The future is clean, inexpensive and renewable - if only the government can get over its nuclear obsession. Westmill Solar Park, with wind turbines behind. Photo: Richard Peat via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
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Government's nuclear fixation could ruin us all
Caroline Lucas MP
28th January 2016
EDF's unfolding fiasco over the Hinkley C nuclear power station proves that nuclear power can come only at enormous financial cost to consumers and taxpayers, writes Caroline Lucas - and even then, investors are scared off by the risks. The government must get over its nuclear obsession and seize our renewable future.
The Conservative Government's obsession with outdated, inflexible, expensive nuclear power is looking more economically and environmentally reckless by the day, and flies in the face of everything they say about looking after consumers.
The Government's policy of burdening bill payers with eye watering subsidies for new nuclear power has received another blow.
Just before a crucial board meeting yesterday at EDF (the French state owned energy giant relied on by the Government to invest in and operate Hinkley Point) French trade unions spoke out about their concerns.
When even staff working for EDF are raising serious doubts about numerous aspects of the proposal, UK Ministers' cavalier attitude to Hinkley Point C needs to change, more urgently than ever.
In advance of an EDF board meeting due to take place today, where the company was rumoured to be making a final investment decision, French unions threw a welcome spanner in the works.
They've raise no fewer than 15 questions about the project, suggesting it would be difficult to complete on time and that financing it could threaten EDF's survival. The good news, for now, is that EDF has, again, delayed the decision.
But the concerns of French unions are worth a closer look. They include pending legal cases, the lack of evidence Hinkley can be built on time, and the partnership with the Chinese nuclear energy company when no other investors appear to be interested.
Renewables with backup are already cheaper than nuclear
Most telling of all is the following question: "what happens if the UK government decides to look after consumer interest?"
This shows that the Conservative Government's pro-nuclear policy flies in the face of everything they say about looking after the interests of consumers and billpayers.
Indeed, studies show that solar power coupled with energy storage and smart grid technology could generate the equivalent to Hinkley Point C at half the cost - to the Government and to you and I. Wind power, even with backup, is cheaper than nuclear power too.
The Government's obsession with outdated, inflexible, expensive nuclear power stations is looking more economically and environmentally reckless by the day. So I've tabled some more urgent parliamentary questions on Hinkley.
The first question relates to the problems with a similar model of nuclear power station being built at Flamanville in France. It's already six years behind schedule, €7.5 billion over budget, and subject to safety tests following some serious metallurgical flaws in the reactor vessel and head:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whether the entering into force of the agreement between the UK and EDF to proceed with Hinkley Point C is conditional on the Flamanville successfully demonstrating capability of operation; what recent conversations her Department has had with EDF about the findings of the French Nuclear Safety Authority on tests on the Flamanville EPR reactor vessel head and bottom and the implications for her policies on new nuclear power; and if she will make a statement."
The ruling on these safety concerns has itself been delayed. I'm pressing the Government on whether the agreement to proceed with Hinkley is conditional on the Flamanville plant demonstrating it's capable of operating.
We already know from published documents that the promised £17 billion in loan guarantees for the project only take effect if the Flamanville power station is up and running by the end of 2020. Could there by other unpublished conditions we do not know about?
Will nuclear power ever be subsidy-free? (No)
My second question is about the huge cost of new nuclear to consumers. It picks up on Ministers' mindboggling double standards when it comes to subsidies for nuclear power verses solar power, onshore wind and other renewable technologies.
In the Commons earlier this month, the Energy Secretary again attempted to justify her huge cuts to solar subsidies on grounds that "subsidies for low carbon power should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model."
So my question asks exactly when she expects nuclear power stations to meet the same standards and operate on a subsidy free basis:
"To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, pursuant to her oral contribution of 18 January 2016, Official Report, column 1152, on subsidies for low carbon power, what recent estimate she has made of the year by which new nuclear generation at (a) Hinkley point C, (b) Sizewell C, (c) Wylfa Newydd, (d) Oldbury and (e) Moorside is likely to operate on a subsidy-free basis; and if she will make a statement."
Some renewable technologies are nearly there already, with the costs of others on a clear downward cost trajectory. Energy storage, interconnection and smart grids make Ministers appear stuck in the last century as they desperately argue about baseload.
The cost and climate change arguments against new nuclear power grow stronger every day. This week, workers have made their voices heard. It's surely time the UK Government started to work for us rather than big energy companies and consign new nuclear to the dustbin of history.
Ministers need to start listening to the many voices cautioning against Hinkley and instead back 21st century clean technologies.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion.
This article was first published on Caroline's website.
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