Saturday, 17 December 2011

New Nuclear for Somerset

Earlier this week EdF Energy announced the preferred bidder for the £100 million contract for site preparation works at one of the first sites for a new nuclear power station: Hinkley Point C in Somerset. The work is subject to satisfying planning conditions but includes site preparation, excavation and installation of construction site infrastructure to allow main construction to begin. They also announced an agreement with AREVA in relation to the early design work for the main reactor systems, which will allow AREVA to begin the work in January.

The following day they welcomed decisions by the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to issue an Interim Design Acceptance Confirmation, and the Environment Agency to issue an Interim Statement of Design Acceptability, for the EPR Pressurised Water Reactor. This is the same basic reactor design that has proven problematic at Flamanville in France.The new reactor at Flamanville is estimated to be about 4 years late and almost double the original price.

With these developments, it looks like full speed ahead for the new generation of nuclear power stations, despite concerns resulting from the Fukushima meltdown.

Nuclear power has much lower carbon emissions than fossil fuels and statistically is much safer than them, as I've posted previously, but the big issue is waste.  The cost of dealing with waste will be carried by the government, aka you and I as tax payers, as it is the only way that nuclear power can be affordable to the likes of EDF.  This should not be the case, they whole life cost should be covered by the electricity company that will profit from it.

When wind farms are approved through the planning system, there is normally a requirement for the developer to put a bond in place before construction work commences to cover the full cost of decommissioning the wind farm at the end of its consented life, typically after 25 years.  This covers the cost of removing the turbines, transformers, roads and buildings, restoring the natural habitat to the same or better condition than before the wind farm was constructed.  In addition to the bond, there has to be an agreed restoration plan.

In my opinion the same conditions should be applied to any new build nuclear power station.  A complete waste management plan should be developed and paid for at the start of the project to avoid adding to the existing legacy of radioactive waste that we have accumulated over the last 60 years.  Of course, such a proposition would make new nuclear power uneconomical.

The money not wasted on the nuclear project could then be invested in renewable energy and, more importantly, in research and development of energy storage systems which would be used to balance the peaks and troughs between supply and demand.

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