Coming round again

Plans have emerged for a new nuclear plant in Cumbria like the one being built at Hinkley. Will they fare better than ones that floundered before - and should they?

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Cumbria’s nuclear history makes for a strange contrast with the scenic images of Lake District fells and crags that are used to promote the county to visitors. But the Sellafield site on the county’s west coast is as much a part of the Cumbrian story as sheep farming and fellwalking, with a 2017 report showing the civil nuclear industry employed nearly 16,000 people.

Although Sellafield, Europe’s most complex nuclear site, is now in the long process of being decommissioned, plans are afoot to build a new generation of reactors in west Cumbria, continuing a nuclear heritage stretching back to the 1940s.

“They like to sell themselves as low carbon but there is carbon involved in all these stages.”

Although proponents of nuclear power insist it is a safe, effective way of producing energy as part of the drive towards having net zero carbon emissions by 2050, others say it is an expensive, time-consuming and ineffective distraction from more effective renewable options.

In Germany, Angela Merkel reacted to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis in Japan by agreeing to phase out all its nuclear power plants by 2022. But new nuclear plants are being planned and built in the UK.

At the beginning of July, the new Moorside Consortium, made up of French energy firm EDF and partners, said it hoped to build two EPR-type nuclear reactors in west Cumbria – the same
type of reactor being built at Hinkley Point C, in Somerset, and proposed for Sizewell C, in Suffolk.

They would form part of the Moorside Clean Energy Hub on land adjacent to Sellafield. It is also hoped the hub will attract the development of small modular reactors (SMR), such as those being worked on by the UK SMR Consortium led by Rolls-Royce.

SMRs, which are still in the design phase, would be smaller than traditional nuclear plants and could be produced at a centralised facility and transported to sites for use.

Copeland Borough Council, in which Moorside sits, and Cumbria’s Local Enterprise Partnership have been approached by both consortia. They are not the first to consider nuclear new-build at Moorside.

In November 2018, NuGen’s plans to build a new power station on the site collapsed after owner Toshiba failed to sell it to the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). The collapse followed a tangled history of ownership of NuGen, involving a number of different players from multiple countries stretching back to 2009.

The renewed interest in the Moorside site has re-ignited hopes in the area of a jobs boost. This would include employment in the operation and maintenance of the power station, including its supply chain, as well as the initial spike in construction jobs.

Although the Moorside Consortium project is unlikely to be completed until the next decade, the UK SMR Consortium has ambitions to get the technology running by 2029.

Ivan Baldwin, chair of Britain’s Energy Coast Business Cluster, the Cumbrian trade organisation, has been in discussions with the consortia. He refers to the “economic benefits in actually building the infrastructure around that but also the economic benefits of clean energy and nuclear at scale”. He believes a growth in employment, including green-collar jobs, would help the prime minister fulfil his promise of levelling up the economies of the north and the south.

It is hoped the site could support 5GW or more of new nuclear generation and also feed the National Grid with more than 1GW of new offshore wind power from off the Cumbrian coast by 2030. Cumbria’s Local Enterprise Partnership believes the site could also be used for testing other energy technologies, robotics and artificial intelligence. One of the customers for energy produced there could be the neighbouring Sellafield site.

“The energy park philosophy is around how you start to attract innovators to develop new types of nuclear technologies and new types of nuclear fuels,” says Baldwin. “Technologies that start to integrate nuclear with renewables, co-generation, technologies that help develop things such as synthetic fuels and hydrogen and so on, so in effect what you start to create is a clustering effect.”

The North East built a supply chain for its automotive industry around Nissan. But Britain’s offshore wind industry continued to rely on Danish technology despite its growth. Baldwin says the spin-off effects for other businesses in Cumbria ought to be significant. His organisation, he says, will help “de-risk on the social side because they need people to build it and the skills to operate it”.

“They need what’s called the social licence to operate. You need welcoming communities that actually are supportive of the development in the backyard.”

