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expert reaction to news that the UK government has approved plans for Hinkley C nuclear power plant

Following a delay it has been announced that the UK government has approved plans for a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset which will have financial input from France and China.

All our previous output on this subject can be seen here.

 

Professor Juan Matthews, Visiting Professor, Dalton Nuclear Institute, The University of Manchester, said:

“The Government decision to permit the Hinkley Point C construction is a major step for the UK nuclear industry. The UK desperately needs new electrical capacity which is carbon free, safe and at a reasonable cost. Hinkley Point C is the first step in securing this. So far UK industry has been reluctant to invest in building capacity to join the nuclear supply chain. With a real project commitment, risks are reduced and we should see more companies involved and the potential for a larger share of the project adding value in the UK. That will be good for jobs and also to maintain interest in the other nuclear new build projects, including the possibility of small modular reactors. The additional requirements on EDF and future nuclear developers are sensible and in keeping with previous practice.

“The Hinkley Point C project has come in for some criticism on the basis that it is too expensive and that the reactor design has been subject to delays on projects in France (at Flamanville) and in Finland.

“On the first point, the strike price of £92.50/MWh is for the first nuclear station we have built in the UK since the 1990s. Future reactors of the same type will have lower strike prices. There are also plans for other reactor projects and it is expected that these also will have lower strike prices. The strike price for nuclear plant are generally substantially lower than those for renewable energy. Nuclear power is needed in conjunction with renewables to meet our obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions whilst energy demand keeps rising. This is becoming urgent as closures of coal-fired stations are progressing and anticipated new gas stations have not materialised. There is an increasing reluctance to invest in fossil fuel technologies that will be subject to rising carbon taxes and the need to incorporate carbon capture and storage – a technology that has not yet been demonstrated in the UK yet.

“Press reports around the time of EDF final investment decision have confused the issue by comparing a construction cost of £19 billion with a whole-life cost of £37 billion (including interest, operating costs, fuel and decommissioning). The whole-life costs of nuclear power are very favourable compared with the costs of fossil plants (taking into account carbon taxes and, in the future, carbon capture and storage), off-shore wind and solar power.

“The issue of EPR construction delays is a serious one, but we must remember that two EPRs are close to commissioning in Taishan in China. These have had some problems, but the experience has been much better than in France and Finland. From that point of view, the involvement of China in the Hinkley point C project is to be welcomed.”

 

Professor Barry Marsden, Professor of Nuclear Graphite Technology, Nuclear Graphite Research Group, The University of Manchester, said:

“Inevitable there was no other sensible choice.

“At present the production of electrical power is 46% gas 23% nuclear 15% coal 0.8% wind the  rest coming from a variety of other sources.

“Let’s hope the ageing Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors keep going well beyond their design life until Hinkley Point C and other new reactors are built and operating.

“In the meantime we are going to be burning more and more gas to produce electric which is an inefficient waste.”

 

Lisa Hughes, Chair of IChemE’s Nuclear Technology Special Interest Group, said:

“UK government approval for this crucial energy project is great news. Nuclear power is a key reliable base load component of a balanced, low carbon energy mix. Chemical engineers are ready to support the delivery of Hinkley C, and the proposed developments by NUGEN and Horizon.”

 

Andrew Furlong, Director of Communication at IChemE, said:

“Modern economies need a balanced portfolio of electricity generation and chemical engineers play a central role in the design and operation of power plants, including nuclear, gas and renewables. We have the capability to deliver safe and sustainable energy solutions, but market confidence is essential otherwise nothing gets done.

“Hinkley C will ultimately supply 7% of the nation’s electricity needs. This decision could herald the UK’s long awaited nuclear renaissance and sends a powerful signal about the government’s commitment to nuclear power – subject to adequate safeguards being in place.

“The hard work can now begin on design, procurement and construction. Lessons will be learned from EDF’s experiences in France and Finland. IChemE will work with the nuclear industry to deliver the education, training and skills that are needed to support a complex supply chain that will to create thousands of jobs, including many roles for skilled chemical and process engineers.”

 

Professor Michael Grubb, Professor of International Energy and Climate Change at UCL, said:

“Today’s announcement and the conditions attached focus on the security considerations which prompted the Hinkley Point review. It does not seriously address concerns about deliverability, need or cost to UK energy consumers.

“Since the initial proposals, the cost of Hinkley Point has risen at least 50% whilst the cost of major renewable energy sources has more than halved.

