On Wednesday, the news arrived that a decision on constructing a European Pressurised reactor at Hinkley point has been delayed, again. The board of EDF was supposed to meet to make a final decision, but the meeting was delayed due to further concerns over funding.
The delay was debated on Newsnight by the former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Sir Ed Davey and Green peer Jenny Jones. Baroness Jones argued that Hinkley would be the most expensive power plant on earth and nuclear is not a solution but a problem. Ed Davey countered that nuclear is cheaper than lots of renewables and very good value if compared with the cost of the pollution from gas and coal.
With the news of today, it is understandable for nuclear’s credentials to be called into debate. However, it is important to note that Hinkley is not the whole of the UK’s nuclear programme. There are two other large nuclear reactor proposals undergoing regulatory assessment: an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) at Wylfa and an AP1000 at Moorside. In addition, there are many academic research programmes ongoing across the country, with new developments soon to follow the Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement in November of £250 million R&D funding for small modular reactors and advanced nuclear. Thus even if Hinkley continues to be delayed, nuclear can still make progress.
It is also important to remember why nuclear should be pursued. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s recent report argued the necessity for nuclear as part of a portfolio of low-carbon energy technologies. The presenter on Newsnight, Evan Davis, picked holes in Jenny Jones’s anti-nuclear plan, asking about providing all current electricity without nuclear as well as heat and automobiles and criticising her ideas to run the UK on food waste and to continue the use of gas (a fossil fuel). As Ed Davey said, “if you are concerned about climate change, you should not take a low carbon energy off the table”.
The policy editor of Newsnight Chris Cook, had said in a film before the discussion that there are three key objectives of UK energy policy. The first is to make sure there is enough electricity to meet demand, even if demand increases as it is expected to do in the coming decades. The second is to decarbonise the energy sector and the third is to achieve the first two objectives without unnecessarily increasing bills. To do this, we need a diverse supply of low-carbon energy, an “all of the above” approach or as Ed Davey said, “all low carbon options on the table”.
Weinberg Next Nuclear do not believe that nuclear should be pursued at any cost. An EPR at Hinkley may or may not be a good investment but if the expected price continues to rise, it is probably not a good investment. But that is not a reason to oppose all types of nuclear reactors. The ABWR and AP1000 are more straightforward reactor designs, so would be cheaper to construct and Generation IV reactors and Small Modular Reactors will very probably be cheaper still. Thus there are many other options to pursue, and they need to be pursued in order to contribute to a sustainable, low carbon future.