THIS IS WHAT I THINK: “How do you solve a problem like Hinkley?” by Anthony Lipmann

Friday, 18 August 20173 Replies

It’s a subject Bridgwater Labour is reluctant to talk about – because it’s so divisive. But should any big subject, affecting the lives of so many, be left off the table entirely?

The subject is Hinkley Point C.

It is not hard to see how this elephant in the room could divide opinion. On the one hand you have , on the doorstep, the largest infrastructure  project in the UK, a massive driver of jobs. On the other – it’s the nuclear industry; and, for some, that is enough on its own to be anti.

The public, of course, are not stupid. In 1956, when Britain’s first nuclear power station fired up at Calder Hall in Windscale, heating homes was just an after thought. The real purpose, as we now know, was to produce weapons grade plutonium. 61 years later, the British public did not forget. Subsequent spillages, leukemia cases, and emissions, have done nothing to allay fears. Changing the name from Windscale to Sellafield too, was just PR at its most unhelpful.
So, trying to tell people that everything in the nuclear stable is just fine and dandy does not work. What does appeal in the long run are facts. When James Lovelock of Gaia Theory fame suggests that nuclear has a role in reducing carbon emissions, we have to listen. When statisticians point out that more people are killed on the roads in one year in England than have ever lost their lives from the generation of nuclear power, we don’t quite want to believe it. It might be true, but the nuclear issue is one that we react to with our guts not our minds.
Here in UK, and specifically in Somerset and the local region, we are blessed with an energy mix – there is wind, the potential for wave power, and even possibility of fracking. What is not in doubt is that with electric vehicles around the corner, and our electronic energy-dependent world increasing our needs, we are going to have to find solutions.

Actions and attitudes differ.

Following Fukushima in March 2011, Germany decided there and then to close all their nuclear reactors by 2022. Great. Except that it has so far meant that in the intervening period before total shutdown, Germany is mining highly polluting brown lignite coal, pumping even more carbon into the atmosphere. Meantime, despite the fact that a Danish manufacturer of wind turbines, Dong Energy, is ready to install off-shore wind farms at no cost to the German exchequer, the problem is the grid cannot cope with it.
So, let’s admit that it’s all a lot more complicated than we would like to believe and, what’s more, we are all guilty in one way or another every time we turn on the bedroom light. All power generation comes with consequences. It is not a Labour problem alone; but one for all society and societies. Each nation will come down on a different balance. In the UK, with our general pragmatism in most matters, I feel it might come down to a mix. That wouldn’t be a fudge. It would be a genuine spreading of risk.

Neither ‘For’ nor ‘Against’

But we need not feel powerless either. The area in which local Labour has a contribution to make is not in the field of ‘for’ or ‘against’ but in how well the job will be done, what ongoing effects the implementation of Hinkley Point will have on local infrastructure and, ultimately, whether the major company involved, EDF, is doing enough to compensate people and bring quality jobs. Fine statements have been made about EDFs fund but how easy is it to get backing in practice for local schemes, community halls, sports facilities, medical or other. This work at least may be pursued now and benefit all constituents of Bridgwater and West Somerset if held to account.
Anthony Lipmann
New Member of the Labour Party
18.08.17

3 comments on “THIS IS WHAT I THINK: “How do you solve a problem like Hinkley?” by Anthony Lipmann

  1. Anthony Lipmann

    UK Governments of all hues have been locked into the dogma of not investing directly in large scale projects. Government does not trust itself to manage the big stuff. (They are probably right.) So they prefer to get the private sector to do the job. In the case of Hinkley Point C (HPC) the investors shelling out the money are EDF (two thirds) with the balance China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC). No investment cost to the UK exchequer.
    So what is the risk? (Financially, I mean.)
    Glen Burrows’ point is that the true cost will be felt when industrial consumers and private homes pay inflated prices for electricity.
    Set against France’s current price of electricity at £37.94 per MWh, the price guaranteed by UK government on completion at £92.50 per MWh does indeed look high.
    However, there are two points worth considering.
    1) The public will share 60% of any overage (should there be one) within the contract-for-difference, via a rebate
    2) HPC might not look expensive by the 2030s

    For sake of comparison, please note Japan, which has had to import more coal following the Fukushima accident in March 2011, is presently paying about £150 per MWh. At the other end of the scale, Norway pays only about £30 per MWh for its energy (but while it may boast about its green credentials, the main source of Norway’s wealth is the sale of oil and gas to others). Meanwhile, in South Africa, the local provider, Eskom, is charging industry an astonishing £161 per MWh. The forward wholesale price for 2021 (round the corner) was recently £51 per MWh. So, price needs to be seen in context.
    So in summary, you cannot build nuclear reactors based on the whims of fashion or consider its competitiveness against low oil prices that prevail in 2017.
    I was much against HPC originally but, weirdly, in its pragmatic way Britain might be doing itself a great service in providing steady base load capacity while unleashing renewables at the same time for everything else. Nothing about HPC excludes the astonishing technical developments that will bring us more solar, wind, wave and geothermal power. It is the mix, and spreading of risk, that matters. HPC is scheduled only to cover 7% of UK needs.

  2. Wes Hinckes

    It’s a very balanced and well thought through argument Antony.

    Hinkley C does bring jobs and investment and it appears our course is set for the time being. Whether the project ever gets delivered is another matter entirely and we should expect the costs to continue to runaway with themselves and for solar, wind and tidal to present an ever increasing benefit in public spend, overall project risk and and socially advantageous outcomes.

    If I could for the benefit of people reading direct you to a couple of informative reports which take a look at Climate Change and power generation. If our country took the decision to commit to a cleaner, greener future it would lead to improvements in almost every aspect of our lives. For me it is an obvious next step for the UK and one which could be utilised to transform the UK into the world’s first fully 21st century nation.

    Reports:

    One Million Climate Jobs – https://www.campaigncc.org/sites/data/files/Docs/one_million_climate_jobs_2014.pdf

    The Power to Transform the South West – http://mollymep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-power-to-transform-the-South-West_FINAL1.pdf

  3. Glen Burrows

    You haven’t mentioned costs! A year ago the total cost of Hinkley C was estimated at £14 billion. This year, the DECC have confirmed an estimated £37 billion! Who knows what the next year will bring? It’s bonkers in economic terms – environmental, security and health issues apart- and will mean either massive increases in our bills or massive cuts elsewhere. Basically, goodbye to development of renewables!

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