The Nuclear Debacle: Hinkley Point

If you’re an advocate for clean energy and eco-friendly solutions, the mere mention of Hinkley Point might be enough to make your blood boil. The recent announcement that the site is £1.5 billion over budget and a year behind schedule may well lead you to say: ‘I told you so!’ shortly before turn to your bottle of wine to deliver at least some solace.

More and more people are expressing their view that Hinkley Point is a white elephant, a bad deal, a major nuclear folly. But they’ve been saying that for a while – even before the contract was signed and the deal was done.

The History of Hinkley Point C

The negotiations were years in the making and much stemmed from the opinion that the UK needed a steady, reliable power source that wasn’t renewable. That pointed to nuclear and in 2016 the deal was done with the French power company EDF and the Chinese owned CGN. At the time, many people wondered why we weren’t using our own companies to build the plant. The cost would be £30 billion and, when complete, was expected to provide 7% of our electricity. Who built it was irrelevant, said the Government.

There were plenty of grumblings at the time, particularly over EDF’s ability to deliver – they already had a nuclear power station under construction that had run into difficulty. There were also concerns about the nuclear technology they were using.

The National Audit Office recently revisited the Hinkley deal and found that the costs and value for money were marginal and may well have ‘committed consumers and tax payers to a high cost and risky deal in a changing energy market place.’

Here are just a few facts to add to the nuclear debacle:

The technology used by EDF is under question. There are currently four projects being undertaken with this system as part of the design and all four have been problematic to say the least. In Flammanville, France, the project is 6 years behind. That fails in comparison, however, to the plant being built in Finland which is a staggering 9 years behind and 60% over budget. Most experts think we’re heading down a similar and dangerous route.

The Increasing Viability of Renewables

We’re not expecting the Hinkley station to be built by 2027, and that’s the best estimate currently available. It may even be as late as 2035. By that time, renewables will have improved in efficiency and will have come down significantly in price. The New Scientist put it best while the Hinkley deal was still being negotiated:

“The UK had to agree to pay a very high price for Hinkley’s electricity. Since then, the price of renewables has plummeted, making it look like a very bad deal for the UK.”

The development of a new nuclear power station came about because of the unreliability of solar and wind. Essentially, they didn’t produce power when the sun wasn’t shining and the wind wasn’t blowing. The future development of energy storage, which is certainly going to be available by the time Hinkley goes live, makes this less of an issue. We will be able to store and use.

It’s a shame that those responsible for pushing forward Hinkley Point won’t be held responsible. By the time it finally gets built, most of those involved will be sitting on their knighthoods and composing their memoirs. It will be left to the general public to foot the bill and the rising cost of electricity if things don’t go according to plan. And they most certainly won’t.

So, is there still time to stop things?

The weakness of the Tory government following the election may well come to our aid. What it requires if for parties like Labour and the Liberal Democrats to break ranks and put up some opposition. Unfortunately, they both voted for Hinkley. They may be convinced by the impact on the economy. It will create a lot more jobs if we move towards renewables than depend on a potentially catastrophic investment like Hinkley. According to the New Statesman recently:

“Green MEP Molly Scott Cato has shown how the South West alone could meet all its energy needs through renewables, creating more than 100,000 new jobs. This puts the 900 full-time posts expected to be available at Hinkley, if construction is ever completed, into sharp perspective.”

Before it’s too late, it’s time for people to stand up and get Hinkley Point back into the limelight. There may be a whole host of other things going on at the moment, including Brexit, but the potential for rising electricity prices and what some have touted as the most expensive power station in the world to do serious damage to the UK’s energy infrastructure and our pockets cannot be underestimated.

What it needs now, is the right political choice. Unfortunately, the window is starting to close and it may soon be too late to stop the project moving forward.