The Cameron-Sarkozy pact can't put the wheels back on the nuclear gravy train

Posted by Richardg — 22 February 2012 at 11:44am - Comments
Nuclear Action at Construction Site of Proposed Water Reactor
All rights reserved. Credit: Pierre Gleizes/Greenpeace
EDF wants to build nuclear reactors in the UK but is facing problems back home in France

If you took the forced bonhomie of last week’s pact between David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy on civil nuclear power at face value, you'd think that we were heading for a nuclear renaissance. But this won’t be enough to put the wheels back on the nuclear gravy train.

The story starts across the water in France - but long before Cameron and Sarkozy dreamt up their photo opportunity.

France gets 75% of its electricity from nuclear, and the current French government sees its state-owned nuclear industry as a golden goose. Electricite de France (EDF) and reactor manufacturer Areva toured the globe, trying to sell an expensive new reactor, the European pressurised reactor, or EPR. The Finns bought one EPR and the Chinese bought a pair of them. EDF began building one at Flamanville across the Channel in Normandy. EDF set its eyes on Britain, buying our existing reactors and employing Gordon Brown's brother as a lobbyist.

But it’s one thing to sell an EPR, and quite another to build one. The Finnish reactor was delayed: and the cost started rising: from 3bn euros to 5bn, then 6bn. It was meant to open in 2009, but late last year the Finns announced that it was delayed until to 2014. Then things started going wrong in France and China. Flamanville is now four years late and will cost 6bn euros - twice what EDF promised it would.

People started asking why was it was so hard to build EPRs. The French government asked Francois Roussely, a former director of EDF, to investigate. He concluded that the EPR was too expensive and too complicated to build. He recommended that the safety features – one of the key selling points – should be pared back to make the reactor cheaper.

Then the Fukushima disaster happened and everyone remembered just why it was such a good idea for nuclear reactors to have safety features.

Like that notorious episode of Dallas, it turned out that the French nuclear renaissance was just a dream. EDF and Areva started blaming each other for failure. EDF threatened to shack up with Areva’s rivals, Westinghouse, who had designed a smaller and cheaper reactor. The credit ratings agency Standard and Poors downgraded EDF's credit rating, making it more expensive for it to borrow the £20bn it would need to build four new reactors in the UK.

Then the French audit court announced that the EPR was too expensive and took too long to build. It recommended extending the life of the existing ones instead of building new EPRs.

All of this will give Vincent de Rivas, head of EDF in the UK, a bit of a headache. In the past, EDF has relied on the French government to bail it out. But French presidential frontrunner François Hollande wants to reduce his country’s dependence on the risky technology. He'll find it hard to commit French taxpayers' money to help EDF build reactors abroad if he's closing them at home.

David Cameron wants to build new nuclear plants, but he has promised not to provide any public subsidies. That means he has to hide all the subsidies by rigging the electricity market - pushing up bills and asking taxpayers to cover the cost of the inevitable and costly delays. Cameron wants to get the private sector to invest in nuclear, but the bankers - not generally known for their caution - have said they wouldn't touch it with a bargepole.

Their latest plan to to persuade Centrica – the parent company of British Gas – to invest in EDF's plans for new nuclear plant. But unlike EDF, Centrica has no ideological committment to nuclear. Why would it - and its shareholders - want to risk billions of pounds on the French nuclear dream?

Still costs less than the immense subsidies on unicorn farts to make it, what, 0.5% of the electricity sector, as well as the economic damage from constant powercuts. Woohoo! Clean green energy future! I can just taste the rolling blackouts.

Get down to Hinkley Point in Somerset and help stop EDF's attempts to build their first new nuclear power station in the UK.

Its a relief to read the above article. Hopefully the economics of nuclear will make any new nuclear an impossible dream. Unfortunately the ruling elite seems hell bent on developing new nuclear. In India Greenpeace is running a strong campaign against nuclear power. I suggest that Greenpeace UK campaigns against nuclear as its top prirority too. 

While it’s true that wind farms are subsidised by the taxpayer, we give far more to nuclear than to wind. The latest figures from Ofgem, show that just over £1 billion was given out to renewable energy generators of which only a proportion went to wind.

Last year, the government gave £1.7 billion to the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency and that was just to deal with the waste. That money came out of the budget of the Department for Energy and Climate Change – whose total budget, for 2010-11, was £2.9 billion. In other words, more than half of the money allocated to the government department responsible to sorting out our energy and stopping climate change is spent on nuclear waste.

In terms of down-time, all power stations spend time offline fossil fuel burners receiving the lion's share of compensation for this. In bad weather nuclear powerstations have to switch off as well and often for longer periods than wind turbines.

It's now time to call Cameron on:

"greener than green";

his "moral compass" in dealing with the French Government which bombed the Rainbow

Warrior, murdered Fernando Perreira and rewarded the perpetrator with a medal;and EDF which is a criminal organisation just having some of its employees jailed for spyiong on GREENPEACE!

On the situation on France read the GREENPEACE FRANCE newsletter.


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