Posts Tagged EDF

Open letter to Greg Clark on Hinkley

Posted by Stephen Tindale on July 29th, 2016

Greg Clark MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

29 July 2016

Dear Greg

Congratulations on your appointment to run BEIS. I welcome the creation of the new department (see And it is great to have you back working on energy and climate change.

I also welcome your decision to review the Hinkley Point C proposal, following yesterday’s Final Investment Decision by EDF. The UK needs new nuclear power stations, for energy security and climate action reasons. Britain needs to send a clear message that we are ‘open for business’ post-referendum. And there is a strong need for greater policy and regulatory stability on energy and climate matters going forward. But none of these reasons require you to implement decisions inherited from the Cameron/Osborne government without proper consideration.

It is quite possible – indeed very sensible – to be pro-nuclear without supporting all forms of nuclear technology. The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) is a complicated reactor design. Construction of EPRs in Finland and France is proving very problematic; construction in China seems to be going better, but is also taking longer than planned. You should consider whether the delays and difficulties are due to these being the first constructions of a new reactor design, or whether they are caused by the complexity of the EPR design. I recommend that you consult professor Wade Allison, Emeritus Professor of Physics at Keble College, Oxford. Wade strongly supports nuclear energy, but thinks that the complexity of the design means that an EPR will never be built on time or on budget.

You should also question whether it is consistent with national security to have Chinese state-owned companies involved in UK nuclear infrastructure. Given Nick Timothy’s comments on this (, I am very confident that you will.

If you decide against signing the Hinkley contract with EDF, I recommend that you accompany the announcement with two other statements to emphasise that nuclear energy has a future in the UK. First, a statement that a decision against Hinkley does not represent any change in the Government’s approach to nuclear more widely. You should highlight and welcome the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s plan to deliver decisions on the Generic Design Assessments for Wylfa and Moorside in 2017. Second, confirmation that the £250 million over five years for nuclear innovation, promised by George Osborne in last year’s Autumn Statement, will be delivered, and that the £30 million Small Modular Reactor competition will continue.

Nuclear energy should be an important part of a decarbonised energy system. But it will not be all of it. Continued expansion of installed renewable capacity is essential. Energy efficiency measures to replace the Green Deal are urgently required. And the Government should re-engage with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

George Osborne’s cancellation of the CCS competition was a serious error, undermining investor confidence and leaving the UK facing either higher costs or dependence on technology imports to reach the carbon budgets. The Committee on Climate Change has been clear about the importance of CCS. Restarting UK activity in this area would make financial sense, and also demonstrate that a decision against Hinkley did not represent any lessening of your commitment to decarbonisation.

Good luck.

Stephen Tindale




Why I have joined the Alvin Weinberg Foundation

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 4th, 2015

“I cannot really complain too much about solar utopians: their dreams are noble and ought to be encouraged. On the other hand, when these dreams of solar utopia are used as political instruments to eliminate the nuclear option, I believe it is most important to object.”

Alvin Weinberg, ‘Toward an acceptable nuclear future’, 1977.

I am a former renewable energy utopian – though, since I live in the UK, I am more excited about wind power than I am about solar. I spent 20 years campaigning against nuclear, the last 5 of them as head of Greenpeace UK. I protested outside nuclear power stations. Then I realised that I had been wrong; that renewable energy cannot expand quickly enough to phase out fossil fuels and protect the climate. I concluded that opposition to nuclear power is not compatible with any attempt to control climate change. And, because many of my former colleagues in green groups were continuing with anti-nuclear campaigns, I too felt that it was important to object. So for the last 6 years I have been speaking out in favour of nuclear power, and was delighted last month to start working for the Alvin Weinberg Foundation.

Alvin Weinberg was not only a world-renowned nuclear scientist, but also one of the world’s first climate campaigners. He warned of the dangers of increased carbon dioxide concentrations in the 1970s; over a decade before James Hansen’s historic Congressional evidence in 1988. (That is not in any way intended to downplay Hansen’s immense contribution to climate science or, indeed, to campaigning.) Weinberg also spoke out against the dangers of technology tribalism. We need to use every tool to mitigate the climate and energy crises. We do not need nuclear or renewables; we need nuclear and renewables. That is even more strongly the case today in 2015 than it was in the 1970s.