First must come the finances. NuGen’s failure was in part driven by the bankruptcy of Toshiba’s Westinghouse subsidiary, which it used to buy a share in the project and which, incidentally, was also selected to carry out decommissioning work at Sellafield in 2016. Westinghouse’s collapse in 2017 prompted ENGIE, which owned the other 40 per cent of the project, to sell its stake to Toshiba, leaving it as the sole owner.

Despite appeals to the government to take a stake in the project to rescue it, then prime minister Theresa May dismissed it as a “commercial issue”. Unable to find further financial backing
to continue, Toshiba liquidated NuGen.

To avoid this, Baldwin believes the Moorside Consortium could consider proposing a new financing structure to ministers, a so-called regulated asset base model, to fund the project.

Baldwin says Toshiba’s problems weren’t related to Moorside specifically but were “a consequence of the fact that financing large scale nuclear off a private company’s balance sheet is nigh on impossible. There needs to be a different type of mechanism and funding for the capital involved.

“It’s still relatively early days and it’s about a proposition they can take to Number 10 and the outcome, if it’s successful, will be a new form of finance that is supported by government, whether that’s on the government’s balance sheet, through private sector investors or a combination of the two.”

Others see that as simply undeserved subsidy. Environmental group Friends of the Earth insists that to meet the UK’s net zero target by 2050 it is essential to move away from nuclear, which it says has received billions in subsidies with little to show in terms of global power generation.

It has called for a focus on renewable sources, coupled with the development of battery technology to store the variable power loads produced by wind, tide and sunlight. There is also local opposition to the Moorside proposals.

Jill Perry, who stood for the Green Party in the last general election for the Workington constituency and is secretary of the Allerdale and Copeland Green Party, does not believe SMRs are a good way of producing low-carbon energy. “You have all the same problems as with the big reactors,” she says.

These problems include the environmental effects and potential hazards of mining the fuel, transporting it to the site, processing it and dealing with the ultimate waste radioactive material, as well as the risk of nuclear accidents.

“They like to sell themselves as low carbon, but there is carbon involved in all these stages,” says Perry. “The nuclear industry is ace at reinventing themselves and giving themselves a new veneer
of usefulness which is just that, a veneer.”

She argues there are more effective low carbon solutions – increasing energy efficiency and using renewable methods such as solar and wind as well as tidal lagoon production.

“We have proven technology and they fiddle about wasting money on something that isn’t really low carbon and may possibly never be technically feasible.

“It’s too late. We need to be getting on with reducing our carbon emissions right now.”

Photo: Construction work inside the nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point. Photo: Ben Birchall/PA

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Interact: Responses to Coming round again

