8 reasons George Osborne needs to let Hinkley nuclear plant go

Posted by Richard Casson — 16 February 2016 at 4:03pm - Comments
by-nc. Credit: Samuel Keyte / Greenpeace

George Osborne wants to build a new nuclear plant in Somerset -- Hinkley Point C. If it goes ahead it’ll be the first nuclear power station to come online in the UK in 30 years.

But right now it’s increasingly looking like a big if. Because Hinkley is on the verge of becoming a national omnishambles. It’s suffered huge delays, safety concerns, and it’s clear the money could be far better spent. Here are eight reasons the Chancellor needs to #LetHinkleyGo.

1. The ‘unconstructable’ nuclear reactor

When Hinkley was first proposed in 2007, part of the Labour government’s sales pitch at the time was that it’d use a newfangled European Pressurized Reactor (EPR for short). Sounds appealing, right? Not so much. There are three sites where EPRs are under construction -- and all three are experiencing serious difficulties. One academic even described the type of reactor as ‘unconstructable’. Not exactly encouraging is it, George?

2. The cost is astronomical

Back in 2008 the cost of the two Hinkley reactors was put at a princely £5.6 billion. The price kept going up and by 2015 that was revised to £18 billion. And now there are rumours it could clock in at a whopping £24.5 billion. That’d make Hinkley (wait for it)... the single most expensive object on earth.

3. About that reactor again...

Even if Hinkley’s “unconstructable” reactor is actually constructed, there are further concerns over how safe it’ll be. In Flamanville, France -- where a power station with the same reactor design is being built -- construction has suffered huge setbacks because of ‘anomalies’ in the reactor steel vessel. You don’t have to be a nuclear expert to know that the word ‘anomalies’ is NOT a good word to hear when talking about the centrepiece of a fission reactor.

4. Does anybody even want it anymore?

Like a fading teenage romance, everyone seems to be falling out of love with Hinkley. The Daily Mail called it the biggest white elephant in Britain. Financial creditors and investors have warned against building Hinkley. And now there are rumours that within EDF (the French company that will build Hinkley’s reactor), some of the board members who oversee the running of the company have spoken out against the project. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (see here for a long list of newspaper articles opposing the Hinkley deal).

5. Onshore wind is already cheaper (and soon solar will be too)

The world of energy is changing. The cost of wind power and solar energy are falling fast and will only drop more in the future. Meanwhile, analysts have calculated that providing electricity from onshore wind would work out cheaper than Hinkley -- even with the costs of providing for backup when the wind doesn’t blow. Meanwhile the construction costs for Hinkley only seem to go one direction -- upwards.

6. It’s already 8 YEARS overdue

When Hinkley was first announced, we were told that electricity generated by the power station would be ‘cooking Christmas turkeys by 2017’. But then the operational date was pushed back to 2018. A few months later it became 2019. Last autumn EDF admitted it’ll be more like 2023... until they changed their mind and announced it’ll be even later. Contrast this with the London Array - the world's largest offshore wind farm - which took less than three years to build, and it makes Hinkley look like the Christmas turkey.

7. We could be forced to pick up the cost

With all the delays and setbacks, some are starting to wonder if Hinkley could get canned completely. If it doesn’t go to plan, who will pick up the cost? The answer -- taxpayers will. The funding mechanism the government put in place means that if Hinkley is abandoned, or doesn’t work when completed, UK citizens could be required to shell out a stonking £17 billion to French and Chinese backers to cover their costs.

8. The (not so) little matter of nuclear waste

We are nowhere near finding a storage solution for our existing nuclear waste, never mind future nuclear waste produced by Hinkley. It will take approximately 35 years to build a nuclear ‘storage solution’ (read: bury it underground). And even if it goes ahead soon the waste fuel from Hinkley would not be dealt with until near the end of the 22nd century. So far nobody knows where that will be or how it will happen. 

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