In the 1977 paper quoted above, Weinberg speaks of the need “to set the nuclear ship back on course”. Thirty -eight years later, it definitely needs to be set back on course again, particularly in Europe. The European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) that is supposed to be constructed in the UK may well get abandoned; EDF have not yet taken a final investment decision, and the EPRs being built in France and Finland are well over time and over budget. The latest in a long line of problems is that Areva have used the wrong type of steel at the EPR site in France, and the steel is already encased in concrete.

The EPR is a very complex design. Other existing nuclear reactor designs (so-called generation 3 or 3+) are less complex and need to be built, because they are proven, demonstrated and ready to go. However, more advanced designs must also be researched, developed and demonstrated. This should include both Integral Fast Reactors and Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs), the technology which Weinberg himself pioneered at Oak Ridge in the 1960s. MSRs have many potential benefits over current nuclear reactors:

* The plant can operate at near atmospheric pressure. The fuel salt used in MSRs has no chemical reactivity with air or water. So MSRs cannot explode.

* The liquid salt returns to a solid form at ambient temperatures. This, combined with installed passive safety systems, would automatically shut down advanced reactors avoiding future situations like  Fukushima and Chernobyl.

* Some advanced reactors could be fuelled by existing nuclear waste from conventional nuclear reactors. This ‘waste’ still contains over 90% of the energy that was in the uranium, so can be used many times as fuel. At the end of the process these advanced reactors would still produce some waste, but much less by volume than the waste produced by a conventional nuclear plant.

* Certain next-generation reactors can use plutonium as fuel. The UK has the world’s largest stockpile of plutonium, a result of two decades of reprocessing and failure to use mixed-oxide (Mox) fuel.

* Advanced reactors could be very fuel efficient – up to 75 times more electricity per ton of fuel than an out-dated conventional light-water reactor.

*Next generation reactors could be designed to be small and modular (producing up to 300 megawatts) which would suit power needs in remote locations. Compact versions of MSRs could be built in a central factory and assembled on site. This would reduce costs.

* Modular reactors could be constructed adjacent to industrial sites so that waste heat from the reactor could be used for heat-intensive processes such as desalination or the production of aluminium, cement, ammonia and synthesised fuels.

* Some advanced reactors are ideally suited to the sustainable production of medical isotopes, used for scans and to treat cancer. These isotopes are currently in short supply.

* Most next generation reactors would use approximately 97% less water than conventional nuclear reactors.

The Alvin Weinberg Foundation is committed to highlighting these benefits, to politicians and the public, and seeing the potential of advanced nuclear power realised. There are companies seeking to build prototype MSRs in the UK. If the EPR is abandoned, a sensible reaction by the new British government would be to support an advanced nuclear technology demonstration project in the UK.

In Britain, the true meaning of ‘new’ nuclear

Posted by Mark Halper on March 4th, 2013

Nuclear warning. Member of Parliament Tim Yeo says that Britain needs to do more than just “cross its fingers” if it is to get the nuclear power it needs to meet climate goals.

If you’re a supporter of nuclear power, then you’ll probably like the warning issued today by the UK Parliament’s House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee.

And if you’re a fan of alternative nuclear technologies like thorium fuel, molten salt reactors and fast reactors, you’ll probably appreciate the nod the committee gave to alternative forms of nuclear. But you might be left wondering when the nod might turn into a more vigorous, positive shaking of the head up and down.

First, a quick review for those of you not following the blow-by-blow travails of nuclear power in Britain: Nuclear currently supplies about 18 percent of the UK’s electricity, and has a capacity of about 10 gigawatts.  However, all but one of the country’s nuclear plants are scheduled to close by 2023. The government wants a new fleet of nuclear stations that would have a capacity of about 16 gigawatts by 2025


The problem is, the UK privatized its energy sector a long time ago, so the government no longer outright builds these plants itself. That’s the job of companies like France’s EDF, Japan’s Hitachi, and other candidates – Chinese, Russian or Canadian companies could play a role, as could, theoretically others.

