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The collapse of Britain’s Moorside project shows that nuclear power has no real future

Moorside’s atomic dream was an illusion. Renewables are the future https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/nov/11/moorside-atomic-dream-illusion-renewables-are-the-future

The collapse of Toshiba’s project underlines the fact that new nuclear is a more unreliable proposition than wind and solar  Toshiba’s decision to pull out of building a nuclear power station in Cumbria last week will cause shockwaves far beyond the north-west of England.The outcome is a disaster for the surrounding area, which is heavily reliant on the nuclear industry for jobs and prosperity. Local politicians admit it is a blow and a disappointment for Cumbrians hoping for roles at the proposed Moorside plant. They say they genuinely believe a new buyer for the site will come forward. But that looks like wishful thinking.

To an extent, the demise of Moorside can be attributed to problems with it as a specific project. It has looked doomed since Toshiba’s US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, declared bankruptcy in 2017 and the company ruled out new nuclear investments outside of Japan. Efforts to woo the South Korean energy company Kepco as a buyer then floundered. The executive leading the sale for Toshiba blamed the failure to find a buyer on being “caught between a series of unplanned and uncontrollable events”.

But the end of Moorside is also emblematic of the wider challenges that new nuclear faces. It took a decade from Tony Blair signalling the UK’s renewed interest in nuclear power in 2006 for France’s EDF Energy and the British government to sign a generous subsidy deal and green-light Hinkley Point C, the UK’s first new nuclear plant in a generation. In all likelihood, it will not be generating electricity until 2027.

Ministers insist new nuclear power stations are still an essential way of hitting the country’s greenhouse gas emission targets and providing energy security as old plants are switched off in the 2020s.

Losing Moorside means there are just five other new nuclear projects planned, including Hinkley Point C. Eyes will now turn to Hitachi’s proposed Wylfa Newydd plant on Anglesey. The project is the furthest along the line after Hinkley, but it’s far from a done deal.

The new nuclear drive was meant to be solely funded by the private sector, but the government has already made a striking exception in the case of Wylfa. Ministers have promised Hitachi they will use public money to take a £5bn stake in the scheme. Such a dramatic U-turn on policy is explained by the fact that Wylfa is about more than the UK’s desire for new nuclear: it is also about cooperation with Tokyo and bringing forth other investment from Japanese firms, such as carmakers, after Brexit.

There is a pattern here. The subsidy deal for Hinkley was declared exceptional because it was the first new nuclear plant and the risk was loaded on to the developer. Now the second one will be exceptional too. What’s to say that the third, fourth and fifth will be any different?

The collapse of Moorside should be cause for the government to look again at whether it is backing the right horse by doggedly pursuing new nuclear. Even the government’s own advisers, the National Infrastructure Commission, are urging a rethink. Renewables, they point out, are simply less risky.

Ministers will probably invoke the spectre of missed climate-change targets to argue for nuclear. But the statutory advisers on those targets recently saidthe 2030 goal could be achieved with Hinkley alone.

The momentum is with renewables. The technology is becoming cheaper, investors view it as an increasingly safe bet and the need for subsidies is diminishing. Next year we will find out how much cheaper offshore wind, which has already halved in cost, can become in a new round of government auctions.

Ditching new nuclear would require a huge increase in the amount of wind and solar power already expected in coming years. It would need dramatic progress on energy storage, smarter grids and even more efficient use of energy. All those things will be difficult. But pursuing an impossible atomic dream, as Moorside demonstrates, looks even harder.

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November 12, 2018 - Posted by | general

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