  • Marianne
    20 Nov 2020 09:21
    Letter sent to Boris Johnson following announcement of "Green Industrial Revolution" NuSpeak!. A long letter - and there is more! Dear Prime Minister Radiation Free Lakeland are a small voluntary nuclear safety group in Cumbria. Inclusion of nuclear in the new green industrial revolution strikes us with absolute horror. In our experience there is nothing new, safe, clean or green about nuclear. Below we have summarised 10 Points Why you should Strike Nuclear Out of the “Green Industrial Revolution.” There are many more points but we have stuck with 10. The Government’s 10 point plan states: ” Advancing nuclear as a clean energy source, across large scale nuclear and developing the next generation of small and advanced reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs”. Nuclear as “green” and “clean” is the way the nuclear industry has aggressively rebranded itself. This NuSpeak must be the most corrosive fake news that industrial civilisation has ever come up with. Future generations dealing with the fall out from “historic” radioactive wastes will look back with incredulity at how our leaders could have been so utterly wrong-headed as to call nuclear “clean” and “green” This green industrial revolution will be the most dangerous, deceitful and life destroying of all the preceding industrial revolutions unless nuclear is struck out.. CLIMATE Nuclear is part of the problem not the solution. As the “10 Point Climate Package” graphically shows it is aggressively diverting money and resource from genuine renewables and energy efficiencies. So called Small Modular Reactors WOULD NOT BE LOW CARBON They have the same problems of fossil fuel intensive and toxic uranium mining on the lands of indigenous folk around the world, uranium enrichment at Capenhurst in Cheshire, fuel manufacture at the Springfields Nuclear Fuel plant near Preston and final ‘disposal’ in an as yet unspecified nuclear dump. This all requires fossil fuel and lots of it. Radioactive Waste Management have revealed through Freedom of Information answers to Radiation Free Lakeland that they have no idea how fossil fuel intensive their preferred “disposal” route of Geological Disposal would be. They have no clue as to how much fossil fuel intensive copper and steel would be required to contain the EXISTING nuclear wastes during transport and “final disposal.” 2. RADIOACTIVE AND CHEMICAL POLLUTION At every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle there is radioactive and chemical pollution. This happens both by accident and by design. The most serious and most voluminous pollution is from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Reprocessing uses vast amounts of nitric acids to strip out the plutonium and uranium from the spent fuel, along with tens of millions of gallons of fresh water every day to dilute the crapola going down a long pipe line into the Irish Sea. Virtually all the radioactivity in the original spent fuel ends up in the numerous reprocessing waste streams and discharges arising from reprocessing. These waste streams require further management or disposal. 90% of all the reprocessing wastes discharged from Sellafield were sent down long pipelines into the Irish Sea. The policy was to “dilute and disperse.” This has not happened as anticipated and most of the decades worth of Sellafield’s “historic” and ongoing wastes are sat in the silts offshore on the Irish Sea bed known as the “Cumbrian Mud Patch.” Note – directly below this Mud Patch is where the first deep coal mine in 30 years has been approved by Cumbria County Council 3. ECOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE – WILDLIFE AND THE ATOM The effects of radiation are serious and long lasting. When Wildlife and the Atom was first published it was the only pamphlet to cover the effects of radiation upon our fellow creatures. That was in 1983, before Chernobyl & Fukushima. However it does not take a major accident, the chronic ongoing impacts of routine, and accidental leaks are well documented in damage to reproduction and DNA. Mental retardation has been found among children exposed to radiation in utero. Professor Timothy Mousseau and colleagues discovered the same pattern in the birds they studied in radiation damaged zones of Chernobyl and Fukushima. Almost 40% of the birds examined were sterile. 4. FRESH WATER USE Fresh water use is used profligately during every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle, from mining, enrichment, fuel manufacture, fuelling reactors to waste. Large areas of the world including the UK already face water shortages and the effects of global warming are expected to exacerbate this problem. Nuclear power stations require more water than fossil fuel use does and the usage continues long after electricity production. In West Cumbria, the home of Sellafield the water stress is acute with nuclear waste processes requiring R1 top quality water while the local population has to make do with having their domestic water supplemented from boreholes situated just 3 miles away from Sellafield. The borehole water pulled up from the ground near the Sellafield plant has caused ongoing health problems. 5. NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION The relationship between nuclear power and the proliferation of nuclear weapons nuclear weapons, fissionable material, and weapons-applicable nuclear technology is well documented. The UK government’s refusal to even participate in the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons treaty talks and now with the aggressive fake “green”push for new nuclear build the UK government is sending a strong message. The message is that nuclear proliferation is of no concern to the UK government. Studies have shown that nuclear war would result in mass starvation due to the impact on agricultural production and profound climate change. