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Revolving Doors 39: NAO calls to order politicians supporting nuclear power

Today the National Audit Office – the public spending watchdog – recommends that the government reconsider whether more nuclear plants are needed and reproves ministers for failing to consider alternative ways of the costs of the Hinkley nuclear power plant, which could have halved the overall cost to households.

The NAO found that the case for building Hinkley Point had weakened while the government negotiated the final deal, partly because alternative low-carbon sources of power, such as wind and solar, became cheaper.

The plant is under construction in Somerset and is due to open in 2025, supplying 7% of Britain’s electricity. However, the NAO report recommends that the government produce a “plan B” to fill the gap in power generation if the project is delayed or cancelled. It notes that projects using the same reactor design in France, Finland and China “have been beset by delays and cost overruns”.

Note senior politicians or members of their families lobbying for the nuclear industry

  • Three former Labour Energy Ministers (John Hutton, Helen Liddell, Brian Wilson)
  • Gordon Brown’s brother worked as head lobbyist for EDF
  • Jack Cunningham chaired Transatlantic Nuclear Energy Forum
  • Labour Minister Yvette Cooper’s dad was chair of nuclear lobbyists The Nuclear Industry Association.
  • Ed Davey, Lib Dem energy minister’s brother worked for a nuclear lobbyist. When failed to be re-elected went to work for the same nuclear lobbying firm as his brother.
  • Lord Clement Jones who was Nick Clegg’s General Election Party Treasurer was a nuclear industry lobbyist.
  • Tory Peer Lady Maitland is board member of nuclear lobbyist Sovereign Strategy.
  • • Bernard Ingham, Thatcher’s press spokesperson, has been nuclear lobbyist for over 25 years.
  • Tory Peer Lord Jenkin was a paid consultant to nuclear industry.
  • Tory MEP Giles Chichester is president of nuclear lobbyists EEF

Comment from a Times reader who has long held significant reservations about Corbyn and McDonnell, ”Putting aside their sixth form foreign policy, I’m just about willing to give Labour a shot. If we’re going to have somebody (botching) the public finances I’d rather they did it out of well-meaning innumeracy – with some good ideas like a National Education Service & renationalised railways . . . “


Other nuclear industry lobbyists including politicians, journalists, academics and lobbyists are listed here:






Sellafield plan: government guaranteed construction debt and only 5000 cubic metres of radioactive waste

Tom Samson, the chief executive of NuGen, a company planning a plant in Cumbria, has referred to a ‘fog’ which should lift in order for him to see the path ahead.

Andrew Bounds (FT), in an article on the subject, failed to mention the more sensitive reasons for the four year delay in EDF’s construction of a new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset. His colleague, Jim Pickard, was not so reticent. Though not mentioning the Finnish problems, he wrote about the reasons for escalating costs at its flagship Flamanville project in Normandy:

“The £7bn French scheme — designed to showcase new atomic technology — is based on an “EPR” European pressurised reactor, the same model that will be used in Hinkley. Further concerns mounted last week when a leaked report from France’s nuclear safety watchdog highlighted faults in Flamanville’s cooling system. That followed a warning in April by the French Nuclear Safety Regulator that there was an excessive amount of carbon in the steel of the reactor vessel”.

moorside sellafield

NuGen’s proposed £15bn plant at Moorside, to the north and west of Sellafield (above) in Cumbria, could be generating by the mid-2020s, as the UK government can guarantee construction debt, which is “crucial”, Mr Samson said. The government is expected to seek a lower ‘strike price’ with NuGen than at Hinkley Point, which has been guaranteed a revenue of £92.50 per megawatt hour, linked to inflation, for 35 years.

EDF builds the “EPR” European pressurised reactor and NuGen’s Moorside would use three AP1000 pressurised water reactors built by Westinghouse.The model is untried, but will enter service in China in two years’ time and others are being installed in the US. For concerns about the AP 1000’s design and materials, see

The UK government is said to be committed to nuclear power as a clean source of energy generation

Mr Samson said “We encourage the government and local community to find a [long-term storage] solution” as the waste for the 60-year life of the Moorside plant would fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools”.

Cleaner than solar, wind and hydro?

