Tuesday 2 February 2016

Like many others I have long been troubled by the UK government’s decision to support new nuclear and particularly by the bizarre decision to guarantee the Hinkley C project by agreeing a strike price of £92.50/MWh and up to £17 billion in Treasury loan guarantees.  I have never been against nuclear power per se although I have serious questions about the choice of basic technology, (uranium cycle pressurized water reactors), and the risks of failure in very complex systems where the consequences of failure can be huge.   I do worry about the wisdom of choosing a reactor design where the two other examples are hugely over-budget and behind schedule.  I seriously worry about relying on Chinese funding and Chinese technology to build future reactors.


Having read a piece in the Sunday Times (“New threat to Hinkley nuclear plant cash”), I am now less worried because it looks less likely that the project will ever go ahead.  The “new” (not actually that new) information is that the EU’s approval of the Treasury’s guarantee is dependent on the French reactor at Flamanville having “completed the trial operation period” and other operational milestones by December 2020.  In September 2015 EDF announced that the Flamanville start-up was now scheduled for Q4 2018 – the latest in a long-line of delays (as well as budget increases).  Even if the French regulator does not force EDF to remove the steel containment vessel, which has been found to have “anomalies” and “lower than expected mechanical toughness values”, I have no confidence in their ability to meet this target given their inability to meet any of the previous ones.


The decision from the regulator on the pressure vessel may not even come until the end of 2016.  Even if EDF hit the Q4 2018 target (a big if) that only leaves 24 months to satisfy the EU’s conditions.  So, in my opinion, Hinkley will never get built and prove to be the biggest in a long line of UK energy policy mistakes (and no doubt the tax payer will end up picking up the bill in some way).  So, time to stop worrying about Hinkley and worry about how to really solve the problem of the short and medium-term electricity capacity shortage caused by years of inaction by successive governments.  The answer is not new nuclear and it is not subsidizing fleets of polluting diesel generators (which we are doing) – the demand side of the answer lies in properly valuing all the multiple benefits of efficiency and making it measurable and an investable asset class, as well as reforming the energy market to allow efficiency to properly compete with supply.


There are 4 comments on “Time to stop worrying about Hinkley C?”:

  • David Porter on February 2nd, 2016 at 7:14 pm said:

    “… the demand side of the answer lies in properly valuing all the multiple benefits of efficiency and making it measurable and an investable asset class, as well as reforming the energy market to allow efficiency to properly compete with supply.”

    Not an unreasonable comment, but, it would require the principles of a properly competitive market to be followed, to reveal the ‘best buy’ – demand reduction/storage/new generation, large & small/moth-balled generation, large & small etc. But, in recent years, although government talk has been about the market, the walk has been about intervention – encouraged by the lobbying of a long queue of interest groups.

  • miriam maes on February 2nd, 2016 at 8:06 pm said:

    Excellent piece Steve! Totally agree!

    Best wishes,


  • Charles Yates on February 2nd, 2016 at 10:08 pm said:

    I agree entirely with.the analysis. I just wish the politicians would see/ admit that Hinkley is not going to happen. Perhaps then we could start work on sensible energy security solutions which include a mix of demand reduction, new clean generation and Interconnectors.

  • Bob Fiddik on February 5th, 2016 at 6:32 pm said:

    Excellent piece Steve. As an ex-physics student I also don’t have an issue with the principle of nuclear power. Having worked in energy management for many years, I’ve seen enthusiasm for nuclear decline and then rise again when carbon became a problem. It’s baffling how anyone who knows the economic history of the UK nuclear industry could be convinced that it can pay its way. From the financial black holes of THORP and British Energy to the massive burden that the NDA is on DECC’s budget, nuclear has drained valuable public funds from other solutions to the energy tri-lemma.
    The industry must have one of best lobbying operations in the world to have convinced a new generation of policy makers.

Dr Steven Fawkes

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