UK Commits Itself to Nuclear in the Name of a Carbon-free Future. Will Other Countries Follow?

by | Sep 30, 2016

nuclear power plantHinkley Point C is one step closer to reality. The United Kingdom and its french nuclear energy developer, Electricite de France, signed a deal on Thursday. The largely state-owned energy company will own two-thirds of the plant while China, which is also a major investor in the project, will own a third. Total cost: close to $24 billion.

The plant, which is scheduled to be completed in five years, will provide about 7 percent of the United Kingdom’s electricity needs and have the capacity to produce 3,200 megawatts. The purpose in making the investment is to transition away from coal and toward more carbon-free energy sources. The current government, though, had become concerned that outside interest would control major parts of the country’s infrastructure and had wanted some assurances that their ownership could not be sold off without prior approval.

Critics maintain that the plant is too costly and that the power to be sold from it will be priced too high — money intended to offset the risks that the builder is taking. Similar projects in France and in Finland are over budget.

At issue: The European Pressurized Reactor, which is considered a next-generation technology that improves not only efficiencies but also safety. In Normandy, France, where that technology is underway, the companies are dealing with mechanical setbacks.

“On the eve of the official signing of the Hinkley agreement, this is a cautionary tale that should make our government think twice before putting pen to paper. The UK government is about to sign away billions of pounds of billpayers’ money to a project bedevilled by legal, financial and technical hurdles,” the Guardian newspaper reports Greenpeace’s John Sauven as saying.  “Theresa May cannot build a 21st-century industrial strategy around an outdated, dodgy, and ludicrously expensive technology.”

The UK’s move is in direct contrast to such countries as Germany and Switzerland, which are working to get rid of their nuclear plants. Over the short run, coal will fill the void but long term, the countries expect renewables to do so.

What about the United States and will the potential enactment of the Clean Power Plan facilitate nuclear energy here? The Clean Power Plan aims to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030.

Southern Company, Scana Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Authority are the first to dive in: Southern Co. and its partners are building two new units where two other other nuclear reactors now reside. The total price tag is estimated at $21 billion. Of that, the partnership got a $8 billion loan guarantee.

Still, a handful nuclear units in this country have either shut down or have announced that they will do so: Duke Energy and Southern California Edison closed their Florida and Southern California facilities, respectively, because of persistent technical issues. Meanwhile, Dominion has closed its Wisconsin unit, Exelon will shut down plants in New Jersey and Illinois, and Entergy will cease its Vermont Yankee, all because they are unable compete with natural gas.

“The Clean Power Plan wont cause a nuclear renaissance,” says Rob Barnett, analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, on a conference call. “It is neutral on nuclear power.” 

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