Jonathon Porritt posted an important blog post on Monday, about the ongoing troubles at Hinkley C in Somerset.
As Porritt points out, the project still faces vast hurdles including securing a final investment decision from minority partners, obtaining a £10bn loan guarantee from the treasury, and finalising negotiations over a subsidy contract with the UK Gov.
Citing a blog post by Sussex Energy Group’s Phil Johnstone, Porritt refers to the immense efforts that the UK government has gone to in its attempts to make nuclear work in the 21st century. This includes creating one of the best institutional contexts in the world, ‘streamlining’ planning, as well as establishing Contracts for Difference for nuclear power. However, despite these actions to ‘facilitate’ new nuclear, the Hinkley C project may be close to abandonment.
A useful list of some of the reasons to think this is provided, emphasising some of the internal problems of nuclear energy in the 21st century. This includes Chinese investors getting “more leery about the EPR reactor design”, “the French Government [becoming] more and more outspoken about its reluctance to go on bailing out either EdF or Areva”, and “Areva now being in such a bad state (with a €4.8bn loss in 2014)” that it looks as if it “…might have to withdraw as a co-investor in the Hinkley project”. This is before the legal challenges of Austria and a German Energy Cooperative and the potential delays caused by these are considered.
Another important point alluded to in Porritt’s post is the interesting silence of nuclear advocacy in recent times: we do not hear anything about Hinkley from the government anymore for example. Elsewhere, some of the most vociferous advocates of new nuclear such as George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and James Lovelock have also had little to say on the subject. Recently it was reported that former chief scientist David King – who had previously decreed that nuclear was a “scientific necessity” rather than a technological choice – accepted that a low carbon and sustainable future is achievable without nuclear power. All of this certainly adds up to a feeling that when it comes to nuclear power policy, the winds of change may be beginning to blow…