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Does UK nuclear energy have any future? The industry has big doubts

Ministers challenged on future of UK nuclear energy
Industry dogged by doubts about China and rise of renewables calls for clarity,, Harry Dempsey in Somerset and David Sheppard in London 31 Jul 20, 

 The head of construction at the UK’s first nuclear power plant in three decades has challenged the government to decide whether “it wants nuclear or not” as ministers prepare to publish a new energy policy later this year and uncertainty hangs over China’s continued involvement in the sensitive sector. EDF, the French developer of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, is racing to meet its target of generating electricity by 2025 as it seeks to bolster the case for a new fleet of nuclear plants   …
In recent years, an ambitious plan to build a new generation of reactors across the UK has begun to unravel as two of the world’s leading nuclear engineering groups — Japan’s Toshiba and Hitachi — backed away from their projects. That left just two schemes — Hinkley and Sizewell — led by EDF with its partner China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), which is proposing a third plant at Bradwell in Essex.
“The government needs to decide if it wants nuclear or not,” said Stuart Crooks, managing director of Hinkley Point C. “If it doesn’t want nuclear, no amount of financing will make it happen,” he said, referring to a continuing debate about how to finance any future nuclear plant.  ….
EDF has finished the base for the station’s second reactor. In the coming months, the world’s largest crane, dubbed “Big Carl”, will lift giant prefabricated steel containment structures into place and fill the bases with equipment and piping in critical steps towards building the reactors.
But the coronavirus pandemic has forced EDF to reverse plans to expand its workforce on-site to 6,000; instead, at the height of the UK’s lockdown, it fell to 2,000. Worker numbers have since returned to 4,500 split over two shifts but productivity is as much as 20 per cent lower because of social distancing restrictions.
On Thursday, EDF warned of a “high” risk of further delays, which could push back first power generation until 2027. Speaking earlier in the week, Mr Crooks said disruptions caused by coronavirus at supplier factories, which are running at 50 per cent of output on average, were the biggest risk to the schedule. The French state-controlled utility, which operates all of the UK’s eight nuclear power stations, faces another serious challenge however.
  CGN, its partner in the project, has come under intense scrutiny as relations between London and Beijing deteriorate over Hong Kong and the ban on Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei from supplying new equipment to the UK’s 5G network. The Chinese state-owned company is providing a third of the financing on Hinkley and EDF has repeatedly denied that staff from the Chinese state-backed company pose a threat to UK national security.  ……..
  confidence [ in the Chinese technicians] is unlikely to be shared by some in the ruling Conservative party who want China out of the UK’s nuclear programme. The UK government is also under growing pressure from Washington, which has become increasingly hostile towards the Chinese government. In 2018 the US warned London it believed CGN was involved in the transfer of civilian nuclear technology for military uses…….
  there are growing calls from hawkish Tory MPs to reject CGN’s plans for a nuclear plant at Bradwell, on the Essex coast, using Chinese reactor technology. That has stoked fears that the state-owned group could withhold further investment in Hinkley in retaliation. That could derail the project and stymie any future UK nuclear plants as well as harm EDF’s international nuclear ambitions.  ………
 The nuclear industry has struggled to regain its footing in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the few new-build projects in other developed countries, such as France, have also been hit by extensive delays and spiralling costs.
  Advances in renewable energy technology have further put nuclear on the back foot as the price of solar and wind generation falls. “The nuclear industry is under pressure from a reputational perspective,” said Mr Buckland. “It’s under the microscope at the moment.” Beyond the diplomatic dispute with China, the building of any further nuclear plants in the UK will need a viable funding mechanism. One option is that consumers would effectively take on the risk by paying in advance through their electricity bills.  ……….

August 1, 2020 - Posted by | business and costs, politics, UK

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