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) will officially enter into force on January 22nd after 50 countries ratified the agreement, with a further 84 signing it. 6. RADIATION LINKED DISEASES The nuclear industry has a Compensation Scheme for Radiation Linked Diseases including from the CSRLD website: “A. The following cancers are included as specified eligible diseases because the parties accept, for the purposes of the Scheme, that they are capable of being caused by radiation:- Bladder Bone Brain & CentralNervous System Breast (female) Colon Leukaemia Liver Lung/ Respiratory Oesophagus Ovary Prostate Thyroid Skin (non-Melanoma) Stomach Uterus Cataract Other Tissues* *If you are unsure whether the disease in question is eligible, it is suggested that you contact the scheme and or submit a claim.” This compensation scheme does not extend beyond the cancer factory gates, the The UK government’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment concede that the Sellafield reprocessing facilities in West Cumbria have more cases of childhood cancer than any other nuclear installation, but it fell short of attributing this anomaly to increased radiation exposure, pointing instead to the unvalidated theory that disease rates were a statistical ‘blip’ caused by a virus. In contrast the German government fully accepts the link between proximity to nuclear power plants and cancers. This graphic is from Dr Ian Fairlie’s Comments on Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE): 14th REPORT. Further consideration of the incidence of childhood leukaemia around nuclear power plants in Great Britain. 2011 The graphic indicates leukaemia increases of 47%, 36% or 22% are found depending on which types of leukaemia/lymphoma are selected. 7. SITTING DUCKS FOR ATTACK Nuclear plants are sitting ducks for terrorist attack. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology assessed the risk of terrorist attack in 2004 “Achievement of objectives The aim of POST’s study was to provide Parliamentarians with a comprehensive overview of the risks and consequences of terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities, based on information in the public domain, and to identify options for further analysis. However, as much of the information needed to carry out an exhaustive assessment is classified, the study has been constrained” 8. LIMITED LIABILITY The polluter pays principle does not apply in the case of the worst excesses or failures or catastrophes of the nuclear industry. Of all industries the nuclear industry is the only one to enjoy such limited liability. Nuclear operators are allowed to cap their liability at approximately one billion. This would only compensate for example for the loss of 6 months tourist trade in Cumbria. Or is equivalent to the combined insurance of traders in Cumbria’s one day County Show. Each trader needs to be insured for at least £5M and there are hundreds of traders. In contrast in the event of a major nuclear “accident” the nuclear industry is like a reckless uninsured (uninsurable) joyrider, literally a public liability. 9. UNWORKABLE NUCLEAR EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND EVACUATION PLANS New regulations have been introduced to “increase the preparedness for radiation emergencies following the Fukushima disaster in Japan”. Part of the new strategy means Outline Planning Zone’s must be put in place. This would be a 50-kilometre circular zone from an epicentre at Sellafield. What that means in practice is unclear, as are the Sellafield Emergency Planning booklets. 10. THE MOST VULNERABLE ARE THE MOST AFFECTED The most defenseless are at the greatest risk—children, the elderly, minorities, the poor and animals—at every phase of the nuclear fuel chain. Yours sincerely Radiation Free Lakeland REFERENCES CLIMATE Some of the reasons why new nuclear should not be on the table or anywhere near it are outlined in a report by the Edinburgh Energy and Environment Consultancy. Fossil Fuel and the GDF …after much obfuscation wrapped up in meaningless technical detail…this was the result from Radiation Waste Management “I appreciate that we haven’t been able to provide you with a single materials figure for copper and steel. However, at this stage of the siting process this information is not available because of the number possible variables which are largely site dépendant.” Government slashes energy efficiency spending by 80 per cent in so-called 10 point climate package Andrew Warren, the Chairman of the British Energy Efficiency Federation, says that spending on energy efficiency has been slashed by 80 per cent. Meanwhile the gas and nuclear lobbies are being paid many hundreds of millions of pounds for projects that are unlikely to cut carbon emissions for many years to come, if ever. See 2. Radioactive and Chemical Pollution Spotlight on Springfields Capenhurst The Facts Sellafield Discharge Rise Embarrasses John Prescott Britain to Become Dirty Old Man of Europe Again 3. ECOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE – WILDLIFE AND THE ATOM Wildlife and the Atom Blind Mice and Bird Brains 4. FRESH WATER Increasing supply from new boreholes Troubled Waters and the Nuclear Industry 6. RADIATION LINKED DISEASES Click to access comments_on_14th_comare_7%5B1%5D.pdf 7.TERRORIST ATTACK 8 LIMITED LIABILITY Cumbrian Economy worth over £2bn Cumbria County Show . 9. UNWORKABLE EVACUATION PLANS—new-map-shows/ What to do in an emergency at Sellafield
  • Coming round again - Politicians in the News
    15 Aug 2020 02:06
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