Arnie Gundersen: design of proposed nuclear reactors in Cumbria

Able Seaman William McNeilly released a lengthy dossier on the internet earlier this month in which he said Britain’s Trident nuclear defence system was vulnerable to its enemies and to potentially devastating accidents because of safety failures.

arne gundersen

But – in the mainstream – only the Independent and Japan Times covered news of another hazard, described by Arnie Gundersen, who was invited to speak at the House of Commons on March 11. He addressed the current status of Fukushima Daiichi four years after nuclear meltdown began in 2011, and presented his expert assessment of nuclear risk in regards to the proposed construction of three AP1000 reactors in Cumbria, England. He writes (abridged):

My week in the UK was exciting and full of surprises. I spoke to hundreds of people in London and Cumbria who are committed to a new energy future for Europe. They know that the dated model of big business centralized electricity production is ending, and they see a clean, disaster free viable alternative in locally distributed generation.

Still, it seems that the established British utilities are so fixated on nuclear power that they just offered to charge their customers twice the current market price for electricity for the next 35-years, so that a French nuclear company could build a fancy and untried new nuclear design at Hinkley Point. The United Kingdom is anything but united when it comes to how it will produce electricity in the 21st century!

windscale 1985The Windscale Piles in 1985: Chris Eaton

Britain has experienced the dangers of nuclear power first hand as the site of the world’s first major nuclear disaster at Windscale, receiving huge amounts of contamination from Chernobyl fallout in Wales, and contaminating the Irish Sea with plutonium at its waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield. With that background, I understand why the citizens of the UK embrace a nuclear free future.

When I spoke at the House of Commons, it was clear that only a minority of the MP’s (like US Representatives) could envision an energy future different than the past. Similar to the US, the financially influential electric power monopolies have convinced a majority of the MPs that there is no alternative to nuclear power. Thankfully, many people in the UK disagree and see a nuclear free future!

cockcroft follies

Surprisingly, it was in Cumbria that I saw the most poignant reminder of how dangerous nuclear power is. There in the fog and rain stood “Cockcroft’s Folly”, a ventilation stack on the old Windscale reactor. Filters on that stack, thankfully, captured most of the radiation released during the 1957 Windscale catastrophe.

When Windscale was under construction, Sir John Cockcroft, a great engineer and Nobel Prize winner, insisted that filters be added to the ventilation stack. The British nuclear establishment laughed at him, but he was unyielding and persisted in his cause until the filters were added to Windscale.

Naysayers nicknamed the filters “Cockcroft’s Folly”, and no one believed they were necessary. Then came the Windscale nuclear core fire and those “unnecessary” filters saved thousands of lives. Too contaminated even now to be removed, “Cockcroft’s Folly” stands in the middle of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, part of a more than $60billion cleanup planned for the neighboring stretch of coastline along the contaminated the Irish Sea.

Three new AP1000 reactors are proposed to be built in Cumbria within sight of “Cockcroft’s Folly”. Since 2010, I have repeatedly said that the AP1000 design suffers the same design flaw as the old Windscale reactor.

Like Sir John, I believe that filters must be added to the top of the AP1000 shield building to prevent huge amounts of radiation from being released during a meltdown. I call this problem “the chimney effect” and wrote a paper about it entitled “ Nuclear Containment Failures- Ramifications for the AP1000 Containment Design”.

Sir John Cockcroft must be spinning in his grave, wondering “When will they ever learn?”

New ‘joys’ on the horizon – small modular nuclear reactors, taken by lorry from factory to site

nuscale reactor on lorry

Andrew Bounds and Chris Tighe report in the FT that projects by foreign companies to build conventional nuclear plants are repeatedly delayed. About 400 construction workers have been laid off at Hinkley Point, as the French company EDF and its Chinese partners negotiate electricity prices with the British government.

Rolls-Royce and industry experts are asking the government to fund research into small modular nuclear reactors that could be built in the UK and taken from factory to site on the back of a lorry. The government agreed to study the feasibility of the technology after a committee of MPs called for more research in March.

In contrast with the £24.5bn required for Hinkley Point, earmarked to open in 2023, an SMR could cost less than £1bn and take only 5-7 years to build. Each unit would have up to 300MW power and several could be deployed together to create mini-power stations. The two Areva reactors being installed at Hinkley have capacity of 1650MW.

nuscaleSheffield University has already begun work with NuScale, a US company, on a design. There could be a “very significant market for SMRs”, said the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory, in a December report: “The UK could gain a lead in the technology and a market that could be worth £250bn-£400bn between now and 2035”.

Rolls-Royce and Sheffield Forgemasters already provide parts for SMRs and other nuclear reactors worldwide.

Nuscale’s design, engineering, licensing, testing, operations, and project management) is located in Corvallis, Oregon. It is majority-owned by Fluor Corporation which is has large nuclear waste cleanup ccontracts.

