Thursday, August 28, 2014

Bombs Ahoy! Why the UK is desperate for nuclear power

Oliver Tickell

On the face of it, the UK government's obsession with nuclear power defies reason. It's very expensive, inflexible, creates 'existential' threats and imposes enormous 'long tail' liabilities tens of thousands of years into the future. But there is a simple explanation: it's all to maintain the UK's status as a nuclear WMD state.

The UK's civil nuclear programme is almost entirely motivated by the UK's wish to maintain its status as a nuclear WMD state.
The UK's proposed support package for the Hinkley C nuclear power station in Somerset is gigantic. Estimates of its cost range up to £100 billion or so.
Of course it's hard to put a precise figure on it, as the subsidies take so many forms, and many of the commitments represent a guarantee against unknown and unquantifiable eventualities. But to summarisethey include:
  • a generous guaranteed purchase price for its electricity, at £92.50 per megawatt-hour - about double the current going rate - also inflation adjusted from now, and lasting for 35 years after it begins to produce power;
  • £10 billion of Treasury guarantees on its construction cost;
  • a guaranteed maximum exposure to the operator, EDF, on its waste management and decomissioning costs;
  • the limitation of EDF's liabilities in the event of any major nuclear accident at €700 million, when nuclear accidents can impose costs in the $100s of billions;
  • a variety of pump priming exercises to lubricate the nuclear supply chain, and direct support to Sheffield Forgemasters, a manufacturer of nuclear reactor vessels;
  • a panoply of expenditures for nuclear R&D by way of research councils.

And all this just for a single 2.4GW power station that would generate just 20TWh of our 350TWh per year electricity usage.