Thursday, 18 August 2016

The Bradwell Baffle

The recent contrasting news concerning Hinkley Point C is paradoxical for the possible Bradwell B new build. The local protest groups will have been put into even more uncertainty than ever before, no news is, well, no news! One thing for sure is that there will be even more delay.

From the Government’s perspective let’s look at what Hinkley is supposed to provide before we examine the points in greater detail:

  • 7% of UK electricity
  • Energy security
  • Clean energy (?!)
  • Employment

What they fail to mention which the environmentalists and the media has picked up on are:

  • The astronomical build cost
  • Use of 20th century technology
  • Similar reactors in France and Finland overdue, overspent and still not working
  • Massive cost to the taxpayer
  • Potential delays
  • Long term costs
  • National security

However, the last minute U-turn has some additional implications that need exploration.

Tom Burke, Chairman of E3G and a former government environmental adviser suggests there must be something substantial over and above the known potential issues that has caused this ‘dislocation’. Having pointed out that Theresa May was out of the country when the pause button was hit giving added credence to there being something major involved he also feels that it is high time for a ‘proper, decent forensic examination’ into ‘the assumptions with which this project has been brought forward’. This is backed up by the government’s official statement given by the new business and energy Greg Clark ‘wanted to consider carefully all the component parts of this project’.

Local lobbyist BANNG has led on the notion that Bradwell B, as a pure Chinese new build using their Hualong One reactors, has always been the carrot to entice the deep pocket Chinese investment in both Hinkley and Sizewell. This was highlighted on BBC’s Newsnight program recently along with detail of the McKinsey & Co report for the DECC in 2012 that capturing full electricity efficiency could provide a six fold yield of Hinkley Point C.

The National Grid is moving deeper into a Smart Grid where the response to fluctuating demand has to be swifter than that of a nuclear or coal fired power stations. Currently the biggest component of the UK’s electricity mix is generated using gas, right now at the point of writing this sentence viewing that is a colossal 55.9%.

And here’s the rub. Whilst the latest type of gas generation utilises efficient and responsive Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGT) the UK is neither energy secure (around 50% of gas is imported) or less fossil fuel dependent. This is a key reason the current and previous governments see the answer as Nuclear despite the high initial cost and creation of long term waste storage problems.

There are even more prudent nuclear alternatives than the giant and costly proposals such as Hinkley. The government has invested £250 million into research and support of SMRs, Small Modular Reactors, that would be built in a factory and shipped to site. The trouble is, as with so much of nuclear technology, it is still 20th century, unproven and will provide a legacy of waste for our descendants.

So how to proceed? The UK has the most wind in Europe. On shore wind farms are the lowest cost means of providing electricity and along with the substantial offshore wind farms wind power will provide some of the mix. Being an island nation, tidal power must be another element of the energy equation. Solar farms and domestic solar installations both save the load on the grid and feed back units. These would all provide more employment, too, each system with a much lower maintenance requirement.

However, it will be efficiency coupled with far less consumption that will be the biggest factor along with improvement in battery storage that will move us in the direction of a fossil free future.

Article first appeared in the Mersea Island Courier 7th August 2016

Peter Banks - Colchester Green Party - Written August 1st 2016

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