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The La Rance tidal power station near Saint-Malo in France has been producing an average 62MW of power since 1966. Photo: Stephanemartin via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA).
The La Rance tidal power station near Saint-Malo in France has been producing an average 62MW of power since 1966. Photo: Stephanemartin via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA).
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Finally, Amber Rudd must drop her nuclear obsession

Paul Flynn MP

16th December 2015

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd's plan to deliver the UK's emissions reductions promised in COP21 rely on nuclear power as the main 'low carbon' energy source, writes Paul Flynn. But the high cost of nuclear, and the ruinous track record of current technologies, show that this path leads only to massive failure at public expense.

Lapping the walls of Hinkley Point is the world's second biggest tidal flow. An immense cliff of water sweeps up the Bristol Channel twice a day. Its power could be tapped with a simple proven technology.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd wallows in the warm extravagance of her own hyperbole.

She is stunned by the historic significance of Paris especially her own contribution to ending the threat of global warming.

To bridge her rhetoric to reality she must map out practical future action. Her statement to the Commons after Paris sadly displayed her continuing enthusiasm to cut support for renewables and the depth of her deluded optimism on the role of nuclear power.

Mass delusion is an unrecognized malign force in politics. Shared accepted wisdom is often a harbinger of future catastrophes.
Almost every time when all major parties agree on any project, they are wrong.

Faith in the value of drugs-prohibition is evidence-free and prejudice-rich. Three Prime Ministers and their parties were bewitched by the blandishments of Kids Company. The Pied Piper of nuclear power has enchanted and deceived with impossibilist promises.

But the consensus of the gullible is breaking down. Boris Johnson spotted that the nuclear Emperor has no clothes He said the mega-subsidy of taxpayers £2 billion a year for 35 years (perhaps rising to £10bn) is an "extraordinary amount of money to spend".

Treasury officials are becoming twitchy and nauseous at the prospect that they are incubating a looming financial cataclysm. The magnitude of the future scandal could rival those of the Tanganyika groundnuts fiasco and the South Sea Bubble.

A remarkable track record of economic and technological failure

The financial deal has an incredible history. All the sensible investors fled years ago. Centrica abandoned a £200 million investment. The near bankrupt EDF has no choice. They hope that their €30 billion debt could be reduced by this desperate gamble.

The Chinese's long-term plan is to use their designs in all future UK reactors, including Bradwell, to establish world dominance for their nuclear technology. However not a single one of their so-called 'third generation' reactor designs has ever actually been completed. The 'Hualong' design chosen for Bradwell is, remarkably, a fusion of two older reactor designs neither of which has ever been built.

Originally conceived in 2006 the earliest date for completion at Hinkley is now 2023. The Government's ludicrously generous deal agreed to buy electricity at more than twice the present going rate with a price guaranteed and index-linked for 35 years! It's impossible to guess what fuel prices will be for 35 weeks. Future fuel payers could be fleeced for decades by two foreign governments, France and China, with the most expensive electricity in the world.

In denial the UK stumbles on. Europe's catastrophic delays in all other European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) stations are ignored even though their problems are likely to be repeated here. Finland's first Olkiluoto EPR was due to generate electricity in 2009. The latest of many promised completion dates is 2018. Cost overruns stand at €5.2 billion. A second EPR to be built on the site has been cancelled.

The sister EPR station at Flamanville in Normandy was originally planned to be completed in 2012 at a cost of €3.3 billion. Later the hope was 2016 at €8.5 billion. In April 2015 a serious safety problem was discovered in the vessel's steel that will add more years delay and billions of Euros of unplanned cost. The current target is to complete in late 2018 at a cost of €10.5 billion, and even that aspiration is looking doubtful.

Other factors are likely to doom Hinkley. The EPR reactors have yet to generate enough electricity to light a bicycle lamp, and other designs that (so far) lack the EPR's track record of failure are pushing ahead. The financial forecast disregards the problem of nuclear waste. The stratospheric cost of cleaning up past nuclear waste at Sellafield is currently heading from £53 billion to a possible £100 billion.

A major obstacle is the legality of massive subsidy to be paid by UK taxpayers, estimated at €108 billion / £76 billion. Austria and Luxembourg are challenging this in the European court. Insiders suggest our Government will lose.

The green alternative

There is an ignored alternative - in addition to wind and solar, both becoming ever more competitive. Lapping the walls of Hinkley Point is the world's second biggest tidal flow. An immense cliff of water sweeps up the Bristol Channel twice a day. Its power could be tapped with a simple proven technology.

It's green, entirely predictable, carbon-free, British and eternal. Lagoons linked with pump-storage schemes in the Welsh Valleys could store up its surplus energy at times of peak production or low power demand, to provide abundant power when it's wanted.

Amber Rudd is cautious ... perhaps swayed by the poisoned propaganda of the nuclear lobbyists who haunted the Paris conference. They continue to denigrate the advantages of all renewables. She told me in the Commons on December 14th that

"We are looking closely at the opportunity for tidal power. My Department is now engaging in due diligence and if tidal power can meet the targets of being secure, clean and affordable, we will certainly take it very seriously."

The technology is free of the hideous complexity of the EPRs. France's La Rance tidal barrage and others have been producing some of the cheapest, greenest electricity in the world since 1966. The Government should recognise that the UK's coasts offer us a green renewable power source as sumptuous in its promise as the North Sea oil bonanza, with a choice of technologies available.

It's said that Civil Service careers are dominated by the ethos of the unimportance of being right. The careers of those who push the conventional un-wisdom of the day blossom. The careers of far-sighted who challenge with solutions that work in the long term wither. Amber Rudd has no specialist knowledge of energy politics and has opinions dumped on her by officials.

We must hope the curiosity she exhibited in her former career as a financial journalist will lead her to discover a rational green path through the jungle of vested interests and elephant traps of doomed hopes.

 


 

Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West in South Wales, a position he has held since the 1987 general election.

This article is an extended version of one originally published in The House magazine and subsequently on Paul's website.

 

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