At the weekend a newspaper story revealed the scale of nuclear industry lobbying of MSPs and Ministers. Sadly for them nuclear reactors across Europe are increasingly showing the folly of relying on complex, always late and eye-wateringly expensive technologies for power.
MSPs from the Scottish Labour, SNP and Tory parties have heard from the industry at six private meetings in 2021 and another four in 2022.
The industry lobbyists have already been quite successful at lobbying the UK Government. Boris Johnson recently used the pretext of the war in Ukraine to make the insane promise that they would build a reactor a year for the next eight years. Hard to see how any interpretation of this commitment could be delivered when nuclear power plants take a decade or more to build even after objections have been dealt with.
The lobbyists have also persuaded the European Commission to try to label nuclear power ‘green,’ although two committees of MEPs voted against this change last week.
Meanwhile, in the real world, the new Finnish reactor at Olkiluoto has had a further delay meaning it may eventually feed actual electrons in to the power grid in December, nearly 13 later than planned and at a nearly four times the original cost estimate. It is the first new reactor to be completed in Europe for 15 years. The previous one, in Romania, was officially ‘under construction’ for 24 years.
Construction of two reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset continues but last month EDF admitted that the proposed start date has slipped once again to June 2027, ten years later than originally proposed, and the costs have risen again to over £25bn, from an original price tag of £18bn.
A decision on whether to proceed with the proposed reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk will be made next month. Recent academic research suggested the power station could cost twice as much as predicted, at over £48bn, and take five years longer to build, totalling 17 years.
In France, one of the most nuclear-dependent countries in Europe, problems with cracks in the vital cooling circuits of 12 reactors have forced them to shut down. With other reactors closed down for maintenance half of France’s reactors are currently out of action. The country will have to import power and may face rolling blackouts this winter.
And of course the reactors at Torness in East Lothian are going to be shutting earlier than expected because of cracks in their cores, following the closure of the Hunterston B nuclear station in Ayrshire for the same reasons.
Investing in renewables and energy efficiency is very much cheaper and faster than trying to build new nuclear reactors. That strategy also doesn’t leave you with a toxic legacy of radioactive waste to worry about for thousands of years nor risk catastrophic accidents. It is obvious that new nuclear has no place in our energy future. Despite this obvious truth, the nuclear industry continues to flog their dead horse with their myths about costs, their propaganda about small reactors that aren’t small and their bland reassurances about waste.
The money and political capital they are throwing at this this would be much better spent making sure renewables expand at the fastest possible rate. You would hope that Scottish politicians gave the lobbyists short shrift in their recent meetings.
A version of this blog appeared in the Scotsman on 23rd June 2022.