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As a new 3 year Hinkley “delay” unfolds, what does this mean for Sizewell C (&D)?

Serious world commentators (Reuters, World Nuclear News) report that neither the management board of EDF, nor the following shareholders’ meeting in Paris actually discussed, as expected, the Hinkley crisis. But a new delay decision was nevertheless announced by the Chief Executive Officer J-B Levy on February 16th. He declared that EDF would be ready to “pour first concrete” at Hinkley in three or a bit more years. It was “on the horizon for 2019”. However, detailed agreement with China’s nuclear company CGN was not yet completed, and low energy prices in Europe meant, he said, no non-subsidised energy investment was taking place, and that EDF were still looking at Hinkley financing in this light. European energy producers have also agreed to a new lobby of the Brussels Commission on subsidies. Meanwhile, some landscaping by bulldozers will continue at Hinkley. He also said “we have the intention to proceed rapidly with the investment decision for Hinkley Point”, if that means anything in the context.

Whatever can be read into all this, a worrying and very real decision has been made by EDF to extend the lives of 4 of their very old AGR reactors at three of their other UK sites, by variously 5 to 7 years, to 2024 for two, and 2030 for the other two (Heysham, Torness and Hartlepool sites). Sizewell’s PWR has only been operating for 21 years so far for its 40 year life, but is also to be extended to 60 years. All of this may still be subject to approval by the Office of Nuclear Regulation which is, incidentally, reported to be short of funds and senior personnel.

----------TASC’s Viewpoint-------------

TASC points out that Suffolk will suffer more uncertainty, more economic blight, more local taxpayers’ cash spent on road building illusions (the Government has no money) and more uncertainty about the future of the real Suffolk assets. We continue to prepare for full opposition to the Sizewell C (&D) project: simply not suitable for Suffolk, wrong technology, utterly unfair new national planning fix etc. Our work programme on energy policy options, woeful emergency services, environmental issues – roads, tourism, property prices, social and physical infrastructure and the crucial 54 nature and wildlife assets – continues.
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What does it all mean ? Our local newspapers and media don’t seem to know, other than repeating bland Sizewell statements (EADT 28.1.16 reported EDF playing down speculation about further Sizewell delays) and national and local politicians have said nothing. EADT did however concede that the whole matter of Sizewell consultation may be “stalled”, although a tiny editorial at the end of January “pitied” the delays and “trusted” the region would still get its economic spin-off boost. The core issue is whether this is (just) another delay caused by the EPR’s well-known problems and the restrictive European ruling on its subsidisation. Or, in reality, is this the end of the road for the EPR, subject to politicians finding someone to blame?

Some Brussels and Paris commentators reckon that both the French and British governments might, behind the scenes, rather like the European Court of Justice case –maybe taking another 18 months - to get them off the hook. Others reckon EDF will take at least 3 years to find the money from its sell-off programmes (plus maybe Bradwell to China) but even that will not be enough, so “pouring concrete” will be delayed again. Others that if the UK leaves the European Union, the European Court restraint will no longer apply and UK taxpayers would then be milked for 50 years (15 to build, 35 year’s operating subsidy) to save UK political faces with a direct government subsidy for EDF. If anything is clear, no private finance is going near Hinkley after its very low credit rating for Lord Adonis’ new Infrastructure Commission. This Commission ( Private Eye story) will be a Private Finance Initiative body (PFI2), guaranteeing high profits for UK and foreign investors from public projects. But if that were to be the approach of the Government, it would violate the terms of the Brussels agreement on the strike price of £92.50 per megawatthour. We think the high strike price and drop in world energy prices already does that in any case. This analysis points up the importance of the UK Brexit issue, and J-B Levy did respond albeit evasively to the effect it would make no difference !

There is also a ‘rabbit out of the hat’ line of speculation that somehow funds will be found to force this ghastly project through. Politicians and big companies being what they are, and UK and world energy policies being in such a mess, daft and in our view dangerous and unnecessary decisions can still be taken. Politicians, to save face, might simply pass the mess on to future generations (60 years operating life, 100 years nuclear waste run down) and think they can walk away.

