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Opposition Grows to UK Government Subsidy For Hinkley Nuclear Power Station

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With governments around the world thinking about reducing carbon emissions, the UK Government recently announced it would subsidise the proposed Hinkley C nuclear power station near Somerset, in the South West of England.

Many people are not happy with government subsidising nuclear power at all, and in particular, huge public subsidies for the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, known as Hinkley C.

Energy Fair, a group opposed to nuclear power, called on EU Commissioner Joaquin Almunia to open a formal investigation for breaches of competition law. They see no valid justification for subsidising nuclear power.

hinkley point power station
The Western End of Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Station and the Hinkley Point headland, south west England.
Photo: Richard Baker

As the cost of renewable energy falls, even one of the most expensive, offshore wind, is still less expensive than nuclear, which is the reason nuclear power needs large subsidies. The fact that it takes around 17 years to build a nuclear power plant means that the nuclear plant produces no power for all of that time, and back in the real world, the cost of renewables is likely to fall even further, but the nuclear pricing is locked in.

Energy Fair recently sent an open letter to Commissioner Almunia. The letter, signed by a number of elected politicians, prominent individuals and organisations, sets out the many issues they have with nuclear power, and subsidising it with public money.

Gerry Wolff, a member of Energy Fair, who writes about renewable energy, says the group has received more than 100 letters of endorsement for the Open Letter. These endorsements will be passed to the Commissioner.

Here is the open letter to EU Commissioner Joaquin Almunia:

OPEN LETTER TO COMMISSIONER JOAQUÍN ALMUNIA, EU COMMISSIONER FOR COMPETITION

Dear Commissioner Almunia,

No valid justification for subsidising nuclear power

In connection with the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in south-west England (reut.rs/1fPaYlx), I'm writing to urge you to oppose the new subsidies for the project that are proposed by the UK government and also existing subsidies for nuclear operators (details below). Please open a formal investigation into this project and associated subsidies.

There is no valid justification for subsidising nuclear power. It diverts resources from other options that are altogether better and cheaper. For reasons given below, nuclear subsidies are bad for energy security, bad for the fight against climate change, bad financially for consumers and taxpayers in the UK, and bad for the development, throughout Europe, of the good alternatives which are ready to go, cheaper than nuclear power, and very much quicker to build.

Here are the main reasons:

  • Nuclear power is a mature technology that should not require any subsidy. Subsidies are for newer technologies that are still finding their feet commercially.
  • Contrary to what the UK government suggests:
    • Nuclear power is a hindrance, not a help, in ensuring security of energy supplies:
      • Like all kinds of equipment, nuclear power stations can and do fail. Failure of a nuclear power station is normally very disruptive on the grid because a relatively large amount of electricity is lost, often quite suddenly and with little warning.
      • By contrast, variations in the output of renewables are much easier to manage because they are gradual and predictable. There are several techniques for managing that kind of variation and also variations in the demand for electricity (see bit.ly/I4E5vr). The supposed problem of intermittency in renewables is overplayed.
      • Nuclear power lacks the flexibility needed for balancing supply and demand on the grid.
      • Contrary to popular belief, nuclear plants are not "always on", 24/7. Apart from unscheduled failures, nuclear power stations often operate at reduced capacity or are taken out of service for routine maintenance.

    • Nuclear power is a poor means of plugging the supposed "energy gap" or "keeping the lights on":
      • Nuclear plants are notoriously slow to build: they can take 17 years or more to complete. (see bit.ly/1a7idjS, p. 4).
      • In general, renewables can be built very much faster.
      • There is good evidence for a superabundance of renewable sources of energy (see bit.ly/9MKP5i).
      • There are now many reports showing how to decarbonise the world's economies without using nuclear power (see bit.ly/wRQ8ro).

    • Nuclear power is a poor means of cutting emissions. Peer-reviewed research shows that the nuclear cycle produces between 9 and 25 times more CO2 than wind power (see bit.ly/1afpW06). Other renewables also have much lower emissions than nuclear power.
    • Taking account of all subsidies, nuclear power is much more expensive than the clean and safe alternatives and likely to remain so in the future:
      • Withdrawal of just one of the present subsidies for nuclear power (the cap on liabilities) would raise the price of new-build nuclear electricity to at least £200 per MWh, substantially more than the unsubsidised cost of offshore wind power (about £140 per MWh), itself considered to be one of the more expensive kinds of renewable energy (see bit.ly/KisjOT).
      • The cost of renewables is falling. Greg Barker MP, UK Minister of State for Climate Change, has said (bit.ly/19YlI8W) "There is the potential for solar power to become competitive with fossil fuels without subsidy within the lifetime of this parliament [ie before May 2015]". This trend is confirmed by other sources of evidence. When that tipping point is reached, there is likely to be explosive growth in solar power. The cost of other renewables is also falling.
      • In view of the falling cost of renewables, the proposed "contracts for difference" for nuclear power is likely to be a permanent large subsidy for nuclear power throughout the proposed 35 years of the contract.

    • There are many acceptable options for siting wind and solar power plants, including wind farms out at sea (where costs are coming down), and solar plants on factory roofs and in association with roads and railways. There is also great potential for importing solar power from southern Europe and beyond, and wind power from Ireland or continental Europe.

