bears examination, not least for charting the whole sorry Hinkley C saga, which started in 2006/7. It is an excellent factual guide. Facts revealed are: if it were ever to operate for a full life, EDF believe it would produce a total net profit by 2085 of £80bn. Most of this would come through the heavily subsidised “strike price” at twice the current expected long-term wholesale electricity price. That’s a very big subsidy, but it is still not enough to fully pay for decommissioning and nuclear waste storage etc.
EDF’s immediate response from Paris was to admit that the Hinkley C project’s costs and timetable were subject to a “full review” (Times 27 July). It emerged this means two more years late, that is, 2027 not 2025 to be up and running, which no-one really believes. And then the delays will cost an estimated extra £2.7bn on top of the current £18bn estimate...
Recent policy shifts across the world include a total phase-out of nuclear power by Switzerland, resulting from a referendum; France’s new President confirming the nuclear transition down to 50% of the market, and appointing an anti-nuclear Environment Minister, M Hulot; South Korea having two presidential candidates, both anti-nuclear, the winner announcing a complete phase-out, putting its nuclear operator KEPCO in a tight spot, including in talks with the UK.
KEPCO have offered to step into the UK Nugen Moorside (Sellafield) crisis caused by profound financial problems at leading developer Toshiba. KEPCO insist that their own reactor is used, not Toshiba’s Westinghouse model. It seems KEPCO have lost their home market, with projects remaining only in a Gulf state and possibly India.
Japan’s Toshiba crisis, caused by the collapse of its nuclear business in the USA, occurs alongside continued shutdown for most of the country’s nuclear reactors. Despite government support, local opposition and court cases have blocked all but five reactors being restarted. No wonder Toshiba has said it is done with nuclear business: it too has also lost its home market.
The Green Party’s election time meeting in Woodbridge, on Sizewell C, was well attended, and finally got in the Anglian newspaper, but only after the election (!). The headine however got the message: “Nuclear industry is facing a slow death”...
The platform was: Eamon O’Nolan, Suffolk Coastal Greens, Baroness Jenny Jones, national Green Party, environmentalist Tim Nunn, Professor Andy Blowers, local Professor John Midwinter and Regan Scott, SAGE, TASC, FOE. Thanks to supporting groups.
TEAGS’ very well attended election husting on Sizewell C was a quiet affair without local MP Theresa Coffey actually turning up. She cited the second election period terror incident. A distinct note was struck by an audience member, a paramedic, describing how totally run-down and inadequate emergency services are for the existing nuclear facilities.
Meanwhile local councillors are believed to be rushing round to find new dispersed sites for the workers’ camps, while the Anglian reports that the four villages bypass campaign’s Lord Marlesford (former Tory Party grandee) has stated that EDF have found new funding for what is now called the Energy Gateway. The Anglian reports that he was told EDF “would contribute equivalent funding for the two villages bypass towards the new scheme”, whatever that means.
Three recent very substantial reports bring additional insight to the Audit Commission report.
First, the House of Lords European Union Sub-Commitee on Energy & the Environment report on “Brexit, Environment and Climate Change”. This ranges widey, and included a very interesting and substantial contribution from the Aldersgate Group. They specify a joined-up, green-financed and comprehensive energy policy stance by Government, driving the existing committment to a fifth UK carbon budget. (H of L Sitting Feb.2017). The Aldersgate Group is a business and NGO forum, including FOE and the TUC amongst its members.
Second, a Chatham House (foreign affairs think tank) report “Staying Connected”, by Friggart, Wright & Lockwood, May 2017 on “UK energy policy after Brexit”. One clear message: the UK will need a carbon market of its own if its climate change targets are to be within sight at all. This would affect the whole energy policy and energy price infrastructure.
Third, from the USA’s Boston Consulting Group, international lawyers Herbert Smith Freehills and the Global Counsel Group, a report called “Strong Currents - Navigating the Post Brexit Energy Market”. Very graphic pictures of the challenges, confirms the carbon market issue and prospects for a carbon tax, explains the exact policy stances of the EU and UK so far, heavy on new electricity interconnectors between the UK and Europe but only on condition of UK not undermining the EU’s energy and environment rules. We hear that Europe is most interested in an interconnector bypassing the UK and direct to Ireland.
All three see the very serious problems of leaving Euratom, the third report stating absolutely clearly that the UK has chosen freely to exit Euratom.
While the Austrian case against the Hinkley C subsidies remains at the European Court of Justice - until Brexit actually happens in 2019 - Greenpeace France have launched a complaint to the European Commission about French government support for EDF.
The Commission has cleared restructuring and takeover by EDF of the collapsed Areva, the French nuclear engineering company at the heart of so much trouble, and also raised no problems about EDF being, in effect, refinanced by the French Government.
The Greenpeace case is that the Hinkley C project threatens EDF’s wider future as an energy company. Greenpeace France are also challenging the “solution” being proposed by EDF and experts for Flammanville’s faulty reactor vessel lid. This has been fixed in place, may have the faulty carbon level in its steel, and cannot be inspected because the concrete cap has been put on already. The compromise solution, amazingly, is to let it operate for a short period - five years? - and then revisit the issue! Mind-boggling?
Meanwhile, a new legal challenge has been posted by Greenpeace Germany arguing that the Hinkley C decision did not respect the duty of the UK government under the Aaarhus Convention to consult other nations about its plans.
Watch US electric car and car battery pioneer TESLA. They’ve undertaken to build the world’s biggest ever elecricity storage battery (3 times the biggest known) to support the grid in South Australia after energy chaos there for some time. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says he can do it in 100 days, and if not, it’s free.
And smartest meters? All those electric cars coming very fast, and some people saying therefore we need extra grid capacity.....well, of the three types of charging meters now existing, the smartest (V2G = vehicle to grid) uses the car battery when off road to by cheap electricity and sell it back into the grid at a profit.....and the original supply can come from domestic solar/local cheap wind turbine supplies. Renault reckons with I million of its new small Zoe electric car on the road - or, sorry, off the road, using V2G, the equivalent of one French nuclear power station could be closed down. After all, we only actually use our cars on the road a few hours a day out of 24.
China's hydro plus solar...
on the Longyanxia Dam, already producing hydro electrcity, a new solar park with 4 million solar panels on 10 square miles of land will produce enough electricity to save China building one nuclear power station.
Denmark’s DONG company starts up in Irish sea and even bigger ones due
The world’s biggest and most powerful wind turbines started generating power last month off the coast of Liverpool. DONG Energysays they are taller than London’s gherkin (195 metres), and 32 of them can produce 5.3 GW, enough to power 4.3 million homes. If our arithmetic is correct, this is a lot more than Hinkley C - or Sizewell C &D- both with two EPR reactors. The next project for DONG is for even bigger turbines.