Who will pay for nukes?

Chew Valley Gazette 28th July 2010

An article in the June Gazette noted suggestions that the appointment of an 'antinuclear' Energy Secretary in Chris Huhne lowered the chances of more nukes, but this appeared to be contradicted by subsequent statements from Conservation Minister Chris Hendry on June 16.

He said the government backed new nuclear reactors (provided there was no public subsidy) and promised a new fast-track planning system for major infrastructure projects such as the two nukes EDF want to build at Hinkley (in Somerset) by 2018.

Chris Huhne is in a difficult position and, despite his reservations that nuclear reactors can operate without subsidies, he is facilitating the process for the industry to press ahead with plans to build first at Hinkley Point, then Sizewell, followed by other locations. He has confirmed that the Government will not step in financially if there is a serious nuclear accident but we haven't yet seen any proposals for how reactors should be insured. It's unlikely that commercial insurers would underwrite a nuclear power station except at a crippling premium.

The answer may be in the revised National Policy Statement on nuclear power, together with other issues, but DECC is saying it will not be published till late summer at the earliest. The Lib-Dems may press for a public inquiry within the remit of 'Justification' of new nuclear power which they may do under EU rules but there would be resistance to this from their Tory colleagues and the Labour opposition.

Still in the pipeline is the outcome of a consultation on the cost to the industry of the long-term management of nuclear waste. Greenpeace has said the current proposals would lock the Government into charging the industry 'a mere' 25 percent of the true costs.

Despite the uncertainties, EDF in particular seem confident and have just launched the second part of their consultation over Hinkley C. They had asked the previous Government to reduce its targets for renewable energy as they could not compete economically in an electricity market with 15% and upwards of renewable energy.

They and other nuclear companies have also demanded of the new Government the introduction of a floor for the price of carbon, penalising the coal and gas industry and securing their own financial position. Electricity consumers would pay an estimated £200 extra on their annual bill, which looks like a subsidy. This question will take a long time to resolve especially as carbon prices are much lower at 12 Euros per tonne than the industry's hoped for 35 Euros.

While EDF seems confident, and this could be hype and bravado, RWE and EON have said they cannot build reactors with just a hike in carbon prices, they need more Government support. Maybe EDF has an unknown cache in the French Government's treasury but any such funding would be against EU competition laws.

Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley


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