Nuclear power plan could hit taxpayers
Aug 27 2007
by Martin Shipton, Western Mail
Opponent says public cash could be needed to underwrite scheme
A LEADING opponent of nuclear power has claimed that billions of pounds of public money could be needed to underwrite future nuclear power stations in the UK.
Hugh Richards, of the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance, says that, despite UK Government assurances to the contrary, there are strong grounds for believing that new nuclear power stations may prove financially unviable.
The Government is currently consulting over its plans to include nuclear energy in Britainâ€™s future energy mix. Walesâ€™ only existing nuclear power station at Wylfa in Anglesey is due to stop generating in 2010, and there is a possibility of a new nuclear power station being built on its site. If a nuclear programme gets the go-ahead, a new power station is likely to be built at Hinckley Point in Somerset, just across the Severn Estuary from South Wales.
Mr Richards has examined the four power station designs that were registered with the nuclear regulator last month for pre- licence assessment.
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He said, â€œA nuclear power programme requires a huge capital investment of up to three-quarters of its costs, compared to a gas plantâ€™s 25%. Interest costs during construction mean that delays can make or break a nuclear project.
â€œThe Government is moving to pre-license standardised designs and streamline planning procedures in order to reduce the lead times for nuclear construction. This, however, increases the risk that public confidence in the regulatory process will be lost, and experience suggests that it will not speed up projects. In England, where public inquiries were scrapped for all the advanced gas-cooled reactors, an average 10-year construction over-run resulted.
â€œNone of the four â€˜Generation IIIâ€™ designs submitted to the regulators for pre-licensing assessment in July are proven commercially; they are design concepts without working prototypes to test their safety. A new nuclear programme in Britain would have to start again from scratch.â€
He added, â€œFar from having settled designs, all four candidates appear to be â€˜work in progressâ€™, having been enlarged to try to achieve â€˜economies of scaleâ€™.
â€œThe Government believes that new nuclear projects will be brought forward on a commercial basis by project sponsors with strong balance sheets, but no attempt has been made to test their financial robustness.
â€œBritish Energy, bailed out with Â£5bn of public money in 2002, has the sole experience of operating nuclear reactors in Britain. Of the six foreign operators from Germany, France, Spain and Belgium, five say they want to have a choice of the best available designs.
â€œThree of the foreign operators have non-nuclear plants in the UK â€“ Scottish Power recently acquired Iberdrola, npower is owned by RWE, and Eon-UK â€“ all put great emphasis on renewables in their marketing. Choice puts the consumer in charge.
â€œAn opinion poll recently commissioned by the nuclear industry asked if the company that supplies your electricity were to build a nuclear power station somewhere in Britain would this make you more favourable towards them, less favourable or make no difference? The majority said it would make no difference, but of the rest, two thirds would become less favourable. Any energy company that makes the decision to build nuclear in the UK risks its reputation.
â€œTalking-up the prospects of nuclear power may impress gullible politicians, or allow them to sidestep their carbon reduction responsibilities, but cannot guarantee that a huge investment programme will follow. Energy conservation and renewable forms of energy make poor targets for terrorists and are a more robust and immediate response to global warming than nuclear power stations.â€
Mr Richards added, â€œIf the Government decides nevertheless to approve new nuclear power stations, there is every likelihood that in due course the operators will seek public funding for their projects.â€
But John McNamara, a spokesman for the Nuclear Industry Association, said, â€œAny future investment in nuclear power in the UK will come entirely from the private sector. That will include the construction of any future power stations, and the treatment and storage of nuclear waste arising at those power stations. Potential investors are queuing up already, and there is no question of the government being expected to provide funds.
â€œSo far as Wales is concerned, Wylfa could be the site of two new units. There are close to 2,000 well-paid jobs on Anglesey at the existing power station and at Anglesey Aluminium, and it would be political suicide for any politician there to oppose a new power station.â€
The UK Governmentâ€™s public consultation on the possibility of building new nuclear power stations runs until October 10.