Generally speaking, these companies are balking at the chance to invest the billions of pounds required to build a nuclear plant. The closest to committing at the moment is EDF, which says it’s “shovel ready” with two new reactors totaling over 3.3 gigawatts at the Hinkley Point site in southwest England, where costs are estimated at around £14 billion ($21 billion)  – £7 billion ($10.5 billion) for each reactor.

But EDF is waiting for guarantees from the government that it will receive a minimum amount in electricity fees – believed to be around £100 per megawatt hour once it starts operating – a condition that many critics say represents an illegal “subsidy.”

With those challenges in the way, the House committee, chaired by Member of Parliament Tim Yeo, today effectively warned the country to get its act together and build the 16 gigawatts of nuclear by 2025.

Otherwise, it warned of  falling well short of its national commitment to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

“Without these power stations, it will be extremely difficult to meet our low-carbon obligations, and potentially more expensive too,” the committee stated in its report, Building New Nuclear: the challenges ahead.  “A failure to deliver nuclear new build would pose less of a threat to energy security, but there could be some indirect security risks as a result, such as increased reliance on imported gas.”


The committee accused Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of merely “crossing its fingers” and hoping that private industry comes up with the nuclear goods.

Crossing one’s fingers is not an adequate or responsible approach when the UK’s legally binding climate change commitments and energy security are at stake,” the report stated.  “For a department whose principal priorities are to ensure energy security and carbon reductions, DECC appears to be overly reliant on aspiration and hope. While we share the Minister’s hope that new build will be delivered as planned, we nevertheless recommend that DECC begins exploring contingency options as a matter of urgency.”

Those “contingencies”, or the “Plan B” as the media was calling it today, would include energy efficiency and other energy sources.

We shouldn’t really have to talk about “contingencies.” And some of those Plan B  measures – energy efficiency and a reasonable mix of renewables – should certainly  be part of an energy future – and one that includes a solid dose of nuclear.

But the committee warned that Britain’s nuclear future sits on its own version of a fiscal cliff, because “if this tranche of new nuclear projects is not successful, it could undermine investor confidence in the sector, making it difficult (or impossible) to finance any subsequent attempts at nuclear build.”


That could, in turn, spell disaster, for any significant research and development of the type of nuclear technologies that ought to really carry the country’s nuclear future – alternatives like thorium, molten salt reactors, pebble bed reactors and fast reactors. Between them, they offer a bevy of advantages over the behemoth conventional water cooled, solid uranium fueled reactors that will cost an estimated $10.5 billion each at Hinkley Point.

I’ve enumerated these benefits many times here on the Weinberg blog, so I’ll simply summarize them now. Each offers some degree of: safer, meltdown proof, more efficient, of producing less waste, of using existing waste as fuel, and of being less expensive. Most of them fit readily into smaller “modular” forms that cut manufacturing costs and make it more affordable for utilities to add power incrementally.

Today’s Commons report acknowledges that thorium molten salt reactors and pebble bed reactors could start making energy contributions after 2030. It acknowledges that fast reactors such as General Electric Hitachi’s PRISM could burn existing nuclear waste. But it pretty much discounts all three from the current discussion for the reasons that they are not getting funding, are not yet ready or not yet commercialized.

It is good to see these alternatives entering the mainstream nuclear discussion in Parliament. It is discouraging to see them pushed to the margins for what feels like convenient, self-defeating reasons. The current challenge of funding nuclear in Britain is an opportunity to shout loudly about these alternatives, to help rebrand nuclear and win over public support.

As I reported last month, a separate government report, due out this month by top scientists including the chief government scientific adviser Sir John Beddington, is expected to encourage the alternatives.

It is phrases like “thorium” and “molten salt”  – not “$10.5 billion giant reactor” – that should start to define “new nuclear.”

Image from via

A government report expected soon on nuclear research and development strategy could help spread the word about alternative nuclear through the long halls of Parliament.

