Nuclear: if it looks like a subsidy and smells like a subsidy then it’s probably a subsidy!

Hinkley nuclear power station

Well then – nuclear energy is back in the news as EDF and Chinese investors gear up to build a new power plant at Hinkley and with the government guaranteeing prices for up to 35 years at a level that is double the current market rate for wholesale electricity, it seems like a government that claimed it would never subsidise nuclear is reneging on their word.

You can read all about the deal and the prices paid on the BBC so I’ll skip the details in order to keep this post relatively short.

The same people who complain that renewable energy production enjoys guaranteed rates will no doubt claim that this is different for some reason or another but it is not. And what’s more, this guarantee of 35 years is far longer than the 15 years most renewable projects get. If nuclear is so cheap and clean, why does it require such a long term guaranteed subsidy?

The government claim that the new batch of nuclear plants will reduce the average energy bill in the UK by £77 by 2030 – that’s fantastic news if true but when has anything ever come in on budget? And what about the cost of storing nuclear waste for the next gazillion years; does this savings estimate include anything like that?

I very much doubt it.

No, instead, we will simply create another situation like the one at Sellafield where costs have already reached £67.5 billion and are expected to rise further. This burden will then be dumped (if you’ll excuse the pun) on future generations whom we tend to ignore in our race for “cheap” energy.

On the subject of nuclear waste – will any local authority ever give the green light for an underground storage facility? Something tells me that there would be enough vocal criticism by local residents to dissuade any council considering it so just how smart a move is it to produce more waste when there is currently no firm plan to store it in the long term?

Right now I’d love to place a bet that in 30 or 40 years time we’ll be looking back on this decision as another that successive governments have made to pursue a technology that is simply not economic when all the costs and risks are accounted for. Maybe an elderly Cameron will be in front of a public hearing explaining why he gave the go ahead when many other countries around the world are turning their backs on nuclear.

So you can see, my arguments against nuclear are not entirely driven by the environmental concerns but rather the economic ones and also the time lags involved. At best, this new reactor will be online by 2023 while off-shore wind takes many years less from planning to operation and with warnings of power shortages, surely these should be our priority?

Another thing: I hear that there are reactor designs that virtually eliminate the nuclear waste problem so if this is the case, why aren’t we investing more into R&D to get these operational before condemning the nation to a further 50 years of traditional reactors and all the problems that come with them?

Latest: Greenpeace, as you’d expect, have come out against this decision but their economic arguments are very sound. I urge you to read their analysis here.

While it may not sound like it from reading this post, I am genuinely torn over nuclear energy; I mean on the one hand it has very little in the way of greenhouse has emissions and the potential production capacity is high but on the other hand it seems to me that any investment in it will only slow the speed at which truly green technologies come online.

Basically then, I’d take nuclear over coal and gas but I’d take renewable energy over everything else.

What do you think? Am I being unrealistic?

Thanks to Mark Robinson for the great photo of Hinkley.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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