The contract will commit UK energy consumers to pay many tens of billions of pounds over a period of 35 years after first operation – to about 2060.

For this amount, we could now get about twice as much electricity even from the more expensive renewables like offshore wind energy.

“Moreover for most of its projected operating life, Hinkley Point C will operate in a radically changed energy system which no longer needs full baseload operation, because of the explosive growth of wind and solar. National Grid’s own scenarios suggest that by 2030 we will have periods with enough wind and solar alone to meet demand. UCL analysis published today shows that given its higher subsidy, Hinkley Point is thus likely to force cheaper and cleaner sources off the system, at consumer expense, for much of its operating life.

“The wider question is whether this decision indicates a politically-driven desperation to attract investment into the UK after Brexit, whatever the cost to UK consumers, along with disregard for expert advice about our evolving energy needs.”

 

Professor Gregg Butler, Head of Strategic Assessment, Dalton Nuclear Institute, University of Manchester, said:

“If Hinkley had been cancelled it would be yet another example of the UK’s total inability to have a strategy on nuclear.  A recent ‘Engineer’ poll asked what should happen if Hinkley didn’t go ahead – and the resounding reply was ‘SMRs’ (Small Modular Reactor).  This is the typical UK response – at every turn in the road, find something that you haven’t mucked up yet and go off on a tangent towards it – ‘I’ve found what I believe is a silver bullet, and when it faces a challenge I’ll change course and do something else’.

“Nuclear needs continuity, and we’ve had exactly the opposite for decades.

“I have no particular confidence in the buildability of EPR, but at least the Hinkley deal should help to unlock (rather than doom!!) the NuGen and Horizon deals – so at least we’ll have some confidence in moving towards the 16GWe programme goal.

“In comparison, the Swansea Bay Barrage (which I have no objection to) is scheduled (according to its website) to produce as much electricity as a 53MWe nuclear power plant – so you’d need around 60 of them to make up for not having Hinkley.  Several trumpeted storage schemes have similar problems of scale.”

 

Professor Tim Green, Director of the Energy Futures Lab, Imperial College London, said:

“I welcome the decision being made and an element of uncertainty in energy policy being resolved. I also see the opportunity for the creation of training places in the nuclear industry at all levels and opportunities for UK universities to use their expertise to support the completion of this complex engineering project.”

 

Dr Mark Wenman, Department of Materials, Imperial College London, said:

“Timing is now critical. The UK now needs to prove it can deliver the project on time to provide the low carbon electricity we need in the mid 2020s.  The government review of the project was sensible and it is good to see the UK will maintain both oversight and control of a crucial part of the UK’s energy infrastructure for this and any future projects.”

 

Dr Shaun Fitzgerald FREng, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor in Sustainable Buildings, said:

“The main point about our energy supply challenge is that there is no silver bullet. We can’t rely on one big initiative – there just isn’t one big enough which addresses all the other factors such as security of supply, cost, and timescale to get in place. Nuclear power is just one of the options we have. But it is important because by retaining this in our mix it helps ensure we have a reasonably diverse supply base. I welcome the decision of the government because the longer we prevaricate, the greater the problem we have in bridging a gap in our supply base – much as though some of us are doing our best to develop technologies which reduce energy use, demand is still increasing because people (rightly so) want higher standards of living and this includes more devices which use energy!”

 

Dr Simon Walker, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Imperial College London, said:

“It is good that the government recognises that new nuclear generating capacity is an important part of the electricity generation mix for economic and sustainable low carbon electricity production. A successful build of the Hinkley C project will make a very great contribution to this.”

 

 Dr Ben Britton, Department of Materials, Imperial College London, said:

“This agreement on Hinkley Point C is an excellent leap forward for the UK’s low carbon energy future. This is fantastic news for UK R&D and it will energies the UK energy landscape for generations to come. Attracting external investment for large infrastructure projects will also enable us to draw together best practice from our international partners. In turn this will enable us to grow the UK’s presence on the international landscape and reinvigorate excitement for jobs and skills in the nuclear sector.”

 

Dr Mike Bluck, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Engineering, said:

“It is good to see the UK moving ahead on this project. Nuclear energy remains a necessary component in the energy mix if we are to meet our ambitions in terms of carbon reduction and security of supply. Hinkley C is the beginning of a new nuclear strategy that will build momentum and see the development of future nuclear technologies. These include small modular reactors and reactor technologies involving so-called ‘closed cycles’ that could provide a solution to our nuclear waste problems.

