Posts Tagged politics

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




Nuclear gaining acceptance as a clean energy source

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on March 3rd, 2016

Those in the scientific and industrial community have long accepted the fact that nuclear power produces zero-carbon energy once constructed. Nuclear has similar life-cycle greenhouse emissions to wind and has a considerably lower carbon footprint than solar does, even when mining and waste disposal are included.

Many politicians have taken much longer to accept this with nuclear more often being grouped with fossil fuels than with renewable energies. But now nuclear is starting to get the climate recognition it deserves. The State of New York Public Service Commission has declared that the state must include nuclear in its Clean Energy Standard portfolio. This represents a major step forward and hopefully the start of greater acceptance of nuclear power as a future friendly, sustainable form of energy. It is however, just a start.

As the Paris conference highlighted, nuclear is still struggling. Energy for Humanity reported over the Paris COP that since 2001, nuclear energy has been explicitly excluded from climate mitigation strategies. This includes a ban on nuclear projects receiving financial assistance from the climate pact’s development mechanisms and significantly hinders both acceptance and deployment of nuclear.

Increasingly, high profile climate experts are speaking out to combat this stigma and support nuclear. At the Paris Climate Conference in December, Dr Kenneth Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science said “the climate doesn’t care whether the electricity comes from a wind turbine or a nuclear reactor. The climate just cares about carbon”. Dr James Hansen, the former NASA scientist who brought climate change to the attention of the US government in the 1980s, argued, “it is wrong to pit renewables against nuclear power. We need all hands on deck.”

It must be hoped that New York is but the first step towards greater global acceptance of nuclear’s carbon credentials and that policy makers can revise their renewables-only pathways in favour of an ‘all of the above’ plan; reflecting the urgency and scale of today’s energy, environmental and climate challenges.

South Australia could provide a long term solution to nuclear spent fuel

Posted by Stephen Tindale on February 22nd, 2016

by Priya Aggarwal

A Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission was set up in March, 2015 to independently look into South Australia’s potential future role in four prominent areas of the nuclear fuel cycle – exploration and extraction; processing of minerals and manufacture of materials containing nuclear substances; electricity generation from nuclear fuels; and, management, storage and disposal of radioactive waste. The commission will have to submit a final report by May, 2016 after considering the following:

     the effect on the environment;


     the effect on other sectors of the State’s economy, in particular the tourism, wine and food sectors; 

     technical issues.

South Australia (SA) is currently home to four of Australia’s five uranium mines, and the possibility of the state developing nuclear power generation, enrichment and waste storage facilities have hitherto been contentious issues. The Royal Commission comes at a time of economic contraction for SA, which is suffering from job losses in mining and manufacturing sectors.

Since the commission saw no opportunity to commercially develop further uranium processing capabilities as it says the market is already oversupplied and uncertain, it sees SA could benefit from forging contracts with those that buy its uranium to store the waste products as well, as part of a concept entitled “fuel leasing”. Kevin Scarce, the Royal Commissioner, said the timeframe of building a deep geological disposal project would take 30 years, based on the timeframe it took for Sweden and Finland, who currently store their own waste at present (but, Sweden intends to receive waste from further afield) to set up similar successful projects buried 400 to 500m underground. While avoiding the nomination of a site for nuclear waste, the inquiry found the “likely” development of a storage and disposal facility of used nuclear fuel could be operational in the late 2020s.

Mr Scarce said SA could take 13% of the world’s nuclear waste and had unique characteristics that made it suitable, such as a stable geology and relatively stable seismologically. He feels confident about tapping the market’s potential in this segment and says, “Mind you, we’ve had waste now for 50 to 60 years and there has not been an international solution yet.” After revealing the tentative findings, a consultation period has now begun.




Edit: Post previously included the line “The government also faces the task of convincing the locals at six shortlisted sites, of which three are in SA.” which was deleted as it is a separate and mostly unrelated issue.




Weinberg Next Nuclear’s response to DECC consultation

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on February 11th, 2016

We are often in discussion with political departments recommending progress on energy. Recently DECC set up a consultation on new energy technologies and below is Weinberg Next Nuclear’s response where we advocate not only nuclear power but a sensible and sustainable diverse energy mix.


