COMMENT by Hinkley Point B station director, Nigel Cann:

WHY NEW HINKLEY N-PLANT IS NEEDED

Western Daily Press, 28 May 2008

The Somerset nuclear power station Hinkley Point B has been generating electricity safely for more than 32 years. The A station next door is in the process of being decommissioned. A life extension of five years for B station will let us continue operating until 2016.

Until recently, it seemed to many that, once the station quietly reached the end of its life, then that would be it for nuclear power locally and, shortly afterwards, across the UK as a whole.

So why is nuclear now so firmly back on the agenda, and how did I find myself chairing a community meeting to discuss a potential Hinkley C last month?

Two reasons - climate change and security of supply.

Nuclear power is a formidably effective way to help combat climate change as it emits so little carbon dioxide; so little that it is comparable with wind power in this respect.

Security of supply means not having our electricity prices determined by the price of any fuel we are too dependent upon. The uranium fuel our stations use comes from politically stable countries, mainly from Canada and Australia . It therefore makes sense to include nuclear as part of a balanced energy mix.

The Government consultation through 2007 was invaluable in providing a thorough examination of the issues and allowing a wide range of stakeholders to express their views, in a world where energy policy is recognised as critical to economic well-being.

There are even signs that some prominent environmentalists now recognise that the battlefront is climate change rather than nuclear power.

The public debate and the responses to the consultation confirm that concerns over carbon emissions and the consequences for climate change are increasing. At the same time, worries over energy security have increased.

Against this background, nuclear power is acknowledged by the majority as having the potential to play a role in the UK energy mix. Local opinion polls, including one on this newspaper's online site, have strongly supported new nuclear build.

Energy conservation has to be an important element in tackling climate change. However, we all rely on secure supplies of electricity to an ever-increasing extent, both at home and at work.

Modern offices rely on artificial light and heating and ventilation systems have electronic controls. The loss of supply to computers means that almost all work and communications come to a standstill.

Those of us who work at Hinkley Point B , some 540 full-time British Energy employees, are proud of the fact that we supply sufficient safe, reliable low-carbon electricity to power over one million homes. Since it started generating in 1976, the station has saved about 140 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. That's the same annual equivalent of the entire population of Bristol reducing their carbon emissions to zero.

We need to invest in new generation not just to meet increasing demand, but also to replace an ageing fleet of coal and nuclear plants, accounting for up to 30 per cent of the UK 's existing capacity.

The building of any large infrastructure is invariably controversial and the case for development must be well presented and involve a meaningful dialogue with the local community.

That is the background to the community meeting held at Cannington College to discuss the potential building of a twin reactor development at Hinkley Point. The meeting was the first opportunity to discuss plans with residents and organisations.

Similar meetings have been held at British Energy's other sites across the country.

Questions reflected the fact that nuclear power is already part of the local community - residents having lived side by side with nuclear for some 40 years. Practical concerns centred on local infrastructure, roads, accommodation for construction workers and the planning process.

There are, of course, other issues that concern all of us, whether or not we live next door to a power station.

Radioactive waste is an inevitable by-product from operating nuclear power stations. We have a legacy of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from our operations to date in this country which needs to be disposed of.

But let's keep this in proportion. If you put all the spent fuel from this country in one place, it would fill only three Olympic-size swimming pools.

It's also small in comparison with the total quantities of hazardous waste generated in the UK . The amount of radioactive waste can be accounted for and safely stored. With the new breed of reactors, even lower levels of waste are produced and spent fuel can be securely stored above ground during the operational life of the new power station. The waste would then be taken to the underground repository at a location to be identified by the Government and agreed to by that local community.

Safety and security are taken tremendously seriously. Quite rightly, we are more closely regulated than any other industry. As you might expect, security at nuclear facilities has been reviewed and significantly enhanced in recent years.

A dedicated armed police force is present on site, and the facilities are subject to strict access control and are physically robust. Reactors are designed to withstand the impact of a potential terrorist attack, and plans are kept under constant review.

As someone who started out as an apprentice in the industry, and is now in charge of a power station, I can say that everyone in the industry is aware of their responsibilities and genuinely proud of our contribution to the UK .

We value the support of the local community and are proud of the fact that we can bring high-quality jobs to the area. We will need to keep the community informed as our plans develop and hopefully win their support.

One thing is for certain, any major infrastructure development is rarely as simple as ABC .

You can view British Energy's plans for Hinkley Point on its website, which is at www.british-energy.com

 

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Page Updated 01-Jun-2008