“There have been understandable concerns in regard to viability, cost and security. In regard to viability, it is true that there have been build issues with the EPR technology. That said, these are largely issues of project management and similar reactors are due to be commissioned in China in 2017 and Finland in 2018 . There will certainly be lessons to be learned from these projects. In regard to cost, this is a 60+ year project, and to base a decision on the economics of very recent history is flawed. Yes it can appear expensive in the current climate, but few would argue that clean energy is likely to get any cheaper in real terms, going forward. In regard to security, the involvement of other countries inevitably makes things more complicated. The Government has looked again at this issue and appears to have sought additional guarantees of commitment from EDF that will also apply to all future build. In addition there is some indication that ownership and control of such critical infrastructure will be subject to some safeguarding. It remains to be seen what the precise nature of this protection will take.”

 

Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng FRS, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, says:

“It’s very good news that after further reflection the Government has given the go ahead for Hinkley Point. Despite all the negative comments this is a good deal for the UK. Hinkley Point, we mustn’t forget, is the first of the new fleet of reactors to be built to secure our low carbon electricity supplies for the future. The news sends a tremendous boost of confidence to the sector generally and I hope it will pave the way for positive investment decisions for the Hitachi reactors at Wylfa on Anglesey and the Westinghouse reactors at Moorside in Cumbria, which are expected to achieve licensed status very shortly.

“This diversity in systems approved for deployment in the UK offers tremendous opportunities for UK companies to benefit as part of the global supply chain. The positive decision on Hinkley Point will bring immediate benefit to a number of our biggest engineering and construction companies.”

 

Professor Wade Allison, Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of Oxford, said:

“It is good news that Hinkley C is getting the go-ahead at last. Nuclear energy is safer and cleaner than fire, and the need to deploy nuclear power is essential if the world is to deliver on climate change and sustainable economic activity. These existential needs outweigh the considerations of cost and security, important though they may be.”

 

Declared interests

Professor Juan Matthews: “I have no relationship with EDF, AREVA or other parties.

 

Up to May 2014, before joining the Dalton Institute, I was the Nuclear Specialist on the UK Trade and Investment team that was negotiating the agreements with EDF and the Chinese side. I have continued to provide consultancy to the Government on issue relating to the nuclear supply chain and contributed to the setting up of Nuclear SW – a body formed by local enterprise partnerships around Hinkley Point to stimulate the supply chain. My role in that stopped in 2015.”

Professor Barry Marsden: I work 40% FTE for Manchester University.

I previously worked for the UKAEA, AEA Technology before moving to the University of Manchester in 2001 so I have a strong background in nuclear power.

I have been a member of the Graphite Technical Assessment Committee, an ONR advisory committee on the safety of AGR graphite reactor cores since about 2003.

I have no grants related to EDF.

Lisa Hughes: IChemE occasionally receives sponsorship payments from companies in the nuclear supply chain in connection with scientific conferences and events, but these are commercial in nature. A component of IChemE’s professional membership (<5%) is employed in the nuclear sector.

Andrew Furlong: IChemE occasionally receives sponsorship payments from companies in the nuclear supply chain in connectionn with scientific conferences and events, but these are commercial in nature. A component of IChemE’s professional membership (<5%) is employed in the nuclear sector.

Professor Michael Grubb: “No conflicts of interest.”

Professor Gregg Butler: “I have no interests to declare in new build.”

Professor Tim Green: “No conflict of interests”

Dr Mark Wenman: “I have 2 PhD projects that are partly sponsored by EDF Energy but these are not connected to the new build company responsible for Hinkley.  I was also previously (2008-2013) on an industrial fellowship sponsored by EDF Energy but again not connected to the new build projects.”

Dr Ben Britton: I receive no direct research funding from EdF energy. EdF Energy are a strategic partner of Imperial College.

Dr Mike Bluck:  “Personally I have no direct funding from EDF or partners in Hinkley C although the CNE/College does have a number of research projects funded by EDF or EDF Energy.”

Dame Sue Ion: One of the UK’s foremost nuclear engineers, Dr Dame Sue Ion DBE FREng is the independent chair of the UK’s Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board (NIRAB). This Board is comprised of academics and industry representatives from across the nuclear sector, appointed for their technical expertise in matters covering the whole nuclear landscape, from reactors and generation to nuclear waste management and decommissioning. She is paid a normal standard Government daily rate for her time in chairing the committee but the views she and the Board give are independent. She has no financial interest in Hinkley Point and no relationship with EDF.

No others received.

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