Things got a bit feisty earlier this week in committee room 19 of Britain’s Houses of Parliament, where vocal supporters and opponents pulled no punches as they debated the country’s nuclear power future.

“I just can’t bear all this dodging and ducking and diving – it’s frankly treating us all as if we’re fools,” declared Caroline Lucas, a Green Party MP. She accused the Tory/Liberal Democrat coalition government of a masquerade  that would provide subsidies to the nuclear industry including French utility EDF, despite the government’s assurances that it won’t subsidize nuclear.

“This, frankly, as a proposition, stinks,” agreed Tom Burke, a visiting professor at University College London’s Centre for Law and Environment, and founding director of sustainability think tank E3G.

Both Lucas and Burke were referring to measures in the government’s proposed Energy Bill aimed at assuring sustainable power. Burke lambasted the government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) not only over likely subsidy violations, but also for a duplicitous role in which, he said, DECC is supporting nuclear by betting on rising energy prices while actively trying to drive down prices through a program called the Green Deal.


Lucas, Burke and other critics assailed the government and EDF for negotiating behind closed doors – a practice Burke suggested was unconstitutional. DECC and EDF are discussing  a “strike price” – a guaranteed rate that EDF would receive for electricity from two new nuclear reactors it is ready to build at the Hinkley Point site in southwest England – under the proposed Energy Bill and its “contracts for difference” provision. It is this strike price that many say constitutes a subsidy, in violation of EU law that prevents state aid to nuclear. The government desperately wants the reactors. EDF says it won’t proceed until it has assurances.

For their part, DECC and EDF couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about.

Memory lane. Ed Davey, Secretary of State for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change,         strolls through Dounreay, a decommissioned reactor in Scotland, last October. Davey, second from left, is pushing for price guarantees for nuclear. As he walks toward the future, he should also keep an eye on alternative nuclear technologies like thorium and molten salt reactors.

Hergen Haye, DECC’s head of new nuclear and strategy, called the discussions with EDF “legally robust” and said that Parliament will have a chance to fully review the Energy Bill’s proposals for electricity market reform once details like the strike price are worked out, and that the public will be able to scrutinize it.

But Haye said that at the current juncture, “What you don’t do is obviously have negotiations back at the tea hall with the public.  That doesn’t’ work for commercial reasons. We would never ever come to any conclusion.”

The strike price will also hold up to EU subsidy laws, he said.


Likewise, Nigel Knee, EDF’s head of nuclear policy noted that the so-called contract for difference has to be “robust” and has to provide “confidence to investors that there will be a return.” And, he added, “It’s not about subsidy. We’re shovel ready (at Hinkley Point). We’d like to see the legislation finished so that we can make the financial commitments.”

And so on and so on went the back-and-forth debate, which you’re probably assuming was a meeting of the energy committee or of some nuclear power subcommittee within Parliament.


This was a gathering put together by the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group, which invited speakers to present on the pros and cons of nuclear, and on the nuclear aspects of the government’s Energy Bill. (It was co-organized by a group called the Nuclear Consulting Group, which, despite its name, comprises members from the nuclear and renewables industry, including anti-nuclear individuals, and which at the time of this writing was prominently featuring pictures of wind turbines on its website).

Of course nothing was settled in the lively hour steered deftly by chairwoman MP Joan Walley, who is also chair of the Environmental Audit Select Committee, which looks after environmental protection. But one of several things that impressed me among the intermittently compelling and convenient arguments by both sides was that this donnybrook was hosted not by the energy crowd per se, but by those tending to the scourge of climate change.

In other words, nuclear keeps escalating in the “low carbon future” discussion, joining the mindshare that solar and wind and other renewables have traditionally occupied. It reminded me of how environmental group Greenpeace applauded last autumn when the heads of Britain’s nuclear, renewables and carbon capture industry groups joined together to insist that the government write low carbon measures into its then unpublished Energy Bill.


“Climate change is really the central interest of this All Party Parliamentary Group. We’re all here because we’re interested and conerned about climate change,” EDF’s Knee reminded everyone.

