Cutting the costs of new nuclear

Tim Yeo
Tim Yeo Chairman New Nuclear Watch Institute

The Green New Deal launched recently by the Democrats shows at least some American politicians support urgent action to address climate change.

The Deal sets a challenging target of cutting carbon emissions by 60% by 2030. It envisages ending the use of fossil fuels and abandoning nuclear energy.

Coming soon after the collapse of plans for two new nuclear plants in Britain this is a warning that in the West the nuclear energy industry is struggling for survival.

Strangely it is happening when concern about climate change is intensifying. There is a growing consensus that the goals in the 2015 Paris Accord need to be made more ambitious, even though few countries are on track to meet their existing commitments.

It is perverse to rule out the only secure source of dispatchable low carbon baseload electricity. Nobody knows when low cost, long term, flexible energy storage will be widely available.

Without it there’s a limit to how far a modern economy can rely on intermittent renewables for its electricity. Making policy on the basis that abundant storage capacity is just round the corner is reckless.

But what seems at first glance to be an existential threat to the nuclear industry is an opportunity for Britain to drive energy prices done.

Until recently the new plants at Wylfa and Moorside were to be built by different companies using different technologies. Now the sites can be offered as a single package.

Both are approved for nuclear installations and supported by local communities keen for the infrastructure which the development will bring. Trade unions also like the well paid jobs which nuclear reactors provide in the region.

The government should invite tenders for the construction of five plants to produce more than 6 GW of capacity. Five reactors of similar design will cost very much less than five times the cost of one.

EDF has its hands full with the construction of Hinkley, where by all accounts good progress is being made, and later with Sizewell where its plans are moving ahead.

That leaves the most credible vendors likely to be from Russia, China and Korea. Each would love to show off their wares and know that successful operation here will ease entry into other markets.

Political issues would have to be addressed but the prize for developers is big enough to enable the government to drive a hard bargain on management control as well as price.

Onerous operational conditions could be applied to ensure that the reactors functioned at all times in the national interest.

On top of the Office of Nuclear Regulation’s stringent safety requirements the government could insist on sensitive control mechanisms being manufactured by a trusted British company.

The benefit would be affordable secure clean electricity for the rest of the century and protection for consumers from the risk of higher costs caused by carbon taxes or a rising carbon price.

Thousands of jobs and hundreds of opportunities for supply chain companies would be created. This could be a timely offset to any losses caused by leaving the Single Market and the customs union.

Finally Britain would again be a player in an industry where it once led the world and which is key to overcoming climate change. It could even provide Mrs May with a legacy which goes beyond Brexit.

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