Nuclear Power, Hinkley C and Sizewell B.

Today Europe is struggling to build two EPR reactors. To be fair, they are getting there. But progress has been slow and costly.

Today a third EPR reactor is planned for Hinkley Point in Somerset. To ensure Chinese and French backers stay with the project the government has given a £2 Billion guarantee against cancellation as well as guaranteeing a strike price of over £90 MWh

The mooted price for this one reactor is over £20 billion. Even at this eye watering price the government is desperate to see Hinkley C progress because it is the only viable 24/7 emissions free power generation available.

Even if they have to pay this ransom it is still cheaper than onshore wind and hugely cheaper than offshore wind, both of which need fossil fuel backup anyway. So the government has little choice but to pay.

But there is something wrong here.

The last UK nuclear power plant was commissioned only 20 years ago. Sizewell B cost £2 billion or about £4 billion in todays money.

Sizewell B came in under budget. The grid connection (planned in 1987) was for Christmas 1994. It actually happened barely one month late. The build took a mere 7 years. At the time it was lauded as a shining example of how to build large infrastructure projects. (See Independent article here)

But even so, Sizewell B is essentially a prototype. No commercial Light Water Reactor had been built in the UK before. So building to timescale and to budget is even more remarkable.

Eight "Sizewell B's" were planned. If they had been built the power supply outlook in the UK today would be entirely different. But due to extreme political fear mongering, opportunism and anti nuclear hysteria the other seven were canned.

The UK ended up relying on Gas backed up by the likes of DRAX and Longannet both burning vast quantities of imported coal for the next 20 years. The number of subsequent deaths and shortened lives from air pollution must be in the order of  50,000. I'll work it out properly in a future post.

(If you doubt this ball park figure of 50,000 dead read these two papers  by some of the worlds leading scientists and figure it out yourself. Karecha & Hansen and Markyanda & Wilson)

So I have to ask: Why is it that in a time scale of twenty years we have gone from  producing a nuclear power plant to budget and on time to a bloated massively expensive and chaotic shambles?

Don't forget the Sizewell B plant is an early example of Generation III reactor (See IMechE article here). As near as dammit Sizewell B it is as good as an EPR and at one fifth the price

I reckon we need to take a pause.

Instead of building horrendously complex and expensive EPR's maybe we should go back to the original plan and build a few more "Sizewell B" type PWR's. After all we still have the prototype - and it has been working for 20 years!

Then we can invest the money saved from not building the ludicrously expensive EPR's in Generation 4 nuclear prototyping and research.

This way within 10 years we can have a reliable cheap carbon free power supply from a proven designs and maybe working PRISM and/or LFTR prototype reactors coming
on line.

Well, its just an idea......


Post posting note:

Thanks to @Davey1233 on twitter there are a few corrections I should add which, while not detracting from the achievement of Sizewell B do restore some of my faith in the EPR.

He correctly points out that Hinkley will be around 3 times the output capacity of Sizewell B and the true "todays" figure for Sizewell should be more like £5 billion not 4. Consequently comparing output power like for like the cost difference shrinks from a ratio of 1:5 to about 1:1.25

So maybe Hinkley C is not quite such a rip off - although I would still suggest the builders are being more than amply rewarded and have managed to secure this lucrative deal simply because the government is over a barrel.

In reality these decisions regarding the construction of nuclear power stations in the UK should have been taken 10 - 20 years ago. Instead the governments of the time simply kow-towed to the ignorance and hysteria of the Green lobby.

We desperately need nuclear power. Without it we could well end up slipping back into dependency on coal - just like they have in Germany. That is in nobodys interest.


Boganboy said...

I'd argue for the underground gasification of coal using the North Sea oil and gas infrastructure. I understand there was a proposal to drill under the Firth of Forth as a first try of this.
This doesn't mean that I don't agree with you about the folly of not following up on Sizewell B, but that's all water under the bridge. While we Aussies'd be happy to sell you all the coal, gas or uranium you want, the UK really needs to avoid this dependence on overseas energy.
Maybe then you could even avoid those damn wars in the Middle East. Ok, I'll agree that flying pigs'll be the fashion much sooner.

BilloTheWisp said...

Thanks for the reply BoganBoy.

I think the coal gasification scheme is probably redundant due to the large quantities of shale gas that have been discovered in the UK. At the moment various green extremists are fighting tooth and nail to sabotage exploration wells, but it is still going ahead and whatever lies FoE throw up, the exploration wells will most probably produce the goods.

But reliance on one form of energy is literally putting all your eggs in one basket and I do believe that there is still a large need for several new nuclear stations in the UK.

From what I've read you guys in Oz are having about as much "fun" with the (non) reliability of intermittents (aka wind & solar) as we are, especially in SA. Maybe you could do with a couple of NPPs too! Or at least use some of those other abundant resources you have to produce power when you need it.

Good luck and thanks again for the interesting & relevant comment.