AS someone who has in a small way been opposing the climate catastrophe narrative* and has had to study the government’s energy plans, I’m beginning to wonder why Suffolk has been chosen for not one but two white elephant energy projects. What have we done to deserve this? An even more pertinent question is ‘What the hell does this technologically-illiterate government think it is doing?’
Please note, TCW Defending Freedom has covered some of the same ground as this post here and here, but the subject is convoluted enough without flipping back and forth. If those are read first, the anger at what our leaders are up will be cushioned, which will benefit readers’ blood pressure. Or you could just read on and shout at the screen.
There’s a pincer movement on Suffolk. From the east there is the Sizewell C nuclear site, and from the west we are threatened by the huge Sunnica solar farm. The way that the errors in our energy policies come together in Suffolk is unfortunate, but perhaps that fact will concentrate the minds of our voters when they next get a chance to express an opinion.
The proposed Sizewell C will house a pair of French-designed nuclear fission reactors of 1600MW output each which are slated to be built next to the decommissioned Sizewell A. The stalwart Sizewell B, commissioned in 1995, is helping keep the UK’s lights on whenever wind turbine and solar alternatives are becalmed and benighted, which has been rather often this year. (It’s called a wind drought in climate change jargon. Normal people call it weather.) Superficially (i.e. as assessed by a typical minister who has the same knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics as the average 12-year-old) Sizewell seems an obvious place to dump a pair of the new generation large nuclear reactors, that is if you ignore the fact that it will take a big bite out of the Suffolk Coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, ruin the tourist trade for decades and require the building of a temporary town to house the thousands of workers who will be imported to build it. More to the point, they’ll come in late while costing far more than the estimate.
It seems no one in government has noticed that European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) like the two planned for Sizewell C are proving extremely difficult to build. For example, the Finnish Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant already had two reactors of a different design, so they are not nuclear tyros. They applied for planning permission for the third, the first Finnish EPR, in 2000. It was due to begin feeding power to the grid in 2010. The latest estimate is June 2022. That’s 22 years between application and delivery of electricity instead of ten. It comes as no surprise that Finland has cancelled plans for a second EPR. Another example: the Hinkley C EPRs in Somerset have a strike price of £106/MWh at 2021 prices and will, unless there are further delays, be contributing to the grid in 2026 after approval in 2008. As well as being late it is over budget: the cost estimate was £18billion in 2016, but by 2019 it was up to £22,500,000,000 and the electricity it produces will cost more than forecast.
The deadline for the UK Planning Inspectorate to submit their recommendation for Sizewell C is January 14, 2022. The minister then has three months to think it over. It will be interesting to see what he or she decides if, as is perfectly possible, we are then in the middle of a fuel and energy crisis.
Working on the Olkiluoto timescale, Sizewell C would begin to power UK homes in 2044, by which time climate hysteria may well have abated. And of course there is the matter of cost. Initial estimate for Olkiluoto was €3billion for the single reactor. Latest and nearly final estimate is €11,000,000,000. It makes HS2 look a bargain.
According to the Financial Times Her Majesty’s Government has noticed that China General Nuclear (CGN) may not be the ideal partner to be involved in building nuclear reactors in the UK: like all Chinese firms it is the tool of its owner, the Chinese State, and as such has strategic interests which may not chime with those of the UK. Permitting any foreign state-controlled company to have its hand on the off switch of the National Grid is obviously undesirable – which is unfortunate as there’s another foreign state-owned ‘partner’ in the car crash that is the UK’s nuclear development plan. Électricité de France (EDF) owns 75 per cent of Framatome, the firm responsible for the disastrous EPR design. There are various subsidies, name changes and takeovers that complicate matters but here is the underlying reality: Framatome designs, manufactures, and installs components, fuel and instrumentation and control systems. It is involved in Hinkley C, the Chinese reactors at Taishan where there have recently been safety concerns, and has recently bagged a contract to supply control and support equipment for a Russian reactor. So this foreign firm is supplying Russia and China with duplicates of the equipment which is being installed in the UK.
Not the best idea. Let’s hope someone is keeping an eye on them. Incidentally, although HMG made noises about ending CGN’s involvement in our nuclear infrastructure I can find nothing other than the initial flurry of announcements. Surely the mandarins at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy wouldn’t play games with something so vital?