“I agree with Nigel about one thing,” said E3G’s Burke, a former Friends of the Earth executive director and an environmental adviser to mining giant Rio Tinto. “Energy policy is our climate policy. My problem is if we get the wrong energy policy we have the wrong climate policy. And I think where he and his company want to take us gives us the wrong energy.”

And plunge we did back into the debate, which for many simply boiled down to nuclear vs. no nuclear.  (Not so simply for the Liberal Democrats, I should add.  As Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes told the gathering, “We are a party opposed to nuclear.” That’s a paradox, to say the least, for a party that’s part of the governing coalition that’s pushing for eight new nuclear plants. And it is a Liberal Democrat, Ed Davey, who heads DECC and is overseeing the Energy Bill and the nuclear strike price proceedings. Some opposition.)

The packed room grilled EDF’s Knee and DECC’s Haye about how they were going to assure safe handling and storage of nuclear waste, and how they were going to pay for it. Lydia Meryll from the Socialist Environment and Resources Association, a Labour Party affiliated group, pointed out that nuclear decommissioning already takes up more than half of DECC’s annual budget.

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, questioned the competence of EDF, citing huge cost and schedule overruns at the company’s reactor construction site in Flamanville, France, where an originally five year, €3.3 billion project is now estimated at nine years and €8.5 billion.

All good and fair questions.


But what all the back and forth really failed to address was a third way, and one that could bridge the gap between the “for” and “against” crowd: Alternative nuclear.

As we are always pointing out here at Weinberg, the nuclear industry has been fundamentally running on the same technology for 50-some years – solid uranium fueled, water cooled reactors. (The pressurized water reactors that EDF wants to build at Hinkley Point are among the latest and improved versions).

While these have a sound safety record, there are other fuels and reactor types that could outperform them in efficiency, safety and in the mitigation of waste.

Reactor designs like molten salt, pebble bed and fast neutron all run at higher temperatures than today’s reactors, which is good from an efficiency standpoint. Some of them can breed their own fuel and use waste as fuel – minimizing the worrisome challenge of what to do with waste.  A molten salt reactor that runs thorium fuel can reduce the risk of producing waste suitable for weapons. And let’s not forget fusion.

Many of these will come in small or “modular” forms, auguring lower upfront costs for utilities or industrial users that can’t afford to add the gigawatt-plus sizes of conventional reactors. Smaller reactors can also potentially be fabricated in less expensive “assembly line” type procedure, reducing costs and attracting investors.

These alternatives are making nuclear believers out of non-believers. Weinberg patron and House of Lords member Baroness Bryony Worthington, for instance, is a former Friends of the Earth anti-nuclear campaigner who is now the West’s most vocal politician advocating thorium use.

Just a thought, but perhaps they could also help any Liberal Democrat trying to square their party’s opposition to nuclear with their coalition-tied backing of it. And that includes Energy Secretary Davey himself.

I didn’t really expect to hear a lot about alternative nuclear at this week’s All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group. And to be clear, alternative fuels and reactors are not currently a market  option. You couldn’t install and run one at Hinkley Point anytime soon, if for no other reason it would take at least seven years to get regulatory approval. And that can’t even begin to happen until research and development on these reactors is complete, which will require funding.


But some countries, like China and India are indeed pursuing these alternatives.

It is imperative that others do the same. None of the designs are altogether new – many go back 50 years, but for various political and other reasons, lost the technology race. An R&D push with government backing could help polish them into working order. We have certainly identified various current initiatives around the world in this blog, and will continue to do so.  I invite you to scroll down through our archives (and I apologize that we don’t have a search feature to offer – we’re working on it!).

But before you do, here’s an encouraging word I picked up in the hallway chatter after Tuesday’s gathering: DECC’s chief scientific adviser, David MacKay, is taking an interest in thorium and other alternatives which might soon become more clear.

