Lydia Meryll: Risk, Energy and Size

SERA’s nuclear coordinator Lydia Meryll writes on the recent announcement of a new power station.

Ed Davey has granted permission for Electricité de France (EDF) to go ahead and build a new nuclear power station in Somerset, down wind of Bristol and the whole of South Wales on a tidal reach opposite the River Severn, and where the Somerset Levels are frequently under water. He has incentivised an energy provider with the promise of a vastly high “Strike Price” minimum of £92.50 for every megawatt hour – almost twice the current wholesale cost of electricity and he has offered them a UK Guarantee for the finance. The risk he perceives is Financial Risk. (Sean Farrell, Guardian 30.10.13)

One could say that this energy company will have to factor in the cost of decommissioning in 60 years time and of making safe the new breed of radioactive waste. We still have no agreed location for a Geological Repository, neither in the UK, nor in France or in any other nuclear power generating country. We do not really understand the risk of mixing new nuclear waste with that which has been stored up at Sellafield and elsewhere in canisters at most of the old nuclear power stations, including Hinkley. The current consultation indicates that there will be just one such deep geological store somewhere in the UK, ready in about 120 years if work starts soon. Meanwhile there are the risk of radioactive leaks from plant damage, severe weather and even terrorist attacks. Transporting radioactive waste forms its own risks.  The lessons from Fukushima are happening as we speak. Our Nuclear Inspectorate are there in Japan. Do we risk having too few of them here in the UK?

But another kind of risk arises from the scale of such a project. It will dominate the Grid. The huge pylons will dominate the skyline. Energy will dissipate along the lines. It is an inefficiency risk. Proximity and local ownership are principles of energy sustainability. Of the 11 other energy production companies offered the UK Guarantee Scheme for Infrastructure Projects (1), all are backed by huge companies such as Siemens, working with Intergen UK Development Ltd on the Gateway and Spalding projects. They will be limiting the risk to our public purse, but paying out to private investors. It seems the small and local energy innovators are not seen to be worth the risk. They are deemed to be not “nationally significant”!

So our question to the Minister is, How will you now spread the financial risk to give incentives to small innovative energy companies with local delivery? How will you count the risk of radiation damage – to all of us who are downwind of a nuclear power station?

1. Projects currently receiving the UK Guarantee for capital finance:

Drax Power; Chinook Energy – Renewable Energy from Waste; Eggborough Power Ltd; Five Quarter Energy Holdings Ltd – Deep gas winning; Helius Energy – Avonmouth biogas power generation; Hinkley Point C; Intergen UK Development Ltd – Gateway Energy Centre and Spalding Energy Expansion,; Island magee Gas Storage Facility; Neart Na Gaoithe; Tilbury Green Power – waste wood fired power generation; West Duddon Sands Offshore Transmission Link.

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