What counts against this are the increasingly clear views that (1) the EPR is a bad and costly nuclear reactor and (2) that no-one serious is going to put any real money into it even if the government can afford the relevant level of subsidy. And (3) that global energy market trends and climate change politics make big nuclear solutions increasingly unattractive.

This view has come into the open through EDF competitor company Horizon (now Hitachi owned) who plan to build their own (American/Japanese) reactors on Anglesey (Wylfa) and at Oldbury in the Bristol Channel. Interviewed by the D.Telegraph (15.02.16) Alan Raymant, chief operating officer says private finance is crucial since state-owned firms like EDF (and maybe China’s CGN) simply can’t raise the cash. His Japanese boss says financing and delay problems raise ”very serious concerns” about their own project. It looks like round and round the mulberry bush…..

The best speculation so far (our own too, and we were right in earlier TASC Bulletins about EDF’s capital shortage even for Hinkley) is that delay is legally required in any case because of the European Court of Justice case being pursued by Austria, Greece and German renewable companies against the Hinkley subsidy price. The anti case could be boosted by market developments. This price itself is now massively out of line with foreseeable world energy prices on one side, and the EPR’s real and very high direct and indirect costs on the other side. The £92.50 strike price can best be seen as an unhappy compromise with neither market relevance nor real cost covering – or commercial profits. A sign of the times may be that EDF’s own Chief Development Officer for Hinkley has resigned and gone to work nuclear in America.

What rings true here in Suffolk is that if Hinkley is proving so impossibly difficult to finance, and EDF is not expecting any major business turn-round in the foreseeable future, there simply isn’t going to be any money for following up Hinkley with Sizewell.

However, we also think there might be a rather sad little Suffolk rabbit pulled out of the hat with EDF dropping the “financial investment decision” trigger for the second stage consultation and announcing a date, just as a face-saver, especially since the gap between Phase 2 and the final consultation is likely to be two more years.

‘No’ evacuation drill for Sizewell emergencies:

Andy Osman, Suffolk County Council’s Chief Emergency Planning Officer, has announced that there will be no ‘real time’ emergency drill to prepare people around the Sizewell plant for an evacuation in the event of a major off-site radiological incident.  This announcement comes in response to a call from one of the Site Stakeholder Group’s co-opted members, Pete Wilkinson, who requested such a drill to be carried out in the wake of a similar programme being conducted in Japan after the Fukushima disaster and to test the official claim that the Sizewell emergency plan would ensure peoples’ safety. The justification for the refusal to undertake an evacuation drill is that an exercise of the scale required to put the plan to a rigorous test would cause more alarm than it would help prepare people for a ‘low probability, high consequence’ accident on a Fukushima or Chernobyl scale.  Wilkinson argues that a full scale drill would show the plan up for what it is – inadequate and effectively useless in its ability to evacuate local residents to safety: ‘Suffolk Resilience Forum has an obligation to demonstrate the plan’s effectiveness but a few minutes’ thought will make it clear to even the most  ardent cheerleader for nuclear power that the plan is not fit for purpose’, he commented. 

 

EADT Letters this month (no TASC association implied)Pete Wilkinson - a long letter about appalling blue light services and refusal of real-life emergency evacuation exercises for Sizewell B (1.2.16). Tom Haslam ‘Poor transport links means Sizewell C is flawed’ (28.1.16) Another on the roads controversy argued ‘Not a gateway… more a nightmare’(19.1.16).

Sizewell A’s radiation zone removed: claiming A is no longer a threat to the public (not something admitted previously, of course) completed decommissioning (?) is announced like a bright sunny day. Truth is 10% of the official radiation hazard remains, radiation decay won’t reach a theoretically safe level till 2088, and only then can buildings be taken down. But a ‘future uses’ consultation exercise has been launched… who are they kidding ?

France’s nuclear accident exercise: 400,000 homes within 10 kilometers of nuclear sites have been issued iodine tablets in a 7 yearly exercise.

Henning Mankell’s nuclear waste swansong: the acclaimed Swedish thriller writer’s (TV’s Wallender series) final book before his death in October last year singles out nuclear waste burrowed under European mountains for 100,000 years as our generation’s worst gift to the future. How can we communicate to them “Danger: Keep out”, he asked.

 

Bulletin available on- tasizewellc.org.uk


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