UK’s New Nuclear Approval Met with Barrage of Criticism

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Friday, October 25th, 2013
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Plans for the construction of a new nuclear plant in the UK have been met with harsh criticism from multiple corners, including supporters of the controversial power source.

The UK government has given the greenlight for the construction of the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant by a consortium of international investors led by France’s EDF Energy.

The new plant, located in Somerset on the Bristol Channel coast, will consist of two reactors which are expected to generate power for the next 60 years upon completion. The facility will be situated adjacent to a pair of preceding nuclear point plants, Hinkley Point A and Hinkley Point B.

Hinkley Point C will be the first new nuclear plant to be built  in the UK in years and could mark the start of renewed enthusiasm for the controversial energy source as concerns over climate change mount and governments strive to find low-carbon alternatives to conventional fossil fuels.

Support for nuclear has come from some of the UK’s leading scientific experts, with an official report released earlier this year recommending the construction of a large number of next-generation nuclear reactors in order to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the contribution they make to global warning.

Despite the imprimatur provided by support for nuclear from such august authorities, the government’s plans for Hinkley Point C have been met with a storm of criticism from multiple quarters.

While Edward Davey, Secretary of State Energy, has hailed the deal struck with the EDF-led consortium as enabling the station to be built without money from British taxpayers, critics say the deal will lead to greater utilities bills for consumers as it fixes the price for electricity at twice the current level.

George Monbiot

George Monbiot

Following over a year of negotiations, the UK government and EDF agreed upon a minimum price of GBP92.50 for every megawatt hour of energy generated by Hinkley C – nearly twice the current wholesale cost of electricity. The government claims the deal will mitigate the impact of increasing costs, and estimates that with new nuclear power the average energy bill in 2030 will be GBP 77 less.

Dr. Paul Dorfman from the Energy Institute at University College London says the deal serves as nothing less than a subsidy for nuclear – a criticism made all the more piquant by the international make-up of the consortium – in particular the involvement of state-owned Chinese power companies China National Nuclear Corporation and China General Nuclear Power Corporation as minority stakeholders.

“It is essentially a subsidy of between what we calculate to be GBP800 million to 1 billion a year that the UK taxpayer and energy consumer will be putting into the deep pockets of Chinese and French corporations, which are essentially their governments,” said Dorfman.

On top of the exorbitant pricing of the deal, advocates of nuclear power have also criticized the technology chosen for Hinkley Point C, saying it is already outdated and could have adverse environmental effects for decades to come.

British environmental writer George Monbiot, who has come out in support of nuclear power as one of the best means of ameliorating the impact of climate change, says government should have chosen integral fast reactors or liquid fluoride thorium reactors for Hinkley, as recommended by the chief scientific adviser of the government’s Energy Department. Thorium reactors in particular are a strong option given that they use an element which is already extracted as a byproduct of other mining activities and recycle their own waste.

Monbiot says the UK government has instead opted to go with “clunky, third-generation” technology characteristic of last century, which will  continue to produce radioactive waste until the second half of the 21st century due to its dependence upon uranium as fuel source.

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