PRESS RELEASE – 1 August, 2016
If Hinkley Goes Can Bradwell be far behind?
The decision to review the Hinkley Point C project, taken at the eleventh hour, comes not a moment too soon for the future of UK energy policy. It opens up a Pandora’s Box which the nuclear industry has struggled to keep closed for far too long. It presents a window of opportunity to examine the future of nuclear energy and whether it has any future at all.
Whatever decision is taken on Hinkley Point will have consequences for other nuclear projects in the queue, not least for Bradwell which was gifted last Autumn to the Chinese in return for their support in shoring up EDF. But, if Hinkley goes it is not clear whether it would take down Bradwell in its wake or whether Bradwell would rise as a Phoenix among the Hinkley ashes. Bradwell finds itself tied up in a complex web of economic, technical, security and, above all, political issues.
Economically, Hinkley Point is a no-brainer. It is fearfully expensive, at £18bn construction costs and over £30bn lifetime costs, probably the most costly object on earth. Moreover, it is heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and will rip off the consumer at a price for electricity more than double the current rate for 35 years index-linked. If it is approved then every other nuclear developer, including the Chinese, will be licking their lips in grateful anticipation of such gratuitous largesse from the UK Government and electricity consumers.
On the other hand, if the Hinkley Point deal is off, then faced with less bounteous terms, other potential developers, possibly including the Chinese, may walk away and new nuclear power in the UK will be dead in the water. So, in terms of the economics it seems Bradwell could go either way.
At a technical level, the EPR reactor planned for Hinkley – with similar projects in Finland and France already over budget and well past deadlines – has been described as ‘unconstructable’. It is possible, therefore, that doubts about viability could make the UK government reluctant to proceed. But, it is a Chinese-designed, though unproven, Hualong 1 reactor that is proposed for Bradwell and it is conceivable that it might get through the allegedly rigorous UK regulatory requirements and be a more cost-effective proposition than the hopelessly overblown EPR. Then again, it might prove unacceptable and unviable.
The security issue might prove critical. The Chinese hope that developing their own reactor at Bradwell, sanctioned by the UK Government and regulators, will sanitise and legitimate their global pretensions. But there are very serious concerns, not least on the part of the Prime Minister, about the security implications of Chinese involvement with the UK’s most sensitive infrastructure. China is a potentially hostile power, in conflict with our main ally the USA in the South China Sea. It is feared in several quarters that China would be able to infiltrate computer systems and engage in cyber warfare. At the very least China would have the ability to shut down their UK nuclear power stations. And, at any time, China would be able to threaten investment withdrawal. So, if the security issue is critical, then a new nuclear power station powered by a Chinese reactor and under Chinese control must be out of the question.
Ultimately, politics will be the clincher. The deal was sealed at the highest possible level last Autumn. It was promoted by the former Chancellor. It is possible that the new Government, turning its back on its predecessor, may also turn against its deals, including Chinese investment in Bradwell. Then again, there is much political, diplomatic and economic capital sunk in the Chinese connection, especially so since Brexit. A combination of mutual interest and political inertia may yet keep Bradwell firmly in the frame.
Looking at the wider picture, in the long run nuclear energy is finished as a realistic option for the energy mix. As the world turns to renewables, smart grids, energy efficiency and localised energy systems, the days of outmoded, inflexible electricity leviathans are surely numbered. The more they are delayed the less needed they will be; indeed they will stand in the way of the far more flexible, efficient and economic systems that are now within reach. Hinkley Point C, if it ever gets built, will surely be the last nuclear power station in Britain.
If it doesn’t there is the chance that Bradwell could be substituted. Unlikely and improbable but not impossible. ‘All the more reason why we must be vigilant and not rely on the nuclear programme being scrapped’, comments Professor Andy Blowers, Chair of the Blackwater against New Nuclear Group (BANNG). ‘We need to draw attention to the reasons why Bradwell is simply neither acceptable nor sustainable as a site for a new nuclear power station and highly radioactive waste store. The site is too vulnerable, the environmental impact too severe, the risk of accident and incident too prevalent and the potential for catastrophe too disturbing for a new nuclear power station to be built by the Chinese on this site.
‘At this present juncture, the question of whether Bradwell is more or less likely to be developed by the Chinese as a consequence of the Hinkley review is too close to call. In such an atmosphere of uncertainty the opportunity is presented to redouble our efforts to sink the project and to remove the threat it poses to the Blackwater environment and its communities now and in the future’.