Renew On Line (UK) 52

Extracts from NATTA's journal
, issue 152 Nov-Dec 2004

   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. £50m for wave and tidal

2. Renewables over 5%

3. North Sea -CO2 sink?

4. Biofuels push

5. Solar Worries

6. Deep sea wind

7. The Wind debate : New anti-wind lobby

8. Policy Developments  New Planning Guide

9. Regional Developments: NW, NE, Scotland

10. World Developments : US, China, EU

11. Nuclear News: Nuclear  Economics

11. Nuclear News

Nuclear futures

Nuclear power is back in the news again. First came James Lovelocks’ reiteration of his familiar pro-nuclear views. Then,  In  July, Tony Blair told a House of Commons committee that the USA was pressing Britain to look again at the nuclear option. He added “I have fought long and hard, both within my party and outside, to make sure that the nuclear option is not closed off,” and said that there was no way nuclear could be removed from the agenda “if you are serious about the issue of climate change”.  It  was not a matter of a decision now, but one would be needed ‘within the next few years’.  However he was clearly aware that there would be a lot of opposition. Friends of the Earth, said: “It took months to hammer out a policy in the white paper and nothing has happened since to change the basics, which were that energy efficiency and renewables were the best bet. It would be 15 years before there was one kilowatt of energy from a new nuclear station.”

With the nuclear issue back in the news, we though we’d recycle part of one of the most balanced analyses of the economics of nuclear option we’ve seen- from POST, the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology- see box right.

* A ‘Gaia and Global Change’ conference organised by James and Sandy Lovelock at Dartington Hall in Devon in June 2004,  included a discussion of the merits of revival of the civil nuclear power industry in Britain- and by implication elsewhere. Evidently, Lovelocks view that dealing with climate change required a rethink on nuclear was well received- even it seems by some people from the Centre for Alternative Technology: see the Forum section of Renew 152. 

EU official supports nuclear...

Loyola de Palacio, EU commissioner for energy and EC Vice-president, has been making familiar pro-nuclear noises. At an energy conference earlier this year she warned that  “Unless decisive new action is taken, it now appears that the share of renewable electricity is unlikely to reach the 21% target by 2010 which the Commission set three years ago. In order to increase the diversity in our fuel mix, difficult decisions must be made now.”  She claimed that Finland’s decision to build a new reactor “shows that nuclear energy remains a very attractive economic option if it is properly managed.” She concluded “I believe that the nuclear option must remain open for the security of energy supply and for meeting our climate change objectives”.

..French turn against nuclear?

There’s talk of a new French nuclear programme and we’re told that the French public is happy with nuclear power. But it now seems that this is changing- judging by the answers to an annual survey carried out in Jan. each year with a representative panel of 2004 persons aged 18 years and over.  Asked “Does the choice of nuclear power to produce three-quarters of the electricity in France have advantages or drawbacks?” those backing ‘drawbacks’ have now overtaken those backing ‘advantages’. Source: Observatoire de l’Énergie from CREDOC

Nuclear  Economics

Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology

POST argues that, since nuclear plans are so capital intensive, the discount rate is arguably the most important factor affecting the sensitivity of the cost projections.

“The Sizewell B project appeared to be economically viable at a 5% public sector discount rate and was approved on that basis in 1987. By 1989, the official rate had risen to 8% and the next PWR, Hinkley Point C, was close to being viable, though with lower expected construction costs than Sizewell B. Following privatization, the nuclear industry was advised that the lowest possible commercial discount rate for a nuclear project would be11%. At this rate, the proposed Sizewell C power station would have made a large loss, though the construction costs were even lower than those expected at Hinkley Point C”.

It adds “nuclear power projects in the past have often turned out more expensive than assumed. For example, cost estimates for the Sizewell B reactor were revised upwards by 40% and generation costs were higher (~6p/kWh)".

It admits that “recent constructions in China and South Korea have been completed on budget and time although this experience is not necessarily transferable to the UK. The 2002 Cabinet Office Energy Review noted that its own cost estimate (which was 2.5-4p/kWh) ‘still represents a major decrease in costs compared to all previous nuclear construction in the UK, including Sizewell B’.”

Given that capital costs are likely to be high even for the new reactor technology that is being proposed, POST asks if market mechanisms, such as carbon taxes, or exemption  from the Climate Change Levy, would help. It says that it  is, ‘unclear what level of tax would be sufficient to make nuclear power competitive. The forthcoming EU emissions trading scheme will benefit nuclear energy although it is doubtful whether this would be sufficient to stimulate new build. Another option is making direct support available, possibly as loan guarantees on construction costs. This was discussed in the USA, but it is unclear whether this would be legal under EU state aid rules.’

Basically it would be up to the private sector to raise the capital- and there is little sign of interest from that source in the UK. They can get much better and more reliable returns on other investment. The nuclear lobby claims that new technology will be cheaper but as POST says ‘the situation is a classic catch-22. Only the construction of a new reactor could verify the cost assumptions made by the nuclear industry. Currently, private investors, aware of the risks, would need more certainty before they invested.’

For the full Postnote 208 ‘The nuclear energy option in the UK’, Dec 2003: see

See also their new Postnote ‘Assessing the risk of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities’.

Chapelcross to shut

BNFLs four military MAGNOX reactors at Chapelcross in Scotland, opened in 1959 and used primarily to produce material for nuclear weapons, are to close. One reactor has been out of action since 2001, when 24 fuel rods were accidentally dropped down a shaft during refueling. During recovery operations it was found that graphite blocks in the core were shrinking, so that the fuel channels were distorting.  It has now been decided that it was too expensive to repair and so the station is to close.   BNFL, had evidently hoped that it could be kept open until 2010.

Radiation risks error

A Committee set up by the UK government to look at the risks from low level radiation from internal emitters suggests that in some cases they may have been underestimated by a factor of 10. A minority report by two dissenting members said it could be much higher- 100 times or more.

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