Black Tuesday blights Brown's nuclear vision

Posted by jossc — 29 May 2008 at 11:32am - Comments

Major ongoing problems at Sellafield have been hidden from the public

Sellafield: major ongoing problems have been hidden from the public

Yesterday, Gordon Brown felt compelled to go on the record to announce that the UK needs to not only maintain but to increase its nuclear power capacity. And yet the nuclear industry is not exactly hale and hearty because, let's face it, it's been a terrible week for the poor dears.

Hot on the heels of the news that construction of France's new flagship reactor had been halted due to safety concerns came a series of other body blows, including a large projected increase in future decommissioning costs, the unexplained shutdown of the Sizewell B reactor, and British Energy's profits fell by almost a third. The bad news just kept on coming as a new book challenged Sellafield's ability to deal with future nuclear waste, an American study reported huge increases in construction costs, and another reactor shut down unexpectedly yesterday - this time at Hunterston in Scotland. The full litany reads as follows:

  • Last week the French nuclear safety agency brought construction of the new EPR reactor at Flamanville, France, to a halt only six months after work first began. The EPR is the same type of reactor that is proposed to be built in the UK.
  • On Tuesday, a senior director at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) said that the bill for cleaning up Britain's 19 ageing nuclear facilities, including some described as "dangerous", would be billions of pounds more than the £73 billion estimated by the National Audit Office in January (itself a massive increase on their previous estimate of £50 billion).
  • Also on Tuesday Britain's main nuclear operator, British Energy (BE), reported a 32 per cent decline in profits over the past year after a string of shutdowns and maintenance problems led to the loss of almost a quarter of its generating capacity.
  • And finally, yesterday Scotland's Hunterston B7 reactor shut down around 2pm. BE is investigating the cause, but said that it was too early to say how long the plant might be closed for. The closure meant 10 of BE's 16 nuclear generation units were not working yesterday afternoon.

So not good news on the nuclear front then, to say the least. And yet why is Mr Brown clinging doggedly to the idea of a nuclear future? The best guess here is that with BE being made as ready as possible for sale, the PM was engaged in a clumsy attempt to talk up the company's share price.

If that was the case he's unlikely to succeed - the nuclear industry will need more than a puff from the PM to shake off a woeful few days that must be shaking investor confidence in this outdated technology. In fact, given his plummeting popularity you could argue that his 'vote of confidence' was tantamount to putting yet another nail in the industry's coffin.

About Joss

Bass player and backing vox in the four piece beat combo that is the UK Greenpeace Web Experience. In my 6 years here I've worked on almost every campaign and been fascinated by them all to varying degrees. Just now I'm working on Peace and Oceans - which means getting rid of our Trident nuclear weapons system and creating large marine reserves so that marine life can get some protection from overfishing.

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