Problems mushroom for UK Govt on nuclear

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  By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP have urged Westminster politicians to dump their obsession with new nuclear power plants and invest in renewables as the UK Government’s energy policy was hit by a series of setbacks relating to waste disposal, the safety of existing plants and the funding for new build reactors.

Earlier this week it was revealed that a Franco-Chinese consortium had shunned the bidding process to build new nuclear reactors in the UK.  The Areva – China Guandong Nuclear Power bid had previously been considered the front runner in the tendering process for the new Horizon nuclear plant, due to be constructed at Hinkley Point on the Bristol Channel in Somerset.

However as the bidding process closed, it came to light that the Franco-Chinese consortium had decided not to proceed with the bid.  It was reported that the decision was due to the inability of the consortium to obtain necessary guarantees on technology issues with the British Government.  

Another consortium in the running for the project, headed by Westinghouse, also suffered a setback after its Chinese financial backers withdrew from the consortium, leaving the funding for the bid in doubt.

The UK Government’s nuclear plans received a further blow last week after a safety report from the European Commission revealed that nearly all of the EU’s nuclear reactors require safety improvements at a cost of up to £20bn.

Following the Fukushima accident in March 2011 the European Council called for comprehensive and transparent risk and safety assessments of all EU nuclear power plants.  The main aim of the stress tests was to assess the safety and robustness of nuclear power plants in case of extreme natural events, including earthquakes and flooding.  With its high annual rainfall and long coastline, the UK is seen as at particular risk of flooding events which may affect the operation of nuclear facilities.  

Some historians believe that the Great Bristol Channel Flood of 1607 was caused by a tsunami, itself the result of a rock slide on the sea-bed off the south west coast of Britain.  The Fukushima accident was caused when the cooling system failed after the plant was struck by a tsunami.

During the Great Bristol Channel Flood the waters reached over 7 metres in height,  inundating hundreds of villages and many thousands of acres of farmland.  Over 3000 people lost their lives.  The sites of the Hinkley Point nuclear reactor and the now closed nuclear plant at Oldbury in Gloucester were underwater for several days.

The European Council report calls for national action plans with timetables for implementation to be prepared by national regulators and to be made available by the end of 2012.  The additional cost to the UK nuclear industry is likely to run into the billions.

It has now emerged that a meeting planned for next week between Cumbrian councils and the UK Government to discuss proposals for burial of nuclear waste, has been postponed until January because the local authorities are not confident in what the UK Government has told them.  

In a letter to the UK Dept of Energy and Climate Change, the local authorities have delayed further meetings with UK Government representatives until assurances can be received that the community can be confident that “the government’s strategy for [Nuclear] takes account of the needs of West Cumbria as well as the national interest”.

Council leaders in Cumbria are concerned that they may not be able to withdraw from the process should they decide that the storage of nuclear waste in the county was not in the local interest.  

The latest developments come after E.on and RWE announced, in March, that they were pulling out of nuclear power in the UK.  Meanwhile, over the last year, a number of foreign governments – including Japan, Germany and Switzerland – have announced plans to phase out nuclear and invest in renewables.

SNP Westminster Energy and Climate Change spokesperson Mike Weir MP said:

“The UK government’s nuclear plans are in tatters – it is little wonder investors are walking away from new build when existing plants face safety questions and local authorities reveal a breakdown of trust with UK Ministers over toxic waste disposal.

“Despite the UK government bending over backwards to rig the market in favour of nuclear power, these serious developments demonstrates that nuclear power is simply not the answer to our energy needs.

“Westminster politicians need to get their priorities right by following the example of the Scottish Government and reindustrialising with renewables.

“Right now Scotland is capitalising on our vast clean, green energy potential with new, high-skilled jobs being created, instead of following Labour and the Tories’ blind faith in costly, dirty, dangerous and unreliable nuclear power.

“The reality is that the UK Government is bogged down in nuclear planning issues and making no progress and creating no jobs, while the Scottish Government is getting on with the job of investing in the technologies of the future, and supporting thousands of energy jobs. That is already delivering for Scotland with £2.8bn of investment since the start of 2009 in Scotland and employs 11,000 people.

“Scotland is ahead of the game and ahead of our targets on renewables with 35% of our electricity coming from renewables in 2011 smashing the interim target of 35% and the latest DECC figures showing that Scotland is on course for another record breaking year in 2012.

“With a quarter of Europe’s wind energy potential, including massive off shore resources as well as onshore wind power capabilities, a quarter of Europe’s tidal resource, and huge potential from clean coal and carbon capture, these are the real economic and employment opportunities for Scotland.

“The view of the Scottish Government and indeed Scotland’s Parliament as a whole on nuclear is absolutely clear. Scotland simply doesn’t want or need dangerous and unnecessary new nuclear power stations, with soaring decommissioning costs and the unresolved problem of storage of radioactive waste that burdens future generations for thousands of years.”