Its website relates that NuScale Power has created a smaller, scalable version of pressurized water reactor technology, designed with natural safety features. Natural forces operate and cool the plant. This eliminates the need for many of the large and complex systems required in today’s nuclear plants. This simplicity allows the NuScale Power Module(tm) to be factory-built and transported to site. NuScale plants are faster to construct, and less expensive to build and operate.

Each NuScale Power Module generates 50 megawatts of electric power (gross). Additional modules can be added, providing scalability as electricity demand grows.

NuScale’s 160MW thermal output also makes it a perfect fit for refining, desalination, and district heating.

Learn more about NuScale Power Technology here.

British-based research collaborators include Amec, the civil engineering business, Manchester University and University of Sheffield’s Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Will government continue to advance the threat of expensive nuclear pollution in Somerset?

hinkley point

Alex Barker in Brussels and Pilita Clark in Paris (FT) follow up the European Commission state aid’s investigation raising serious objections to £17.6bn of potentially wasteful public support for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset, southwest England that could provide 7% of the UK’s electricity.

In a January letter to ministers, Joaquín Almunia, the EU competition chief, had said that – at that point – he could not see why the project is fundamentally different from plants in Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto in Finland “which have been undertaken without any support”.

A draft European Commission decision, seen by the Financial Times, adds tougher profit clawback clauses to the power plant contract.

The commission, the UK Department of Energy and EDF declined to comment on the leaked findings.

The decision is before the outgoing college of EU commissioners, which is divided over nuclear issues. The commission is split over the issue of nuclear power. Commissioners from Germany and Austria, in particular, harbour strong concerns, knowing that the case will set a precedent that would support new nuclear projects in eastern Europe.

The draft decision will be debated in coming weeks. Any delays could disrupt efforts by EDF to find outside investors for the project.

The UK government is still undertaking to pay EDF £92.50 per MWh for the electricity output from Hinkley Point C – roughly twice the current wholesale price of power – guaranteeing a minimum revenue as it is considered to be a low carbon power generator. The government will get half of the first £1bn of gains from construction, rising to 75% of any profits above £1bn.


Michael Pollitt of Judge Business School said: “What consumers finally pay will be contingent on how much of that gain they receive, if it materialises.” Andrea Carta of Greenpeace said: “Taxpayers would be left paying for one of the most expensive power stations in the world and for the consequences when things go wrong, while EDF rakes in subsidies”.

Prime Minister: nuclear is the niche, not renewables

wind turbines in cornwall

In a recent blog, Jonathon Porritt opened: “I’m always rather heartened by the fact that the Prime Minister takes his holidays in Cornwall – for the simple reason that at least once a year he gets to see wind turbines in action, happily churning around (as they do most of the time in Cornwall) . . . But I wish these holidays would simultaneously stiffen his somewhat flaccid sinews in terms of sorting out the mess that is this country’s energy policy. Not just on wind, and other renewables, but on nuclear, fracked gas, energy efficiency, prices, regulation etc etc etc”.

In July 150 ‘solar champions’ wrote to the Prime Minister in support of an appeal from the Solar Trade Association to stop disadvantaging this country’s amazingly resilient solar industry. He replied that large-scale solar PV, under the Renewables Obligation, is deploying much faster than previously expected and can’t be allowed to go on because of the impact on consumer bills.

Is this a sick joke?

Jonathon, one of the 150, points out the glaring inconsistency of such a reply from a Prime Minister who has personally authorised the allocation of vast sums of public money to build the most expensive power stations in the world at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Mr Cameron: solar and wind are not ‘niche’ interests in Germany

He continues, “the PM’s letter arrived on the very same day that the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany published a new report showing that Germany generated 31% of its electricity from renewable energy sources throughout the first six months of 2014:

  • The country’s solar power plants increased total production by 28%
  • and wind by 19% compared with the same period in 2013.
  • Consumption of coal was down 4%,
  • nuclear down 2%,
  • and natural gas down 25%.

“Meanwhile, as Germany so powerfully demonstrates, if keep on consistently ramping up investment in wind, solar and biomass (all of which get cheaper every year, and require less and less government support as a result), you get greater energy security, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and (in due course) an excellent deal for the consumer . . . “.

Jonathon Porritt also asks why nuclear energy companies aren’t being required to compete in the same game, if the government is so keen on cost-effectiveness:

“Why are they not required to put in their bids against solar, wind, biomass, other renewables and energy from waste?”

Read on for his answer, for news of the ‘Contracts for Difference’ which will replace the outgoing Renewables Obligation and for a reference to Cameron’s ‘madcap fracking fantasy’. He ends:

“Come, on, David. See those wind turbines for what they really are next time you’re down in Cornwall. It’s nuclear that’s the niche, not renewables”.