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Hinkley Point Stalls Again: What is the Future of Nuclear in the UK

Steven Meredith's picture
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  • Aug 3, 2016 12:00 pm GMT
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The champagne was on ice, the celebrations ready to begin. Then the news came that the Government were holding off their final decision on Hinkley Point nuclear power station until the Autumn. Just two hours before, EDF had committed to the project and were ready to toast the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Rumours circulated that it was something to do with new PM Theresa May’s distrust of the Chinese and their involvement in the project. Other murmurings pointed to the fact that many in parliament are nervous about the nature of the deal that would see subsidies being paid that would lock customers into rising fuel bills for the next 30 or so years.

The rumours immediately led China trying to allay fears that they were attempting to create a ‘backdoor’ into the UK’s energy security. Their support for Hinkely Point has long been part of a wider deal that will see the Chinese building a new station in some other part of the country, with more control than perhaps the PM and many others would like.

The fiasco surrounding Hinkley Point is symptomatic of the Government’s confused approach to energy in the UK since they won a majority back in May 2015. Not only have they cut subsidies to renewable energy, but projects such as Hinkley have constantly been delayed since it was first dreamed up by the Labour government in 2006.

Most experts seem to agree that our future lies in having a mix of renewables and baseload power projects through nuclear. The problem is that renewables such as wind and solar don’t produce energy when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining. Nuclear is vital in maintaining what is called the baseload, producing the electricity we need while there’s a natural slump in green energy production when we need it.

The solution, many green advocates say, is to develop industrial scale storage to improve the effectiveness of renewable technology like solar. Despite advances by companies like Tesla, this development is still a long way off and may even take several decades to come to fruition. Before we get to that point, we are about to lose our dependence on coal fired power stations and need new baseload technologies to fill the gap. To most that generally means going nuclear.

There are two other nuclear power stations planned, one in Wylfa Newydd in Wales, the first to be built in the country for 50 years, and one at Bradwell, though both these are still in their early stages. For many supporters of nuclear power, the time is fast running out where we need to do something.

With old stations reaching the end of their lifespans and a muddled energy strategy in place that seems to have little regard for the future, we could be reaching the point when there is going to be a disconnect between the baseload energy we produce and the amount we actually need to run businesses and light homes. There is a real possibility according to some experts that we’ll reach a time when the lights will have to turned out.

For detractors of the nuclear route, the options of developing the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon which has stalled because of investment fears is the only sensible way forward. Both Hinkely Point and Swansea present big investments, some of the biggest we’ve seen in the world energy market. What the future holds is uncertain and, whether you are pro nuclear or not, there is much to be done. Meanwhile, the solar industry, if it hasn’t exactly stalled, has been left in the shadows for the moment, particularly where the Government is concerned. There are still projects under construction and wind is still providing a good part of our energy mix. It all just seems a little piecemeal.

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