  • In addition, renewables, with conservation of energy:
    • Provide more flexibility than nuclear power;
    • Provide diversity in energy supplies;
    • Are largely free of the several problems with nuclear power (bit.ly/1bScDSg), including the significant risk of nuclear disaster and the still-unsolved problem of what to do with long-lived nuclear waste.

    Evidence in support of these points is in the web page "Opportunity cost" (bit.ly/KisjOT).

    Existing subsidies for nuclear power, all of which would be available for the Hinkley Point project, are described in "Nuclear Subsidies" (PDF, bit.ly/1bSgGhx). One of the largest of these is the cap on liabilities for nuclear disasters.

    Proposed new subsidies are chiefly the "contracts for difference" and government guarantees against the financial risks of building new nuclear plants. (see also "Subsidies for nuclear power in the UK government's proposals for electricity market reform", PDF, bit.ly/1de3BTE).

    Subsidies for nuclear power have the effect of diverting resources away from technologies which are cheaper than nuclear power and altogether more effective as a means of meeting our energy needs and cutting emissions.

    In terms of competition within the EU, state aid for nuclear power in the UK is entirely at odds with the coming single market for electricity in the EU and with the principle that there should be free movement of goods and services throughout the region. It is bad for the development, throughout Europe, of the good, effective alternatives - renewables with conservation of energy - which are ready to go, cheaper than nuclear power, and very much quicker to build.

    Please oppose state aid for nuclear power in the UK or anywhere else in the EU. Please open a formal investigation into the proposed Hinkley Point project and associated subsidies.

    With thanks,

    Martin Caton MP, www.martin-caton.co.uk

    Jill Evans MEP, www.jillevans.net/jill_evans_english.html

    Bethan Jenkins AM, www.partyofwales.org/bethan-jenkins-am

    Caroline Lucas MP, www.carolinelucas.com

    Mike MacKenzie MSP, www.snp.org/people/mike-mackenzie

    John McDonnell MP, www.john-mcdonnell.net

    Senator David Norris, www.senatordavidnorris.ie

    Franz Obermayr MEP, bit.ly/1cKYDcV

    Niccolò Rinaldi MEP, www.niccolorinaldi.it

    Margaret Ritchie MP, www.margaretritchie.com

    Michèle Rivasi MEP europeangreens.eu/people/michèle-rivasi

    Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, www.rhodriglynthomas.org

    Britta Thomsen MEP, www.brittathomsen.dk

    Dr Abhishek Agarwal, senior lecturer, energy strategy, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, www.rgu.ac.uk/abhishek-agarwal

    Dr Ruth Balogh, nuclear issues campaigner, W Cumbria & N Lakes Friends of the Earth

    Professor Keith Barnham, emeritus professor of physics, Imperial College London, bit.ly/1aZUEq6

    Marianne Birkby, Radiation Free Lakeland, mariannewildart.wordpress.com

    Professor Andy Blowers, chair, Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group, co-chair, DECC/NGO Nuclear Forum bit.ly/18vjFj4

    Paul Brown, editor, Climate News Network, www.climatenewsnetwork.net

    Shaun Burnie, member, Nuclear Consulting Group, www.nuclearconsult.com

    John Busby, The Busby Report, www.after-oil.co.uk

    Councillor Mark Dearey, all Ireland forum chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, nfznsc.gn.apc.org

    Paul Dorfman, coordinator, Nuclear Consulting Group, www.nuclearconsult.com

    Jill Gough, CND Cymru, www.cndcymru.org

    Councillor Mark Hackett, NFLA steering committee and UK chair, Nuclear Free Local Authorities, nfznsc.gn.apc.org

    Reg Illingworth, Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy, www.shepperdineagainstnuclearenergy.org.uk

    Velizar Kiriakov, Association of Producers of Ecological Energy, www.apee.bg

    Dr Fulcieri Maltini, FM Consultants Associates

    Charlotte Mijeon, international relations representative for Sortir du Nucléaire, www.sortirdunucleaire.org

    Professor Ian Miles, professor of technological innovation and social change, University of Manchester, research.mbs.ac.uk/innovation

    Dylan Morgan, PAWB, Pobl Atal Wylfa B/People Against Wylfa B, stop-wylfa.org

    Jouni Nissinen, head of environmental policy unit, The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation (FANC), www.sll.fi/site-actions/english

    Dr Stuart Parkinson, executive director, Scientists for Global Responsibility, www.sgr.org.uk

    David Polden, Kick Nuclear, stopnuclearpoweruk.net/groups/kicknuclear

    Sir Jonathon Porritt CBE, founder director, Forum for the Future, www.forumforthefuture.org

    Peter Roche, coordinator, No2NuclearPower and MicrogenScotland.org.uk, www.no2nuclearpower.org.uk, www.microgenscotland.org.uk

    Ornella Saibene, Nikki Clark, South West Against Nuclear, southwestagainstnuclear.wordpress.com

    Heffa Schücking, coordinator, Urgewald, urgewald.org

    Oliver Tickell, coordinator, Nuclear Pledge, www.nuclearpledge.com

    Dale Vince, founder and managing director, Ecotricity, www.ecotricity.co.uk

    Andrew Warren, director, Association for the Conservation of Energy, www.ukace.org

    Pete Wilkinson, Wilkinson Environmental Consulting Ltd, www.nuclearwasteadvisory.co.uk

    Susanne Wixforth, economic policies department, AK Wien, wien.arbeiterkammer.at

    Dr Gerry Wolff, coordinator, Energy Fair www.energyfair.org.uk


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