06. 10. 2016

The Hinkley Horror Story: Don't Mention the Waste!

Posted in:
Comments (3)

I haven’t been able to bring myself to write anything about Hinkley Point since the UK Government gave the go-ahead on 15th September. I suppose I’ve lived for so long with the inevitability of this insane project being approved, at some point, notwithstanding the endless delays, that I wasn’t particularly surprised when it happened. Just a weird mixture of resigned, weary and enraged.

Deep down, I still don’t believe that Hinkley Point will ever be completed. I’ve no doubt work will start in one or two years’ time (just as soon as a mountain of continuing problems at EdF’s project at Flamanville have either been resolved or permanently buried), but it won’t be long before the inherent ‘unconstructability’ of this particular reactor design (the EPR) sees exactly the same inevitable delays and cost overruns kick in – and keep on kicking in from that point on.

And somewhere along the way, there’s an equally strong likelihood of EdF/Areva going bust – or having its role comprehensively redefined by the French Government so that it focusses solely on managing upgrades in the French reactor fleet and dealing with all the legacy issues.

And those legacy issues are vast. As they are for all nuclear operators all around the world. Which is the main reason, I suspect, why hardly anyone has been talking about what’s been agreed in terms of dealing with all the new nuclear waste that would be generated by Hinkley Point.

There’s been the usual evasion and wilful dishonesty on the part of both EdF and the Government as to exactly how the costs of managing that waste over the projected 30-year lifetime of Hinkley Point will be paid for. In the first instance, how best should EdF be required to accrue for a sufficient share of revenue to cover those costs arising during the reactor’s lifetime – and then for decades/centuries beyond that once Hinkley Point has stopped generating?

This is such a huge issue – financially and morally. The sums of money involved in treating, storing and finally disposing of nuclear waste are eye-watering, and if they were properly factored into the day-to-day operating costs of all nuclear power stations, it would make the whole ludicrous edifice finally topple over.

Nobody’s thought more about these legacy issues, going back to the origins of the nuclear industry here in the UK in the 1950s, than Andy Blowers. His new book, ‘The Legacy of Nuclear Power’, has just been published, and even for those who have been tracking this particularly wretched aspect of an almost entirely wretched industry, it’s a pretty mind-boggling story that emerges.

Here are the words that I contributed by way of an endorsement for ‘The Legacy of Nuclear Power’:

“The nuclear industry invites us, all the time, to look forward – never to look back. Andy Blowers’ compelling study shows why: its legacy, all around the world, is a shocking one, with no long-term solutions to the problem of nuclear waste in sight, and countless communities blighted, in one way or another, by the nuclear incubus in their midst.”

Unbelievably, the UK’s dismal record in managing its nuclear waste (for both military and civilian facilities) is no worse than that of the USA (with the Hanford site in Washington State posing equally horrendous, ongoing legacy issues as Sellafield here in the UK) or of France, with its reprocessing waste management facilities at La Hague. Only Germany can demonstrate a rather better record – though that has little to do either with the industry or with the German Government, and everything to do with an implacably hostile anti-nuclear movement which has fought for decades to ensure that Germany’s nuclear waste should not be dumped at the designated Gorleben site and then forgotten about.

Andy has written an excellent summary article about these four sites.

(And for the story about what’s going on at Sellafield – in terms of the UK’s nuclear fuel reprocessing debacle – check out this article from Ian Fairlie, commenting on BBC Panorama’s recent exposé.)

What I most admire about Andy’s analysis is that it not only covers the all-but-unbelievable financial consequences of our nuclear legacy, but forces people to confront the moral implications of an industry that defers costs not just into the future but across generations.

One of the reasons why I’m still passionate about the concept of sustainable development (rather than the environment per se) is its unwavering advocacy of intergenerational justice: being explicit about what any one generation owes to all those generations that succeed it. The nuclear industry today only survives by ruthlessly ignoring those intergenerational obligations: the economics of nuclear power only ‘work’ because it dumps the intractable problems of managing its waste onto future generations.

In other words, this is not just a managerially incompetent, technologically redundant, financially bankrupt and wilfully dishonest industry – it is inherently immoral.

And yet, even now, there are a few misguided environmentalists who tell us that our low-carbon future depends on investing yet more countless billions of dollars in this failed horror story of an industry.
 

Add your comment

Comments

17. 10. 2016
David Hirst

Jonathan,
Thanks for this. I share your deep feeling (and hope) that it will not happen, but they have constructed deals that aim to culminate in a further Sizewell and a further Chinese Bradwell. Since there is no conceivable value in that, we need other reasons for their lunacy.
SPRU argues that it is a UK "strategic" desire to be among the world leaders in nuclear submarines, and so have subverted the whole decision process, as well as rational electricity policy, to achieve this without paying for it. See http://m.sussex.ac.uk/spru/newsandevents/2016/publications/submarines. It makes more sense that taking official arguments at face value, but has all sorts of deeply troubling implications.

08. 10. 2016
Christina Macpherson

The book should be valuable for us Downunder. The nuclear lobby has Australia in its sights, because they want to be able to promise Asian nations that there is no nuclear waste problem.

They mean, that Asian countries can embark on the nuclear industry with confidence, because Australia will be taking all the radioactive trash.

The story pitched to us poor ex-convict colonial ignorami, is that South Australia will make $squillions from taking this garbage, and our roads will be paved with gold.

06. 10. 2016
Gemma Regniez

And now fracking in Lancs. I don't understand how the SoS for Communities has a say in this. Am I missing something?

Do the renewables sector need to start funding our existing political parties to get a foot in the door? Why spend millions on these nightmare scenarios when the alternatives provide a more sustainable option?

Depressing stuff.

Add a comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

We appreciate your comments.