The good nuclear fairy waves another wand


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.

6 thoughts on “The good nuclear fairy waves another wand

  1. I’m part of a team (Innovation and Governance at the University of Exeter) working on sustainable energy transition and one of the problems we are working on is where the deep seated support for nuclear originates? Is it because, in an era of increased awareness of ‘energy security’, nuclear is seen in positive light as ‘home grown’? Or are the ‘low carbon’ credentials the driver (despite other, clear environmental risks)? Would appreciate your opinion.

  2. Read Alan’s final paragraph again. There’s a big clue.

  3. mmmmm, was kind of hoping that there might be explanation beyond individual personalities…
    Even the most convincing and influential individuals can find themselves in situations where they argue a point but it falls on deaf ears. However, there seems to be political appetite for nuclear – i.e. Hutton’s arguments fall on receptive ears and I wonder why given all the arguments (cost, safety, environmental) ranged against it?

    • PR. EDF has accounts with expensive PR firms like MHP, Brunswick and Weber Shandwick. The NIA and national media (particularly the Telegraph) have all played a role.

      Note that when EDF first mooted Hinkley Point, they said they didn’t need any subsidy.

      Then they wanted a carbon price floor.
      Then they wanted CfDs.
      Then they wanted 40 year contracts.
      Then they wanted government guarantees.
      Then they wanted guaranteed returns.

      Since 2008 they’ve gone from ‘no subsidy’ to ‘everything bar the kitchen sink’. As I say, quite a PR campaign.

  4. Thanks Tim – I guess part of their success has been to claim little/no need for subsidy and then only change the claim once government is quite invested in nuclear as a solution to both climate and security objectives of energy policy.

    Their stance as both ‘low carbon’ and ‘home grown’ did certainly fit the the energy security-climate nexus of 2007-2010 – but given energy poverty’s emergence as a political issue I wonder if plans for such substantial support for nuclear can continue?

    Here’s hoping.

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