I grew up in Devon and my father fought against the proposed new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point in neighbouring Somerset, including attending the lengthy public inquiry in the late 1980s. Sadly, the government learnt from this experience and made sure the more recent public inquiry wasn’t allowed to talk about big issues like whether we actually need new nuclear reactors.
Nuclear is the ultimate unsustainable form of energy, leaving wastes which are dangerous for a thousand generations to come. During the first Hinkley inquiry I saw a poster stating ‘If the Romans had had nuclear reactors, we’d still be guarding the waste.’ I thought this was a great way to bring home the absurdity of nuclear. It was only later that I realised that of course the poster should really have said Cro-Magnon Man instead of the Romans, since we’ll need to be guarding that waste not for 2,000 years but for 25,000 years.
This week’s price guarantee for EDF and its partners is a blank cheque that is likely to cost UK consumers more than £80 billion over the life of any new nuclear reactors. People are already worried about their fuel bills, adding a long-term nuclear subsidy at twice today’s prices is the last thing anyone needs.
There are currently only four new reactors under construction in Europe. The plant in Finland is likely to open seven years late and cost nearly three times the original promised price. The reactor in France is likely to open 4 years late and cost €8bn, more than twice the original price. Both of these are the same design proposed for Hinkley Point C. Two reactors in Slovakia began and then stopped construction in 1985, restarting in 2009 but are now running 2 years late and nearly 40% over even the new price estimate.
Even if the nuclear industry could build new reactors on time and on budget, which of course they can’t, any new power would arrive in 2023 at the earliest, and be far too little, far too late to head off climate change.
Germany is phasing out nuclear, Italy has cancelled its planned new reactors and France is going to cut nuclear by a third. The UK is almost alone in Europe in chasing the nuclear dream.
Scotland is aiming to get 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020 but the UK Government’s desperation to build new nuclear reactors is sending mixed messages to energy investors. Instead of boosting the profits of French and Chinese companies, the UK government should be investing in energy efficiency and renewables at home. These are the only sure way to guarantee lower bills in the future, and will create jobs and export industries here.