29 July 2016

White elephant in Somerset

Hinkley Point in Somerset is planned to become the site of a massive new nuclear reactor project, currently budgeted at £18 billion. The project will be executed and funded by EDF and China, with the return guaranteed by a deal to buy the electricity produced at a 'strike price' almost three times the current market rate (£92.50 per MWh compared with £33).  This difference is estimated by the National Audit Office to be a £29.7 billion subsidy by consumers.  Last night (28th July) we heard  that the board of EDF had approved the deal and then shortly after, the welcome news that the UK Government had called a pause before contracts were signed. 
70602819_hinkley_edf
Photo grabbed from order-order.com

The deal shows the cynicism of the Department of Energy and of politicians, both Labour and Conservative/LibDem coalition, who were quite happy to commit future generations to pay a huge amount for electricity to solve their planning problems.  There is no way that Parliament would support a grant of £30 billion to EDF to build this plant; it may anyway have been an illegal state subsidy.  Instead it was proposed to take the money through households' electricity bills over a 35 year period, a stealth tax on every user. 

The  Hinkley Point C plant is due to produce 3200 MW using the new and unproven European Pressurised Reactor technology.  The first project for this reactor, in Finland, is currently 9 years late and £4 billion over budget.   Every other project is late and over budget.  No power is being produced commercially anywhere in the world with this design. 

What would be a better solution?  Submarines have been driven by small nuclear power plants for many years, and a similar Small Modular Reactor technology is now under development for civilian use.   These can be produced more or less on a production line, and sited closer to the end users, with benefits of the reuse of excess heat for municipal heating.   At say 160 MW each, only 20 would be needed to supply the same amount of power as Hinkley Point C.  Rolls Royce is a leader in this field.   Let's hope that the new UK Government stops the white elephant project in Somerset before too much more money has been sunk into it.