And while we’re on the subject of EDF, here’s a report from the Guardian in 2017: According to Gérard Magnin, a former EDF director, the French company sees Hinkley as ‘a way to make the British fund the renaissance of nuclear in France’. He added: ‘We cannot be sure that in 2060 or 2065, British pensioners, who are currently at school, will not still be paying for the advancement of the nuclear industry in France.’ Well, they did it with our aircraft industries so why not nuclear?
It took Mr Johnson’s government so long to notice that I thought I was alone in being uneasy at China with its appalling human rights record being involved in the UK’s nuclear programme. And while we struggle to bodge together an energy infrastructure which will work when the renewables fail, China is building dozens of coal-fired power stations. If you sup with China you need long chopsticks.
Relying on full-scale nuclear fission plants such as the EPRs, on over-costly French and Chinese finance while de-skilling the UK’s industrial base, is so obviously a bad idea that even some parts of our governing and civil servant classes have noticed, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has opened a Generic Design Assessment process for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Rolls-Royce is offering an SMR design of 470MW output based on the specifications of 500 already in operation round the world. These will be factory built and will roll off the production lines with no need for each individual reactor to be treated as a prototype, one of the major problems with EPRs. (See this article.) They need much less infrastructure on site and could even be delivered by barge to Sizewell.
The Rolls-Royce consortium has already attracted £400million to start the process, £210million of that from government, with plans for ten units to be delivered by 2035. The beauty of the modular SMR design is that production can be easily scaled up, so if the climate catastrophe/crisis/Armageddon becomes more urgent we can quickly react.
So that’s all right then? Well, no: in spite of the fact that a better solution is at hand, old Etonian Kwasi Kwarteng MP (no slouch he, with a double first in classics and history at Trinity College, Cambridge), the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, seems not to have noticed that the EPRs are going ahead, even though it was he who granted Rolls-Royce the £210million for the better choice, SMRs.
Come now, Mr Kwarteng, stand up to your civil servants and go for the sensible solution. An intelligent man like you will not need that spelled out – assuming that you are paying attention. Ask your staff this: ‘UK designed and built SMRs will be generating nearly 5GW by 2033. The EU designed Sizewell C will take longer to produce 3.2GW and will be using up resources and manpower, reducing our capacity to accelerate SMR roll-out. Why are we doing this? If the Finns can cancel an EPR then why can’t we?’ It’s not as if all the Sizewell contracts have been signed – see here – so the sunk cost problem won’t arise. The similar website for Hinkley C details the firms which have won contracts for that power station. So far Suffolk is in the clear, at least as far as nuclear contracts are concerned. Off the record agreements are, perhaps, another matter.
It might seem impossible to imagine a muddle worse than the EDF/Framatome/CGN decisions until you remember that we are dealing with a UK government actually led by a thirtysomething woman whose degree in the history of theatre hardly fits her to make such judgements.
The EPR problems look bad for the UK, and presiding over something that looks like the HS2 of electricity supply will surely be bad for Mr Kwarteng’s promotion prospects. But there’s worse to come. Mr Kwarteng now has another major problem on which he has to make a decision: does he dare support a battery-heavy solar development which, if things go wrong, could match the Grenfell scandal? In West Suffolk and East Cambridgeshire a solar farm developer, Sunnica, is seeking to build the biggest solar farm in the UK. If Mr Kwarteng thinks that Hinkley/Sizewell C is a slow-motion car crash, wait until he studies this one. Forty five thousand lives will be adversely affected, many of them in West Suffolk, a constituency already dubious about its MP, Matt Hancock, and its government.
To be continued . . .
*A few years ago I successfully opposed a wind turbine above Haverhill on the grounds that its 500kW output was inadequate considering the resources used, knowing that anything bigger would not attract high subsidies. The developer gave up very easily. Wind turbine developments are just subsidy farms. Same with solar. Same, oddly enough, with the EPR contracts. EDF is borrowing money at 9 per cent which the UK could have borrowed at 2 per cent. We’ll have to pay for that through our energy bills and our money will go straight to the bankers who are backing EDF. Perhaps someone is taking us for suckers. Cui bono?