  1. How can legislation and enforcement frameworks help support new technologies and business models to encourage growth?

New technologies need security and a clear, fair entry to the market. If these are guaranteed, it is likely that the advantageous legislative conditions will encourage growth.

Security includes both funding and legislation. For renewables, changes to feed-in tariff rates have reduced confidence in the market and deterred investors. A long-term strategy on funding, incentives and taxes would limit such damage in future. Early decision on carbon budgets, representing a long-term signal of energy ambition, would also help increase confidence.

Firm regulation is essential, for public health, decarbonisation and environmental protection. However, regulation can also hold back innovation and act as a bottleneck by limiting technologies going through the regulatory process. This is especially true in nuclear regulation. The Office for Nuclear Regulation only carries out Generic Design Assessment for two designs at a time. This slows progress, deters investment and means that the energy market is not as competitive as it could or should be. This bottleneck should be removed, not by limiting safety checks, but by increasing resources to speed up the process and thus encourage growth.


  1. How is new technology likely to shape the energy sector?

The energy sector is facing a generation gap as old nuclear and coal plants go offline. Although existing technologies could fill this gap, it is an excellent opportunity to pursue new technologies. Advanced nuclear power has the potential to be a key technology to fill the energy supply gap as well as providing other services such as lessening the UK’s spent fuel and plutonium waste stockpile by using it as fuel. A variety of low-carbon technologies will be necessary in future but nuclear’s key advantages are that it is not intermittent and can produce industrial heat.

Successive governments have accepted the benefits of nuclear through their commitment to plans such as Hinkley point but new technologies have the potential to offer more benefits. Advanced generation 4 reactors can be even lower-carbon, have a reduced proliferation risk and waste output, and are passively safer, and with inbuilt safety, have the potential to be cheaper than conventional reactors. In addition, unlike the large scale, one-of-a-kind, reactors such as the European pressurised reactor at Hinkley, advanced reactors can be smaller and modular, meaning they can be mass-produced. These benefits are starting to be realised as shown by the Autumn statement announcement of £250 million to nuclear research and development.

Thus, in terms of shaping the energy sector, advanced nuclear could provide the potential for a rapid roll-out of low carbon plants, which can serve a variety of demand including small communities. The impacts of this roll-out could be greater energy security and self-sufficiency. It would allow a faster de-carbonisation of the energy sector and a better ability to meet climate change targets. With baseload power in place, there would also be potential for greater investment in existing and new intermittent renewable technologies. The development and deployment of advanced nuclear technologies would make possible the export of electricity, plus technology and expertise. In this way, Britain can regain its place as a leader in the nuclear sphere.

In contrast, it is important to recognise what is not going to shape the future energy mix of the UK. Fracking has been successful in certain areas of the world, but for a number of reasons, it is unlikely to be successful in the UK. The UK does not have large, empty land areas that could easily be turned over to industry. It also is unlikely to have significant fuel reserves due to its geology. Of the reserves it does have, there is unlikely to be enough that is economically recoverable to make a significant difference to the market.


  1. How can regulators better utilise new technologies to generate efficiency savings and reduce burdens on business?

The cost of energy is a concern for businesses and industry, as the recent steel crisis has shown. New technologies are often expensive. But it is important to see past the initial project costs. Economies of scale often means that new technologies deliver in the medium and long term.

A current example of this can be seen with the Swansea tidal lagoon, with a high strike price now but great potential to be replicated again at a much cheaper cost. Tidal lagoon technology and expertise could also to be exported overseas.

The same would true of advanced nuclear. Small modular reactors could be mass produced, so have the potential to deliver the benefits of nuclear at a lower cost and faster rate than existing developments. It is also important that the financial costs of energy be put within the context of environmental (in terms of air quality) and climate costs of the “cheaper” alternatives.



New nuclear is needed but Hinkley is not

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on September 21st, 2015

A seemingly positive message of hope for nuclear came from the East today, as Chancellor George Osborne announced from his tour of China that this “golden business relationship” had yielded £2billion pounds of UK tax-payer-guaranteed investment for the elusive Hinkley C power plant. Osborne said “Britain was the home to the very first civil nuclear power stations in the world and I am determined that we now lead the way again”.

