Will new nuclear plants mean cheaper bills and a greener environment? That is certainly what the UK government is hoping with approval granted for the first such project in a generation and Horizon Nuclear Power investigating proposals for a new wave of nuclear stations.
Ministers say the deal to build the $24 billion Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset, in the UK’s southwest, will help the UK shift toward low-carbon power and lower generating costs.
Three of the UK’s “big six” gas and electricity suppliers have all announced significant price increases. The UK government estimates that following the reintroduction of nuclear power – including Hinkley – the average energy bill in 2030 will be £77 lower than it would have been without the new plants.
However, ministers have given their initial agreement to plans by EDF, the French-led consortium, for a “strike price” of £92.50 for every megawatt hour of energy Hinkley C generates. This is almost twice the current wholesale cost of electricity that is coal and gas generated.
UK Energy Minister Ed Davey said the deal was “competitive” with other large-scale clean energy and gas projects.
Onshore wind currently costs £100 per megawatt hour, offshore wind £155, tidal and wave £305, solar £125 and biomass £105.
The existing plant at Hinkley produces about one per cent of the UK’s total energy, but this is expected to rise to seven per cent once the expansion is completed in 2023.
Meanwhile, Horizon Nuclear Power has awarded a number of engineering and related technical services contracts for a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK. The projects are expected to represent multi-billion pound investments in the country’s power infrastructure.
Horizon will work collaboratively for the next three years with the consultants, which include Atkins, AMEC and Cavendish Nuclear, on their lead site Wylfa Newydd, on Anglesey and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire.
These contracts establish long term partnership arrangements with tier 1 suppliers, and their supply chains. Their work will be crucial in helping Horizon continue its planning and preparation for main construction from 2018.
Horizon chief operating officer Alan Raymant said “[the] contracts underline our aspiration to become a leading new nuclear utility company and demonstrate real momentum.”
“Working with our new framework suppliers and their supply chains, I‘m confident we will continue to progress our detailed plans as we prepare for our first formal public consultation next year. The signing of these contracts also highlights our commitment to working with UK suppliers where possible,” he said.
But what about the risks with nuclear power? Lessons may have been learned from Chernobyl and Fukushima but dangers still remain.
A burst tank this week at the Ranger uranium mine in Kakadu national park, Australia, is one of the biggest nuclear accidents in Australian history according to Justin O’Brien, chief executive of the Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (GAC), which represents the traditional Mirarr people of the area.
“This is up to a million litres of radiological material in the form of an acid exploding from a drum, bending a crane, twisting metal all around it, pouring down into stormwater drains, with 20 or so people ordered to evacuate,” O’Brien told AAP.
It is the third security breach at the site in just over a month.
Energy Resources of Australia (ERA) which is seeking to mine at the site said in a statement the material was contained on site. It had no environmental impact, and no personnel were harmed.
Environmental groups are calling for a halt to operations at the mine.
“The time for mining a problematic and polluting mineral in a World Heritage area is over,” said Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Dave Sweeney.
The debate over nuclear power is not going to go away anytime soon.