I did a post during the week on my energy blog in which I looked into the delay in the governments plans to build more nuclear power stations in the UK. The bulk of the UKs nuclear plants, as I discuss here, are due to decommission between now and 2020, with only three operating beyond this and one after 2023. Given that it can take a good decade to build a plant, this means its already unlikely, even if they broke ground tomorrow, that the existing capacity could be replaced in time.
However there is a problem, nuclear is expensive energy. The supporters of nuclear power have long tried to argue otherwise but the critics have long pointed out that theyve obviously gotten their sums wrong, as I discuss at length here. And those critics are not the usual suspects (Greenpeace or FoE) but bodies such as the New Economics Foundation or Citigroup bank.
EDF energy have all but confirmed however the high price of nuclear by demanding a fixed price of £100 per MWh of electricity guaranteed for 40 years! To put that in perspective, consider that wind power is generally economic at about £80-60/MWh with a subsidy period of 10-15 years (other studies suggest even lower long term prices of wind perhaps as low as $40/MWh). The numbers would suggest that if you want to generate lots of low carbon energy, youre better off sticking with wind power and other renewable sources.
And before anyone starts mumbling about wind farms and intermittency, note that the figures I quote are the overnight baseload costs of nuclear vs the same for wind (i.e. like with like). Indeed that £100/MWh figure for new nuclear doesnt include the costs of decommissioning. Now the supporters of nuclear will say that the cost of decommissioning these plants will be insignificant. But they are basing that on a scale compared to the decom costs of the UKs existing nuclear infrastructure, a running total of £70 Billion last time I checked. Now on that scale yes, any number with 9 zeros after it is insignificant but the rest of us who live in the real world would still put it into the you want how much! category.
The dreaded N word…and its not nuclear!
Now I appreciate that there are some who argue in favour of nuclear, despite its economics (and the risks and the nuclear waste, etc.) on a sort of energy national security basis. My response to that however is to query if that were so, why pay a French company to do it? And why subject UK electricity prices to a form of lock in for the next 40 years?
Would it not, if you are pro-nuclear (as many Tories are), be far more sensible to simply cut out the middle man, set up a state owned company guaranteed by the taxpayer that will fund and build these reactors. As the government (and thus taxpayers) will then ultimately own the resulting reactors, this means that its possible to decide as we go along how the bill for nuclear power is going to be paid. We could do what the French do and effectively subsidize electricity prices, we could pass the full cost of nuclear onto the bill payers, or we could do a bit of both. The point is, future UK governments will be at liberty to decide these things, even though the costs will likely be about the same.
Of course, what Ive just said is out of the question under a Tory government, as I just mentioned that most dreaded of words Nationalisation 88| (the work of the devil…or at the very least Tony Benn ;D). It would effectively mean the partial reversing of a core Thatcher era policy when she privatised the power industry.
However, the irony here is of course, that EDF energy, ARE a nationality owned industry, just owned instead by the French government. So in essence this whole debate about nuclear power boils down to the question as to how much the Tories are willing to pay the French government to do the job of being good little socialists and nationalising the UKs nuclear industry for them, as its against the Tories religion of Thatcherism.
The Merchant of Paris
One could draw a parallel between this and the practice of money lending in the Middle Ages. Back then Christians and Muslims were forbidden to lend money and charge interest (usury). But the Jews (perhaps unfortunately for them) had a loophole in their religion which allowed them to lend money to non-Jews. As a consequence Christian and Muslims forced Jews to act as money lenders and promptly hated them for it.
In a similar vein the Tories, forbidden by their religion/ideology from engaging in nationalisation are hiring out the French government to do if for them. And no doubt when the reactors are late/ start leaking/ the public rebel against high electricity prices, theyll hate the French for it.
If this silly plan goes ahead, the Daily Mail and the Sun will in short be all but guaranteed of forty years worth of prime material to bash the French with (oh, and you can forget about withdrawal from the EU)…Perhaps we could get them to pay for the reactors?