Another document heralding a sparkling bright future lands on my desk. This time it’s a terrific, upbeat strategy from BIS setting out the timetables and opportunities in ‘The UK’s nuclear future’. Apparently, it’s all going to be very good for UK nuclear. ‘Huge opportunities lie ahead’, it gushes. ‘In the UK, industry has set out plans to deliver around 16gw of new nuclear by 2030… This is a significant programme of new build in the UK… government is committed to finding a way that will enable investors to deliver a programme of new build.’
And then there are the schemes that are nearly ready to go. There’s the ‘£12-14 billion project at Hinkley Point … Hinkley will be the first of five new sites developed by 2030.’ And all this stems from a seminal document it seems. The Government says: ‘a clear framework for future development was set out in the 2008 White Paper.’
Well that’s pretty exciting! We’re going to have all this new nuclear power by 2030! 16 gw of electricity! That’ll close up any energy gap we might have I’m sure. OK, that’s enough from the good nuclear fairy: now regrettably, it’s time for bad fairy factchecker to make an entrance.
Are these plans for 16gw of new nuclear by 2030, fairy factchecker asks, by any chance the same as the plans outlined in the National Policy Statement for Energy in 2010, which set out that ‘nuclear should be free to contribute as much as possible towards meeting the need for 18GW of new non-renewable nuclear capacity by 2025’? Clearly they can’t be, because the Government in 2010 solemnly assessed alternatives to 16gw of new nuclear by 2025 and concluded that ‘none of the alternative options looked at can be relied upon to deliver the objectives of this NPS by 2025’. So it had to be nuclear, you see because they could be relied upon.
So Fairy Factchecker is a bit puzzled. Maybe looking at that seminal document the 2008 Nuclear White Paper will clarify matters – but no – there they seem to have an entirely different set of rosy scenarios. Chart 1 pens in the period of – remarkably – April 2013 to the middle of 2018 as the period of ‘building of nuclear plants’ to come on stream immediately thereafter. So that must be a different lot of plans again.
And then there’s the plan for the first of the cornucopia of new plants – Hinkley Point, coming in at £12-14million. Can that be the same plant as the £5 billion plant to be built at the same site delivering power , according to EDF (the same company that is allegedly about to deliver the £14 billion plant by the early 2020s) by the end of 2017?
They all sound a bit similar, don’t they… and then, on examination they turn out to be radically different in cost and timing, but still with that rosy promise ahead of them.
I can only conclude that, at last BIS, in this instance, has taken on board the Energy Select Committee’s advice to have a ‘Plan B’ in place in case nuclear power doesn’t come on stream as anticipated, except that they haven’t quite got the hang of it – having multiple plants running by 2030, as an alternative plan to having multiple plants running by 2025, as an alternative plan to having …er…multiple plants running by 2018 smacks a little of not learning from reality, but I guess that as long as there is a good fairy nuclear around that is what will continue to happen.
And, by the way, there is one piece of solid consistency between that ‘seminal’ 2008 document and the latest iteration of the UKs ‘nuclear future.’ Yes it’s the nuclear good fairy himself John Hutton, penning the 2008 introduction as Secretary of State, and now penning an introduction to the 2013 document as Chairman of the Nuclear Industries Association. Some things remain the same, you see, even if all else changes.