When Electricite de France (EDF) announced plans to build a large new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in West Somerset there were stories in the local press about the thousands of jobs that would be created and the economic opportunities it would bring to the area. In fact there is a lot more to the EDF proposal than these headlines suggest.
Local communities have already discovered that a project of this size will bring major changes to the area, including traffic disruption over up to ten years and an influx of workers from outside the area. Forum 21 is equally concerned about the broader implications. This would be the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK for more than 20 years. A new nuclear plant would pose serious risks for future generations, potentially burden taxpayers with an uneconomic white elephant and push this country’s energy policy away from a sustainable path based on clean, renewable energy sources.Forum 21 believes that the “Hinkley C” proposal is in conflict with our aim to encourage a sustainable future for West Somerset for these reasons:
Nuclear is the only power generation option to leave such a long trail of hazardous material to be cared for over periods well beyond our lifetimes. We still have a major legacy of radioactive waste from the first two generations of UK nuclear power stations.There is as yet no operating disposal site which could securely contain this material, let alone that from any new power stations, over the long time periods required to protect the environment and public health.
A viable alternative
The UK electricity system can be transformed into a low carbon network without relying on nuclear power. This would require a major commitment to energy saving measures as well as a much stronger effort to increase the range of renewable energy sources available. The Sustainable Development Commission, which advises the government on sustainability, has concluded that “there is a range of different ways for the UK to meet its carbon dioxide and energy security objectives without relying on a new generation of nuclear power plants”.
The energy network
Nuclear power does not work well with an energy supply model in which renewable energy sources will play an increasing role. Such large, inflexible centralised power stations are at odds with a distributed network of small to medium-sized generating options, some powered by variable renewable sources such as wind energy. There is also no intention to use the waste heat generated by the power station’s operation, as would happen in an efficient Combined Heat and Power plant.
The economics remain untested. Capital costs for nuclear are higher than other generating technologies, however, and on recent experience liable to unforeseen increases. In Finland, the first European Pressurised Reactor (the type proposed at Hinkley) is over three years behind its construction schedule and the cost has increased from 3 to 5.3 billion euros.
Although the government has said it will not subsidise new nuclear power stations, there is a risk that, if EdF cannot make the economics of a new power station work, it will have to be bailed out by the British taxpayer.
For these reasons Forum 21 believes that there are better ways to address our local and national energy needs than with a Hinkley C nuclear power station. An accelerated programme of renewable energy and energy saving would not only help the UK to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions but avoid the clear risks of the nuclear route, including a potentially catastrophic accident and a legacy of long-lived radioactive waste.
To encourage more debate about the Hinkley C proposal, Forum 21 has organised a public meeting on Thursday 21st January in the Methodist Church Hall, The Avenue, Minehead, starting at 7.30 pm. The speakers will be Crispin Aubrey, member of the Forum 21 steering group and journalist,and Jon Freeman, West Somerset District Councillor. Admission is free and refreshments will be provided.