But back in the West, and perhaps in reality, many have been questioning whether Hinkley C would actually be a positive development for Britain. Three prominent environmentalists, George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall, have written “yes, we are pro-nuclear, but not at any price”. Hinkley, they argue, is too high a price to pay. They point to the £24.5bn construction costs, the price guarantee of £92.50 per megawatt hour for the next 35 years, and the time and cost overruns experienced at the two other European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) in France and Finland. Hinkley, they say, should be scrapped.

Our Director Stephen Tindale has echoed these sentiments. He believes that the contract with EDF energy to build an EPR at Hinkley is reasonable, despite its high, costs, because the plant would provide 7% of UK electricity: carbon and air pollutant free. But this belief only holds if the new reactor were built on time and on budget – conditions that it is widely accepted Hinkley will fail to fulfill. Stephen told this morning’s Today Program that “there are many different types of reactor and the UK government has unfortunately chosen a bad one: the European Pressurized Reactor is impossible to build on time and on budget”. He continued that now there is an opportunity for Amber Rudd to say “this was a mistake and lets start again”.

A new start, and a genuinely positive development for the UK, would be for the government to stop wastefully ploughing time and money into the stagnant Hinkley project. There are a wealth of more advanced reactors that could potentially promise better safety, higher security, greater sustainability and importantly, lower costs. The government has funding, sites and support it could and should offer to make a prototype of one or many of these designs a reality – this is what the British nuclear industry should really hope for. Listen to Stephen’s BBC Today Programme interview here:

The East/West Nuclear Divide

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on August 10th, 2015

Last century, during the height of the cold war, the Iron Curtain that descended across Europe represented more than just the border between the capitalist west and communist east. It represented the developed and the undeveloped, the poor and the rich, the future and the past. And yet now some of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe are proving themselves to be far more forward thinking than their western neighbours. Nuclear power is the future in terms of protecting against energy and climate insecurity but powerful and developed parts of Western Europe are going backwards from that future, rather than making progress towards it. Austria has long been nuclear free and in 2011 Germany decided to follow their example and consequently cast its climate change and decarbonisation targets into question. On the other side of the extinct line, a need for secure fuel* for economic growth is facilitating significant nuclear progress. Last month the Czech government launched a huge long-term plan for nuclear production. This echoed the progress of Slovakia and Hungary on building reactors and is helping to inspire others such as Poland who are well on their way towards commencing their own nuclear programme and Lithuania who are also hoping for new nuclear development after the 2009 closure of their last plant. Although France, Finland and Britain are in favour of nuclear, it seems the characteristics of the Iron Curtain have in part reversed and some of the West could learn much from the forward thinking East.


* However the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are to varying degrees relying on Russia for help with fuel supply, reactor designs and funding. This reliance limits the complete energy security of the new nuclear power. Conversely, Poland and Lithuania are hoping to construct their new nuclear plants without Russian support.–finance.html

Germany going backwards – will it take Europe with it?

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on July 21st, 2015

Germanys oldest nuclear power station, the Grafenrheinfeld reactor, which had been providing energy since 1981, has been shut down. It is the latest closure in Germany’s plan to switch off all its nuclear power plants by 2022. The move was made in response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which – despite killing no one – has done much to put the world off nuclear power. This overreaction to an imagined threat of radiation has lead to real threats to energy security and climate change mitigation, not only within Germany but across Europe. In 2011, when Angela Merkel’s affinity for nuclear came to an abrupt end, the country’s reactors provided 25% of Germany’s energy. The supposed replacement has been a huge push for renewables, with an aim of 80% renewable electricity by 2050. But with renewable consistency challenges, and a long timescale of realization, Germany is having to plug the gaping gap left by nuclear closures, and it has had little choice but to turn to fossil fuels – especially coal. Not only does this have huge implications for air quality, and climate change targets within Germany and across Europe, it will also have knock on political effects across Europe. Germany’s influence may put others off nuclear power, to the detriment of the entire continent.

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