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Britain’s costly gamble with Hinkley point C nuclear project, as the renewables revolution gather speed

there will be no room in this new world of flexible, decentralised generation for large, rigid nuclear reactors. “There are going to be increasingly frequent periods when we have too much power,” says Mr Burke. “But if you are the energy minister, how do you explain to people why you are having to switch off cheap renewables in order to use the much more expensive nuclear power which you have committed to pay for over the next 35 years?”

FT 4th Feb 2018, The UK’s Hinkley Point C has become a critical test of developers’ ability to compete with cheap gas and renewables. Across an expanse of scarred earth the size of 250 football pitches beside the Bristol Channel in south-west England, 3,000 workers are building what will be, by some estimates, the most expensive structure on the planet.

At a cost of almost £20bn, the Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset is the first nuclear plant to be built in the UK since the 1990s. Clusters of cranes and cement silos loom over a warren of earthworks crawling with excavators and
100-tonne dumper trucks. At the centre of the site, foundations are taking shape for two 1.6 gigawatt reactors intended to meet 7 per cent of UK electricity demand, with a target for completion by the end of 2025.

Hinkley is crucial to UK energy security as the country faces the closure of old coal and nuclear plants accounting for about 40 per cent of the country’s reliable electricity generating capacity by 2030. But it also has wider significance as a test of the industry’s ability to compete in a rapidly changing energy landscape. Nuclear power has been under threat
since the meltdown at the Fukushima plant in Japan in 2011 revived safety fears.

But the biggest threat is now economic as the spiralling cost of building new reactors collides with a world of cheap and plentiful gas and renewable power. The UK is now one of the few western countries committed to renewing its ageing reactors. More than 70 per cent of the 448 reactors around the world are in the OECD club of wealthy nations, and more than half of them are at least 30 years old.

Many will reach the end of their operational lives in the next two decades, yet the prospects of replacing
them are uncertain, at best, in countries such as the US, Japan and France, while others including Germany, Switzerland and South Korea are planning to phase out nuclear power altogether. The days of networks dominated by a few large, centralised power stations are drawing to a close, according to many analysts. In their place will come more dispersed sources of renewable generation. Battery storage and digital “smart grid” technology will help smooth out supply and demand, and increase efficiency.

Tom Burke, chairman of E3G, an environmental think-tank, says there will be no room in this new world of flexible, decentralised generation for large, rigid nuclear reactors. “There are going to be increasingly frequent periods when we have too much power,” says Mr Burke. “But if you are the energy minister, how do you explain to people why you are having to switch off cheap renewables in order to use the much more expensive nuclear power which you have committed to pay for over the next 35 years?”

Progress at Hinkley, therefore, is being watched as closely in Beijing as in Paris and London. A repeat of the delays at Olkiluoto and Flamanville could sign the death warrant for western reactor developers, while dealing a setback for
China’s international expansion. Mr Rossi is aware of the high stakes: “We need to make sure that Britain will be happy about the choice it made.”  https://www.ft.com/content/8307c266-066b-11e8-9650-9c0ad2d7c5b5

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February 5, 2018 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK

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