After spending some £2bn on pre-construction and licencing activities, the cancellation by Hitachi of the intent to build an ABWR site at Wylfa is disappointing and worrying for the industry. The implication and shock-wave consequences are huge, for short-term employment and, more importantly, sweeping away the underpinning need for the development of nuclear skills for the future.
The Government must now reassess its energy security strategy AND its commitment to financially supporting large infrastructure projects. Nuclear is ideal in providing base-load power certainty and consequently provides a guaranteed 24/7 income stream to repay any loan required for construction. It is fair to ask why HS2 is being supported by public money, whilst yet the energy sector is considered sufficiently robust that Government backed loans are deemed unacceptable. Construction of nuclear power is financially supported by central governments in other countries, so why should the UK be any different?
The implications for Research and Development into nuclear compatible materials, sophisticated manufacturing, inspection techniques, 21st century control systems, and nuclear fuel technologies are very serious. Decommissioning will not fill the gap.
What now for Sizewell C and Bradwell: can we look forward to similar announcements?
Yes, I hear the cry that SMR’s will be supported and that they are cheaper and quicker to build and install. Nevertheless, this ignores the key fact, namely that they are (currently) an unproven and unlicensed technology with many unresolved issues, including those related to spent fuel conditioning and management. The safety of having multiple reactors controlled from a single work-station location also has to be thought through. Also, the time necessary to build 12 SMR’s, in parallel on the same congested site, will be at least as long as that needed to build a large conventional station.
Although Ministers are being all consumed by BREXIT, Parliament needs to issue an early restatement of energy policy and its commitment to nuclear power.
About the Author
John Ireland is an internationally experienced energy specialist and senior business executive skilled in the development, negotiation, and management of businesses and technically complex contracts within both the Government and private sectors. John, a Chartered Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, has been Chief Engineer advising clients on nuclear new build in Romania and investigating opportunities in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, and Project Manager for the treatment and management of toxic and radio-toxic chemical wastes in the UK, Japan, and the EU.
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