MacKay, a Cambridge physics professor and author of Sustainable Energy – without the hot air, is a level headed thinker with a practical view of energy costs, and is preparing a report on nuclear R&D strategy that should  address alternative nuclear. I’m told he’ll publish it within the next few months. I assume it is the same nuclear roadmap strategy for 2050 and beyond that, last I knew, he was co-authoring  with the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir John Beddington and with the scientific adviser to the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, John Perkins.

They began working on the report as part of the government’s response to a House of Lords query into nuclear’s future.

I will be queuing up for a copy and will let you know as I find out more. So watch this space, right honourable reader. And do speak up with any thoughts, in the comments section below.

Photos: Parliament by Tony Moorey via Wikimedia. Ed Davey at Dounreay from DECC via Flickr.


Britain’s nuclear railway

Posted by Mark Halper on January 15th, 2013

Training for a nuclear future. National Rail CEO David Higgins commits to nuclear power to drive Britain’s railway electrification.

The company that operates the railway infrastructure in England, Scotland and Wales is turning to nuclear power to keep the trains running and help take CO2 out of its energy footprint.

No, Network Rail is not outfitting locomotives with small nuclear reactors as propulsion engines.

Rather, the privately held, government backed company has signed a 10-year deal with utility EDF to assure a supply of low carbon – nuclear that is – electricity that will allow Network Rail to expand the electrification of Britain’s railway lines.

“EDF Energy will ensure 100% of the electricity it supplies to Network Rail will be matched by low carbon energy generated from its eight nuclear power stations,” the companies said in a joint press release that appeared on both the Network Rail and EDF websites.

Today, many of the UK’s trains run on CO2-emitting diesel fuel. Only 55 percent of trains are electric, and Network Rail wants that to expand to 75 percent by 2020. By then, it hopes to electrify 54 percent of the  lines – an additional 2,000 miles of track fed by overhead high voltage cable and “third rails” – up from the current 40 percent.


Network Rail is already the single biggest consumer of electricity in Britain. Since the country faces an uncertain energy future, the rail operator will need to guarantee a steady source of power.

Thus, the 10-year deal with EDF.

The contract is unusual not only because of the nuclear commitment, but also because it allows Network Rail to purchase electricity up to 10 years ahead of time.

“EDF Energy is offering Network Rail the unique capability to purchase their electricity requirements up to 10 years in advance, helping to deliver greater certainty over costs and significantly reduce exposure to short term, volatile energy prices,” the joint release states.

EDF, a French company, operates 8 nuclear power stations in Britain and hopes to build four more, pending planning permission and financing.


“Rail is already the greenest form of public transport and this partnership with EDF Energy will help us make it greener still,” said David Higgins, Network Rail CEO.  He described the supply arrangement as “an innovative contract for low-carbon energy.”

Likewise, EDF Energy CEO Vincent de Rivaz noted that,””Rail is already one of the least carbon intensive ways to travel and the huge investment in electrification will be backed by a stable and affordable supply of low carbon energy. The deal places nuclear energy at the heart of the UK’s infrastructure for the next 10 years and serves to underline that nuclear power is part of everyday life in Britain.”

Network Rail’s commitment to nuclear power is just the sort of boost from industry that nuclear companies need to help establish nuclear as a clean, CO2-free energy source for a sustainable planet.

What would be even more encouraging would be to see large industrial consumers of power support the research and development of alternative forms of nuclear power like thorium fuel, as well as to reactor types such as molten salt, pebble bed and fast reactors. Those reactors could serve industry even better than today’s conventional reactors, both as a source electricity and of heat. That in its own right would be an electrifying ride into the future.

Photo of David Higgins from



EDF gives assurance on Hinkley Point energy costs

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 15th, 2012

In an interview in today’s Telegraph, EDF boss Vincent de Rivaz dismisses speculation of a £165 per MWh price tag, reportedly seeking a price cap of £140 per MWh – matching current offshore wind farm pricing

Rewards for Risk: EDF demands confirmation of support for Hinkley Point

Posted by Laurence O'Hagan on October 8th, 2012

The pressure mounts on John Hayes as EDF pushes UK government for substantial subsidies to build £14bn plant:

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