HINCKLEY POINT: Wrong providers, wrong fuel, wrong strategy, a right mess

mesnipIt’s a case of Hinckley, nul Points. But that’s just the focus of today’s news: it’s merely a symptom of the autocratic muddle and ideological tribalism that typifies the contemporary culture of Western governance. In the end, incompetent risk assessment and fudge become horrendously expensive: that has been the headline for the UK’s energy policy for decades, and it is already costing the Germans dear. The Slog offers some balance and pleads for open minds, not closed ranks.


The News

EDF has been given the go-ahead to build Britain’s first nuclear reactor for decades. The new Hinkley Point complex will cost £37billion.

Chancellor Philip Hammond having confirmed the ‘new’ Government will stick with the project, work should start very soon. It will be handled jointly by the French and the Chinese.

The Green lobby is very upset about it.

What’s not in the News

The reactor when finished will be almost obsolete. It will use uranium as the fission material, not Thorium. Thorium is much safer, cheaper, ecologically cleaner, more available around the world and easier to mine than uranium. But EDF can get uranium from francophone territories, and as they’re the ones in charge (not us) nasty old uranium it is. This is ridiculous given that China is swimming in Thorium.

As predicted here four years ago, the Third World and emerging nations especially are moving rapidly towards Thorium as a fuel. Even French scientists at Grenoble agree that sticking with fast-breed uranium will mean “China, India and Japan will overtake France as current leaders in the field of nuclear generation”. And we are tied to EDF.

The issue is not as simple as Nuclear v renewable Green power. Germany’s switch away from nuclear has been a political and economic disaster for Angela Merkel. In straight-line Teutonic style, Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk (RWE) was forced by the government to shut down its profitable nuclear reactors and invest in wind and solar power. The RWE utility giant now (according to analysts) stands a 46% chance of going bankrupt by 2018.

At the turn of the century, Germany’s energy output was  30% nuclear. The share is now around 16%, and the target there is to have closed every nuclear reactor by 2022. Behing the scenes, coal as a fuel has been revived: so Germany’s CO2 emissions have been  rising by 28 million tons every year since the decision to dump nuclear.

In fact, a staggering 44% of all the country’s generation is now coal dependent. Not very Green you might say, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Clean Coal technology (CCT) has made enormous strides over the last ten years. Britain (or to be exact, Scotland) was a leader in this field, producing the best CCT results in the world back in 2008.

Sadly, the Environment Minister at that time was Ed Miliband. When the Scottish researchers asked for Government backing, he turned them down….and went balls-out into wind turbines on and offshore – unsightly, expensive to maintain, expensive generation costs, and weather dependent. The Dutch (who have more experience of wind power than anyone) offered to shower Miliband with the evidence against wind power. He rebuffed them.

CCT, if we’d persevered with it, would’ve enabled the UK to produce cheap and clean electricity in abundance. It would have made Hinckley Point irrelevant. It would’ve saved £37 billion. It would have made destitute SPA victimsa nightmare that never happened.

I have read so many learned and contradictory papers over the years about whether CO2 in the atmosphere is an issue or not. I’m not going to get into it here, because it simply fills the comment thread with deranged egomaniacs screaming at each other. What I can say, however – because the evidence behind this is overwhelming – is that wind, solar, wave and hydro-electric power are not as yet effective enough to replace nuclear as a form of generation in the context of British geography and prevailing weather.

As someone with both Green and conservational instincts, right now I would develop CCT with huge Government investment in both research and reopening coal mines but also invest far more in the development of solar energy.

Say “solar energy” to most people, and they sniff while burbling on about solar panels. What I mean by the term is harnessing the power of the Sun as an energy generator. It is a young to middle-aged star blasting out more wasted energy per minute than the entire energy output of Planet Earth’s most dangerous species.

It’s a longer term bet, but it simply has to be the future. Ten years ago Niki Walker wrote Harnessing the power of the Sun, a first attempt at showing how broad the opportunity is. Collecting solar fusion

  • Could provide a large-scale energy source with basic fuels which are abundant and available everywhere;
  • Have a very low global impact on the environment – no CO2 greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Not require radioactive fuels for Day-to-day-operation of a fusion power station;
  • Banish the possibility of “meltdown” or “runaway reactions”;
  • Leave no radioactive waste to create a burden on future generations.

The field is developing all the time, and the investment potential is amazing. For both Government and Greens, there is a need to move away from the old technologies and dreams about fart recycling. The thing to do is get on with it.

What I wouldn’t do is get a Sino-French joint venture to build us an old fashioned Uranium reactor. And I certainly wouldn’t employ a bunch of high-handed gangsters like EDF to manage it.

Why is our energy policy an expensive mess?

It’s yet another case of rounding up the usual suspects.

Neoliberal economics wanting the quick ROI rather than the longterm investment

Tribal generalists like Ed Miliband stuck in the past and refusing to open their minds to a better future

The triumph of dull process over creative risk

Ideology generating heated debate but nothing in the way of a solution

Britain selling off the silverware to the point where our energy is literally under the control of a truculent French government and a nuclear superpower with an appalling safety record

Price to government and profit for private suppliers coming before safety and sustainability.

Hinckley Point is just a symptom of a deeper cultural malaise – in the West in general, and especially in Britain.

Nothing will change this until we change the political and constitutional rules as outlined here at the Four Reform priorities page.

Yesterday at The Slog: bankers too rich to jail, consumers too poor to shop