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Nuclear power

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From: The Socialist issue 876, 29 October 2015: Unite to fight divided Tories

Search site for keywords: Nuclear power - Energy - Britain - Electricity - Renewables - Carbon - Waste - Economy

Hinkley deal - no point in nuclear

Geoff Jones and Kate Jones, Socialist Party Wales

The recent visit of Chinese Premier Xi Jinping seems to have sealed the deal on the Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor - a deal which is disastrous in every aspect.

First: cost. The reactor will be built by collaboration between Electricité de France (EDF) and the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN). Ironically, both of these companies are state-owned. EDF claims that the final cost of the reactor will be £16 billion, with the Chinese paying one third.

The deal made by Chancellor George Osborne guarantees that Britain will buy electricity from them for 35 years at way above the likely market price, meaning that we will be paying a hidden subsidy over that period. This makes nonsense of any claim for nuclear as cheap, low carbon energy.

The figure of £16 billion is actually highly dubious - experts suggest the final cost will be nearer £25 billion. And in exchange for contributing a third of the Hinkley cost, it looks like the Chinese will get to trial their experimental Hualong reactor design at Bradwell in Essex.

There is currently not a single nuclear plant of the Hinkley type in operation anywhere. The two under construction in Finland and at Flamanville, France, are both running hugely over time and budget.

Flamanville was ordered in 2006 costing £4.6 billion, scheduled to start generating power in 2012. Its completion date is now 2020, with a final cost of over £15 billion.

In fact it may never be completed at all, as the pressure vessel that lies at the reactor's heart has been found to suffer from serious metallurgical flaws, meaning that cracks and even catastrophic failure are a real possibility.


Second: the effect on the UK economy. Thousands of jobs are promised.

But Britain lacks sufficient skilled workers to deliver Hinkley, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Big business is not investing in skills through apprenticeships in any industry.

Third: safety. Radioactive waste will have to be stored for centuries. Radioactive leaks have occurred in the past, and are a risk in the future, while devising safe methods of storing radioactive waste is expensive and complex.

Sixty years on from Britain's first nuclear reactor at Windscale (now Sellafield) and with huge costs being incurred on "decommissioning" our aging nuclear power stations, the dream of cheap, safe, electricity from nuclear is dead. It is neither affordable nor safe.

Abandoning renewables

While the Tories embrace an expensive and risky nuclear future, dependent on other countries' economies, they are turning their backs on a successful renewables industry that they once heralded as the future of energy in Britain.

Massive 98% cuts in support for solar energy via reduced 'feed-in tariffs' (FiTs) threaten to wipe out our solar industry.

20,000 jobs are at risk through this, many of them in small and medium British-owned enterprises that the Tories claim to support. The savings to consumer fuel bills are, at best, negligible. According to The Ecologist a subsidy equivalent to £1 a year per household could save the solar industry.

The renewable sector - wind, solar, hydro - currently supplies 25% of Britain's electricity, and could supply far more. However, the UK renewables industry currently depends on attracting private investment - who would want to invest when the present government is so hostile?

As socialists, we say no to expensive and risky nuclear! We call for the nationalisation of the big energy companies, and for a national energy plan, including a programme of public investment in low-carbon energy production - solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and biomass - alongside guaranteed FiTs to support local community energy projects.

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Article dated 29 October 2015

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